In a study conducted by Forbes, only 1% of Millennials surveyed said that a compelling advertisement would make them trust a brand more. In fact, 33% of respondents said they rely mostly on blogs before they make a purchase. This is just one example of how today’s consumers, including everyone from Baby Boomers to Generation Z, are turning to their peers before pulling out their wallet. Social media, blogs, unboxing videos, and review sites are now an important step in the buyer’s journey. According to SiriusDecisions, 70% of the buyer’s journey is already complete before a customer even reaches out to sales.
As brands try to find new ways to reach their market, it’s no surprise that influencer marketing has the industry abuzz. Its ability to deliver ROI like no other has everyone from Jay Baer to Brian Solis talking about it, and last year Google even classified “influencer marketing” as a “breakout” keyword, meaning it experienced growth greater than 5000%!
Influencer marketing is a powerful tool, especially in a world where media is ubiquitous, and almost everyone has the capacity to articulate, repeat, or amplify an idea. But influencer marketing has to be about more than name dropping or pushing products. As marketers become aware of the benefits of this strategy, and influencer outreach programs become more popular, consumers are starting to turn a “jaundiced eye toward the endorsement itself” says Jay Baer. Your audience wasn’t born yesterday, and they can spot a hollow product placement from a mile away.
So how should you approach influencer marketing? We’re debunking the influencer marketing myths that mislead content marketers, and sharing insights into how you can find the right influencer and pull consumers down the funnel.
Myth #1: Influencers, advocates, and ambassadors are the same thing.
Terms like ‘influencer marketing,’ ‘advocacy,’ and ‘brand ambassadors,’ get thrown around all the time – but do we really know what they mean and why they’re different? Let’s take a moment to set the record straight.
Let’s start at the most basic level with the fans. Fans simply love the brand. They might talk about your company or product casually on social media or with their friends via word of mouth, but they’re not paid and they’re not necessarily influential on a large scale.
Advocates are “super fans” or “brand loyalists” who engage with a brand because they truly love it and are inspired to take action, says Entrepreneur.
According to Jure Klepic of the HuffPost Business Blog, “a true advocate, often a highly satisfied customer, can be priceless.” For example, while shopping for a pair of boots at Blundstone, I received the best customer service I’ve ever encountered in the retail industry. Since then, I’ve convinced at least 10 of my friends and coworkers to purchase Blundstone boots. I’ve become a willing and outspoken advocate for the company even though they haven’t paid me a cent.
Though an influencer might have a larger audience than an advocate, peer-to-peer and word-of-mouth recommendations are highly influential, and may be just as important as an influencer’s endorsement.
That brings us to influencers. Though there’s a tendency to think of influencers simply as people or celebrities with large followings, you should really be thinking about them as people who resonate with your brand values.
An influencer might be a blogger, popular instagrammer, celebrity, or trusted industry expert. Ideally, an influencer will advocate for a brand simply because they love the product, with no expectation of compensation. However, influencers are often paid for their services or given free products and perks in exchange for a review, post, mention, or endorsement.
Ambassadors are hired by a brand for a long-term campaign. These are typically paid spokespeople who are given a deep inside knowledge of the brand or product, and usually have goals or targets that they’re expected to meet. An ambassador’s primary responsibility is to deliver the brand’s messaging to the public.
Now that we know how an advocate differs from an influencer, you’re better equipped to determine which one is best suited for your brand or campaign.
Myth #2: The best influencers have a lot of followers.
Contrary to popular belief, the number of followers an influencer has on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn is not the best way to evaluate whether they’re the right fit for your brand.
According to Baer, “we tend to confuse audience with influence.” But having a large blog readership or a ton of Instagram followers doesn’t inherently make an individual influential, it simply means they have a large following. For Baer, “true influence drives action, not just awareness.”
So, how do marketers ensure they’re cultivating awareness and action? There are two parts to this equation. Firstly, you have to ensure that you’re delivering the right content through the right influencer on the right channel. There’s no “one size fits all approach.”
You wouldn’t give a popular video game reviewer on YouTube your new kitchen gadget. Just because an influencer has a large following doesn’t mean it’s the right one. Relevance and resonance are more important than followers when assessing the value of an influencer.
Additionally, to be truly influential and drive action, an influencer must also be an advocate. It’s not enough to have someone with a large following tepidly review your product, they have to really believe in it. A modest review might drive awareness, but it won’t drive action unless they’ve become a fan of your brand.
David Alston stresses the importance of authenticity. He emphasizes the need for marketers to build genuine relationships with people in the industry that are built around a sincere desire to help them out. The same approach should be taken when searching for and building relationships with influencers. Follow and engage them on Twitter, share their content, and invest time in helping them with their cause. Michael Brenner suggests involving influencers in the content creation process to deepen the relationship. “While your ultimate goal is getting influencers to amplify your content, the co-creation project should focus on creative value for influencers as well.”
Alston also recommends looking for the people in your space (and adjacent spaces) who are passionate about the same issues as you. It will be much easier to build a relationship with influencers and will give you access to the right audiences. If the audience can identify that an influencer isn’t genuinely psyched about your brand, product, or service, they’re not going to be inspired to take action. The real power of an influencer lies in their sincerity, excitement, and passion, not just the size of their audience.
So where do you start looking for the right influencer? Focus less on audience size and more on the influencer’s activity. Do they love your brand? Are they talking to an audience that might be interested in your products? Are they engaged with their audience and regularly replying and retweeting their followers’ posts? And how many people are retweeting their content or commenting on their blog posts?
For example, here at Rock Content we analyzed over 100 million news items, blogs, and social media sources to identify the world’s most influential CMOs. By focusing less on the audience size and more on the activity around an individual, we were able to identify the top 50 movers and shakers in the marketing world.
Myth #3: Page views and impressions matter.
Influence can be tricky to quantify and measure. Marketers are often under a lot of pressure to prove the ROI on their marketing efforts, but page views, and impressions (though important) aren’t enough. Marketers have to shift their thinking and take qualitative forms of ROI into account.
As we mentioned above, advocates can be extremely useful for a brand looking to “unlock a new level of social media ROI and word of mouth.” You can activate existing brand advocates by making it easier for them to create and share content about your brand across their social accounts. Feature them on your brand’s Instagram, retweet them, or find a way to empower the customers who are passionate about your brand. By recognizing and engaging enthusiastic fans, you can cultivate loyalty and help spread messaging to new audiences in a less intrusive way.
However, at the end of the day, the best way to attract influencers and tap into their audiences is simply through good quality content. “While influencers can help amplify your content, the key to ensuring people will read and share it is creating valuable content that is worth sharing,” says Brenner. If you focus on producing content that people actually want to share, the advocates and influencers will find you!