In his recent article The Slippery Slope of Influencer Marketing, Mark Schaefer writes about how he is conscious of the need to turn down offers of paid opportunities from companies hoping to leverage his personal brand to achieve their marketing goals. As a high-profile blogger (or “influencer” – for what that term is worth), he fears that agreeing to too many paid engagements may ultimately have a negative impact on his credibility and trustworthiness – the very things that make influential individuals attractive to brands (and respected by their audiences) to begin with.
As with content marketing, where marketers need to focus on the needs of the buyer or consumer in order to produce truly valuable and worthwhile content, organizations should approach influencer marketing from the same angle, placing influencers in the centre of their strategy and building out their planned engagement and campaigns from there. While the foundation of a successful influencer marketing strategy is establishing what it is you wish to achieve from your efforts, a crucial element of your influencer identification process and subsequent engagement is understanding who your influencers are to begin with – and therefore what they can achieve from your engagement (whether paid or unpaid) in turn. Brand advocacy is never a given, and expecting immediate results from influencer marketing is not a realistic approach, even if your product or service is truly amazing.
As Schaefer points out, saturating an influencer’s audience with messaging about a brand (or several different brands) can not only affect an influencer’s credibility, but may ultimately reduce the effectiveness of influencer marketing as a channel, as audiences become increasingly cynical towards perceived corporate shilling and paid endorsements. An influencer relationship must therefore be of mutual benefit to both parties, which means that brands should be realistic with their KPIs, and influencers in turn should remain aware of whom they align with and how that may affect their own reputation.
Brands – Avoid the Slippery Slope
Assuming the people you wish to engage with aren’t completely wrong (in which case you might want to go back to the drawing board with your influencer identification), achieving this relies upon:
- Understanding your influencers’ areas of thought leadership and expertise. What do they talk about? What are they interested in? As influence depends entirely on context, it is not advantageous for either influential individuals or brands to partner up when they have little in common. Brands may wish to segment their influencer pool into knowledge areas (in addition to more advanced segmentation such as categorizing influencers based on your engagement pipeline criteria), and link these up with appropriate marketing goals to tailor their engagement, which will include thinking about the tone of their messaging, the engagement channels used, and determining the best person internally to manage the relationship.
- Knowledge of your influencers’ brand affinities. Are they advocates for a competitor, or do they take more of an industry-wide view? Has your brand had prior engagement with them? Assess who the best people are to engage with and tailor your engagement appropriately to match their situation. Similarly, influencers should be aware of how their interactions with companies may affect their own existing relationships with competitors.
- Leveraging less well-known influencers. Don’t be afraid of looking further down the list for your influencers. Though somebody may not have a huge social media following or be a household (or at least office-wide) name, their views and opinions may have a disproportionately large impact within a valuable audience or community, particularly when it comes to niche topic areas (again, credible and contextual influencer identification is key to surfacing these influencers). Focusing more on these stakeholders will also avoid the need to chip away at the “usual suspects” – those well-known social media personalities who regularly grace “Top Influencer” lists, and who are likely already inundated with requests from companies seeking to capitalize on their influence. Building your own programme, bespoke to your aims, sector and resources will increase your chances of success, and avoid the situation Schaefer describes in his article.
Supply and Demand
I’d like to emphasise here that influencer marketing should be seen neither as a death sentence for an influencer’s credibility, nor a waste of time for marketers. In fact, a strategic partnership should elevate both parties’ brands and thought leadership through association, and can encompass a wide range of engagement, from co-creation of content through to paid speaking and attendance at company events, all of which should feed into wider marketing goals such as lead generation, boosting sales or raising brand awareness. The key to avoiding the slippery slope is achieving a balance between the needs of both sides of the equation – the influencer and the company – and continuing to provide your respective audiences with the content they need. For another angle on this, please see Daniel Newman’s article PR Needs a New Approach for Influence Marketing,
which further discusses the reciprocal nature of influencer engagement.
If you’re interested to find out more about what we do, you can check out our influencer marketing platform, Onalytica IRM, or get in touch for more info. To get some more background on our approach to influencer marketing and influencer program best practice, you can download our free white paper, Crafting Your Influencer Program.