Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram have become virtually ubiquitous in today’s culture, and it’s more important than ever for businesses to consider them essential components of any marketing strategy. Digital marketers are constantly searching for new ways to make meaningful connections with their target audiences on social media.
One way to boost your online marketing approach at a relatively low cost is by taking advantage of influencer marketing on social media. This is a fairly new concept to many marketing professionals, so it’s vital to take a thorough look at what this approach has to offer.
Who are Social Media Influencers?
The rise of alternative media is undeniable. More people than ever before are eschewing traditional television and news broadcasts in favor of independent channels on YouTube and the like. This has actually been a mainstay of the video game industry for years: Well-known players would craft “let’s play” videos to show viewers what a new game was like with hands-on demonstrations or meticulous guides to help players find hard-to-reach bonuses and secrets.
Essentially, these influencers acted as more personal, entertaining journalists. Eventually, game publishers started sending these influencers copies of their games for review purposes. Today, most dedicated gamers look to their favorite YouTube channels for information instead of traditional video game journalism outlets.
Collaboration with social media influencers has potential far beyond just the realm of video games. Brands are starting to realize the massive ROI for providing influencers with large followings a hand in their marketing efforts. Working with an influencer is a bit different than subcontracting part of a marketing campaign, so it’s good to have some idea of what to expect, and keep some best practices in mind before you investigate this route.
Expect Honesty – Not Shilling
Part of the reason social media influencers are such powerful marketing assets is due to the fact they have cultivated large followings by leveraging their personal quirks and authenticity. Their audiences likely have a very good idea of what to expect from their content, so if you approach an influencer about a partnership or sharing your content, you need to allow them to have creative control.
An influencer will represent your products, services, or content honestly, so you need to find one who echoes your own brand’s values. If you expect to pay for a glowing recommendation, you may not get what you’re hoping to see – most influencers won’t accept being paid for providing lip service. They’re going to give their audiences authentic and honest opinions about your brand and content. Ideally, you want to find influencers who would love your brand, products, and content even if they weren’t being paid for their input.
If an influencer winds up shedding a negative light on your brand, approach the situation civilly and see if there are any steps you can take to change his or her tune. One negative review shouldn’t be a death sentence for your relationship with the influencer, unless it is extraordinarily disrespectful or misrepresents your brand. Try to maintain the relationship – a future engagement could be vastly more positive.
Striking a balance is crucial; you shouldn’t expect to pay for only positive feedback about your brand, but at the same time, you shouldn’t be paying good money for someone to publicly badmouth your brand.
Incentivize – Don’t Bribe
It’s important to remember throughout this process that you are not paying an influencer to advertise for you. Most influencers will simply reject such offers outright because it would hurt their credibility with their audiences. Instead, you want to cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship with the influencer.
Of course, this could entail monetary compensation, but don’t go into such an arrangement expecting to pay for good words about your brand. Instead, you could offer the influencer networking opportunities and free products and services for the purposes of honest reviews.
If you decide to investigate influencers as a part of your social media marketing efforts, you need to be realistic about your expectations. Don’t be surprised if they wind up providing a less-than-stellar review of your offerings – their audiences expect their honesty, and if the influencer were to play up how much they enjoyed your brand’s offerings, his or her audience would likely sniff this out as a paid review.
Look for Audience Dedication Instead of Size
Finding an influencer with a huge audience is great, but more often than not, the best potential actually lies with influencers that have smaller but fiercely dedicated followings. The stronger the audience feels connected to the influencer, the more likely they are to feel a similar connection to the influencer’s opinions about your brand.
Another great tactic to employ with influencers over dedicated audiences is to provide the influencer with free products for giveaways and other similar contests. This not only generates more interest in your brand, but also provides the influencer with a clear incentive to work with you.
The prospect of free products will appeal to just about everyone who is even remotely interested in what you have to offer, so this tactic is great for getting lukewarm leads to start paying closer attention to your brand’s offerings.
Don’t immediately set your sights on the celebrity-level influencers with millions of followers. Chances are they have built such a large following because of a very specific formula, and they may not be willing to bend when it comes to your brand’s offerings. Additionally, working with high-profile influencers will more than likely be less cost-effective than seeking out those with smaller but more dedicated followings.
Build Your Network and Theirs
Another aspect of the mutually beneficial relationship you build with influencers is through networking. If they’re connected to what your brand has to offer, chances are good they have contacts that could prove beneficial to your digital marketing efforts.
In turn, you more than likely have contacts that could help them expand their reach and grow their followings. Leverage these connections to benefit both your brand and the influencers you work with – this will foster long-term relationships that help your products and services reach more potential customers, backed by an authoritative voice. The influencers gain credibility, as well, and their audiences will start to notice that more big brands (like yours) are paying attention to them and their audiences.
You could also consider inviting influencers to talk about your brand at conventions, trade shows, or similar events. This provides them with an opportunity to offer their audiences fresh new content while showcasing your brand. Events like these are goldmines when it comes to networking, so influencers will more than likely be thrilled to participate.
The backbone of influencer relationships is scratching each other’s backs – the more good you do for an influencer, the more likely that influencer will be to help your brand. Once a relationship has been established, start using your own influence to spread the word about the influencer’s content. Again, if the influencer is even tangentially related to your brand’s offerings and values, this is going to generate more interest in your brand, and the influencer will be grateful for the extra exposure.
Keep Communication Open and Honest
Thought leaders and social media influencers have their own platforms to consider, so don’t expect them to go above and beyond their normal routines just for you. Stay polite and engaged and keep them in the loop about any marketing efforts related to your relationship. They may have advice or input you never considered, and this could open a lot of doors for your marketing campaign.
Remember that if a relationship doesn’t seem to be working out, don’t go too far out of your way to salvage it. Sometimes, it’s better to cut ties sooner rather than later; just be sure you’re not burning bridges. It’s better to part amicably and have the possibility of working together in the future than to completely cut ties and potentially alienate a large swath of customers.
Social media marketing is a tricky game to play, but the role and power of social media influencers is undeniably tremendous when leveraged properly.