Think back to a major purchasing decision. Maybe you were looking for a new refrigerator or an optometrist. Where did you search for information? Who did you ask?
You likely didn’t start by cold-calling Whirlpool or GE; rather, you relied on people who had recently faced the same decision.
The Shelf, an influencer marketing program, finds that 92 percent of consumers trust recommendations from other people, even people they don’t know personally, over branded content.
The role of social media influence is equally strong, according to a new report from Deloitte:
- Consumers who use social media when making a buying decision are four times more likely to spend more on purchases than those who do not
- Shoppers who use social media to make a buying decision are 29 percent more likely to make a purchase the very same day
Influencers can have a profound effect on the bottom line. But the benefits extend far beyond. When you leverage people’s influence, you can:
- Introduce your brand and its products or services to new target audiences
- Offer educational resources and how-to tutorials
- Show your products within a personal context, creating a “me, too” effect
- Impact the message, a plus when combatting negative opinions, sentiment or reviews
- Build long-term relationships, ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty
But how do you get to that point? Influencer marketing works—52 percent of your peers already have influencer programs in place—but how do you find the influencers? What do you do once they’ve been found?
Have no fears. Cision has the answers you need to find influencers and get them to act on your behalf, thereby expanding reach, impact and any other goals you might have.
Influence Is Impactful
People listen to what brands have to say, but they’re going to turn to their neighbors and ask, “What do you think? How’s the customer service? Are you happy with the product or service?”
You can and should answer some of those questions via solicited online customer reviews and testimonials and branded content, but remember: people listen to other people first. They will always trust them more.
A note on social media influence
Social isn’t some activity; it’s people’s lives on the go. John Osborn, president and chief executive of BBDO New York, says, “Social isn’t just an add-on anymore. Social is really core to all ideas, and the way to build credibility through social is through authenticity and through influence.”
Social media professionals agree. When Altimeter polled social media communicators last quarter (Q2 2015), they found:
- 35 percent of social media professionals already have a mature influencer program
- 19 percent were piloting a program
- 32 percent planned to implement one
- Only 14 percent had no interest in doing so
Social media and other communication professionals have quickly realized that influencers have to be used strategically. It’s the right person coupled with a targeted message, platform and audience that gets the job done, not the messenger or content alone. That’s why many brands are retreating from targeting the influencers with the largest followings, instead focusing on those who have the most relevance to their customers. Reach becomes the second factor in the equation.
That trend will continue. Many influencers already are more selective about the brands they work with, and customers are more wary. When Ricky Dillon, a social media influencer on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, shared a photo of his #ShareaCoke cans as part of an ad campaign for MTV’s Fandom Awards many enjoyed it.
However, a few didn’t, including one follower who replied, “Was this a paid sponsor? Haha.” So use influencers, but be smart about it.
Finding influencers isn’t hard. They’re everywhere. What’s trickier is finding the right influencer for your brand and audience. The right influencer for your competitor might not fit your brand and what it hopes to achieve through influencer outreach. After all, reach doesn’t equal influence.
Alex Frias, founder of talent social, a matchmaking agency for influencers and brands, says:
“The ‘mommy blogger’ phenomenon the past few years created a digital revolution and, subsequently, a marketing stigma where popular online writers have almost universally been labeled as influencers.
Influencer Marketing 2.0 doesn’t believe that is real influence. Real influence doesn’t start online. It doesn’t start offline. It’s something that connects the social world and the real world.”
Manual searches through Twitter or Google won’t cut it. Identifying the people who can truly connect with your audience requires a comprehensive influencer database. These databases, like the one offered by Cision, provide a 360-degree view of influencers, including their pitching preferences, contact information, body of work and even the topics they’re covering right now.
Remember, the people with “real influence” have a couple of key qualities. Think of them as points on a treasure map. Get them right, and you’ll find “x marks the influencer” right away. You’ll want to consider at least these three:
- Relevance has to do with industry. Look for people who not only know your market but also enjoy talking about it. Location can also play a factor if you’re trying to grow reach and impact in a certain city or region.
- Reach involves networks and platforms. You’re looking for either breadth (number of followers) or depth (a powerful niche). Both approaches work, but the choice depends on your brand’s goals and outcomes.
- Resonance refers to social validation, i.e., engagement. You may have found a super-smart and savvy blogger or vlogger, but is their content being shared or commented on? Social amplification is a must when it comes to influencer marketing.
Remember the levels of influence
People also have varying degrees of influence. Reach alone is not enough. A celebrity like Kim Kardashian or Kelly Ripa may not always be the best fit for a campaign. You can sometimes accomplish more with an army of lesser-known influencers. They have the necessary relevance and resonance for impact.
And sometimes the best influencers are the consumers already talking about your product or service. They’re so authentic that people can’t help but follow along. Your job is easy: just fan the flames every so often to get them to champion the brand even more.
Vet the Influencers
Once influencers have been identified, the job is not yet done. They need to be vetted through a combination of tech and human intelligence.
Once you have your influencer data, analyze it. Who would be a good fit for your current PR initiative on Instagram? Who should be saved for a future Periscope campaign? What messages will resonate with their audiences?
Remember, it’s the combination of messenger, message, platform and audience that’s potent. So keep a working list of influencers. You never know who might turn a campaign into an astounding success.
Cision recently updated its PR software to better meet communicators’ influencer marketing needs. Cision’s solution identifies brand’s most important contacts, wherever they are. It also facilitates influencer outreach, which we cover in the following section, by creating better engagement opportunities through real-time social media monitoring and 360-degree influencer profiles.
You have found influencers and determined which are right for your message and audience. Good! Now it’s
time for outreach.
Influencer outreach borrows from activities like media relations and traditional networking, but it’s not exactly the same. The audience is influencers, not the media nor a public relations peer.
This list of eight tips will help you do just that. When you reach out to influencers in the right way, everyone wins.
- Look at successful influencer programs. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Study other people’s work. Take notes, and develop a program customized to your brand.
- Determine metrics for success. Establish metrics at the outset of an influencer program. It’s the only way to know if milestones and outcomes are being met. If the goal is brand awareness, determine the numbers that prove success. Also institute metrics for the outreach itself, just as you would when pitching a story or starting a new PR initiative.
- Document everything. Influencer outreach isn’t scalable without documented processes. Share them with the team. Revisit them regularly, too. When influencer marketing is happening online, change is the only constant.
- Build a list. In this regard, influencer outreach is exactly like media relations. Use a database or tools like the ones mentioned earlier; gather contact information and other data; and keep track of who’s been contacted, when and where.
- Establish rapport. Form relationships with influencers. Learn what motivates them. If you know what makes them tick, outreach will be a piece of cake.
- Make the ask. The ask should be specific, like a call to action. Set expectations and goals at the beginning. Do you want influencers to promote, share, or create content? Give clear instructions, but don’t micro-manage.
Influencers should have full control over their content and behavior, the exception being sponsored content. In that case, they need to follow the guidelines given, typically a simple acknowledgement that they’re being compensated for the work.
- Measure your efforts. We’ll get into measurement again in the next section, but here it’s specific to measuring outreach. How are efforts faring? Are people joining the program? Sticking with it? Why or why not?
- Refine. Analyze the data gathered from interactions with influencers regularly. Let it guide next steps and improvements with outreach, as well as the overall program.
It’s no accident that influencer outreach is synonymous with relationship management. Reaching out to influencers and getting them to participate isn’t a one-and-done activity. They need to be nurtured.
When influencers drop off the grid, follow up. Find out what’s going on before dismissing them and moving onto another person. It’s a simple act of caring, but it will ensure long-term loyalty and advocacy.
Other times, influencers have life changes. Your fashionista has turned into a mommy blogger. That’s great if you have an audience of fashionable mommies-to-be, but not so great if the target is single, career-focused females.
Don’t worry when that happens. Not all influencer relationships are going to stand the test of time. It’s why you created and continue to update a list of influencers in the first place. You have people waiting in the wings who can take the stage.
To be successful with relationship management, consider these eight tips. They will help you define and implement the process.
- Stay in touch. Winning over the influencer isn’t the hard part; keeping them is. Stay in regular contact so that they feel cared for and don’t think they’re a checkmark on a list.
- Ask for feedback. Influencers can act as a focus group for several things. One is the influencer program. Ask them what they like about it and what they don’t. Give them opportunities to offer suggestions. The more involved they are, the likelier it is that they’ll stay. Influencers can also act as beta testers for new products and services. The sneak peek will make them feel special, and it’ll give you all sorts of data to work with.
- Delegate the work. Influencer relations is time-consuming. There’s the research, the outreach, the relationship management, the updating of lists and other information, and on and on. Don’t go it alone. Integrate a software solution. It’s the only way the program can scale and be sustainable.
- Keep an updated list. The list of influencers needs to be updated just as the media relations one is. Ensure that the provider of your influencer database continually updates it to include the most accurate information.
- Document processes. As with outreach, document everything that’s being done to manage relationships. Swag? Emails? Social shares? Keep track of it. Also identify who’s in charge of what. Share that information with the team. It’ll keep everyone aimed toward the same goal and help with accountability.
- Monitor everything. Use alerts and social listening tools to track what’s being said about your brand. Also consider social sentiment tools to assess impact on brand reputation. If copyrighted content is being shared with influencers, make sure everyone’s aware of it.
- Review the metrics. Metrics have a role to play in relationship management, too. How did influencers respond to free swag? The emails? How did their responses affect the overall program? There’s plenty of data to be had, so capture it and use it to improve programming, outreach and relationship management.
- Be ready to change. Influencer feedback and metrics have stories to tell. Listen to them. Let them guide the influencer programs you initiate as well as how you engage with influencers. As with everything, always be testing and refining.
Influencers Are Friends
As you develop relationships with influencers, the brand becomes their friend. And what do people do when they have a really good friend? They tell their friends.