Close up Two hand holding smart phone with Influencer Marketing

How many people would you rather tell about a new product or service offered by your company? 10 or 10,000?

It might seem like a trick question, but a lot of businesses are choosing to market to 10. Why? Because they’re relying solely on their own networks instead of tapping into the connections of powerful people: influencers.

You’ve probably heard of “influencer marketing” before. In recent years it’s gained notoriety as a revolutionary tool made possible by social media. But at its foundation, influencer marketing is nothing more than good, old-fashioned networking.

Before social media, companies used to attend events and talk to people – that’s right, face-to-face interaction! Employees would exchange business cards and follow up with emails. Enter email marketing. Organizations of all kinds started sending product and service promotions, as well as advice to their contacts. This practice continues today because it’s so effective.

But thanks to social media, a business’ reach is no longer limited to its own network. Almost every industry in the world has influencers – people that other people respect and listen to. You can spot these people because they have large social media followings and post and respond to comments every day. People seek them out and, in some cases, worship them.

At this point, you might be saying, “Well that’s great, but how does my company tap into all that influence?” Fair enough. It wouldn’t be right for us to spout off the benefits of influencer marketing without also sharing some advice. So here it goes…

 

Think about the audience you want to reach

If you’re a company that sells computer software, Taylor Swift might not be the influencer for you – even if she is a master marketer. Of course, influencers don’t have to be celebrities. They can include programmers, gamers, tech bloggers, and even some of your existing clients – as long as they demonstrate high levels of engagement on social media.

 

Produce the right content

Influencer marketing is a two-way street. If you think you can simply tweet at influencers and tap their networks, think again. You need to bring something to the table before they’ll let you into their inner circles. How do you do that? Produce content that will appeal to each influencer you want to reach. You won’t get very far if you write one blog post and spam it across your contacts and to individuals on Twitter. Do your research. Before sending anything to the upper echelons of social media, ensure the recipient will be interested in your content. If you don’t take this approach, you’re likely going to get ignored.

 

Tailor your approach

Influencer marketing requires an individualized approach and high levels of engagement on your part. After identifying the people you want to reach, monitor the conversations they are having, the content they are sharing and the topics they are writing about. Treat your relationship with each influencer like a new friendship. Introduce yourself and make a good first impression and then spend time getting to know each other by sharing common interests. To truly benefit from influencer marketing, you need to have someone dedicated to keeping up with conversations across social networks and constantly seeking out new influencers.

 

Measure your success – accurately

Stop basing success on subscribers and followers. You could have 10,000 followers, but less than five per cent actually click on or like the content you post. That’s a problem, as it provides companies with a false sense of success that doesn’t often convert to actual sales or new customers. Instead, focus on engagement based on shares, likes and conversations. Ask yourself, did anyone comment on my article or video? How many people shared my content? Who shared my content? You want to keep track of who is engaging with your brand and understand their levels of influence. It might be time to reassess your content strategy if your target audience is repeatedly absent from your engagement reports.

 

Become an influencer

Brands can’t rely 100 per cent on other influencers; they need to be influencers too. Achieving influencer status can be accomplished by making your company website a go-to place for advice about particular topics. You can also use creative, “out of the box” ideas to attract a following.

For example, in 2015 Procter & Gamble asked, “Gotta go when you’re on the go?” as part of its “SitOrSquat” campaign. “A clean nearby public bathroom can be hard to find. But not all restrooms are created equal,” the household brand posted on its website. “With SitOrSquat we put clean public toilets on the map. Literally. Clean locations have a green ‘Sit’ rating. Less desirable ones have a red ‘Squat.’” Toilet paper might not be the most glamorous of products, but everyone can relate to the horrors of using dirty public toilets. By creating its SitOrSquat app, P&G positioned itself as a helpful resource for those looking for relief on the road.

Of course, not all companies have big budgets like Procter & Gamble, but creative ideas and a well-executed plan can be just as effective.

Organic vs. paid

Most of the advice we’ve provided has been for building organic influencer relationships on social media. Of course, paying for influencer promotions is also an option. For example, a company can reach out to an influencer and ask him or her to write about a particular product and share opinions on social media, or attend a promotional event.

More and more influencers want to be paid for their time, but we’re fans of organic. After all, people are sick of seeing advertising on social media and are, as a result, ignoring and blocking it with the help of popup blockers. While paying influencers to promote brands and products is not blatant advertising, it can come off as insincere. By producing its own content, a company can position itself as an influencer while also using social media to build relationships within the online influencer community.

If influencer marketing seems like a lot of work, you’re right. But the payoffs are well worth the effort.