As digital PR professionals, we’re increasingly using influencer marketing techniques to secure coverage across the web, put our clients’ products in front of the right audiences and achieve high quality, external links to their websites.
37% of influencers receive more than seven pitches every week from PRs, according to the Vuelio UK Bloggers Survey 2016, and this reflects the 18% increase in expectation from our clients to deliver influencer outreach.
But are we doing this outreach correctly? Or as effectively as possible?
And then there’s the question of payment? Should money be involved in these brand/influencer partnerships and how much?
A recent PRCA conference titled ‘Inside Influencer Relations’ answered these questions, providing a good insight into the ‘peer-to-peer’ or influencer marketing that is forming an ever greater part of digital PR strategies. It also raised a number of other important questions, which I’ll revisit in future blogs on this topic. For now, back to basics with the first question of the day:
What is an influencer?
Chris Lee, founder and owner of Silvester and Finch, opened the conference and set the scene by referencing his experiences as both a PR and a blogger. He described a shared media relations space that is occupied by PRs, content marketers and SEOs, but raised the idea that not all of these parties approach influencer marketing with the same intentions.
That’s one of the teams, who are the others?
There’s the client, the brand, which has its KPIs, its core messages and its targeted audience.
And then there’s the star: the influencer of 2016, who can be defined a number of ways.
The super influencer, who verges on celebrity status, has millions of followers and earns hundreds of thousands a year through brand engagement and content creation.
The micro-influencer, who typical has 10,000 unique blog views per month and leads a smaller, yet more dedicated following.
The ambassador, who perhaps doesn’t have their own blog or YouTube channel, but is an active promoter of brands on social media and acknowledges their affiliation with this brand according to guidelines that we’ll come to later.
Chris also raised the importance of authenticity and trust in influencer relationships.
It was good to hear that 34% of influencers felt that they had a good relationship with PRs, according to the same Vuelio survey, however it was also highlighted that the ‘hope you’re well’ and ‘did you get my email’ wording is as big a turn off for influencers as it is for journalists!
The room agreed that pre-pitch social interaction is key.
Top tip: don’t hit send on that email until you’ve shown appreciation for the work and interests of your targeted influencer via social media for a fortnight or more.
Paid influencer marketing
The issue of payment was next on the agenda – 50% of bloggers believe that they should be paid for their work with brands and I agree. Co-creating content with a brand with with the goal of selling more products is comparable in aim, not format, to the work of an advertising agency and you don’t see them doing it for free! This is a discussion that reappeared throughout the conference.
Why work with influencers?
While this question wasn’t raised directly during the conference, the room was reminded of the main reason for working with influencers on a number of occasions, and I have added important one for good measure.
- Influencers are closer to consumers than journalists. They can act as the virtual best friend or a respected source of inspiration; your clients’ target audience aspire to eat the same foods as their favourite blogger, or wear the same shoes as their favourite Instagrammer. According to 37% of the 534 UK bloggers surveyed by Vuelio in February 2016, influencers will be more trusted than journalists in the future.
- Influencer marketing is 100% measurable. A blog or social media account will always be online, meaning that Google Analytics can track how many people it sends to your clients’ sites and how much of this traffic converts. The ROI is clear to see, and report.
How to work with influencers
So, what’s it like to work with influencers as your day job?
Answers were provided by a panel that was chaired by Danny Whatmough, PRCA digital chairman and head of social, EMEA, Weber Shandwick, and included Jon Riley of the Competition & Markets Authority, Alison Metcalfe, influencer manager at H + K Strategies and Craig Neils of Sky.
First up was a question of choice: how do you know which influencer is right for your brand?
Alison advised to choose wisely based on your campaign and above all, your client’s objectives. If brand awareness is the key goal, then a super-influencer with an extensive, but not necessarily loyal, follower base may be the best choice; if your client is looking to sell more products, they may be better off working with a micro-influencer with a smaller number of followers, but who is trusted by these consumers who will in turn be more encouraged to buy the endorsed product.
She also reminded us to look further than bloggers, to Instagrammers and vloggers who can be the best choice for a visually appealing product.
Craig brought things back to basics and said that the best choice is always the influencer who can steer word of mouth among your client’s target audience. It’s worth spending time researching to find the person that has a demonstrated strong relationship with its readership and who receives their trust in return.
When you’ve chosen your influencers, Alison recommended one to three influencers per campaign, and your pitches have been accepted, how do you leverage this relationship to get the most ROI?
Alison advocated a 360 degree approach that will speak to your client’s target audience, and generate sales, across a full range of platforms. An initial brainstorming session is key to this 360 approach, your influencer will have as many ideas as you and your client about how best to engage with an audience, probably more.
Ensuring good ROI
Again, Alison returned to the importance of a brief that is founded on a client’s objectives followed by a campaign measured against KPIs and concluded with the evaluation of results. A tiered approach was also suggested, a small campaign can be rolled out more extensively once the ROI has been proven first time round and the relationship with the influencer has been developed.
Influencer marketing and the law
The question that the room had been waiting for; how can I make sure that I’m staying within the law when working with influencers?
The answer provided by Jon Riley of the CMA was that it’s not difficult to stay within the law if you follow the guidelines provided by the CMA.
This discussion led onto a dissection of the buzzword, authenticity. Why is it important to influencer marketing and how can it be practiced?
Alison began by reminding us all of the importance of encouraging honesty; an unauthentic blog post will not drive traffic or sales. If an influencer’s audience do not believe that the person that they follow is a true advocate of a product, why would they buy it?
This goes back to choosing the right influencer at the very start, make sure that you’re choosing someone who would have a natural, existing interest in your product.
Craig added that a big part of creating this authenticity is the co-creation process; work closely with your chosen influencer to create content that both conveys your brand messages and appeals to their audience.
Next to transparency, and the point that readers appreciate the labelling of sponsored posts, rather than this being a blocker in a potential sales funnel.
Craig added how this transparency is equally important to employee ambassador activity, a micro-trend which aims to spread a brand’s message via its staff. This can take the form of LinkedIn activity, such as the (Work for Sky Community), or tweeting updates from company or client events.
The room agreed that this activity must also be labelled according to guidelines from ICPEN.
Finally, it was added that a contract is essential to any blogger influencer work. Written agreement of the objectives, expectations, processes, deadlines and payment involved will prevent any problems occurring further down the line. Contract templates can be requested from the ISPA (The Internet Services Providers’ Association.)
The panel discussion concluded on the point that influencer marketing is increasingly becoming part of digital marketers’ content generation strategies and the term ‘co-creation’ was introduced.
Client/influencer co-creation: 5 top tips.
Co-creation: the process of a brand, an influencer and often PR professional working together to generate content that leads to increased brand awareness and revenue.
1. Three’s a crowd
Both David and Hannah agreed that PRs are integral to the influencer/brand dynamic and co-creation. We’re ‘people people’ and are therefore able to successfully articulate the brand’s wishes and the influencer’s opinions to the opposite party to create a productive relationship.
2. Education is key
David spoke about the importance of laying the foundations and setting expectations when discussing influencer marketing strategies with a client.
Initial research into the relevant influencer for the client’s target market is key, followed by sending examples of successful campaigns and explaining exactly how an influencer partnership would work and providing stats on the potential ROI.
3. “Audience, audience, audience!”
…they’re your greatest inspiration! From brand messages to KPIs, marketing is centred on reaching the target consumer and encouraging conversions.
Both the brand and the influencer will have a great understanding of the target audience, but the influencer knows what really makes them tick on a day-to-day basis.
David and Hannah agreed that once you’ve selected the right influencer, it’s essential to listen to their advice when deciding on the tone of the video, or which social channel will encourage most engagement from their audience, for example.
4. Paperwork is important: briefs and contracts
We’d heard it before, and we heard it again: written briefs and contracts are vital.
Hannah expressed her preference for briefs that are open enough, but which give enough direction, include bullet pointed key messages and provide any relevant stats and references that she can include in her video.
As for contracts and agreements, both David and Hannah encouraged the inclusion of details on timelines, including the delivery date for the first edit, a deadline for client feedback and then for the final edit; how long the content will be live on the influencer’s channels for; and any pre-decided hashtags, copy.
David emphasised the importance of knowing your metric and sticking to it throughout a campaign.
Hannah reminded us that the influencer can provide important statistics from their own analytics account, such as views, watch time and demographics.
The pair concluded on the point that’s it important to track the difference in engagement between organic and sponsored ad content in terms of clicks, views and conversions.
The event provided a great insight into the current influencer marketing landscape and I left with a good number of top tips; I hope you find them useful, too.
However, this area of marketing is evolving on a daily basis and will therefore continue to present new questions. I hope to answer some of the following in upcoming blog posts, but I’d love to hear your opinions in the meantime, via the comment box below.
- Can influencer marketing support an SEO’s link building strategy and how?
- Is influencer marketing more cost effective than social marketing or PPC?