Word of mouth is, and always has been, one of the best forms of advertising. You just can’t beat a solid recommendation from a friend or family member, which is why 90% of people trust word of mouth recommendations – and nowadays, social media influencers.
At the end of the day, people trust people. And in the digital world where consumers have become increasingly skeptical of traditional advertising methods, word of mouth has crossed over into the domain of influencer marketing.
So-called social media influencers – beauty bloggers, fashionistas, fitness gurus and gaming addicts – are working with companies to cut through the skepticism by endorsing their products and helping spread viral conversations about brands online.
It’s big business. Influencer marketing is now one of the fastest growing categories in advertising. On Instagram, brands are spending over $1 billion per year, with this figure projected to hit $5-10 billion by 2020.
A social media influencer is someone on social media who has established credibility in a specific industry. Their posts are typically lifestyle orientated and revolve around a particular passion or niche – tech, travel, beauty, business and everything in between. They use their influence to persuade others by virtue of their authenticity and reach.
These influencers are generally regular, everyday people who have built a large and highly engaged following due in large part to the original and genuine content they post. While celebrities will always have their place as the OG influencers, social media influencers have also taken on a celebrity status amongst their loyal followings.
So much so that a survey of teens conducted for Variety found that musicians and movie stars took out just two of the top 10 spots in a survey of influencers – the remaining eight spots were YouTubers.
It’s worth noting the distinction between “social media influencers” (who built their following on social media) and “influencers” who built their following outside of social media and have since gained a significant number of social followers.
For example, entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck built his business empire before joining Instagram, where he has 2.9 Instagram followers. By contrast, photographer Ben Brown’s digital presence is predominantly on Instagram where he has 724,000 followers.
Like Brown, fashionista Margaret Zhang built her 917,000-strong Instagram following when she started sharing photos of her street style and fashion shoots. These days, the 24-year-old might be found seated in the front row at New York Fashion Week – she’s been twice listed in the Business of Fashion 500, a definitive professional index of the people shaping the $2.4 trillion fashion industry.
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Guys, @sophielowelowe and I are forming a J-Pop band called 🍞Avocado Toast 🥑 debut album drops this year 😅 [but seriously, stoked to be a part of @bazaaraustralia’s 20th anniversary issue: thank you @kelliehush for having us cogitate about our generation // shot by Sophie and I, hair @richardkavanagh, makeup @chloelangfordmakeupartist]
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The King of Snapchat, DJ Khaled is one of the world’s top Snapchat influencers, known for his inspirational sayings. One of his go-to ways to motivate fans is by instructing them on “the keys” to success.
When the White House joined Snapchat back in 2016, it paid homage to DJ Khaled in its first snap. The video of someone filming their surroundings while walking in the dark comes with the caption, “The key: get some rest before the big day.” The video was posted ahead of former President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address that year.
Like I mentioned earlier, people trust word of mouth recommendations. In fact, Twitter research shows that influencers rival friends in building consumer trust. When looking for product recommendations, 49% of people rely on social media influencers. That’s second only to tweets from friends (56%).
So when companies work with social media influencers with loyal followers, a brand mention goes a lot further – and provides more social proof – than an Instagram post from your company account.
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Reputation and authenticity play a key role in buyer decisions. Above, you can see how photography Jason Charles Hill worked with Visit Dubai to boost its presence on Instagram. These types of mentions spread awareness faster and more cost efficiently.
Here are a few more reasons why working with social media influencers can benefit your business:
Social media influencers have relationships and credibility with their followers. People respect and trust their content and recommendations, so when they mention your brand, they’re putting your message in front of an already enthusiastic audience.
The rise of ad blockers has been troubling for companies, marketers, and especially publishers. Influencer marketing crosses over into “editorial” territory, which ad blockers can’t touch.
Some demographics, such as millennials and Generation Z, don’t watch television, read printed newspapers or magazines, or listen to radio. These users are typically glued to their phones, so there’s no point using billboard advertising, either.
Just like some people want to be like their favorite celebrity, so too do some people of their favorite influencer. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Think about the last time you saw travel photography on Instagram. Didn’t it make you want to travel too?
When a social media influencer shows they have a positive relationship with a brand, it also raises the awareness and opinion of the brands in the eyes of the consumer.
According to a case study by Nielsen Catalina Solutions and TapInfluenc, influencer content generates ROI that is 11 times greater than traditional digital campaigns. In addition, a survey from digital agency Burst Media found that influencer campaigns earn $6.85 in earned media value for every $1.00 of paid media.
Collaborations and partnerships with influencers is growing faster than digital ads.
But how much does it cost?
Let’s take a look at Instagram influencers.
In the early days of influencer marketing, social stars on Instagram would work with brands in exchange for free products. Nowadays, influencers who regularly partner with companies charge set fees to create sponsored posts for brands as their accounts have become their primary source of income.
This bypasses “traditional” ad and, as it’s a closer market where you negotiate with the influencer or their representative directly, it can be significantly cheaper than buying ads through the Instagram platform.
Later surveyed businesses and influencers to find out how much Instagram influencers really cost. On average, 66% of businesses pay $250 per post on Instagram while 27% pay between $250 and $1000.
Many marketers stick to the 1 cent per follower (or $100 per 10K followers) rule, but only as a starting point for their calculation.
Since social media influencer marketing is still relatively new, few small to medium-sized companies are experimenting with it. This means you can get a competitive advantage because your competitors probably haven’t realized this can be a highly effective tool for targeting people in your niche.
Often, the best social media influencers for your business are right in front of you – you just need to know where to look.
But before we dig into how to find them, there are a few things to consider first:
Once you’ve worked out the goals for your campaign and the kind of influencer you want to partner with, there are lots of different tools you can use to find the perfect person for your brand:
BuzzSumo is more than just a simple content marketing tool. It includes an influencer marketing feature that lets users discover and understand influences your niche. You can search for social media influencers in any topic area or location, filter influencers by reach, authority, influence, and engagement, and build and outreach lists so you can get in touch.
Traackr is an influencer relationship management platform that lets you find social media influencers to work with your brand, manage campaigns, track conversions and validate real influence. You can even benchmark your brand’s share of the influence market and define a baseline for improvement.
With Hootsuite you can find influencers by searching streams and monitoring conversations relevant to your niche. Look out for people you target audience engages with and whose content they are sharing. Then you can add these influencers to a Twitter list and save it as a stream so you can continue to track their influence before reaching out.
This free tool lets you find relevant influencers on Twitter by topic and location. With Followerwonk you can build a list of potential influencers to engage and partner with.
Once you’ve established a relationship with an influencer and you’re ready to run a campaign, make sure you measure its effectiveness. This includes using UTM tracking codes so you can track conversions.
Influencers should be able to provide analytics and detailed reports on the reach and engagement of their posts, but it’s up to you to track how well it converts.
Tools like Traackr and Hootsuite can help, allowing you to measure campaign success by tracking mentions of your brand or campaign hashtags.
As with any advertising campaign, you need to be prepared to run a few campaigns, test their effectiveness and make mistakes along the way so you can optimize your influencer marketing before drawing any conclusions.
Here are three examples of successful social media influencer marketing campaigns:
Swedish watch company Daniel Wellington sent free watches to selected social media influencers on Instagram and asked them to post a picture of the watch, a campaign with a discount code for 15% off Daniel Wellington watches, and the hashtag #danielwellington. All creative control was left to the influencers, and since they were creative communicators, they posted smart and artistic photos of the watch.
The brand awareness campaign (and similar campaigns in recent years) helped Daniel Wellington grow from a small startup into an established brand that’s now worth over $220 million in less than six years.
Fashion brand Chanel used branded hashtags to build hype and awareness for its new perfume Chanel No. 5 L’Eau. The company invited social media influencers to its French flower fields and production facility to see how Chanel makes its iconic fragrances. Influencers were then asked to share photos and videos of the new perfume using two hashtags, #newchanel5 and #chanelgrasse.
The campaign generated over 1,600 pieces of content and nearly 1 million likes in the first month.
How many dogs do you know who have 1.7 million followers? Social media influencers don’t have to be human. GoPro teamed up with Loki the Wolfdog to promote an Instagram meet up and prizes.
This photo alone got more than 889,000 likes.
Loki and his owner Kelly Lund have also collaborated with Toyota and Mercedes on branded Instagram campaigns.
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Hey friends, we're teaming up with @gopro for an Instagram meet up in Vail, Colorado tomorrow(Jan 21st). Come meet us at Craniologie from 12-3pm for tips and tricks on how to capture great footage. Also, they'll be some rad GoPro prizes. Hope to see you there. #GoPro #Hero5
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Word of mouth is the best form of advertising and its crossover into the realm of influencer marketing has helped businesses create positive conversations around your brand and products online.
Social media influencers have the kind of authenticity and connection with their audiences that businesses crave. Fortunately, working with influencers lets you tap into these engaged and loyal audiences.
Once you find an influencer you want to work with, you might be focused on the value they can provide for your brand, not the other way around. It’s important to look at the relationship as a meaningful and lasting one – influencers don’t want to represent just anyone, they want to get more than just money. So ensure there is mutual value for long-term success.
With some research, collaboration and creative freedom on the social media influencer’s part, you can look forward to boosting your brand awareness and establishing strong relationships with influencers in your niche.
Raelene Morey is the founder of Words By Birds, a digital writing agency that works with startups, SaaS, B2B, and WordPress businesses, turning your tech speak into words that convert. Formerly managing editor at WPMU DEV. Computer science grad turned newspaper journalist. When she's not taming browser tabs she likes brunching and bushwalking.
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