Editor’s Intro: Social media has created a whole new world of influence, and marketers have had to adjust to a world where communication is not a one-way street of advertising that they control. In the past few years, marketers have started to adjust to this new world, and influencer marketing has become an increasingly valuable tool in the toolbox. Sophia Papagregoriou discusses how influencer marketing is becoming more sophisticated, and focusing on building networks of influencers that can help build brands in a variety of ways.
Influencer marketing has been around as a form of marketing for years, more years than one would think, but only recently have we shifted to a world where being a social media influencer constitutes a full time (and more often than not well paid) job. It’s only natural that some brands will have been the “early adopters” buying into the concept, followed by the “early majority” and so on, but now it’s time for all brands to get on board and find influencers for their category, in order to create their own brand ambassador communities.
The goal? Amplified customer advocacy, aka systematized word of mouth!
Identifying these people online is now possible, and the same goes for engaging with them. The web is saturated with all kinds of products and services, just waiting for the right person to discover them, and it’s the same with influencers; particularly “micro-influencers”. Micro-influencers can be more valuable to a brand than celebrity influencers, in the sense that the latter will have bigger expectations on earnings and benefits as well as limitations in what they are willing to do. Micro-influencers will be more flattered and eager to work with your brand, in a way becoming a part of your extended marketing team and contributing to your goals. The ROI of having 100 micro-influencers as brand ambassadors can be way higher than that of having 1 celebrity brand ambassador. This is due to the combined following of 100 micro-influencers vs 1 celebrity and the level of engagement (i.e. likes, shares, and comments/replies) in each case. According to influencer marketing pioneer Olivier Billon, micro-influencers offer higher levels of engagement. An influencer with 1,000 followers is significantly more likely to have a closer relationship with their followers than a celebrity with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers. If a brand was to have 100 micro-influencers with 1,000 followers each that’s a reach of 100,000 consumers with a higher engagement rate than if they were to have 1 single celebrity with the same number of followers. Not only that, but a celebrity influencer with 100,000 followers could charge around £2,000 per picture, making the investment much higher to begin with!
From a consumer’s point of view, there’s also the matter of believability and whether or not you can relate to this person – the influencer/ambassador. Would you not be more convinced if you saw a peer – someone in the same cohort or demographic as you, someone your own age, with the same job, the same aspirations or likes and hobbies, promoting a product or service, rather than a celebrity whose life you know is quite different to yours?
Driving sales, albeit the ultimate goal in most cases, is not necessarily the main purpose of working with a group of brand ambassadors. The latter has the power to change perceptions and convert non-customers, to build a brand up, generate loyalty with other consumers, and even come to its defense in the midst of a crisis. No brand wants consumers going against it – see Nike with its recent Kaepernick ad, or Coca-Cola with its 2014 Superbowl ad-, but keeping all consumers happy 100% of the time is close to impossible. So, you might ask, how can having an ambassador community be helpful when the time comes that someone is not happy with my brand and are being vocal about it online? The answer is simple: advocacy will come to the rescue! Although a few years apart, in both the above examples brand fans jumped to the opportunity to set facts straight and defend the brand from the haters – two great examples of the positive effect of negativity.
Advocacy is, in fact, harder to achieve than sales. Everyone has certain products they love and swear by, products they buy on a repeat basis without even considering an alternative – but how often do people talk about these products and actually recommend them to others? The path from awareness to sales and from sales to advocacy is definitely funnel-shaped; it takes some work (advertising/marketing/PR) to launch a new product or brand and make it appealing enough for someone to buy once, but it takes a lot more work to get a consumer to come back and become a repeat customer, and even more to ensure they are so happy with your product or service that not only will they come back for more, but they will tell their friends, families, colleagues, and social networks about it! According to Forbes “closing a new customer” is the first stage of the customer relationship, with advocacy, whereby “the customer creates opportunities for net new business through referrals” being the last, so it may be harder but achieving advocacy can drive up a brand’s sales.
Back to identifying micro-influencers online… these people can be found for most if not all product categories and service sectors in the world that operate (or even just exist) online, all you need to know is where to look for them and how to tell them apart from the rest. What makes a person “qualify” as a micro-influencer and brand ambassador can vary depending on your brand’s values and aspirations, however, these should always be people that share your vision and have a certain online presence. Influencers will most likely have a certain level of knowledge on the product category or service, and perhaps also a certain level of creativity and individuality, however one brand’s influencer is not necessarily their competitor’s influencer. Who actually qualifies as a micro-influencer for a brand can depend on their brand identity or end goal – this is not a “cookie cutter” type scenario. A fitness brand trying to appeal to younger generations who are tech-savvy and follow trends would not employ the same brand ambassadors as a fitness brand trying to appeal to people of all ages who want to focus purely on their athletic performance. A brand wanting to gain new customers with the same traits and demographics as their existing customers could identify those who are influential within their own customer database and turn them into brand ambassadors to appeal to others like them, if however, that same brand wanted to attract a new type of customer, they would seek influencers from a different cohort in order to reach completely different people. The potential influencers’ number of followers, likes, and comments, as well as the actual content they share, should be taken into consideration, bearing in mind that as the number of followers increases engagement tends to decline. Once you have identified the individuals you would like to work with, most likely using advanced high accuracy text analytics, you need to start a conversation, show your appreciation, and generally work towards building a relationship with them.
When a relationship has been established you should invite your brand ambassadors to join an exclusive private online community, where you can discuss upcoming content to promote the brand, plan social media account takeovers, collaborate, and send them free samples of new products asking for their thoughts and opinions on the community. Social content can be created by the brand ambassadors and shared on the community for approval from the brand, created by the brand and shared with ambassadors on the community to in turn share with their followers on social media, or co-created by the ambassadors and the brand through various community activities. Your brand will instantly get more exposure leading to awareness and possibly new customers, better engagement and increased loyalty on social media, an overall positive online presence, and even an increase in sales; all leading to higher brand equity.
This type of strategy is much cheaper and more effective than traditional advertising, and social media is at your disposal to turn word of mouth into a mass medium.