The Power of Influencer Marketing | Part 1, What Is Influencer Marketing?

We take a look at the emerging influencer economy, and how social media stars and bloggers have grabbed attention in modern advertising.

Social Influencers

Influencer marketing is already being called the the next big thing in advertising. It’s a form of marketing that takes to the personal stage, putting you in front of your audience by aligning yourself with the people they love most.

With this form of marketing, the shoe isn’t a one-size fits all: influencers are highly niche dependent. It’s not as easy as choosing someone with a large following, arranging a shoutout, and calling it a day.

When you start to navigate this new and emerging “influencer economy,” it’s important to know what exactly influencer marketing is:

Jump to Part II of this Guide: How to Create a Campaign

Part 1: What is Influencer Marketing & How it Works

Thanks to millennials and the rapid democratization of celebrity (Youtube is watched more than any single U.S cable network), influencers are steady becoming both more ubiquitous and influential.

These influencers exist for (almost) every niche. Be they a solo fashion aficionado, entrepreneurial guru, or a group of video game enthusiasts, influencers are what the brands of today are flocking to to get their product in front of an engaged, highly-targeted audience:

 

Emily Schuman
Cupcakes and Cashmere is a fashion blog run by Emily Schuman, a social influencer who wrangled a deal with Estee Lauder due to her blogs success.

The formula behind working with influencers is simple:

  1. Identify a target influencers
  2. Get product (and/or payment) in their hands
  3. Have them create content that encourages something similar to word-of-mouth marketing – a social referral.

Understanding Context with an Influencer

Social influencers are defined by one thing: influence. And this is highly dependent on the context of their story.

For example, influencers in one space may not be influencers in another, and if they promote something out of niche, their audience may not take to it. Consider a beef jerky enthusiast with half a million subscribers on Youtube. A powerful social influencer by any standard, but probably not the best choice for a vegan subscription box.

This is one element that makes social influencers unique: What they “are” is constantly changing. Kissmetrics has even called them “changelings,” as they differ for each brand or market, while their function remains the same.

The distinction of context isn’t just semantics, either; in order for them to exert influence, they need to have real sway in a specific space. They need to be contextually relevant to the niche your business is servicing. When you partner with influencers who have real contextual significance with your target market, the value can be immense.

Why working with a Social Influencer is Worth It

Word of mouth is relying on consumers to talk about a brand on their on volition while Influencer Marketing is paying someone to do so.

Social influence behaves in much of the same way as word of mouth marketing, the most powerful form of marketing (84% of people rely on recommendations from friends and family).

Some mesh the language, treating the two forms of marketing synonymously, but the difference is important to understand, both in context of how it’s actually perceived by customers and how you have to approach this type of marketing as a business.

As put by Lynzee Jablanka from Everywhere Agency, an agency that organizers influencers campaigns, “They’re not technically the same – but they do have similarities. Word of mouth is relying on consumers to talk about a brand on their on volition while Influencer Marketing is paying someone to do so. One of the major differences is the use of FTC disclaimers when you’re deploying influencer marketing campaigns – if you’re paying someone to speak on behalf of your brand, they have to disclose that they’re working with you by using #Ad or “This post was sponsored” in their posts. ”

(And yes, the FTC crackdown on this has begun)

While you might not expect the same power of word of mouth marketing with influencer marketing, many influencers have demonstrated that their followers truly trust them, and brand recommendations benefit from that trust.

Fashionista covered the top 20 fashion bloggers in 2015, some of whom have partnered with brands as large as Louis Vuitton, Target and H&M.

The reason, as put by Fashionista when speaking about one of the influencers, is simple: “links from her site drive traffic and conversions.”

MSLGroup and Social Chorus have put together an infographic (below) demonstrating the same sentiment.

What’s most interesting about this is the results: not only do the visitors pushed by influencers to a site show 16x the average engagement, but when the brand repurposes the content, the influencer’s content performs 35x better than the brand’s own content, and 10x as high when used in Facebook sponsored posts.

How Influencer Marketing is Being Done Today

The examples of brands working with social influencers are growing.

Following the formula outlined above, brands have begun spinning up partnerships with social influencers, providing them with product and payment to share their experience online.

Here are just a few examples:

Stass
@stassiebaby has over 1.6M followers on Instagram.
Lily
@lilymaymac has over 1.7M followers on Instagram

Birchbox, Madewell, Johnnie Walker and Nature Box have done the same, targeting influencers in their own niches and creating brand-aligned campaigned.

In one post, Nature Box had an influencer share a photo of their children enjoying some of their favorite Nature Box snacks.

In another example, Sazan Barzani, a fashion and beauty blogger, shared her expeirence using a L’oreal hair care product that she was ‘testing.’ Over the course of the video, the experience feels authentic, despite you knowing it’s a sponsorship (she makes that clear in the beginning).

In each case, brands and their influencers work to develop a narrative that feels like an organic, authentic experience shared by the influencer.

The end result: the story resonates with the audience, and the brand successfully aligns itself with their interests, capturing new fans and purchases in the process.

New Solutions Are Emerging for Influencer Marketing

The way brands do this is also becoming easier.

Platforms, agencies, and curated networks of influencers are becoming more numerous, and venture capital is being invested into the space.

TapInfluence, an influencer marketing automation platform, just announced a $14M round.

Captiv8, a tool that analyzes your social profiles and recommends influencers, announced a $2M round, days before.

Both companies are among a number of similar startups, that make it easier for brands to connect to networks of social influencers.

Using Influencer Marketing with Your Own Business

When it comes to implement an influencer marketing campaign with your own business, there are two routes to take:

  1. The one described above, using tools or agencies to help you along or way, or
  2. A more manual, “scrappy” process, where you identify, vet, and monitor success on your own

(Grab our free influencer marketing spreadsheet in our Resources section!)

What more information on how to organize your first campaign? We’ll cover both of these strategies in Part II of the guide.

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About Jesse Richardson

Jesse Richardson is an author, educator and co-founder of several successful subscription businesses. He focuses on building engaging communities and has been described as "insanely customer centric." Find him in the Subscription School group or at his blog.

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