This is the first in a special series of pieces that I will be running entitled "The Business of Social Media."
Influencer marketing is quickly becoming one of the most efficient and effective ways for businesses to reach potential buyers of their goods and services. By focusing marketing activities around key individuals known to wield influence among a target customer market, brands can often deliver a more "authentic" message that is more palatable to "real" people than classic advertisements. As such, influencer marketing can significantly increase brand awareness and help grow sales, and usually costs dramatically less than classic advertising.
According to Maurice Fadida of influencer agency, Rebel Way Entertainment, brand-influencer partnerships can be quite lucrative for both brands and influencers: "Influencers lend incredibly effective credibility to a brand, which increases the premium customers will pay. That level of quick authenticity with such a lucrative outcome can take years to build through traditional marketing."
But, for many entrepreneurs and business executives, influencer marketing relationships are a new concept, and many do not yet understand how to leverage this new channel for maximum benefit. Gil Eyal, Founder and CEO of influencer platform, HYPR, told me that a poll taken by the firm showed that "more than three-quarters of large brands that paid for influencer marketing didn't know how to evaluate whether the money they spent on it provided a positive ROI."
Likewise, Reza Izad, CEO of the multi-channel entertainment powerhouse, Studio71, explained "There is a cultural shift going on and it takes time for businesses to fully understand and figure out how to best exploit that shift."
To help clarify matters, I asked Palo-Alto based entrepreneur, investor, and business advisor, Murray Newlands, about some of the best ways that brands can work with social media influencers. Newlands has spoken all over the world about building relationships with social media influencers, and is often hired as an influencer himself. He has millions of followers across various social media platforms, works for brands doing influencer outreach, and has interviewed some other top influencers (including Twan Kuyper, Bart Baker, and Olga Kay) for his Forbes column.
According to Newlands, here are ten of the best ways you can collaborate with influencers to give your brand the boost it needs:
1. Give influencers creative control.
Social media influencers did not just coincidentally build large, engaged followings; they know what their audiences want, and are experts on their followers' needs. "Paying an influencer to simply share your content won't lead to the result you desire," says Newlands. "Give creative license to the influencer so that he or she can introduce your brand authentically. If you want something specific, make a suggestion, but do not be surprised if the influencer says no."
2. Engage influencers who love what you have to offer
Influencers generally will not promote products in which they do not believe - and if they do, they will not promote those items convincingly. "Look for influencers who match your brand's values, who influence your target market, and who will promote your product with passion. The more influencers love your product, the easier it will be for them to promote it," Newlands states. "You want your influencers to feel as though, even if they weren't getting paid, they would love the product and use it all the time. That is when you know you are getting top-quality content."
3. Create a mutually beneficial relationship.
Influencers often receive many pitches: "Just because influencers already have a following does not mean that they have everything that they want," Newlands explains. "Make the relationship mutually beneficial by giving them credibility, financial reward, invitations to events at which they can network, products, and more." When there is something in the deal for both of you, influencers will work much harder to create something great.
4. Look for dedicated audience engagement.
Brands have plenty of choices when it comes to picking an influencer, but the choice is not always about numbers. "You will usually do better choosing an influencer with a smaller reach but a dedicated audience than pitching to an influencer with a huge reach of casually-connected fans who have a similarly casual connection to the influencer's content," says Newlands, "So choose carefully." Various companies produce lists of influencers for particular market segments based on actual social media engagement metrics - for example, influencer-marketing-software firm, Onalytica, just released its annual report about cybersecurity influencers.
5. Utilize influencers as reporters for your brand.
"Sending influencers to sponsored events is a common strategy," Newlands says. "Influencers can act like 'reporters' for new product rollouts and events, spreading word about the new offerings on social media, with photos and videos. While people know that influencers are usually compensated, they know that influencers won't normally push products in which they don't believe, so people trust influencers far more than they do classic advertisements.
6. Sponsor influencer-run contests and giveaways
Brands can garner a lot of attention by sponsoring exciting contests and prize giveaways which its influencers mediate.
7. Build connections
"There is a ton of competition amongst brands to get their products onto the social media of the top influencers in their fields," says Newlands. "Influencers have choices among many great products, and will typically promote offerings of people and businesses that they know. Make connections that will help you find the relationships that you want. Go to conferences, make phone calls, send some emails, and engage with influencers on their platforms. Share their content. But, of course, first and foremost, make the connections."
8. Respect influencers' judgment
Influencers became influencers because people listen to them. They are usually creators and business owners in their own right, and know their audience. "Give them the respect that they deserve, and the tools they need to do their best work in service of your brand," says Newlands. "Furthermore, demanding results that an influencer considers unreasonable will not help anyone."
9. Do not confine your search for influencers to celebrities.
Though it may be tempting to pitch your brand only to influencers who have achieved "classic fame" and millions of followers on social media, it can often be more effective to align with influencers who are less well known in general, but well-respected in your target market. Often such influencers can deliver better results on a cost-benefit basis, and sometimes, they will actually deliver better results than a much more expensive celebrity endorsement. People often trust non-celebrity influencers more than they do famous stars.
10. Have actionable goals for influencer campaigns
"Spreading the word about your product or brand is wonderful, and an influencer can help you do that quickly and effectively. However, a smart campaign with an actionable goal will create more engagement for your brand and drum up excitement," says Newlands. "Be it a user-generated content contest, a sharing campaign, or a contest (as described earlier), make your campaign something memorable by engaging your influencer as the contest ringmaster."