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Influencer Marketing 101: How to get started

TLTR: 1. Pick influencers who actually influence their audience, or be one. 2. Make a sensible (or non-sensible) win-win offer to the right ones and get surprisingly good results.

When we think of influencers we tend to think it's all about big numbers of followers, that 1 million followers means more than 500,000 by a lot. Or that someone who has reached 100,000 followers is automatically more important a better influencer than someone with 8000. This is a remnant of the days of TV, before this world of internet and Netflix.

There is some truth in the value of a high follower count, but as was spoken about repeatedly at the AdWorld conference of 2022, Q1, big brands (like Nike) are realising that the real clout is to be found with interaction, with the actual influence a given influencer has with their followers. And for that bigger does not always equal better.

Smart thinking new digital service providers like HypeAuditor and Modash have thus come out with tools for checking in on the analytics of influencers on Instagram, calculating the engagement rates and flagging up bots being used to buoy up numbers. (We will be publishing an extensive list of these tools next month). For other platforms, such as LinkedIn, you don't have as many tools but there are ways to assess influencer clout.

So when you are looking for influencers to help build your brand, as well as when you are working on building your own social media presence, don't put too much weight on the number of followers you have, look at the relationship with them. Sounds oddly like 'real life'.

When you are doing influencer marketing, you'll be expecting the content that they create to generate interest in your product, and lead (at least eventually) to sales. And like in any other situation, a large number of views may generate more leads, but feeding into your marketing funnel might cost you if it's not done correctly, and if these are not the right people for your product, it's misdirected effort. Better to ensure that the followers of the influencer you are considering working with are both engaged and relevant to the product or service you want to introduce them to.

How to define an influencer and qualify them for your project

Remember a large follower count does not always mean they win on social media, even if we have a slight tendency to react as if they do. On Instagram there is a blackmarket for followers, and even if almost every major celebrity does it, it's still not okay and not nearly as beneficial as people tend to think. Seeing 10,000 followers or more on an account will typically encourage a visitor to give the account 5 seconds more of their time, but if what they find in those 5 seconds doesn't hold their interest they probably won't become followers, and if the content keeps doing the same thing for them - nothing - then they definitely won't become engaged followers.

On LinkedIn it's important to remember that a follower count will include the number of connections a person has. And these connections could have come around naturally from a long career in which they've got along with a lot of people, or it could be a result of connecting with everyone they've come across on LinkedIn. It could even be as a result of automating connection requests which have been sent out to people who don't know them but were flattered enough by the invitation to connect with a decent profile that they accepted the connection and built their own network. This low quality outreach will not do much towards one's aims on social media as it doesn't help you create the kind of optimal professional network LinkedIn was designed to help you build: a network of colleagues, partners, mentors, mentees, clients and inspiring humans.

So while "influencer" has in the past primarily been defined by follower count, big brands are increasingly wisening up to the value of the actual influence people have on others. 8000 followers who really care what someone says will make a more significant difference than millions who don't relate or don't trust the influencer. That said, when it comes to actual celebrities, there is a strange trust that people have in them, and while they can run effective campaigns, they will typically not bother doing so without big money payments. JLo could pretend to love a new sugar-filled vitamin supplement (she did recently); no matter how fake it seems, we want to believe it. A brand can reach the same number or more people for a lot less money through large numbers of micro-influencers.

When people have moderate followings, somewhere from 5000 to 500,000, they may be able to influence their audience, usually, if they have discovered and nurtured a talent that works well on their chosen platform. And if they have a team helping them to reply to comments, or at the smaller end of the scale, they can set aside an hour or two a day to interact personally with their community; they are likely to be influencers with influence. You'll see it in how their posts come across and are received, in their being approachable and an interest in that approachability. You won't know what is going on at the private messages' level, but you might infer it based on what's happening publicly on their page.

They need not be posting all the time either. If they infrequently post with the right content, an influencer might be able to maintain significant influence without making it take up a big percentage of their time. Perhaps what you, as a busy person with a business to run and other interests and responsibilities, would like to achieve.

An influencer changes perspectives; while a high follower count may just be a sign that someone likes to collect people and feel good about themselves thanks to other people's opinions. (It's a trap.)

Defining Direction Before You Start

As with all the best marketing, you have to start with your ideal customer avatar. It's okay if you get it wrong, it's better than not having one. If you have one, you probably have an 80% chance of getting it right if you understand your business at all. And if it turns out to be wrong, you'll be clear on which parameters were amiss. For example, you aimed for owners of companies of 50 to 150 people, and you found that it suited only owners of companies of 100 to 150 people. You've learnt something. If you start with no avatar, you have a chance of getting it right that's moderately higher than winning the lottery. And getting it wrong, like not-winning the lottery, won't teach you so much about what to do next time. Choosing an avatar and getting it wrong is one good way to "fail fast."

So you create your avatar, lots of ways to do that, but that's not the topic today. Check HubSpot's free tool for creating a buyer persona to give a little guidance for now. And using the avatar(s) you search for influencers, people who talk to people in the positions you need to speak to on LinkedIn or with the interests you want to talk to on Instagram. Influencers who have a high percentage of this kind of person in their engaged following. When you get this right you might find you are not having to have a lot of conversations because you are only having the conversations you need to have instead of all the less fruitful ones you'd otherwise be having.

Making a Start: The First Real Action Step

Until now, everything was preparatory. Now you start working with your chosen influencer partners to create content. And this deserves a lot more attention than I will give it here. For Instagram, you'll usually want to provide the influencer minimal direction, just a few key points that you need, and leave the rest up to them. Let them do what they do. For LinkedIn, on a small but well-targeted campaign, you'll work more closely with them as you create your content. Suffice to say that you'll see what works and learn to refine it as you go.

For help with running influencer marketing campaigns, and improving your social media presence, for your personal or company brand, be in touch.

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