What is Influencer Marketing?

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  • 7/12/2017

    What is influencer marketing?

    Influencer marketing is one of those marketing buzzwords that is coming up in conversation a lot lately. It is a form of marketing where brands leverage the influence of individuals to connect with its target audiences. These influencers, who often have a large social media following, influence audiences that are desirable to a brand based on various qualities.

    A brand might consider adding an influencer program to the marketing mix for one or more reasons:

    • To create or expand brand awareness among a particular audience.
    • To build or maintain a brand's reputation.
    • To establish or reinforce behavior.
    • To drive lead generation and ultimately increase sales.

    Why is this a Thing All of a Sudden?

    While influencer marketing isn’t a new concept, it is exploding in popularity as more brands recognize the benefits of partnering with individuals who can influence consumer buying behaviors.

    There are two main reasons why influencer marketing has become a trending topic among marketers. First, social media is now ubiquitous and has allowed for personalities (YouTube stars, Instagram celebrities, etc.) to emerge and build incredible followings into the millions.

    Second, the media landscape has been in flux for a long while and consumers are less trusting of content that comes directly from brands. They’re more inclined to seek out information from other sources, like recommendations from individuals (even if they don’t personally know them) when making purchasing decisions. Today, a blogger or Instagram personality can carry as much or more influence as an esteemed New York Times writer.

    Two Types of Influencer Marketing

    So what are your options if you choose to invest in an influencer marketing program? How does this work and what’s the ROI? You first need to decide which type of influencer marketing program you want. Influencer marketing breaks into two primary segments: paid and earned. Today, most of the hype is around the paid side due to its potential for immediate extraordinary reach, but the long-term ROI will come from the earned aspect.

    Paid Influencer Marketing

    Whether you are buying advertising media or compensating an influencer to send out a tweet, you are paying an intermediary that has an audience you want to reach, and your brand is buying the privilege to communicate through them. Paid influencer marketing involves seeking out a celebrity or big social media personality and paying them to endorse your products or services, and their posts may be seen by sometimes millions of people following them.

    Since the influencer is an individual instead of a faceless corporation, consumers place more weight on their recommendation or endorsement than traditional paid advertising. Advertising carried out through a traditional method is normally understood to be paid for, but danger (and legal consequences) exists when influencers are paid to promote a brand and do not disclose the paid partnership with his or her audience; thus blurring the lines of authenticity.

    So while brands might see an incredible reach when they decide to pay a high-profile influencer for their endorsement or testimonial, the cost to reach their audience may add up quickly based on the size of their following and track record with other brands. Those relationships are more transactional than authentic. For brands that want a more authentic, long-term connection with its audiences, earned influencer marketing is a better option than just paid influence.

    Earned Influencer Marketing

    Earned influencer marketing has a lot in common with public relations, especially the practice of traditional media relations. When conducting media relations, a brand pitches its story to a targeted media outlet and if coverage occurs, the placement of the story was "earned" as a result of the work. Earned media is unpaid and is considered a form of word-of-mouth marketing.

    Brands that invest in earned influencer marketing connect with smaller, micro-influencers who best align with the brands values and have a natural affinity for its services and products, instead of celebrity influencers. A brand can build an authentic relationship with an influencer over time by learning about the type of content the influencer typically shares and how the brand might seamlessly fit and add value to the influencer’s audience.

    If a brand and an influencer can develop a mutually beneficial partnership built on trust and transparency, then the influencer can introduce their audience to the brand, and in turn the brand can increase an influencer’s exposure and help them to grow. It’s a win for everyone involved.

    However, outside these two primary categories a new crossover category has emerged over time as the “mommy blogger” movement spread to other industries and content creators. These relationships tend to begin with crowdsourced or audience-generated content turned into more of a working relationship between a micro-influencer and a brand.

    These relationships even start with influencers pitching brands to suggest a partnership in some cases. These hybrid projects are more likely to engage with tuned-in audiences based on the natural and authentic style of the relationship between brand and influencer. 

    The Long Game

    Influencer marketing will continue to expand and evolve over time to embody its literal wording and shed the social-media-only affiliation it has today. The goal of media relations has always been to influence opinion and behavior through the power of the mainstream media. Over the last few years, this has come to include not just TV, print and radio, but also digital news outlets and even bloggers.

    The earned influencer marketing long game will also function like that of media relations where the ultimate goal of the practitioner is to create a successful long-term relationship with the influencer. As news and entertainment continue to change, so will media relations. The endgame of all of these methods in the past, today and in the future has been to use the influence of the outlet to benefit the brand in some way.

    Influencer marketing is here to stay no matter what it ends up being called. Consider how your audience consumes information around your topic and how outlets and individuals can influence their decisions and behavior. When this happens, it does not matter what platform or type of media is being used, just that your reach is secured, influence occurs and your goals are met.

    For ideas on implementing influencer marketing, review one of our blog posts on the topic. Have you experimented with influencer marketing? If you have or are thinking about it, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, drop us a note or listen to our corresponding podcast episode to learn more.

    Happy marketing!
    About the author::Jason Therrien is the president of thunder::tech. He is a fan of entrepreneurs and trailblazers, a proud dad and he liked scotch before Mad Men made it cool.
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