Everyone is talking about influencer marketing this year, but why is that? Well, influencers are projected to become even more important for businesses that want effective digital marketing. But what is an influencer’s role in marketing exactly, and why are they becoming so integral for serious sales and brand recognition?
In this article, we’ll cover all these questions and more so you know exactly what influencers can do for you, how to find the right one for your business, and important tips for hiring an influencer so you can ensure your collaboration is successful.
What is an influencer, and what do they do for marketing purposes?
Influencers are social media users who have a large social media following and can influence purchasing decisions. An influencer can be anyone ranging from celebrities, e-celebrities, content creators, models, or even casual users who accumulated a large audience over time. Influencers are sought out for promotional purposes because they have an established following of potential customers that trust their input on purchasing decisions and product recommendations.
An influencer’s social media reach is measured by the number of people that follow them, their engagement rate or comments per post, and their previous successes promoting products and brands. The ratio between these factors regarding their importance for marketers has changed over time, which we’ll discuss later on.
Influencer marketing is a relatively new form of marketing involving social media influencers promoting products or services for an agreed fee and/or commission rate. Though technically new, it’s analogous to traditional marketing methods involving celebrity spokespeople and endorsements. It has proven to be an extremely successful form of marketing for businesses and lucrative for social media stars with a diversity of backgrounds and audiences.
What are some influencer platforms? What are the major social platforms for influencers?
Influencer marketing is mainly done on social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, but can be done through other social media platforms that influencers use regularly like Snapchat, Facebook, and more. The most well-known platforms for influencers are YouTube and Instagram, both of which are home to the common types of influencer marketing: beauty, makeup, and fitness.
That being said, TikTok is one of the fastest-growing platforms for influencers in terms of audience and opportunity, and over the past few years especially, more platforms with different tools and types of content have become competitive potential for influencers as well. This is especially true for 2020-era influencers, which tend to represent a larger variety of communities and interests than the previous two decades.
The increase in the number of social media platforms people use on average and the increasing variety of content and influencer types means that more often than not, an influencer will use more than one platform. Despite this, influencers generally have one specific platform they’re known for most where their audience and social reach are the largest.
How to find the right influencers for your business or brand?
There are a few ways to go about finding and selecting an influencer to collaborate with your brand.
Ideally, your social media marketing should be established enough to know which platform(s) to start looking on. From there, it’s a matter of researching the communities, content, and hashtags your target audiences are in and inevitably influencers and their content will show up. This can also be done using the audiences of competing businesses on their social media accounts.
Finding influencers organically through audience research and engagement within their communities is the best way to find influencers that are a good fit for your brand because it allows you to discover influencers with a reach that encompasses your target audiences.
Alternatively, if you don’t have the time or resources available for this type of research, you can find influencers for your brand using professional services. Third-party platforms like BuzzSumo can help you search for relevant influencers on various platforms while taking your business’s social media account into consideration. Platforms like TikTok and Instagram have their own suite of tools to help brands and influencers connect and collaborate on-site. This can be an inexpensive way for marketers and business owners to save time when finding and selecting an influencer, but they don’t make the process completely effortless and still require you to dedicate time to research.
Professional services for finding and hiring influencers
For those with larger teams and marketing budgets, hiring an agency can make finding an influencer fast and easy while minimizing risk.
Agents have enough experience in the industry to easily find quality influencers that can represent your brand’s products effectively and also take over the time-consuming tasks of outreach, vetting, and negotiation. For example, a brand working with a full-service TikTok ad agency or Instagram advertising agency for their marketing campaigns would only have to provide any preferences or requirements and give final approval after being presented with their best options – the agency can do the rest.
Depending on their success level, influencers often have their own agents to handle the tedious aspects of this process on their side. Influencers that are in high demand often receive numerous requests from hundreds of brands, so it’s important to know whether they have an agent handling brand sponsorships in order to know the most effective way to reach out to them with an offer.
What are the benefits of working with influencers?
As stated previously, influencers have established audiences in their sphere of influence and are often regarded highly by their fans. This results in a high level of authority and trustworthiness and makes influencers more likely to be effective at promoting your brand.
This trust is what puts the “influence” in the term “influencer,” and it helps them promote a product or service in a way that is authentic and natural, which ultimately results in better sales conversions. In other words, because an influencer’s audience trusts them to create content that they feel genuine about, audiences are more likely to take their advice and act on it, whether that’s purchasing your product or service or sharing the social media post with friends.
Another important benefit that influencers can have for brands is that they’re digitally native to the platforms they’re using. Creating organic and authentic content on social media requires a thorough understanding of the platform and its norms, trends, etc. and it can be difficult for businesses to keep up with social media in this way.
It’s not uncommon to see a brand try to speak the language of their social media audience in an ad or upload by tapping into a trend or popular topic, only for it to fail miserably. This is not only a waste of marketing resources but can also tarnish the brand’s reputation or even result in backlash on a large scale if their marketing fail goes viral for the wrong reasons.
Social media influencers can allow brands to avoid this risk and help unlock the advantage that authentic, platform-native content can give to boost brand reputation, sales, and customer loyalty. They often help brands that are new to social media or influencer marketing to come up with creative content ideas and new ways to promote their brand in a way audiences will love.
What kind of return on investment (ROI) can you expect from working with influencers in 2023 and beyond?
As social media advertising and social commerce become more common, influencer marketing is beginning to seem less like a novelty and more like an industry standard. Influencer marketing got an even bigger boost this past year as third-party data regulations and policy changes disrupted the effectiveness of digital ads.
Influencers can generate an impressive ROI for businesses sponsoring them, but the range is too large to give an accurate estimate. Each influencer is in a sense their own business with unique audience size, demographics, verticles, and so on. In other words, they’re too different to expect similar results from.
That being said, social media influencers generate over $9 billion in product sales annually and the industry has single-handedly launched emerging startups and small businesses into mainstream popularity.
Ask any avid YouTube viewer, for example, if they’ve heard of Dollar Shave Club, Hello Fresh, or Raid Shadow Legends. All of these businesses are recognizable names for most because the majority of their marketing is influencer marketing, predominately on YouTube.
In essence, a brand can expect massive payoffs from hiring an influencer, including ROI in the form of sales, signups, etc. But arguably, the ROI influencers provide is not easily quantifiable like conversions or likes. The reputation boost influencers can give businesses long-term can promote social credibility and social proof that will ultimately contribute greatly to the company’s overall market value.
How will the role of influencers change in the next decade, and how should businesses prepare for these changes?
The social media industry is constantly evolving and influencers follow suit. For example, social media platforms have recently started to offer advanced tools for both businesses and influencers to integrate into their content. For example, TikTok now has shippable live streams and links that make product promotion easy for brands, influencers, and buyers alike. Because of this, businesses should expect influencers to become more heavily involved in the representation and promotion of brands on social media.
Furthermore, affiliate marketing, particularly for Amazon stores, is on the rise. This has led to a new type of influencer called an Amazon affiliate or Amazon influencer. These influencers are social media personalities that promote products through their social platforms, in most cases pulling in commissions on the sales they generate for Amazon.
Since these influencers create their own private affiliate links to share with their social followers, many businesses and product owners often see a substantial increase in sales and conversions and influencers can easily receive commissions without nearly as much time and effort involved in collaboration and negotiation.
This is evolving the industry in two ways: Firstly, it allows smaller influencers to work with brands more often, providing them more opportunities to grow and businesses the opportunity to reach new, unique audiences. Secondly, it’s diversifying the intensity required for sponsorships, resulting in less expensive and formal types of promotions and shoutouts.
Potential dangers associated with using influencers as part of your marketing strategy
As the influencer marketing industry has become more mainstream, the risks involved in selecting an influencer are decreasing as the process becomes standardized. However, that’s not to say there’s no risk for businesses at all, which is why vetting and account auditing is an important part of the selection process.
Instagram is easily the platform where scammy or negligent influencer marketing is most likely to take place. This is partly because of the platform’s exploitability, and also because Instagram’s position as a founding platform for influencer marketing means that many still don’t treat the process as seriously as it has become. That’s not to say Instagram is the only platform with bad influencers or practices, or that most Instagram influencers are bad. Still, it’s a good example to highlight because of the platform’s well-documented and pervasive challenges with influencer marketing.
Exploitable metrics and inflatable numbers
Earlier we mentioned that the ratio of importance between an influencer’s follower count, engagement, and previous success has changed over time when determining their social reach. This is in large part because businesses learned the hard way that:
- Lots of followers =! lots of engagement (and therefore less influence)
- Followers, like counts, etc. can be inflated with the use of bots and other malicious practices to make the influencer’s reach look larger than it really is
- The context behind an influencer’s numbers matters when determining whether collaboration would be successful
Negligence and avoiding formal industry standards
As influencer marketing becomes more intertwined with marketing as a whole, new regulations and best practices are added regularly that influencers and brands alike need to be aware of. This has helped turn social media influence and content creation into a bonafide career, but many still avoid following them either out of ignorance, negligence, or for their own personal gain.
Failure to disclose sponsorships
On Instagram for example, influencers failing to properly disclose paid promotions is commonplace. Though this was always regarded as unethical, during the initial rise of influencers, no one was quite sure what its legal implications were. Nowadays, its legal implications are clear – both brands and influencers can face hefty fines and charges for doing so – but that hasn’t stopped many.
Influencers need to vet sponsors, too
Another common issue is the selectiveness of influencers regarding the products and brands they promote. Just as influencers can influence a brand’s reputation, the same is true in reverse; they can run into embarrassing or damaging scandals if they don’t do their due diligence as well. Some common examples are crypto scams and “detox” (read: violent laxative) teas or “weight loss” (read: useless and expensive) programs and pills.
Other times it’s not the product itself that’s the issue but the way in which an influencer promoted it, or the fact that they promoted it. Plenty of influencers with younger audiences can find themselves in hot water when they promote age-inappropriate products, for example.
Others have received massive backlash for promoting cheap products in a misleading manner. Once-famous YouTuber Tana Mongeau, for example, was well-known for accepting bad promotions. One notable instance was when she promoted Kensa Cosmetics makeup brushes. They were marketed as originally $60+ but at a special discount, so viewers only had to pay the shipping fee. They turned out to be ~$0.10 per brush on Alibaba (slightly less than Kensa’s shipping fee, coincidentally). Tana’s audience consisted mostly of young preteen or teen girls, who are far less likely to question a deal their favorite storytime teller is raving about. Legend has it that some are still waiting for their brushes to arrive to this day.
These examples of bad influencer practices are important to know about and identify early on to ensure your investments are safe and your brand reputation isn’t put at risk. However, as stated previously, the industry is a lot more regulated and formal than even just a few years ago, so these issues are fading away over time and audiences are also learning to avoid them.
How you can ensure your relationship with influencers remains positive and mutually beneficial?
To make sure that your relationship with any influencer your brand partners with and sponsors, be sure to keep the following in mind:
Always do your due diligence
This is the most important thing that you can always be sure to remember and abide by – proper vetting and research often only takes time, but not doing so can be costly when it backfires. Take your time researching social media influencers, their content, social engagement rates, and get an idea of their audience. Consider auditing their profile for fake followers and potentially illegal activities like failure to disclose promotions or any of the bad practices we outlined above.
Be transparent about what you expect from the influencer and why you chose them
The biggest mistake brands make when working with social media influencers is not being completely forthright and open about what they expect from the influencer and what makes them a good fit for their brand. This could be as simple as a specific script they need to read from, or something more intense like collaborating on long-format video ideas. Additionally, make sure you confirm with the influencer that your expectations for them are realistic and they are comfortable with any preferences or requirements you have for the sponsorship or promotion.
Include any legal documents required by social platforms, sponsors, etc. in your contract
Social platforms have a number of regulations that must be adhered to, so social media influencers are required by social platforms like Instagram and YouTube to include certain legal documents in their contracts – a social influencer contract is usually required for social influencers with a large following. Be sure that you’re aware of these requirements when formulating your deal memo or social influencer contract to keep a clean paper trail and avoid any legal issues.
Involve the influencer in the creative process
Having a script to present to them initially or some specific requirements regarding how your product is presented is normal and often helpful. However, some businesses take it too far and as a result, they sabotage the influencer’s ability to deliver results. Scripts that are too intensive and don’t have any input from an influencer will sound out of character and come across as inauthentic. Oftentimes, some of the best and most adored promotional readings are ones in which brands give influencers plenty of room to do what they do best, which allows the promotion to blend in with the content instead of interrupting it (which people will often skip). Doing so increases your potential ROI and can help foster a long-term relationship with the influencer because you’re recognizing them as a content creator and not just your spokesperson.
Influencer marketing is always changing, adapting to social media trends, new social platforms, evolving social spheres, and most importantly – the demands of consumers. By 2022, social influencers will be even more crucial for businesses across all industries that are looking to grow through social content.
For businesses investing in social media marketing, influencers are only going to become a more lucrative and widely available method to effectively reach new customers and boost brand reputation. Knowing this, it’s important to adhere to ever-evolving regulations surrounding the industry, be thorough in the selection process, and properly recognize the creative ability and authority influencers have as expert trust-builders and sellers with their engaged audiences.