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Social media influence marketing is one of the hot topics in marketing right now. Campaigns are scrutinized, and questions are being asked about whether it’s worth the investment.
It was definitely one of the big themes at the Festival of Marketing this year. I presented workshops over the two days, exploring the role of social media influencer marketing within digital marketing and communications.
I’ve been a specialist in digital engagement for over 18 years.
I understand the views of clients, agencies and latterly, as a micro-influencer myself. Given the ranging quality of information out there, I felt that it was necessary to cut through the noise and provide a no-nonsense view on the topic. My aim is to help those from a standing start and encourage those working with influencers to continue to shape their approach.
Brand marketers, PR professionals, ad and media agencies, social media influencers at different levels and professionals who manage and represent social media influences attended the workshops.
They all added their thoughts to the sessions.
I’d like to share five key outtakes from the workshop, focusing on the elements that prompted the most discussion amongst the attendees.
I started by defining influence.
I asked everyone to recall when they were last influenced to change their mind, to do something different when they were prompted to take some form of valuable action, e.g. to donate/buy/pledge/change their behavior in a positive way.
Many cited that the people who influenced them were fairly anonymous individuals. All talked about how they related to the individual that influenced them.
It is important for marketers to understand the dynamics of influence and how influence is changing all the time. Edelman’s Trust Barometer has been tracking how and why our trust in others is changing.
I encourage you to read the study, but in short, the changes in who we trust and how they influence us is due to many factors including the political and economic landscape, our opinions about the role of business, media, academia and other people who are likely to make us ‘think, feel, and do’ differently.
In their 2016 study, peer-influenced media, such as social media and search, are two of the top three sources of news and ‘a person like yourself’ is rated significantly more trustworthy than traditional spokespeople, such as CEOs and Government officials.
They call this an ‘Inversion of Trust’ and, in my opinion, this is one of the drivers of the growth of real people in marketing and social media campaigns such as #ThisGirlCan. It’s also why ‘people like me’ social media influencers such as Zoe Sugg, Oli White and Louise Pentland have become so successful.
And brands like the results of working with these ‘people like me’. A study by Collective Bias found that these non-celebrity influencers were likely to drive 10x more in-store purchases than celebrities.
Another driver of the rise of influencer marketing has been the global rise of ad blockers and our lack of tolerance for interruptive advertising that provides little or no value.
Working with social media influencers is regulated but it does enable marketers to outrun this trend of consumers tuning out, by focusing on content-driven, advertorial relationships with influencers in their own social media channels.
There are many myths that abound. The main ones that attendees were keen to discuss and debunk were:
Nope. As with traditional PR or media relations, there is a cost. Depending on which influencers you work with, you will need to put budget aside for building relationships, providing product, running events and possibly remuneration.
To reach celebrity or power middle influencers, you may need to consider media or sponsorship levels of spend
It’s prohibitively expensive for small brands and it doesn’t work in B2B
It isn’t…and it does work in B2B – you’ve just got do your homework and focus on more niche influences and networks.
There isn’t any ROI
Simply not true! It’s just that early attempts at building relationships with influencers may not have been steered by a suitable set of objectives.
Most professional influencers, and their representatives, are smart businesspeople and savvy marketers. They are happy to understand your objectives and work against those.
Reach is everything
Again, this is not true. We discussed how real influence works – it only results from people thinking, feeling and doing things differently as a result of being exposed to content or messaging by credible people.
Unsurprisingly, it is staggeringly easy for unscrupulous ‘fake influencers’ to inflate their follower numbers by buying followers and engagement. Ensure that you understand the signs of fake followers and engagement (or invest in the right tools or agencies to help you navigate through the social media ‘snake oil’).
Nope. Depending on which country you operate in, you will need to understand the laws of ‘payment and control’ as well as your advertising, consumer protection laws and other areas of applicable law such as defamation, intellectual property, copyright, trademark laws, bribery etc.
A few attendees talked about working with influencers who had been keen to take their marketing money but were blissfully unaware or willing to ignore the law.
This is a very dangerous path for both brand and influencer. Ensure that you are clear and transparent with your influencer marketing and that you understand the related laws in your country.
One thing that resonated with all attendees and helped them all was my attempt to categorize the different types of social media influencer.
Thankfully, the days when marketers believed that they could determine social media influence with a Klout score have long passed – social media influence has always been so much more nuanced.
I provided my thoughts on the seven categories of social media influencer and gave examples and case studies of organizations working with the different categories of influencer.
Part of this was looking at the immeasurable impact of ‘hidden customer advocates’ such as Candace Payne, aka Chewbacca Mom, who caused a global sell out of Hasbro’s Chewbacca masks as a result of her hilarious video.
I explained that social media influencers can be broadly divided into:
a. Celebrity Influencer
b. Professional Top Tier Influencer
c. Professional Power Middle Influencer
d. Mid-Tier Influencer
e. Micro Influencer
f. Customer or Client Advocates
g. Staff Advocates
Marketers with mature approaches to digital engagement understand this fully and are working with many levels of influencers.
Brands who are seeing great results from social media influencers, such as Tesco Mobile, Brandwatch, Pai Skincare and Direct Line, have clearly defined, how campaign objectives are related to brand reach but also the targeted impact on brand perception, delivery of key messages, customer acquisition, retention, advocacy and other measurable marketing and communications goals.
I provided an 11-point plan to guide social media influencer activity.
It is similar to how marketers should plan other elements of their digital marketing mix, but I reminded attendees to understand and appreciate:
The nuance and niches of influence – spend time researching or choose tools and services that do the hard graft for you, such as Brandwatch Audiences or Fashion and Beauty Monitor.
The need to focus on relationship management and parity/value exchange – the top influencers will do their homework and can be picky with who they choose to work with. Brands should also their due diligence and not solely work with people based on reach, but focus on personal brand ‘fit’, their honesty/integrity and how much value they can add to the creative process
That marketers may need to relinquish control. The influencers and talent management attendees suggested that the DNA of successful projects they were involved with evolved from a broad idea from an agency or the client.
Then were then able to shape it to work for their audience – after all they are deeply connected with them on a daily basis and understand what resonates and what doesn’t through likes, comments, shares, other social actions and peaks in sales.
That the quick fix/spray and play, technology-driven approach to social media influencer activity simply doesn’t work. There are platforms that promise to connect brands with influencers popping up with alarming speed. Whilst they can automate things for busy marketers, the real value comes from identifying the best influencers to work with and evolving campaigns based on mutual value for both parties.
There was much conversation around who should own the relationship with the influencer, but no consensus of opinion.
Talent managers and influencers suggested that the most impactful projects were driven by those who really understood them as ‘brands,’ wanted to build genuine relationships and were willing to discuss their creative approaches when building a campaign. That can come directly from a client or one of their agencies.
Ad and media agencies may have the media budgets for the top tier social media influencers, but PR teams and agencies drive a lot of the creative, integrated thinking and campaigns in this space.
They also have experience in developing and building long-term relationships, understand the value of individual networks and can work relationships hard for their clients.
It’s certainly an area of marketing that is dynamic, exciting and hot – just don’t forget how it fits with your strategic planning, don’t get fooled by quick technology fixes or empty promises of reaching millions with an Instagram post and remember the value of developing long-term relationships with different categories of influencer.
Let the power of social intelligence boost your influencer marketing.
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