The term “influencer” is wiggling its way through the tangled web. And it’s a hard one to catch because no one knows for certain what it looks like. Personally, I think that’s where the biggest challenge lies, because an influencer is like a changeling. It has a different image for every brand and often for every campaign of a brand.
Here is my own take on what an influencer is and a guide for where to find ideal influence to promote your business.
Part 1: What is an Influencer
Now that word of mouth recommendations and criticisms spread through social media faster than fire in a dry field, influencers are people who are active on social media and blogs. They also are brand advocates and niche promoters.
If you take away only one thing from this guide, please retain this crucial bit of advice from Jay Baer: “True influence drives action, not just awareness.”
While someone with hundreds of thousands of social media followers certainly could expose your brand to their followers, if they are not a snug contextual fit, their post or tweet would be moot as far as driving leads and customers.
Why Does Your Brand Need Influencers?
Consumers trust recommendations from a third party more often than a brand itself. And it makes sense if you think about it in a more personal context. You don’t usually trust a person at a cocktail party who comes up to you and brags about himself or herself and spouts fun facts about his or her personality to convince you to be a friend. But you often believe your mutual friend who vouches for that person. An influencer is the mutual friend connecting your brand with your target consumers.
When you align with an influencer, not only do they bring their audience, but they also bring their audience’s network as well. Because of the loyalty of their audience, an influencer has the ability to drive traffic to your site, increase your social media exposure, and flat-out sell your product through their recommendation or story about their experience.
With the fall of traditional outbound marketing, influencer marketing is becoming one of the most effective ways to attract customers and clients. Modern day consumers are blind to billboards and deaf to commercials. They are self-sufficient and want to research a brand on their own and hear about it from someone they trust.
Where do influencers step in to inbound marketing? Well, they are generating content about your brand, they are recommending your brand to their loyal following, and they are inserting themselves into conversations surrounding the niche of your brand. Thus, getting them on your side before your competitor does can make a huge difference in the success (or lack thereof) of your company.
Think About the Audience
Think about the audience. Actually, don’t just think about the audience you’re after, obsess over it. As a marketer, you already have a solid idea of the audience you should be targeting for your brand. To locate the ideal influence, you need to take it one step further and think about the types of topics, blogs, and tweeters that your audience would follow.
Since I market a blogger outreach tool for my company, the influencers that I’ve targeted are PR and marketing blogs that emphasize content and influencer marketing. Followers of these blogs usually are PR professionals and marketers who want to keep up with the latest technology and trends in their field. Thus, hopefully, they find my company relevant when a blogger they follow recommends it. However, had I gone after bloggers who write about finance, even though a particular blogger might like my software, their audience most likely wouldn’t care.
Who’s Doing It?
While it seems that some companies don’t want to let go of their outbound marketing practices, fashion ecommerce sites are targeting influencers like pros. Many are reaching out to reputable fashion bloggers and sending them clothing and accessory items to be reviewed. The blogger then posts photos and writes about the garments, often linking back to the site where their audience can buy the items being reviewed.
ModCloth, a vintage clothing site does a great job of this. They are active in sharing (on social media outlets) the images their audience members provide showing them wearing ModCloth’s clothing. This makes their audience feel special, which encourages more posts about the clothing.
I’ve seen many fashion sites send their items to an influencer, and then the audience could enter a contest to receive it. Or sometimes they will send a credit to an active fashion social media user, magazine writer, or blogger so they can go to the site, pick out some clothing, and then review the experience as a whole.
What Defines an Influencer for Your Brand?
Context: Again, an influencer differs for every brand because, first and foremost, they are a contextual fit. This is the most important characteristic when targeting the right influencers for your brand. For example, Justin Bieber is known as one of the most “influential” social media users with his 37+ million followers. But, would his tweet about your software really bring in sales? Probably not, because 12-year-old girls are not interested in software. So, defining context is the key.
Reach: Of course, after we establish someone as being a contextual fit for our brand, we do want them to have reach so they can share their awesome content or positive recommendation in a manner that actually will be heard. If your online business sold clothes for “tweens,” then maybe a mention to 37 million girls from Justin Bieber wouldn’t be so bad after all…
Actionability: This is the influencer’s ability to cause action by their audience. This characteristic comes naturally when you target individuals that are in contextual alignment with your brand and have a far enough reach.
Influencers don’t force themselves upon an audience. They are an “opt-in” network. Their audience chooses to follow their blog or Twitter handle. Thus, their audience is engaged and is there to hear about the topic being discussed. Hence, the need for a contextual fit.
I want to note that there is a lot of market research coming out about mid-level influencers. These are the influencers who have a decent reach but don’t have such a large audience that they can’t nurture relationships with their audience and harness loyalty. A loyal audience soaks up recommendations like a dry sponge.
Give Your Influencer an Image
- Personality type: Decide if you need an activist, an informer, an authority, etc. to best promote your campaign or product.
- Genre: Pick one or two. Examples include technology, fashion, travel, marketing, etc.
- Niche: This can be two or three. In order to promote my own product, I usually target marketing and PR influencers, as my genre and my niches are firms writing about blogger outreach and influencer targeting.
- Topics: Pick a topic that your ideal influencer sometimes talks about on social media or their blog. You will be referencing this topic when you reach out and explain why the two of you are such a good fit.
- Type of reach: Is it site traffic you are after or social media followers? Is the influencer an active blogger? Do you have a visually driven campaign and need your influencer to be on Pinterest and Instagram? Is it tweets you are after? Whatever reach you think is best for your brand, narrow down the channels and the number of followers on those channels.
Part 2: Where to Look for Your Ideal Influencer
Now that you’ve given your influencer an image, it’s no longer this misty figure that we can barely see. It’s now tangible so we can understand it and recognize it when we see it.
Social Media Monitoring
Brand advocates are the loudest influencers your brand will have. Not only does their audience follow them because what they write aligns with your brand but they also talk loudly and actively about how much they like your company. By tuning in to your social media mentions and blog posts about your brand, you will find influencers and advocates you didn’t realize you had.
Social media monitoring also allows you to find influencers who advocate for the genre or niche you have outlined. For example, someone may post and tweet heavily about yoga gear but not mention your website as an awesome place to buy yoga gear. Well, this is someone you want to engage with and expose your brand to.
Research Hashtags: Identify the hashtags that your target influencers are using. For my company, I follow #bloggeroutreach and #influencemktg. By tuning in to the conversations surrounding these hashtags, I have not only identified active talkers in these categories, but I’ve also identified blog topics that I wrote to appeal to these influencers as well. Once you start finding influencers that seem like a good fit for your brand, I recommend putting them in a Twitter list so that you can organize and follow them most effectively. I use HootSuite to organize my Twitter channel. Here is what my hashtags look like in their platform:
Google Alerts: Set alerts for keywords pertaining to your brand to identify people who actively write about topics in your realm. You also should create alternatives for the name of your brand so that you can find posts and articles containing your mentions and identify advocates who already are in place.
Social Mention: Social Mention allows you to type in your company’s name to discover mentions on different outlets such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, just to name a few.
Bloggers arguably are the strongest spoke in the wheel of influencers. This report from Technorati shows us that 86% of influencers also operate at least one blog. One of the bonuses of targeting bloggers is that they almost always are active across many social media platforms.
When locating influential bloggers for your brand, start by searching for blogs in your genre and find the niche(s) by reading through the posts to determine if they write about relevant post topics. After making a list of the contextually relevant bloggers, then it’s time to locate their SEO stats and social media information to pinpoint the ones that equal the best reach for your brand.
Manually sorting through blogs to find all of the criteria that you outlined when you gave your influencer an image can take a long time. Luckily, there are a lot of really good blogger outreach tools out there to make this process easier. There is a tool to cover every part of the spectrum. If you are a small business wanting to do minimal blogger outreach, then I’d recommend checking out Inkybee or BlogDash. Mid to high level firms who are going to be doing a lot of influencer targeting should check out GroupHigh or Buzz Stream.
Part 3: You Know What They Are and Found Them, Now What?
Encourage Content Creation
A true influencer of your brand is passionate about your product or service. And this passion shows through the bright white lines that appear on computer screens and it spreads to those who read their words, which results in many leads for your company! So your goal is to get as much content from happy customers live in cyber space as possible. Here are some ways to squeeze out consumer-generated content from the customers that you know already love your brand:
- In applicable brands, ask the customers to upload photos and videos of themselves using your product. If you offer a promise to share their uploaded content, I promise that the narcissism that is social media will consume them and you will have a lot of happy compliers.
- Incentivize user generated content with a product give away or discount on your service.
- Ask happy customers to answer case study questions and assure them they can approve your content before you publish it. I saw better response rates when I bribed my customers with gift cards because answering these questions takes up a decent chunk of their time.
- Participate in all forms of discussion forums. Google Plus communities, the comments section of your posts, and LinkedIn discussions are a great place to start. By engaging in discussions with your audience, you can use their posts or words as quotes and even blog post inspiration. You also can ask them to write a post based on their comment and publish it. I promise that when they see their words live, they’ll share it like crazy.
- Send out free products or a free trial of your software without any sort of prior commitment from the influencer. If they like it, they might mention you or write about you, recommending the awesome product.
- If the relevance is there, swap guest posts with them.
If someone is going to spout good things about your brand, they need to be compensated. It doesn’t have to be financially, but it can be, though. The point is you want your influencer to feel rewarded, acknowledged, loved, important, or any combination of those. Here are some ways to compensate the influencers you find for your brand:
- Financially. I would proceed with caution on this one. Is a recommendation that is paid for really going to come across as sincere? However, if the passion for your brand is truly there, maybe this could be okay sometimes.
- Shout outs. Sharing a post they write about you on your social media outlets will get more traffic to their site and make them feel important. Also, something as simple as a tweet that says “Thanks for the awesome shout out, you sexy influencer,” (or something to that effect) will do wonders.
- Product discount or giveaway. Offering a discount on your service or giving them a product from your brand will really incentivize an influencer to keep talking about you.
- Commission. For influencers who are actively inserting themselves into conversations about your brand and bringing you big sales, it’s not a horrible idea to give them some sort of commission for the clients they bring your way.
Just like any other marketing trend, influencer targeting will continue to morph and evolve. Kind of like how billboards became banner ads and banner ads became content marketing. Anyway, here are some great resources and influencers who often talk about influence marketing that I recommend you follow to ensure that you are keeping up.
Danny Brown is an innovative influence marketing thinker, follow his blog.
Appinions’s blog is a good resource to follow.
Traackr blogs about influencer marketing on a daily basis and there are some good tips.
Sensei Marketing blog often tackles influencer related topics.
Brian Solis is a must-follow as he talks about influencers all the time and has fantastic insight on the topic.
Let’s Wrap it Up
Now that your idea of influencers isn’t so elusive and you know where to start looking for them, don’t let your outreach campaign slip by forgetting to use tact. With any interaction, imagine yourself at a cocktail party saying what you are emailing or tweeting. Would you run up to someone and list off all of the cool things about yourself and ask them to check out your brand? I really hope not, so don’t be abrupt in your communication with your list of targeted influencers.
Where do you look for influencers for your brand? Cheers to a good discussion in the comments below!
About the Author: Kristen Matthews is the marketing and community manager for GroupHigh in Boulder, Colorado. She loves collaboration, so contact her any time at Kristen@GroupHigh.com or follow her on Twitter @KristenWords and @GroupHigh.