Think about your absolutely favorite method of getting new customers. Got it? Good.
Now what do you think is your customers’ favorite method of discovering cool new products?
Fortunately, we don’t need to guess. The big survey and measurement company, Nielsen, went out and asked a bunch of consumers what type of advertising they trusted the most.
The number one answer beat the second place answer by a hefty margin. Can you guess it?
It wasn’t TV.
It wasn’t billboards.
It wasn’t magazines.
It definitely wasn’t Facebook or Google ads.
It was getting a recommendation from people you know. A whopping 84% of people said they trust word-of-mouth. The next highest, branded websites, came in at 69%.
That means more people will trust what someone they know says about your product far more than anything you have to say about yourself.
This is the crux behind influencer marketing: When people who have a loyal following genuinely recommend your brand, their followers trust that recommendation.
Why do people trust influencers more than you?
It’s because their followers have voluntarily opted-in to what they say.
“Now wait a minute. Our fans love us and trust us.” Yes, your fans may trust you, but they really trust the influencers they follow.
Why? Because unlike your company, they’re not selling things all the time (or they’re not blatantly selling things). They’re real humans that share real human things, so fans trust them more.
These influencers don’t have to be celebrities, and we’ll get into why later, but check out this random tweet from 49ers star tight end, Vernon Davis:
He’s asking for movie recommendations, like any of our friends would. He’s not pumping a product. He (as far as I’m aware) is not affiliated with Netflix. He’s just genuinely asking for a movie tip.
Does your company tweet things like this? Likely not.
He sent it on a Wednesday night, and it got favorited 134 times and retweeted 53 times.
The best part? His fans responded to the question, so they’re engaged with him, like normal people.
Yes, your brand has fans, but you simply can’t connect or build a relationship on that level.
So…later, when he endorses a brand (like Jamba Juice), people listen:
Even this promotion of Jamba Juice is done in a fun, human way. This is something that real human beings (e.g. influencers) do so much better than brands. It’s not a “25% off all juices today!” tweet that so many brands pump out as part of their “social strategy”.
Yeah, it’s a little gimmicky, but it’s fun and genuine, and Vernon Davis’s fans are now likely to go to that particular Jamba Juice, visit their local Jamba Juice, or simply be reminded of Jamba Juice — all good outcomes for the company.
So, influencer marketing gives businesses a one-two punch:
1. Directly reach new people through the influencer’s network. Of course, Jamba Juice gets to reach Vernon Davis’ 2 million Twitter followers, which is a far greater reach than their 64,000 followers. But they can also…
2. Add overall credibility to their own brand just because the influencers endorse them. This is more subtle but important. It’s not just about counting retweets or measuring opt-ins on a landing page from an influencer tweeting something out.
Many of Vernon Davis’s followers won’t go to a Jamba Juice the day of his tweet, but when they repeatedly see people they trust endorsing a brand like Jamba Juice, it adds overall credibility and likeability, and later when they’re driving and thirsty, that will win them over.
That’s why you see brands consistently put logos of clients on their website – people who measure conversions have shown that this sort of “social proof” does in fact increase clicks:
The long term benefits of influencer endorsement are not as easy to measure as clicks on a website, and below we’ll see why you should focus on more measurable goals in the short term, but know that these long term benefits can have a great impact in winning over customers.
3. You don’t need a giant budget.
“This is all fine and good. But don’t we just have to get lucky to get celebrity endorsements?”
You can create an influencer marketing strategy. And you don’t need a huge marketing budget. Let’s see how.
Step 1: Pick specific, measurable goals
The long term benefits of influencer marketing like credibility and likeability are great, but they’re hard to measure. If you’re trying to measure the “likeability of our brand” before and after your new marketing campaign, you’re going to end up frustrated.
So, you should balance those long term benefits with some concrete, measurable goals, so you can get faster feedback on how well your strategy is working.
A great way to do this is to borrow a technique from direct marketers: use campaign-specific codes, so you can tell which sales came from influencers and which were just “regular” sales .
For example, if I have an online shoe store and I start an influencer marketing campaign with a fitness personality named James, I might create a discount code called “JAMES10”, and make sure my influencer, James, mentions it all over the place: “Get 10% off with this code”.
People who have no idea about James won’t know of the code, but fans of James will.
That way, when sales come in, you can more easily see which are a result of the influencer:
Here are a few more ways to measure the effectiveness of your influencer marketing campaign:
Lead generation: Have the influencer guide fans to a specific landing page to sign up or buy, and keep track (via an influencer specific list or tag) of which customers signed up via an influencer’s recommendation. So that later you can track things like…
Upsells: Have the influencer promote additional products and product codes to their fans, or measure if people on the influencer specific list bought more products than everyone else.
Repeat purchases: See if the influencer’s leads purchase more often or in larger quantities than others.
Influencer-specific stores and pages: Jamba Juice and Vernon Davis have the brick and mortar version of this, but you could also create online store that are influencer-branded.
Special bonus gifts: Have your influencer offer a special gift related to them (book, autograph, etc.) to fans that sign up or buy from you.
Step 2: Create an Ideal Influencer Profile, and Look for the Power Middle
With your specific goal in mind, your next step is to map out who your ideal influencer is. Note: this doesn’t mean find candidate influencers (that’s the next step). It’s to figure out what your influencer should be like.
If you try to think of all possible factors to consider, you’ll get caught in analysis paralysis. Instead, start with these 4 factors.
1. Consider Your Budget – Start with your budget, so you can immediately get a sense of the quantity and types of influencers you can handle. For most brands, high end celebrities are out of the picture. In fact, that’s why we call it influencer marketing and not celebrity marketing.
Instead, as SocialChorus says, look for the “power middle”.
These are non-celebrities who have a good sized following (think tens of thousands to even a million followers) and often aren’t mainstream famous, but have a very loyal internet following (blogs, social media, etc.).
2. Consider Your Shared Values and Interests – This is where you consider what verticals, values, and interests you are looking for.
Instead of doing this haphazardly (“Anyone in fitness!”), use the Three Steps Technique, where you start with a broad category and go take two more steps in specificity:
1. First, consider the large category you’re after: “We’re looking for someone in sports/fashion/health/auto”. This should be easy.
2. Second, go one step more specific in your category: “We’d love to work with someone who’s into young men’s fashion” or “We’d like to have a voice in the crossfit market.”
3. Finally, consider more subtle interests “We want influencers who value positive social impact” or “We’re looking for young women’s fashion bloggers.”
For example for someone selling, say, inexpensive yoga clothes and equipment, they could breakdown their interest categories like this:
Remember, if you’re going after the power middle, you’re not likely looking for only one person, but rather groups of people in different categories.
3. Consider their Favorite Channels – Unlike big name celebrities, power middle influencers are often focused on particular channels (e.g. they have a large Twitter following, or an active Facebook group, or engaged email subscribers).
You have to take this into account.
For example, if you only pick influencers with huge Twitter followers, but not one of them has a large email list, you’re going to have low engagement numbers.
Consider whether you want to build on the strength of your existing channels (“We’re killing it on Facebook and we want to keep going”) or you want to build a following on new channels (“We really should get on Pinterest”).
But keep in mind that email reins over social media in engagement, so if you really want the influencers’ fans to take action, put some priority on influencers with thriving email lists. Here’s what McKinsey found in that linked study:
Checkout the full article from McKinsey&Company here.
4. Consider Basic Demographics – Finally, think about the basic demographic of their fanbase that would be ideal for your brand – things like age, location, gender, income level.
A golf equipment company isn’t likely interested in teen pop bloggers, and a teen picture sharing app isn’t likely interested in golf bloggers. This is like doing your basic homework, don’t forget it.
Recap – Here’s an example of what you should have at this point:
Step 1 (Crystallize Your Specific Goals)
– We’re releasing our new fitness app this spring
– We want to get a big push in sign ups through the spring and summer. – We want to use influencers to get more sign ups
– We’re happy to give a month of the paid version free to people who hear of us through influencers.
– We want to measure how many sign ups we get through influencers vs. our other acquisition channels.
Step 2 (Influencer Profile)
– We want to target fitness bloggers with email lists over 1000 subscribers and personal trainers with four digit Facebook and Twitter followings.
– Our target early adopters are in their 20s and 30s, use their phone all the time, are active online, and into fitness.
Step 3: Brainstorm what value you can offer the influencers
This step is far and away the most important in this entire process.
Even if you don’t set clear goals for your influencer campaign.
Even if you just pick some influencers at random.
If you consistently reach out by offering value to them first, and build a relationship based on giving, you will build friends and fans that will support your brand.
This takes work.
Value can be offered in many ways, which depend on a ton of details: how soon you need to ask for something, what is your ask, what can you offer the influencers, the culture of your niche, etc.
You need to get creative in thinking of a ton of ideas and picking the best few, but here are a few examples for different product categories.
Let them be the first to review – Many power middle influencers are looking for opportunities to be the first to review a new app or product – give a few of your top influencers that opportunity.
Offer them a site visit – If you make a physical product, have a cool office, or an innovative manufacturing step, offer to let them see it.
Here, the local blog LAist took a tour through the Sriracha factory — it was great free publicity for Sriracha, and a fun story for LAist to publish:
Maybe you don’t make Sriracha, but your office or factory could still be worth touring.
Offer a free sample or subscription – This is one of the most tried and true ways of giving value to influencers: if your product is useful for the influencer as well as their following, give it to them for free. The more expensive your product, the better it will work.
Do an in depth guest post for them – You have expertise in your field, and you should offer to share that, but your post has to be of actual value to your influencers, not just product promotion.
For example if you’re releasing a new accounting app, you can’t offer to write a post about how your product is better than Quickbooks.
Instead, offer to help their readers with accounting tips that anyone could use. Check out this guest post from the founders of a WordPress support company called WPCurve:
Note what this post is not. It’s not about how their company is better than competitors. It’s not about how every blogger should hire them to maintain their site. It’s just 7 useful tips that anyone with a WordPress site could use.
Offer to feature them on your site – Everyone is looking for traffic or publicity, and if you have some traffic already, offer to feature an influencer or two on your site. The easiest way to do this is to have the influencers who already love your product or brand give a quote or testimonial, which gives them exposure.
Give them commission or royalties on sales – In a great post about finding influencer “unicorns” (influencers that have ROIs far greater than others), Movable Media mentions that they paid their influencers royalties to increase their motivations. If you can afford it, this is a great way to get you and your influencers’ motivations aligned.
Give them autonomy – Remember, your influencers aren’t your employees. In that same article by Movable Media, they note that simply paying influencers doesn’t mean they will continue to bend over backwards to promote you. Even if you’re giving them a royalty.
Instead, make sure they are given autonomy when they promote or write about your brand. This means letting them write and speak in their language, express their views, and not forcing them into all of your tight corporate rules.
Step 4: Find them and reach out, offering value first
With the first 3 steps done, this should be easy. Reach out to your influencers, via email (at their personal address, not info@), and present them with the offer you brainstormed and settled on from step 3.
Finding Influencers: This Requires Hustle
Sometimes people ask, “Well, how do I actually find the influencers?” If you’ve narrowed down your niche (see Step 2), this shouldn’t be that difficult, but it does require some hustle. In that example we were looking for power middle influencers that were into yoga, eco-conscious clothing and lifestyles, and some cost-conscious values.
You can find these sorts of influencers by searching for top blogs on yoga, fitness, sportswear, for example:
There are tons of ways to find them – but they do require some hustle.
Once you reach out, keep in mind that:
– No matter how good your offer is, you will never get a 100% response or yes rate. That’s okay.
– It’s hard to say what a typical “yes” rate will be, but plan for something in the 10% – 50% range, depending on a ton of factors (primarily how well you did in Step 3)
– Keep your email short and to the point
– Resist the temptation to give your entire backstory in your email, instead focus as much as possible on the benefits to them and their readers
Step 5: Build a long term relationship with influencers
If you’ve moved on to this step, that means you’ve (1) defined your goals, (2) identified influencers, (3) created valuable offers, (4) pitched them and even have some influencers agreeing to work with you. Congrats!
Stop and think about where you are now: While your competitors are spending their days trying to tweak their adwords headlines so they reduce their CPC from $3.27 to $3.12, you’ve started building a fanbase of influencers who are willing to open up their rolodex of thousands of highly targeted customers and advocate and promote your brand:
This is a big win.
Now your job is to turn that one off interaction into a long term engagement. That means helping your influencers more than asking things from them.
– Ask what they’re struggling with in their business to see how you can help.
– Offer them ongoing support if you gave them a high end free product
– Connect them with other influencers
– Send them more traffic and publicity, and tell them about it every time you do These are basic networking tips and they apply 100-fold to building your relationship with your influencers.
Remember, your influencers are trusting you with access to their fans. If you can show that you continue to give value to them, that trust just keeps building and gives you a growing fanbase.
Take the First Step Right Now
We’ve found the biggest barrier to taking action on building an influencer marketing campaign is articulating the first step.
So, in the comments tell us: What’s been your biggest barrier to starting an influencer marketing campaign? After reading this guide, what will be your first step to starting your influencer campaign?