The marketing universe tends to make complete sense to everyone who works in it, but sounds like jumble with too many acronyms to outsiders. When we all visit family for the holidays or go on a first date, we inevitably (and reluctantly) find ourselves having to explain SEO, how Google rankings work, or site metrics and analytics tracking.

Influencer marketing is another term that marketers throw around that generates questions from the outside world. To shine some clarity on this form of brand promotion, we tapped 18 experts to explain influencer marketing and how to do it successfully.


Influencer Marketing Taps Into Audience Trust

Audiences are more aware of advertising than ever — and they are also more suspicious of it. Influencer marketing has become an alternative to traditional advertising to earn back some of that lost trust.

“Research has found that consumers trust only 33% of ads they see, while they trust 90% of what influencers post,” says Hannah Rinaldi, a blogger at Eat, Drink, and Save. “This is because most influencers only post what they truly trust. Only work with brands that you would normally purchase yourself. This will help your audience trust you and in turn you’ll make more money.”

While smart influencers should turn down offers that aren’t relevant to their brand and audience, it’s up to the marketers to find strategic partnerships.

“We think the only reason a social media creator should be speaking about a product or service is because they believe in it,” says Eric Burgess at ION. “They may or may not work directly with a brand to create content and align the message but it should be clear that they actually love what they are recommending to their audience.”

This mutual relationship maintains the sense of trust that audiences have with influencers, which plays an important factor in the marketing process.

“[Influencer marketing] takes advantage (in a good way) of the trust influencers have earned from their constituency,” says digital marketing consultant Paul Chaney. “Trust is valuable currency in a world where peer influence reigns supreme and leveraging it to call attention to your brand, products and services is worth the investment.”

The investment goes both ways: Audiences trust influencers to be a source of news and expertise, while peers trust influencers to have an active and genuine audience instead of bought followers.



Influencer Marketing Requires Brands and Users to Listen

Often, marketers look for a one-stop solution, but influencer marketing is actually a process of listening and relationship-building.

“Most B2B marketers don’t know the top 10 to 20 people who influence their target buyers on social media,” says Carter Hostelley, CEO and founder of Leadtail. “This is a wasted opportunity. Marketers must research who these people are and invest in building relationships with them. These influencers can quickly create brand credibility, amplify brand content, and make introductions, all in a way that can be extremely impactful as compared to paid media programs.”

By simply highlighting your market’s top 20 influencers, you can strategically build relationships that make sense to your target audience.

“…44 percent of influencers decide to work with a brand because the opportunity is relevant to their audience,” says Mike O’Brien at ClickZ.

“Though you should aim to work with influencers who are fans of your brand, only 14 percent of them consider that their main motivation. When asked about working with a brand a second time … [more] than half also cited being shown the same respect as any other publisher.”

Influencer marketing isn’t a hard concept. Brands simply need to listen to their influencers and treat them with respect. Following those two steps will take any brand far.

“Pay attention to industry news, read other people’s posts, and think before replying,” says Will McInnes, CMO at Brandwatch.

“Careful attention to detail and the simple act of listening first, rather than just publishing a barrage of content, is a great way to escalate your social media presence to influential status. You will learn who the major players are in your area of interest, and you’ll be better equipped to speak to them in their own language.”

This is particularly true for marketers diving into an unfamiliar niche or industry.

portrait of happy female food photographer checking photos in camera


Influencers Initiate Actions

While the term “influencer marketing” might be especially en vogue now, it’s not a new concept.

“What has made influencer marketing unique in the present is how social media communication has leveled the playing field and given anyone and everyone the opportunity to share their voice,” the team at Global Yodel says. “Anyone with internet access can share their opinion and content, and if they do it well enough become an influencer.”

While anyone can acquire thousands of followers, they’re not influencers until they’re able to use their power to move whole communities.

“Influencers typically initiate an action to affect the behavior and decision making of others, while those who are influential typically affect others by their very action and performance,” says Aileen Cole, corporate account executive at Marketo. “Others look to their actions and achievements to mirror their own behavior.”

An example for comparison’s sake: Kim Kardashian would be an influencer when she tries to sell something on Instagram, but three-year old Prince George is influential in that whatever he wears immediately sells out in stores across the UK.

“Brands and companies target individuals with influence to affect change in buying patterns or habits over other people,” says Lucy Rendler-Kaplan, founder of Arkay Marketing & PR.

“It’s not follower numbers that determine someone’s influence on a given social network, but rather [being] someone that people trust. Influencers are people that have strong feelings about something or an affinity to a certain company and a good relationship with others where people know this person knows their stuff.”

Once brands find influencers who are capable of changing behavior, they can use that power to generate word-of-mouth advertising and revenue.

“In today’s world, it is no longer about locking yourself up in a cave for weeks listing all of the offerings of your brand,” says storytelling specialist Dan Virgillito.

“[A study by McKinsey] found that online word-of-mouth advertising generates twice the sales as paid advertising and results in a 37% higher retention rate. This indicates that companies need to be smart with their marketing spend and invest in a way that generates online trust.”


Influencer Marketing is Hyper-Niche and Focused

This was briefly touched on in the last section, but it bears repeating: Influencers are based on the engagement they generate within the community, not necessarily their follower count.

“While [influencers] may have a lot of awareness, they aren’t always trusted as fellow consumers,” says Sujan Patel, co-founder of Web Profits. “A study from Nielsen found that 92% of consumers trust their peers, compared to only 18% that trust celebrities, bloggers or other influencers that they perceive as having an agenda. This doesn’t mean that other influencers aren’t also important, but satisfied customers should be the first place you turn.”

Yes, bloggers and celebrities are options for your influencer outreach, but are they the people your audience turns to for advice or information?

“Ever notice that the same people tend to crop up in a variety of industry publications as columnists and guest posters?” writes Dan Shewan, web content specialist at WordStream. “These individuals are probably influencers. What names do you hear over and over again in your field? Which articles are constantly being linked back to?”

This means brands that are hoping to connect with and join the influencer community need to hone their messages and form their own beliefs if they hope to change the opinions of others.

“To become an influencer, master a specific topic within your niche,” says Meaghan Edelstein, B2B digital marketing consultant. “If you cast your net too wide, it will be difficult to gain the level of knowledge necessary to be considered an expert.

“Start small and learn as much as you can about your desired niche through research and experimentation. That way, you’ll be able to discover the ins and outs of your specialty and form your own ideas, as opposed to simply restating others’ opinions.”



Influencers are Relatable and Easy to Connect With

One of the main ways influencer marketing sets itself apart from celebrity endorsements is by using relatable people whom audiences empathize with.

“The easiest way to identify influencers that you should partner with is to take a look at your buyer personas,” says outreach marketing consultant Kristen Matthews. “Think about the type of bloggers or influencers these buyer personas would seek out to ask questions about a product. Consider which type of influencers these consumers would follow on a regular basis.”

This practice has actually given rise to different tiers of influencer marketing, where the middle tier holds more power.

“Lower ranked influencers, also called tier 2 influencers or ‘the power middle,’ can be very effective for any campaign and it is often easier to engage with them,” says Joe Fields, digital marketing associate at Onalytica. “These tier 2 influencers are helpful in discovering rich sub communities and can allow rapid scaling of influencer marketing campaigns.”

For example, a local mommy-blogger who shares community events and organizes meet-ups is more relatable and approachable than a global blogger with millions of followers.


Influencer Marketing is Measurable and Targetable

Another reason why so many brands are exploring influencer marketing is its measurability. Influencer analytics started out strong and will only continue to grow in the next few years.

“For decades, the advertising industry was limited to shooting in the dark, having only access to traditional strategies that yielded murky information about audience reach, sales funnel influence, and branding impact,” says Misha Talavera, co-founder of SaaS platform NeoReach.

“The digital world is different. Every website visit, social like, and picture posted online can be stored and analyzed, yielding oceans of data that turns into valuable insights about your target market and your advertising performance.”

Finally, brands can make strategic marketing decisions regardless of their audience size or range.

“An increased focus on algorithms and historical data in 2016 will enable marketers to better predict what kind of and how many interactions followers will have with an individual influencer, allowing for marketers to offer guaranteed audience engagement before a campaign even begins,” predicts Holly Pavlika, SVP of marketing and content at Collective Bias. “The deeper the data analysis, the more marketers can fine-tune influencer campaigns.”

Analytics removes the frustration and nerves that come with marketing programs. The more teams have access to data, the more they will use influencer marketing.

“Brands will be willing to shell out more money on influencer programmes only if they are able to extract real value out of it — engagement as opposed to reach,” says Irfan Khan, CEO at Blogmint. “Key metrics they will look into will include number of users engaged (RT, shares), customer acquisition (website visits, lead conversion, churn reduction, amongst others) and earned media.”

Influencer marketing might be a little murky to define now, but understanding that engagement/reach distinction will put you ahead of the curve as it grows in popularity and grows as a tool in content marketing’s arsenal.

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Amanda Dodge