Influencer marketing is not new. For years, TV ads have paraded out well-known celebrities who back products. Wheaties had their “Breakfast of Champions,” using sports heroes all over their boxes and on their TV ads. Nike uses sports figures. Ellen DeGeneres touts “Cover Girl” makeup. These are all major corporations that can afford to pay mega-bucks for these types of endorsements from these “influencers.”
Now that the Internet is “leveling” the marketing playing field a bit, how can small and medium businesses take the “influencer” concept and use it? Obviously, they will not get George Clooney to endorse their products and services, but they can certainly develop a strategy to bring influencers “into their folds.” Here are three steps to developing an influencer marketing campaign that can boost your sales.
What is an Influencer in the World of the Web?
Your market is much more targeted if you are a small-to-medium business. Within your niche, however, there are people who, while they may not have celebrity status, do have recognition and respect within your niche. Neil Patel, for example, is a sector influencer in the niche of content marketing. He is the co-founder of respected companies; he maintains a blog that has a huge following. If someone in the niche were to establish a relationship with Patel, were to be mentioned in Patel’s posts, to have Patel’s presence on his/her site or blog, then immediately that someone and his product or service becomes far more trusted.
There are other types of influencers, however, that are brand ambassadors for you, and you may not know them at all. They are pretty important to your business growth, however, perhaps more so than a single sector influencer.
So, the question becomes, how can you use all types of influencers to boost your sales? Getting this done requires a very well-organized and well-planned step-by-step strategy. While they can be stated simply, the three steps to successful influencer marketing are complex and require a lot of work.
Step 1: Identifying Influencers
You may have hundreds of influencers and not know who they are. Consider this: The biggest online purchasing demographic now is millennials. And millennials have very strong feelings about the companies from which they buy products or services. They don’t want to be pushed by hard sells, and they resent being interrupted by advertising. Instead, they want to have relationships and connections with companies. They want companies that have social responsibility and they are willing to pay more for products if the company meets their criteria. But perhaps most important? Many of their purchasing decisions are based upon recommendations from friends and families. Any time an individual mentions or recommends your brand, that person is an influencer. If these influencers have large communities, they become more important influencers, and you need to find them, court them, and keep them talking about you.
But perhaps most important? Many of their purchasing decisions are based upon recommendations from friends and families. Any time an individual mentions or recommends your brand, that person is an influencer. If these influencers have large communities, they become more important influencers, and you need to find them, court them, and keep them talking about you.
[tweetthis]Within your niche, there are people who, while they may not have celebrity status, do have recognition and respect.[/tweetthis]
This activity of finding your influencers begins with what is often called “social listening.” You will be using queries to find them, but first, you must decide if you want to find the sector influencers, like Neil Patel, or your brand influencers, like someone on social media who is talking about your brand specifically, or both.
If you are looking for sector influencers, you are looking for:
- Those who are discussing or providing content to your target audience/market
- Those whose are discussing your competitors
- Those who are speaking about products or services (in general) that you sell
If you are looking for brand influencers/ambassadors, you are looking for:
- Those whose who are talking about your brand specifically
- Those discussing your actual products or services
- Those who are sharing your content and/or posts
Tools for Social Listening
There are lots of tools you can use for queries, and they are quite effective if you spend some time thinking about the keywords and hashtags that influencers in your niche would use, as well as topics that sector influencers might write about. Some of the most popular query/social listening tools include Hootsuite, Crimson, Synthesio, Brandwatch and Hexagon; however, there are tons of them, free and paid, so find one that meets your needs. In general, you will want to look for the following features:
- Sources: You want a tool that will look most anywhere – all social networks, blogs, discussion boards, forums, and even online newspapers and vines.
- URLs: The tool you select should look for links and domains as well. Why? Because you want to know if people are sharing your blog posts or perhaps a page or link from your site.
- Shortened Links: Bit.ly is an example of a shortened link. You want to make sure that your query tool will look for those as well as full ones.
- Ranking: Most of the tools on the market will provide some type of influence ranking for what your search has found. For example, if your brand is mentioned in a post of a highly popular blog (e.g., Buzzfeed), that will have a higher ranking than a mention by a single individual in a tweet. However, even though your tool will rank according to its algorithms, you will still want to review the list carefully. If you have time to check, that single individual who posted that tweet may have a large following, and the sentiment of that tweet may be important.
- Sentiment: Your tool needs to segregate the “chatter” around your brand too. If someone has posted a negative comment about a product or service you market, you need to know. If you have checked out any niche review sites, you already know that they are filled with complaints – rarely does someone take the time to post something when they are satisfied. If you’ve got negative comments out there anywhere, you need to know it. Often, you can respond directly to that individual and resolve the issue or complaint and do so publicly. Many large businesses employ full-time social listeners for just such a purpose. As a small business owner, you may not be able to do this, but you should at least respond to negative comments that may be posted in very public places.
Step 2: Ranking Your Influencers
Once you have the results of your searches (and these should be ongoing, by the way), you will end up with two groups:
- You will have content from those individuals who are talking about you and your brand.
- You will have people who are influencers within your niche
While you certainly want to target individuals who have expressed sentiments and feelings about your brand (because you want to resolve those complaints), for the long-term, you will want to be able to identify the influencers who you can use to your benefit. So, how do you identify those influencers? Here are some clues:
[tweetthis]You cannot use tools to connect to influencers – this is a personal job. [/tweetthis]
How relevant is the person to your brand? When this person “speaks,” are there a lot of people listening? Remember Neil Patel from the first paragraph? If he speaks on content marketing, he is believable. If he should speak on auto parts, not so much.
What is the “reach” of this person? Reach means audience. Ask yourself: if this individual were to tweet about you, how many would receive that tweet? Sector influencers have very large communities. However, there are also small influencers with smaller communities to whom others go when they want recommendations. Do not discount these “micro-influencers.”
What is the impact that this person’s words have on others? Is s/he seen by others as an expert in your niche? If so, this is an influencer you will want to “court.” Suppose, for example, that you sell lawn and garden tools. Who are the experts in gardening and lawn care on the web? Who do people ask when they have lawn and gardening questions or issues? This is an individual you will want to establish a relationship with (more about that later).
What are the affiliations/associations of the influencers you have identified? If they are part of regional or national associations, or even your competitors, are they producing content independently of those associations? If so, you have an opening.
Is the content they create published/posted in several places? Is it shared frequently and consistently by others? Do they have a blog or social media pages that have large followings? Are you following them on social media and regularly participating in conversations? Even getting a mention on the Facebook page of a popular influencer is huge for you.
Step 3: Courting and Working with Influencers
So, now you’ve identified and ranked your influencers, and you have set your priorities for connecting with them and developing relationships that will spread your brand and boost your sales. Now, the hard part. You cannot use tools to connect – this is a personal job. And it takes time – you have to be patient.
- Making Those First Overtures: Initial connection with an influencer should be indirect. Find out where that influencer is online (your social query tool has given you this information), and become a follower. Start participating in conversations and do it regularly so that your name becomes familiar, not just with the influencer but with his/her other followers too.
- Ask for Advice: Humans are impressionable. They are flattered when someone sees them as an expert and asks for their opinion. You might be considering a modification of a product or a new service. What do they think? Find something about which you can ask for advice.
- Ask for permission to re-post their content on your blog or social media platforms. Again, this is flattering and gets your name in front of them.
- If you do not have a business blog, you must start one immediately. Post great content that engages, and mention an influencer in a post or two. Send that post over to that influencer so that s/he knows you have mentioned them. Ask that influencer to re-post your article. (Note: Your post(s) must engaging, educational, and compelling or no influencer will consider allowing it as a guest post.)
- Ask the influencer to guest post on your blog.
- Ask the influencer if you can interview him/her and post that on your site or blog.
- Remodel your social media profiles and pages. If you are not a creative, engaging sort, or do not have the time to maintain an engaging social media presence, then use tools and resources to get this done:
- Sprout Social is an all-in-one social media management tool that can help you create and post content regularly. It will schedule your postings to ensure regularity – an important factor in keeping followers.
- Smart Paper Help is a writing service with an entire department dedicated to maintaining social media profiles and posts. They will create initial profiles as well a content for your blog and your social media platforms.
- Check out iag.me for a listing and description of several resources for creating profiles and posting creation/scheduling.
- If you are “content-challenged,” check out some tools that will generate topics and compelling titles/headlines that will impress influencers when they check you out.
Influencers like to see engaging and interesting social media presences of businesses they might mention or recommend. Think about what you can offer an influencer in exchange for talking about you – can you give a discount or a reciprocal shout-out on your site, blog, and social media platforms?
Building Your Influencer Base
Your goal should ever be to develop that relationship with just a few influencers who will help spread your brand and say nice things about you to others in your target demographic. This is an ever-evolving phenomenon on the web, and you have to continually keep up with new influencers as they establish a presence.
Do not expect relationships to develop quickly. You have to see influencer marketing as a long-term activity that plods along at a regular, but often slow, pace. But make no mistake about this: gaining influencer support, mentions and recommendations will ultimately pay off in the form of more sales, and the customers you gain through these methods are long-term ones as well.
Rick Riddle is a marketing consultant and an up-and-coming blogger whose articles aim to help people with digital marketing, blogging, entrepreneurship, and careers. Feel free to follow Rick on twitter and LinkedIn.