It's no secret that influencer marketing is picking up steam. In 2017, the use of influencers grew 198 percent. Even big brands are starting to work more closely with powerful people who can connect to their target customers in a genuine, non-intrusive way. Advertisers can get their brands right in front of their target audience without it feeling like advertising--providing that they do it well, of course.

Get endorsed by the right influencer and you have a powerful, direct line to your consumers. And with Facebook's announcement that they will be cutting the reach of business pages in consumer news feeds--influencers are the name of the game in 2018.

As greater preference is allocated to posts from family and friends, influencers create a loophole in the system, because their content mimics that of family and friends. Successful influencer marketing campaigns attract high engagement and can generate as much as 16 times more than paid or owned media, according to a SocialChorus study.

The Rise of Consumer Valued Content

But as the influencer space gets increasingly crowded, the number of individuals hoping to monetize their digital footprints is increasing. Brands have to tread carefully to align with the right influencers. 

In fact, the most successful influencer campaigns are often the brain-children of the influencers who are already brand ambassadors. Millennials want to see the personality behind a brand and even participate in a brand's marketing efforts, aligning themselves with a cause that they believe in. 

"We're seeing an uptick in production of consumer valued content," says Kevin Herrera, CEO of LA-based production, management and advertising firm, TheMachine. "Influencers are developing their own professional quality content and circumventing traditional distribution routes. The byproduct is more authentic, creative, and timely content that resonates with audiences in powerful ways."

The Story Is Everything

Smart brands and marketers understand that no advertisement is more powerful than an authentic story from a true brand ambassador. This is influencer marketing at its finest, and it's controlled by the influencer, which is what so many brands miss out on when it comes to influencer marketing: allowing the influencer to take control of the partnership in a collaborative and genuinely authentic way.

Do not get in your own way when it comes to influencer marketing. The most shared video in the first week of 2018 was a Brita ad featuring Rudy Mancuso and Steph Curry. Brita didn't tell Mancuso what to do. Instead they let him incorporate the product in a hilarious and odd video designed for his audience. 

If you're going to engage influencers, you want their audience. But that audience has to feel like they are getting the same kind of content they expect. You wouldn't want to turn on Comedy Central and see C-SPAN. That same rule applies to digital influencers. 

And it starts on your end by creating a brand that allows people to want to create content for it. Not all brands can be Nike. But they have done the best job in the last 30 years of inspiring people to want to create content. 

Fans Can Be Influencers

"Since I was a kid, I wanted to be a Nike athlete," says Charlie Jabaley, a self-described recovering music-industry CEO and the former manager of 2 Chainz. "But I was the chubby kid. It didn't feel like I could be an athlete, so I put everything I had into business, and I got good at it. I had everything you could ever have in business, but I didn't have my health." 

Recalling his childhood dream, Charlie set his sights squarely on Nike and produced a video, explicitly calling out the brand and even leaving a place for their logo to jump on board as a sponsor. The video has reached more than a million views as of this writing.

Within days, Nike tweeted out Charlie's video and flew him up to Portland to talk about a potential partnership.

As a company, start-up, or even established brand this kind of fan-driven organic engagement is priceless. But you don't have to wait for it or leave it to chance.

  1. Identify your audience
  2. Discover who influences that audience most
  3. Allow those influencers to create content
  4. Don't be afraid to engage influencers outside of your target audience if they are gifted at creating content

This is an over-simplification but this doesn't need to be complicated. Look to create long-term, not short-term, relationships with influencers that can build and grow over time. And keep them engaged even when you don't have specific projects.