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The Secret Rules of Influencer Marketing
By Mark Daoust
If you want to increase the value of your business, decrease risk. In a word: Diversify.
One terrific way to do that is to expand your marketing strategy to include new channels of exposure.
One of the hottest new trends in marketing right now, and a great way to expand your strategy, is Influencer Marketing.
Influencer Marketing for ecommerce has become its own world at this point, complete with a class at UCLA taught by Shane Barker and a whole set of rules and guidelines for navigating that world.
Of course, it’s not exactly new; celebrity endorsements have been around forever and the practice of sponsoring the content of bloggers and YouTubers is as old as, well, bloggers and YouTubers.
Since Michael Jordan signed his first deal with Nike ($500,000 a year for 5 years), since Oprah aired her first “Favorite
Things” segment (1996), a lot has changed.
In the internet business world, we tend to say “in the old days” a lot.
As in…before Kim Kardashian hired an on-call glam squad, before “Here in my garage” racked up 69 million views, before #goals and #instagood were a thing, before YouTuber breakdowns were a common occurrence.
An Influencer marketing campaign “in the old days” was a different beast than it is now.
Now the term influencer doesn’t just refer to a mega-star.
The ability to design and run a successful campaign is something most business owners online now have.
Done the right way, they can be extremely effective.
Shane Barker, guest of this week’s podcast, is a brand and influencer specialist as well as digital strategist.
This week he clued us in to some insider information for online business owners who want to give Influencer Marketing a try, as well as those who want to make sure they’re getting the best ROI possible.
Are there some little-known rules in this booming industry that you might not know if you don’t teach the class? Definitely.
For a well-executed campaign, you’re not just looking for the YouTuber with millions of subscribers, or the blogger with the most page visits.
Shane says the best platforms to focus on right now are Instagram and YouTube.
And when it comes to influencer marketing for ecommerce, to find the right influencers, look for quality over quantity.
By his definition, the number of visitors to an influencer’s page or profile and number of likes on their posts both equal quantity, while engagement rates equal quality.
To really get a sense of the engagement rate of an influencer, he recommends following a two-step process.
Enter the various stats of an influencer into software (see below) or a spreadsheet to find their engagement percentage.
Do some investigating and study the influencer’s social profiles looking for signs of real engagement.
Numbers can be easily faked right now; these days you can buy 1,000 likes on Fiverr in a few minutes.
So Shane says it’s critical to look at the comments on an influencer’s posts to get a sense of who they are.
And how helpful they’ll be to you and your overall reach.
What are you looking for?
True engagement. Look to see if followers are actively engaging with the content.
If the influencer has attracted and built up an engaged community, you’ll see relevant questions from subscribers or followers and real answers from the influencer.
You’ll see conversations unfold.
You’ll see much more than just a ton of emojis in the comments, and you’ll get the sense of the real influence at work.
The concept was first coined by sociologists Richard Wohl and Donald Horton in 1956, and referred to the powerful emotional connection people felt for someone like Marilyn Monroe.
Alex Castro of The Verge describes it simply as, “one-sided affection.”
He says it happens when, “a person invests emotional energy and attachment in a media figure, and they develop a sense of kinship and intimacy that makes them feel as though they know the celebrity…”
He goes on to say that this phenomenon has now been taken to a new level.
That’s because social media and other platforms make it possible for the audience to actually interact with the media personality and play a role in the content they create.
It’s that phenomenon of parasocial relationships multiplied by the immediacy of real-time interaction that probably accounts for the instant popularity and power of live video streaming when it came on the scene.
Regardless of the platform or medium they utilize, that emotional/social connection is what gives an influencer their influence.
So recognizing it is step one in choosing the right personality and building a successful campaign.
What are some red flags to look out for when doing your homework on a potential influencer, according to Shane?
- A lack of response from the influencer in comments.
- A huge numbers of followers or likes without engagement.
- A new sponsorship or sponsored post every day.
- A transactional, rather than relational, approach.
The software available now to evaluate influencers’ stats and calculate the engagement percentage is helpful, but, he says, you have to, “look beyond the software.”
When considering building your first influencer marketing campaign for your online business, think about your own sphere of influence, and those who exercise influence over you in your business life.
A couple months after listening to the Quiet Light Podcast with Mike Jackness, for instance, I signed up for Klaviyo for my fledgling content site.
His evidence was compelling, he has a ton of experience and phenomenal results with email, and he’s generous enough to share it.
Without sponsorship, with zero attempts to sell me on anything, I was sold, months later, by the experience of a guy I’ve never met.
All because of who he is and what he’s accomplished.
And, let’s face it, because of the intimacy and power of podcasting for making a listener feel like they know and can trust you.
Effects just like it are happening everywhere online now – yoga instructors, ecomm entrepreneurs, moms giving makeup tutorials, fitness fanatics, nutritionists, gamers, musicians, coders, cupcake bakers – they’re literally everywhere.
If you have a product, there’s an influencer with an engaged community who can help you spread the word, get traffic, and make sales.
When you see the results, it’s almost a no-brainer.
And, consider this: while big brands on Instagram have an average engagement rate of 2-3%, the average influencer engagement rate across industries is 5.7%.
Shane says to be aware that most top influencers in their fields are being pitched constantly for potential sponsorships.
You’ll have to consider your approach to them, show respect for their time (i.e. don’t offer a free T-shirt), and find a way to stand out on a crowded playing field.
In other words, do your homework, know what they’re about, and realize you’ll need to get their attention.
And don’t make the mistake of focusing more on influence and less on great product alignment.
It’s another way you have to go beyond influencer stats and the software that analyzes them – to determine whether or not an influencer’s messaging and values fit those of your business.
We’ve all heard of unfortunate product/message pairings that tend to get lots of the wrong kind of attention.
Importantly, if you evaluate influencers wisely and look carefully for product alignment, you’ll also be able to give the influencer more freedom.
Which turns out to be pretty important.
One of BII’s Influencer Marketing Report’s findings for 2018 was that, “Brands need to fine-balance providing influencers with enough creative freedom, while also ensuring the messaging positively reflects the brand.”
When asked, nearly 40% of influencers say that imposing overly restrictive content guidelines is the top mistake businesses make in campaigns.
So, there’s definitely a balance you’ll have to strike there.
One potentially smart move in terms of product alignment when it comes to ecommerce is to find a shared cause and use your campaign to promote it.
Pedigree, for instance, recently ran a “Buy a Bag, Share a Bowl” campaign with the help of key lifestyle influencers, which allowed those influencers to share pictures of and stories about their pets as well as their concern for sheltered animals.
And one key to a good influencer match? Their goal for the content and your goal for the content they produce should be authenticity.
A great influencer respects their relationship with their fan base and wants to put out authentic content over salesy content.
Part of that is honest/transparency, so check to be sure that they follow FTC rules around sponsored content as well.
If you have to choose one place to begin, choose Instagram.
92% of marketers in Linqia’s State of Influencer Marketing 2018 flag Instagram as the most important platform.
- Influencers who catch on there, usually catch on big.
- Images rule, and Instagram is a visual playground.
- Instagram videos are quick and easily digestible.
- The platform largely centers around lifestyle, which is highly emotional and consumable.
While Facebook’s user growth is stagnating, Instagram’s is exploding.
When you’re ready to expand, Shane says to keep in mind that YouTube, the number two search engine in the world right now, is especially valuable in that it hosts evergreen content.
One of the most valuable nuggets I came away with from Shane’s advice was this: Influencers aren’t necessarily marketers.
They’re passionate about their, well passions, and they excel at connecting with and building an audience. But Shane doesn’t recommend giving them free reign to design a campaign. That’s up to you.
He says that you need a well-though-out contract with the influencer to provide guidelines, but also guidance, to get the most value out of your campaign.
And he reminds ecommerce business owners that everything’s negotiable in this arena. Basically, the price that feels fair to you and the influencer deems acceptable just became the going rate.
Such a vast number of influencers exist across such a wide array of interests and industries, you won’t easily find many standards.
Other elements of a good contract, besides the fee, that are negotiable and need to be spelled out, according to Shane:
- The frequency of posts (Shane says one post won’t cut it.)
- The number of platforms. (He recommends batching your campaigns.)
- The length of time your link will appear in the bio on Instagram.
- The hashtags to include with the post.
- The number of appearances, duration and placement of coupon codes or affiliate links.
While you’ll find a lot of case studies online featuring the enormous campaigns of mega-brands, Shane features some case studies more relevant to Influencer marketing for ecommerce businesses on his own blog.
One of my favorite showcases a Twitter Influencer who’s a videographer and photographer.
The influencer was able to naturally and seamlessly incorporate the products of a clothing brand into his photography and on his feed.
You can see it here and appreciate the product alignment as well as the authenticity of the post where it fit perfectly with the influencer’s usual content.
In a world where the customer’s journey is driven by the customers themselves, it’s a great example of influencer marketing at its most effective and also most achievable.
Nowadays in ecommerce, the customer doesn’t really need us anymore… has anyone else had this realization?
Yes, they need our products and services. They just don’t need us telling them what to think about our products and services so much anymore.
They’ll go looking. And they know how to find what they’re looking for.
They’re self-directed web-surfing machines now.
Our job in online business and marketing is to go where they go, hang out where they hang out, show up where they show up. You get the point.
It’s not “in the old days” anymore.
The new Influencer Marketing is where it’s at, and lucky for us, it’s completely accessible.
We have some great tools available now, and building a winning campaign and seeing impressive results is completely doable these days with a little guidance from the experts like Shane.