Influencer is the buzzword of 2016… but who are they and why do they offer value to today’s brands?

Let’s start with the basics; influencers are those who possess social clout and credibility and have an extraordinary ability to sway opinions in their favor. In fact, according to the ODM Group, 74 percent of consumers rely on social media to inform their purchasing decisions. Because only 33 percent of today’s consumers trust ads, influencers can provide a more seamless, reliable way to communicate to audiences.

So, what is influencer marketing? Influencer marketing is a tactic where brands can ride on the social successes of celebrities through strategic partnerships. Brands like HP, Intuit, Taco Bell, Lululemon, Best Buy, and Dr. Pepper are just a few on a long list of brands who leverage influencers on social media.

Even if you are a smaller brand, there’s still a lot of opportunity in influencer marketing. Here are a few things you need to know to capitalize on and succeed in marketing with influencers.

First, Define the Basics

Like any successful marketing campaign, you must first establish what you want to achieve, and where:

  1. Define the Channel: Identify the social channel you want to pursue in tandem with the influencer. When selecting the channel of choice, think about the platform’s overall user base, targeting capabilities, and user experience. While Instagram, Vine, and YouTube are the most popular channels for influencer marketing, just about any social media channel is fair game.
  2. Define the Campaign: Sometimes specificity helps. Define what you want promoted to the market — specifying a new product or service, appropriate campaign hashtags, and key points you want an influencer to convey will give you a leg up.
  3. Define a Goal(s): Next, define a high-level goal you want to achieve through your influencer campaign. Influencer campaign goals can center on the following:
    1. Brand Awareness — brand mentions and positive sentiment analysis
    2. Engagement — social shares and blog comments
    3. Lead Generation — visit depth and assisted conversions
  4. Define your Budget: Most good things come at a price, especially influencers. If you need context, know that in a four-month span, the average influencer earns an average of $1,300. Top accounts with a million followers or more can make up to $15,000 per post.

A word to the wise: Many social media stars now have agents. Keep it in your registry that you might also need to pay or work around a middleman.

Second, Identify The Influencers

When you pursue an influencer marketing campaign, you have to be mindful of posers, fakers, and non-contextual fits. Like any other marketing campaign, do your research. Start with a blank Excel spreadsheet and vet influencers based on three primary factors, let’s call them the three R’s:

  • Relevance: How well does the influencer align with your industry and brand?
  • Reach: How loud is the influencer’s megaphone? What is their follower count on the specific social channel your campaign is targeting?
  • Resonance: How good is their social engagement? Are people actually receptive and engaged with their posts?

Third, Reach Out

Once you’ve defined a list of potential influencers – using the three R’s of relevance, reach, and resonance – it’s time to reach out. Channel your inner PR-pro to perfect your email pitch. Make it personal, offer value, and be specific about what you want from the influencer. Include your timing, payment details, and other campaign particulars so the influencer has context, and as much information as possible, so they can decide whether or not they want to pursue the opportunity. Follow up with a call, and if applicable, reach out to the agency middleman.

Fourth, Execute

Once you have the influencer on board and the contract is signed, it’s time to watch the magic happen. First, ask the influencer to submit a storyboard or concept for you to approve to maintain brand consistency, and then establish a post date. Be certain that every paid influencer tags a sponsored post with #ad (due to FTC guidelines) and make sure to use a predefined hashtag for the campaign so posts are categorized and easily tracked.

Take the campaign a step further and re-post the influencer’s original message on your owned social channels, then boost the post with paid social advertising – either managed or self-serve.

The final step is to track each influencer’s ROI through impressions, engagements, brand mentions and conversions. Remember that tools like Traackr or BuzzStream can track emails and the status of your engagement. They can also help you stay organized throughout the process. Even a run-of-the-mill spreadsheet will do the trick, too.

Influencer marketing works. In fact, for every $1 spent on influencer marketing, brands make $6.85. Invest in influencers and follow the above tips for conducting a successful social-influencer campaign.

Do you agree that influencer marketing is “the” marketing tactic of 2016?