Remember the old phrase “word of mouth”? It’s the simple idea that other people’s praise for your product or service is inherently more powerful than anything you could say yourself. And even in today’s pandemic world, where face-to-face contact is as hard to come by as a roll of toilet paper or a pack of Clorox wipes, the power of word-of-mouth is going strong – but it happens on our phones and we call it “influencer marketing.”
A recent report from Influencer Marketing Hub predicts the influencer industry will grow to $9.7B this year; a trend that has only gained momentum amid the Covid-19 pandemic. As consumers are ever more reliant on their screens for both practical and emotional connections, influencers’ role in the marketing mix continues to expand. In fact, the Digital Marketing Institute names influencer marketing the fastest-growing consumer acquisition channel.
While the basic principle behind effective influencer partnerships is simple and intuitive, integrating this powerful approach into your social media strategy can seem daunting. Read on for five truths to live by when building your own social media influencer program. (Some of them may surprise you!)
Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better
Since metrics like follower count and average reach per post are an important part of selecting influencer partners, you might assume that your best bet is to throw your energy — and your budget — into securing the biggest names you can find. But it turns out such an approach is unlikely to drive the engagement you crave. Influencer Marketing Hub’s 2019 survey studied more than 100,000 influencer profiles across TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter to illuminate the relationship between scale and engagement. According to the analysis, “nano-influencers” with relatively tiny followings of less than 1000 consistently demonstrate seven times the engagement rates of “mega-influencers” with hundreds of thousands of fans, and this inverse correlation holds true all along the spectrum from small to large follower counts.
Relationship Quality Is Everything
We’ve already established that effective influencer marketing is not simply a game of scale. So how should you choose your social media partners? Let’s come back to the old idea of word-of-mouth. Imagine an expert from a local lawn care company knocking on doors all around town. She might reach hundreds of households in a day’s work, but most of them will likely recycle her flyer and forget about it (if they answer the door at all). Now imagine a single satisfied customer chatting over the fence with a few neighbors about the same lawn care brand. Maybe he offers his neighbors a beer… or maybe a coupon. These tightly networked personal recommendations have a level of authenticity and believability a door-to-door stranger could never match — no matter how fancy her truck or how slick her presentation. As a result, the neighbor’s advice is far more likely to generate a new customer.
We can think about social influencer strategy exactly the same way. By selecting your influencer partners not on the basis of raw scale but on more meaningful dimensions of audience affinity, you can align your brand to the coveted position of a trusted friend, neighbor, or expert advisor. In practical terms, this often means working with a fleet of carefully selected smaller influencers, rather than just one or two big stars — an approach that will pay you back by driving interest among a narrower, but strategically targeted, the population of high-value prospects.
If it works for your budget, a hybrid approach can also be effective, engaging a couple of big names to drive general awareness at scale, and a collection of nano- or micro-influencers to nurture deeper customer connections. This is also a great way to test relative impact and refine your strategy for future campaigns.
This approach has proven successful for Wilks Communications Group and client Nielsen-Massey Vanillas. By establishing and fostering strong relationships with nano- and micro-influencers in the baking space, the brand regularly reaches its target audience of passionate home bakers throughout the year, while partnerships with larger influencers are leveraged during key campaigns to expand the program’s reach to a broader audience.
Influencer Marketing Is a Sound Budget Bet
Once viewed as an experimental “add on” to the marketing budget, influencer programs are now big business, and brands are adapting their spending to match. A recent Duff & Phelps study found that nearly half of global consumer goods companies expect to devote between 30 and 50 percent of their 2021 budget to influencers; an increase of more than 20% over the prior three-year period. Interestingly, the same study indicates that the economics of influencer marketing are nuanced — this is not a simple “spend more get more” performance tactic. In fact, the analysis finds improved sales increase-to-marketing spend ratios as influencer spend goes down, suggesting the potential for big gains at relatively low investment for those who use these tactics wisely.
These dynamics look even more favorable when we consider the budget advantages of partnering with smaller-scale micro and nano-influencers. Often, free product serves as compensation in these arrangements, which can be mutually beneficial in many ways. For a smaller scale influencer, for instance, partnering with a well-known or particularly distinctive brand provides heightened exposure, credibility, and valuable fodder for the always-hungry content pipeline.
The Virtual World Isn’t So Virtual
It’s easy to think of social influencer marketing as geographically agnostic, existing solely in the cyber realm. But of course, that’s not the way your customers live. They’re deeply connected to their local communities, and you can put this fact to work in your influencer strategy.
Encouraging and documenting offline, hands-on experiences is another way to lend real-world power to your influencer content. Whether it’s a month-long home trial for a beauty product or a weekend family baking party for a premium butter brand, influencers have the unique power to align your brand with precisely the kinds of real-life experiences your audience values.
Influencers Aren’t Here to Tell Your Story
Nobody knows better than you how to sell your product, right? Actually, wrong. The magic of influencers is that they know best how to speak to their audience — and their audience loves them for it. So, while it’s critical to choose influencers whose brand, values, and persona align with your strategy, it’s equally essential to recognize, and leverage, each influencer’s one-of-a-kind talent for compelling self-expression.
Rather than think in terms of tightly scripted talking points and prescriptive posting guidelines, embrace a collaborative approach. (But be mindful, of course, of any legal or regulatory messaging guidelines upfront!) Provide the materials and information your influencers need to enjoy and understand your product, then stand back and let them do what they do best: share their experience, in their own authentic way. After all, isn’t that why you’ve partnered with them?
In a world of endless scrolling where attention is measured in fractions of seconds, creativity and personal connection are the currency of success. Tapping into communities and emotions in a way no traditional “brand” ever could, influencers are a critical tool in the social marketing toolbox. And if the past year is any predictor, their power is only destined to grow.