How to Leverage Influencer Marketing in Your Content Strategy
Who needs influencers? If you want to tell your audience something important, you'll just tell them directly, right? There's a problem with that approach, however–actually, there's a little over 300 problems. That's how many digital paid ads that a given individual is exposed to, on average, each day, according to industry expert David Raab. But your ads are different, your message is more important, and surely your prospects will treat it differently. That may even be true–but there's a very large, nigh-impenetrable roadblock in your way: what marketers frequently refer to as "banner blindness” or “content fatigue.” Influencer Marketing can help.
Bombarded with so many daily ad messages that the human mind can't possibly process them all, cognition latches the mental door and refuses to open it up, no matter how hard you knock. Inundated with so much content clutter in our social media streams, we simply stop reading. Send in someone familiar, however–someone that doesn't seemingly have a stake in your company and is viewed as an authority by your prospects and customers–and that door cracks open a bit, and sometimes even swings wide. This is the driving concept behind influencer marketing: a method of reaching your prospects and customers that doesn't require you to raise your voice, merely to pass the microphone off to a more popular speaker. TapInfluence defines Infuencer Marketing as a “type of marketing that focuses on using key leaders to drive your brand’s message to a larger market.” In other words, rather than trying to speak directly to your audience, you leverage influencers to get the word out for you. Now that you're familiar with Influencer Marketing, how can you put it to use for your business?
Step 1: Find Your Influencer
Fame alone isn't enough to crown someone an effective influencer. You'll need to find someone that has a vested interest or a publicized connection with your products, solutions, or services. This partnership is very common in sportswear / sportsgear manufacturers and athletes, but don't be afraid to reach beyond more obvious connections. Perhaps you make a ready-to-eat snack that's popular with e-sport gamers, or a product that enterprising Pinterest mavens are repurposing for crafts. Both influencers here have large potential audiences and can use and talk about your product in a way that doesn't automatically compromise their authority or your own. You'll want to look thoroughly into a potential influencer's history to ensure they don't champion radical or sociopolitical causes that would clash with your brand voice, such as the wince-worthy collision of Charlie Sheen's X-rated antics and the wholesome Americana stance of his former brand partner, Hanes, a few years ago.
Some ideas for where to start your search:
- Hold a publicized contest for your "biggest fan." This can work to boost your content strategy in several ways, giving your company fodder for at least several blog posts and social media updates as the searching and voting progresses.
- Leverage social media broadcast channels, such as Twitter, YouTube or Instagram. Find the best Twitter lists in your niche. Look for users with regular video contributions–weekly or more often–and large numbers of views and comments.
- Use free tools like Klout and Klear to find influencers in your domain, or if you have budget, TapInfluence and Little Bird.
- You can also hire a consultant who specializes in Influencer Marketing to help you develop a robust program.
- And finally, ex-spokespeople for your rivals. Provided there are no contractual clauses to prevent it, this can be a very creative way to subvert brand recognition in your favor while subtly bringing down said competitor. It's becoming more popular as a tactic, as evidenced by Sprint's recent influencer poaching of the infamous "Can you hear me now?" Verizon guy, Paul Marcarelli.
There are a few considerations to keep in mind, as well. Beyond a good fit for your product, your influencer should be known and trusted within your target demographic, particularly if your product is age-sensitive, like youth fashion clothing. He or she should at least be theoretically willing to pair up in the future and should be excited about the mutual endeavor as well. If a person is endorsing something for money or perks alone, it will eventually creep into their delivery and serve as a deterrent to your customer base.
Step 2: Work Out What You're Offering
Exposure is a very modest method of payment and seldom worth as much as the offering company thinks it is. Decide what you'll be coming to the bargaining table with when you approach your selected influencer–compensation may come as free product, sponsorships, or something open to negotiation or suggestion. But the best method is often just cold, hard cash. Seriously. I recently did a phenomenal #MKTGPOV Twitter Chat with marketing influencer Michael Brenner, who actually made a point of saying that if you want an influencer to work with you, then pay them. It’s that simple. Remember, if your Influencer Marketing is done well, you'll be reaping the benefits for quite a while to come, so it's only fair that your influencer receives something in kind. Influencers didn't get to be in a position of influence in their respective fields without work, and if you show them that you value that work, they'll be more inclined to work with you. As the Huffington Post-Wil Wheaton "exposuregate" demonstrated in 2015, influence can go downhill in a hurry if an offer is perceived as insulting.
Step 3: Introduce Yourself
I almost didn’t include this section in this plan because, well, it seems almost obvious that to get an influencer working for you, you have to actually build a relationship with them. But again, this is where so many folks get discouraged. The relationship can’t arise out of thin air. You’re going to have to do the work to connect to them. Marketers become discouraged because for some powerhouse influencers who have half a million followers on Twitter or more, it can seem daunting to try to connect to them. But there are a few great ways to introduce yourself to an influencer.
- Mention them on Twitter with thoughtful feedback on their content. If they respond, say Hi, and make sure to try to move the conversation forward a little each day.
- Give them a gift in some manner. I don’t mean literally, well not completely. Do something nice for them. For example, put them on your weekly #FollowFriday list on Twitter or develop a review of their book on your blog and then tweet about it and mention them. Odds are they will respond and say at the very least: “Thank you!”
- Connect to someone who is connected to them on LinkedIn or friend someone who is friend of theirs on Facebook. Use the power of your virtual network to make a direct connection.
- Ask someone in your physical network to introduce you to them via email. This really works amazingly well. When I was first working in the field of Customer Experience Marketing, I asked the CMO, who just happened to know 5 of the biggest names in the field, if she wouldn’t mind sending an email out on my behalf to them. It was effortless.
- If you’re at a trade show they are at or are attending their speaking engagement, ask them a question during the presentation and then go up afterword and introduce yourself to them.
- Whatever you do, do not under any circumstances send them a cold DM, email or LinkedIn request asking them to do something for you. Always start by figuring out a way to do something for them.
Step 4: Decide On a Game Plan
As the old joke goes, once a dog finally catches a car, he has no idea what to do with it. Don't find yourself in that position! Hash out a firm timeline and expectations–and benefit payments–with your influencer so that you're both accountable to results-based performance. This may be unsettling, but if your relationship with an influencer goes beyond a free quid pro quo and real work will be provided, then you absolutely must develop a statement of work (SOW) and get all parties involved to approve that statement of work. Furthermore, if real payment will be exchanged for services, then a signed contract is also a must. I would also recommend making a portion of their compensation dependent upon performance. For example, if you are procuring an influencer to help you drive registrations and attendance at a webinar, make sure that you agree in the statement of work that 20% of their payment will be dependent upon the webinar achieving a certain number of registrations, attendees and even MQLs. Any influencer worth their salt won’t balk at making part of their compensation dependent upon their performance. If they do, it’s the first sign that the person you’re working with likely doesn’t have as much influence with your audience as they claim.
If your influencer is a written content producer naturally, or has innate skill, great! He or she can create "guest posts" or guides that can be placed on your site and hyped through your email newsletter list, or through your mutual social media channels. If they are more of a talker or a videographer, you may need to bring in a content producer to parse their performances into a tidy article so that you can earn the recognition that comes with solid SEO. It's best to keep the three of you–yourself as a representative of your company, your influencer to ensure their voice is being presented authentically and your content creator–as a unit to ensure your output is cohesive and acceptable all around.
Step 5: Leave Breadcrumb Trails
Once your influencer and your brand work together to produce content, it's important to give it a lot of play. Use these articles, blogs and other content assets as the basis of future pieces, turning them into anchor content that acts as a hub for your content network. Work with your content team to "riff" off the concepts being touched on, and continue to derive new, complementary ideas from that base piece for as long as possible. If the content is getting dated in references or tone, take it as a sign that you're due to either team up for round two or to find another influencer to carry on the torch with your audience.
Treat your hard-won influencer content like duct tape: put it anywhere you can and rely on it to patch holes in your content development and implementation. Not sure how to make the most use out of it? Consider repurposing these assets, like so:
- Articles can be expanded into series.
- Series can be doled out as free downloads or newsletter inclusions.
- Blogs can be turned into numbered "listicles."
- Quotes from articles can be used to spark interest on social media.
- Videos can be spun into coverage articles.
- How-to articles can be transformed into how-to videos, provided an actor and videographer are readily available.
With the exception of video filming, your content team will be able to change and morph your original influencer-created content into any or all of these formats. The value of this approach is clear: though you may only pay, either in money or product, for a piece of content headed by an influencer, you can quickly and easily expand it into a wide net of assets to snag eyes and attention. In short, you don't need to pay your influencer over and over again, you simply need to get them on board for a little while to provide legitimacy to future content generation.
Ultimately, the critical thing you don’t ever want to lose sight of is that what you’re trying to do with a great Influencer Marketing program is to build relationships that last. If you develop a great game plan and working relationship with an influencer you will likely find something bizarre happens: you actually become friends. And soon, instead of paying your influencers, you’ll be asking your friend to do a favor for you ;)
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