2017 is becoming the year that “influencer marketing” is the marketing buzzword on everyone’s minds. Influencer marketing can be a tremendously valuable tactic to introduce your brand to new audiences by prospecting, generating new engaging content, and adding a touch of authenticity to your marketing efforts for both paid and owned media.
Usually when we talk about influencer marketing, we’re talking about a paid partnership with highly visible influencers. There are many advantages to these types of paid partnerships — they take relatively little time and effort to set up, the results happen quickly, and for the most part, you know what you’re getting. Of course there are drawbacks too — costs of paid partnerships can balloon quickly and, as with any paid tactic, you need to keep funding the buy in order to keep seeing results. Furthermore, the FTC requires that paid posts be clearly labeled as such, and there is a risk of a loss of authenticity with such posts. The vague regulation has not been widely adopted by influencers and requires significant hours and monitoring by agencies and brands.
Earned influencer marketing, on the other hand, is the organic acquisition of fans and advocates of your brand. These influencers promote the brands they love without being paid to do so. As you might imagine, there is much to be gained from acquiring earned influencers who support your brand. Though it does take more time and effort to earn influencers than to pay for them, earned influencers bring longer term benefits — the influence doesn’t stop when the money does. And because earned influencers are unpaid, their influence doesn’t risk appearing inauthentic.
So how do you create an earned influencer strategy?
Here are four steps to get you started:
1 – Identify your influencers
First identify who are your target influencers. To do so you have to be present on social media, monitoring the chatter about your brand and the topics or interests that relate to your brand. Who is talking about your brand? What are they saying about you? Do these organically-engaged fans have influence within their sphere or community? You should also be monitoring chatter and conversation around topics related to your brand with the necessary free tools (Google alerts) and paid subscriptions such as Radian6/Salesforce marketing cloud or Sprout or Crimson Hexagon (and dozens of other comparable options). This is where you will be able to identify people who have some influence in the areas of interest that are important to your customers.
When identifying influencers, especially ones you want to cultivate as earned influencers, it’s important not to ignore micro-influencers. These are people who might not have large audiences, but they have small, engaged followings within a specific niche. These micro-influencers are arguably more valuable than mega-influencers because they are trusted experts within their sphere of expertise, with possibly more meaningful user engagement.
2 – Be present in the conversation
Wherever conversations that relate to your industry, products, or expertise are happening, you need to maintain an active presence. Being present in these conversations means you’ll be attuned to the issues or topics that your audience cares about. This is an essential step — before you can contribute to the conversation, you have to understand what’s already being said. Listen and respond/engage thoughtfully.
3 – Build your content
If you want to attract the attention of influencers and earn their advocacy, one of the best ways to do so is to create content that will be interesting to them. As with all content marketing, you should focus on finding ways to provide value to your customers and users. Providing value will mean different things to different audiences — it could mean solving a problem, showcasing a product “hack” or how-to, showcasing a USP/ESP, hosting a tutorial, or simply providing entertainment. Build your content and make sure to share it in the circles where your target influencers spend time.
4 – Offer incentives
For really valuable influencers, you’ll want to go a step further than creating great content in order to capture their attention and advocacy. Think about what you can offer these high-value influencers in order to pique their interest in your brand. If you can provide samples, that’s an obvious solution that is easily achievable. But beyond samples, consider whether you can create VIP/custom experiences for top influencers or special behind-the-scenes access to interesting events, conferences, or panels. This type of access is appealing to influencers and will make them feel appreciated by your brand.
Though when we talk about influencer marketing we’re often talking about paid influence, it’s important to also consider what you can do to create an earned influencer marketing strategy. Earned influencer marketing can generate longer term results than paid influencer marketing, and it has the benefit of an additional level of authenticity. It takes time and a little bit of patience to build an earned influencer following. It is imperative to first identify your target influencers and become an active listener in influencer conversations. Once you’ve become a member of the community you can begin building valuable content and offering incentives for engagement and advocacy.