Is influencer marketing a fad?
Well it could be, but contrary to what you may think, is also a great opportunity, especially for small and medium companies.
I will explain to you exactly what it is and, more importantly, I will show you how to identify influencers and integrate them in your digital marketing strategy.
At the end I will also reveal a trick to take advantage of influencers for free.
Once upon a time there were testimonials
Just now I said that influencer marketing is an opportunity for small businesses, do you know why?
Pairing a celebrity to a product is a very common practice in marketing, the problem is that if you do not represent a multinational company with huge advertising budgets, you hardly can afford Antonio Banderas to advertise your cakes (editor’s note, in Italy in this moment Banderas performs in many TV commercials for a famous biscuits industry brand).
Then came the Internet, and what once was a monologue (the company speaks and the consumers listen), has now become a conversation: anyone can talk about a product, it could be done even before, but now there may be thousands of people who listen.
By pure chance or a due to a studied personal branding strategy, the Internet is populated by characters who have thousands if not millions of followers. The interesting thing is that these people are not public celebrities, or rather just the opposite; the more they are Joe Average, the more their opinion is considered "authentic."
These are the so-called influencers, people that when they recommend for a product through in their social network profiles, inevitably are heard by a vast audience.
Why this is an opportunity for small and medium companies?
Essentially for two reasons, the first one is obvious: an influencer is much cheaper than Antonio Banderas. But the second reason is what gives true added value.
Are you curious? Let's see what it is.
The targeting of the advertising message
When Banderas hosannas a biscuit playing as a miller, it is obvious that he is not a real one, he's an actor, everybody knows that.
When he recommends a croissant, he has been paid to do this, he is playing, probably he has never eaten the croissant he’s advertising.
Does his message reache only people interested in the confectionery industry? Of course not, the advertisement reaches equally many categories of viewers, only a small subset of them is really interested in the subject.
Conversely influencers are followed by a much targeted audience, they are able to convey a promotional message that will be heard by millions of people actually involved. When a fashion blogger appreciates publicly on Facebook the manufacture of a purse, her huge audience believes her.
Who are these influencers?
Why should they speak well of my brand?
What can I do to encourage them to talk about my products?
I'll explain in a moment, but first we must divide them into three categories.
The Brand Ambassador
The brand ambassador is a lover of your brand, she is a person who already knows very well your product and adore it. There is no need to convince her, she's already very well convinced to the point that she always speaks enthusiastically about your brand.
The problem is that the brand ambassador’s audience is very small, in fact they usually evangelize only relatives and close friends.
Are they useless?
They have s a lot of potentials instead: first of all, when they comment your posts on social media they are able to communicate a genuine enthusiasm; their feedbacks are very important too, if you disappoint a brand ambassador you have no chance to please all the other prospects.
How can I engage them?
To involve them you must understand them: they have realized that their social impact is minimal, they would like instead their voice to be heard by a larger audience. If you give them this opportunity they will do it without hesitation and they will be also grateful to you!
How can I incentivize a brand ambassador?
Brand ambassadors do not want money, but they want you to recognize their role, in a few words that you treat them like VIPs. Ask them feedbacks about your products making it clear that you care about their opinion. If you organize an event or an opening, invite them and reserve them an exclusive treatment. Sometimes even reward them with some small gifts.
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The Brand Advocate
The best definition I could give to brand advocate is satisfied customer.
She knows enough of your brand and she associates it to a positive experience.
Her audience is larger than that of brand ambassador: friends, acquaintances, co-workers, etc..
Why brand advocates are important?
They are probably one of the most important figures in social media marketing as they are the ones that trigger the digital word of mouth.
From a recent survey it was found that 90% of Internet surfers before making a purchase relies on the advice of acquaintances. I do not need to prove it, just think about how it has changed in recent years your approach to hotels. Once upon a time you went to a travel agency, then with the arrival of the internet you found out that you could save money by booking directly on the hotel website. Today, with the advent of social media, first of all go on Trip Advisor to compare reviews and then probably you go on Booking. You do not look at the hotel website at all.
What does this mean?
It means that if you manage an hotel it is much more important what is said about your hotel on social media, rather than having a beautiful website that it is not read by anyone.
How can I engage the brand advocate?
Again we must first understand which are the goals of the brand advocates.
Their goal is very human, they realize that they are just a voice in the choir, they aim to emerge.
How can I ENGAGE them?
Such as the brand ambassador money is not needed, better to give them discounts or free gifts.
If this is the case of a blogger with a fairly good amount of readers, it might be interesting to give her a preview of a product so that she can write a review. Reviews are one of the primary functions of a brand advocate.
The Brand Influencer
Here we are to the real influencer, a "celebrity" of her niche.
Let's understand the scope of the influencer and after that I will also teach you a trick to exploit her social profiles for free to your advantage.
The influencer's audience is not limited to relatives and friends, we are talking about hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of followers, true fans.
The knowledge of your brand is minimal, maybe she has even heard about it.
Is the influencer credible when she speaks of my product?
The credibility of an influencer might seem comparable to that of any Hollywood star that talks about your product, that is close to zero.
Actually her strength, as outlined above, is that she caters to your own niche market, so she's perfect for brand awareness.
What's the goal of an influencer?
Influencers have made their fame their source of income, they often work with affiliate marketing and they get a commission when their fans click on blog ads. In the fashion field often they charge only to wear an outfit, take a selfie, and upload the photo on Instagram. Their aim is therefore to increase without limit.
Why an influencer should talk about my brand?
Unless you represent a brand that could lead very shine (and therefore public) to the influencer, it is very likely that you have to open your wallet.
Do you remember that at the beginning I promised you to explain one free way to exploit the popularity of an influencer? Well now I'll explain.
The profiles of the influencer on social media are virtually a prospect database for your niche.
I leave you a moment to reflect on the last sentence...
Think about that, if you sell industrial machineries, how do you find on social media all the people who might be interested in your products?
Simple, you have just to find an influencer and then discover who are those who follow her.
How can you take advantage of it?
In many ways, it is useless to list them here because I risk going off topic: just to give you an example, you could follow all the fans of an influencer's Twitter profile, in the hope that most of them reciprocate by following you.
No need to do everything by hand, there are tons of tools that can perform this task automatically for you. If you are interested in this topic, write in the comments section below and I'll explain you.
In conclusion, are we talking about a hustler!?
Actually influencer marketing introduces an ethical issue: is it correct for an expert to give a favourable opinion on a product when she is paid by the brand itself? It would be fair if a famous chef speaks well about a cookie for a fee?
The answer is simple from my point of view.
If she expresses her opinion in a TV commercial there is no problem, since it is clear that she gets paid to do it.
If she does it instead in an interview or in a talk show then it is not correct.
The same should be for web communication: if you speak well of a brand for a fee, then this thing should be explicit, as for example Google does, when it clearly indicates in the SERP which results are paid and which are not.
The problem is that the influencer's persuasive strength lies in the fact that it looks authentic.
I leave it to you to unravel the ethical question, but I'd like to know your opinion, feel free to write a comment below.
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