Social influencers, although a relatively new phenomenon, are quickly making waves within the marketing sphere: given the ubiquity of social media, this form of marking is projected to be a $5-10 billion dollar market by 2020.

They also possess several noteworthy characteristics, and many of which readily explain these promising projections. First, anyone can potentially become an influencer; it is no longer a realm reserved exclusively for celebs. A successful influencer businesses can now secure a six-figure salary - and operate from the comfort of a bedroom rather than a boardroom. Further, micro-influencers provide valuable opportunities for brands to test-and-invest across dozens of influencers, rather than having to partner with macro-influencer heavy-weights with millions of followers (and prices to match). And further still, social influencers hold the distinct edge of an opt-in audience - for many, the Ace of Spades of the marketing world.

While such influencers are more prevalent within certain industries (namely, fashion, beauty and lifestyle), there are several companies which prove that no matter the product, by leveraging the right influencers you can build a booming business. One such example is The Sugarbear Hair vitamins, who repeatedly recruit a star-studded list of social influencers for their Instagram campaigns, and now boast an enviable following of 1.6 million on the platform - a lofty accolade for a multivitamin to achieve.

So I sit down with Igor Gauzner, Director at InSense, to reflect on the four key considerations a company should have, if they are to consider investing in an influencer.

One: The Metrics

When considering a catalogue of influencers, it can be tempting to automatically gravitate towards follower count: 110k on Instagram, 1.2 million on YouTube, 305k on Facebook. Yet this is only part of the story. Alongside this, it is also crucial to consider Engagement Rate.

The engagement metric offers a good indication whether followers are actively participating in the content (illustrated through multiple iterations: likes, comments, shares, etc.). A high follower-count but low Engagement Rate can often represent a red-flag: either the influencer has paid for their following, or while many eyes may see the content, few will actually notice it. Both are bad news for business.

When reviewing influencer profiles, examine each one holistically. While many may boast a formidable following, take time to understand how the influencer connects, engages and resonates with their audience - best done by simply interacting with the content yourself.

Two: The Goals

Never seek the influence of a social influencer with the overarching goal 'to influence.' In the same way that you would not launch an SEM or DM campaign without a clear understanding of whom you are addressing, what you are aiming to achieve, and how you intend to measure success, you must also approach social influencers having done your homework.

Your goals will significantly shape both the campaign content and the lens through which you will review post-performance data. A campaign which functions as a PR-push will not only look markedly different to a campaign with a more prominent sales dimension, but will likely scrutinize metrics like CTR, Bounce Rate and Engagement with a greater degree of depth than the latter - which in contrast may be primarily concerned with a healthy ROI and the CTA performance.

Whether you are looking to build brand-awareness and increase footfall to your site, or push a promotion and drive droves of conversions, this must be clearly established prior to on-boarding an influencer: while the likes, favorites and comments may be a nice affirmation for your brand, it is critical to keep in mind how and why these metrics correlate to your overall business objectives.

Three: Optimization Strategies

So the goals are defined and you have compiled something of a whitelist of influencers you believe would make lucrative partners. While you may be able to contact them directly, it may be worthwhile to enlist a third-party service to help streamline this process. Such services, in addition to offering an expansive database of influencers, also provide tools which both enable you to actively collaborate on campaign content and receive strategic advice, insights and recommendations.

Similarly, the impact of social influencers can often be boosted when used in conjunction with other tactics. The most common of these is combining social influencer posts with paid search ads, of which the benefits are threefold. First, it looks decidedly less slovenly than a 'link in bio' CTA. Second, since paid ads can (currently) be tracked much more accurately, it allows performance to be measured with a greater degree of precision. Finally, a clear CTA presented alongside a social post is an effective prompt encouraging customers to take action.

Four: The Content

The final factor is the quality of content itself. Increasingly, the caliber of content is quickly rising to prominence as a key consideration when choosing an influencer. As brands are increasingly able to promote influencer posts directly, they are equally able to receive immediate results regarding the CRT/CPA/CPC of each post - and naturally, the highest performers are those who can craft the most engaging content.

Subsequently, take time to identify influencers which align with your brand's voice, values and tone. In many ways social influencers exist as an extension of your business - after all they are entrusted to communicate your brand's story on your behalf - so finding an ambassador who does this confidently and correctly is of the utmost importance.

If used correctly, social influencers can enable you to reach whole new pockets of potential customers online. It is also an archetypal example of how technology continues to eke out entirely new areas of business, and subsequently it is worth pausing to consider what lies ahead for this relatively new market. "Regulation," Igor quips, when I present the question. "We are currently living in the 'Wild West' days; this is still an emerging market that's constantly shifting and changing. And we must roll with the new rules as and when they are announced, so the ability to pivot is key."

You do not need to search for to see examples of this in action: earlier this year, the FTC reprimanded nearly 100 celebrity influencers for failing to provide full disclosure when they were paid to promote certain products on their social media. As a result, this information must now feature on such posts - usually in the form of the tag '#ad' - in order to clearly differentiate paid collaborations from organic (unpaid) ones.

In light of this, I inquire whether this increased regulation will only be beneficial for the industry at a macro-level, or whether it will impede growth. "It will be a good thing. Not only for the consumers, but it will become easier for us to digitally measure results. Facebook and Instagram are already beginning to roll out specialized toolbars for us to track organic paid posts - and on Facebook you can even dedicate media dollars specifically to this channel, as it becomes increasingly recognized as an effective marketing tactic."

So amidst this flurry of change, as a final thought, are any aspects of social influencer marketing impervious to change? Well, for Igor there certainly is: the authenticity. "Influencers must feel as though the product aligns with their personal brand as much as vice-versa. If it deviates from their usual content the influencer simply won't be interested - and that authenticity is an aspect that will always remain."

Likes, shares, comments and favorites are quickly rising to power as an incredibly influential cultural currency within contemporary society. And while marketing is forever devising new ways to utilize online content, a strong social influencer can prove to be one of the most effective ways to translate this cultural currency into economic currency for your business.

This article was co-authored by Katt Godfray @GravityMediaLLC

Published on: Sep 8, 2017