Influencer Marketing: A Step-by-step Guide To the What's, the Why’s, the How’s and the Who’s

Log onto social media and you're torpedoed with ad posts from some of your favorite accounts. Whether it's the " #ad " trending on Instagram or a YouTube video highlighting a well-known brand - these days you can't navigate social media without discovering the arcane force behind "influencer marketing".

But what exactly does one mean by influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing is essentially a marketing ploy to tap into an existing and engaging community on social media. Influencers are just what their name implies - people with a degree of influence over their followers; kinda like specialists in their domain. Influencers are powerful in their own right because they exercise influence over an audience that you want to reach, and partnering up with them can only help market better to those buyers.

Imagine a scenario wherein you have a couple of hundred bucks set aside as your marketing budget and only two ways to dish it out:  
1. Running a Facebook/Instagram/Twitter ad campaign and maybe producing a few clicks.
2. Reaching out to an influential person to try out your product. E.g. Any of the YouTube personalities or Vine stars that command followers in millions.

The first option might rack up a few new customers, but the second? The second option could easily bring in a number times 100 the first method. Now that is the power of influencer marketing! Attempting to market a new cosmetic line? Try getting a popular beauty influencer on board (like Huda Beauty or Jeffree Starr), and have them show off your latest beauty products. Or you could even have them star in a video; using your products, to provide their followers with some tips and tricks. And voilà! The perfect way to get your brand noticed.

The benefits of influencer marketing
The idea behind influencer marketing is: "Win over the Alpha, and the pack shall follow". A major identifier of influence marketing is when a brand manages to convert follower interest to actual sales engagement. Today, influencer marketing has pretty tangible benefits for those involved in the industry, and these include:
  • Follower engagement
  • Driving traffic
  • Creation of authentic content
  • Works for all types of brands
  • A highly measurable form of advertising because of its digital nature
  • Provides value beyond social media, including product feedback and recommendations
How does one engage in influencer marketing?
60% of the smartphone using population is active non-stop on Snapchat, one out of every four individuals confess to logging onto Facebook "all the time" and 500 million people use Instagram every single day! The shoot-up of social media, combined with the decline of TV, has pushed many marketers to jump ship from traditional advertising to influencer marketing.
Still skeptical? Well, don't be cuz we've got the stats to back it up. Take Instagram for an example. The photo-sharing app has 800m monthly users (500m of which are active daily users), over 40 billion photos shared till date (95m uploaded daily), and 4.2 billion likes initiated per day. But those numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. Take a look at some more numbers listed below:
  • There are 25 million businesses spread across Instagram.
  • Major brands like Nike, General Electric, Walt Disney etc make a portion of their ad revenue via sponsored Instagram ads.
  • Mobile advertising sales generated via the app have touched a whopping $5 billion this year.
  • Instagram is used by over 70% of brands.
  • 200 million Instagrammers earnestly seek out the profile of a business every day.
  • Insta posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6% more engagement.
  • Instagram videos get 2 times the engagement of photos than any other social media platform.
  • Instagram influencers charge up to a hundred grand per sponsored post.
  • And the icing on the cake? The Instagram influencer marketing community is now a $1 billion dollar industry, with figures expected to grow even more.
Phew! Now if that doesn't convince you influencer marketing is the way to go, then we don't know what else will. Plus you have to remember, influencer marketing is not the same as celebrity endorsements. While there may be some overlap, there's also a world of difference between the two.

Influencer marketing is more to do with fans trusting an endorsement as coming from a more realistic, well-researched place compared to a celeb endorsement that is seen as a signed contract between a brand and a person of influence. Unlike celebrities, most influencers enjoy a far healthier amount of relatability because, in the eyes of their followers, influencers are individuals similar to them.

And while there is often a formal agreement between both parties, influencers tend to be a bit more selective about their affiliations, choosing labels that mirror their own unique identity and won't alienate their followers.

With all that in mind, here are a few things one needs to remember, before going down the influencer marketing path:
1. Goal setting - Work out whatever it is that you want from your influencer campaign. If your goals are cast-iron, they’ll automatically influence the kind of partner you choose to align with.
2. Pinning down the right influencer - Once you've set your goals, the next step would be to find an influencer. And not just any influencer but one that helps you achieve your goals. These could be anything from Bloggers, Social media sensations with massive fan followings, Industry experts, the Press, to Celebrities etc. And how does one find them? By:
  • Poking around social media - achievable via tools like Followerwonk, Twello, Klout etc. These tools help identify "authors" that whip up the most engagement. 
  • Pick someone from your own user base. customers with a huge social media following, or some popular blogs, or individuals with connections to your industry. A familiar face who's already into your product, will make a great brand advocate.
  • Get your customers to tell you who they want, i.e, the people they look up to, seek advice from, and set great store by their guidance.
  • Ask the influencers themselves! Once you've worked with a couple of people, you could get their take on who they'd be willing to reference and work with.

At the end of the day you've got to remember two things:
More followers do not equal more worth (unless there happens to be constant engagement with them)
Steer clear of someone who's always peddling the latest products because your product will simply get lost in translation.

3. Forging relationships - When the people you're trying to get in touch with command that much importance, you need to play your cards right. This means no cold calling or tweeting or emailing people to get them on your side. Instead, you follow the techniques listed out below:
  • Boost their popularity. Influencers crave exposure to newer audiences, so give them that. Tweet their articles, attach their site links to your blog posts or newsletters, mention them during podcasts, etc.
  • Offer them a different perspective. If your influencer happens to be a Journalist or an industry expert, then you need to give them an exclusive angle;  data that no one else has.
  • And lastly, it never hurts to be a fan! Express a marked interest in the influencer's work and watch as they become amenable to working with you. Of course, the fact that you know the ins and outs of their brand also helps you make the right decision for your own brand as well.

4. The campaign construction - Goals? Check! Influencer? Check! Now that these are outta the way, it's time to design your campaign. When it comes to influencer marketing, quality >>> quantity my friend. So, it's better to reach out to a few individuals with painstakingly conceived pitches than running over to dozens of them with boring ol’ ones. With that in mind, here are some key things you need to remember when launching an influencer marketing campaign:
  • The knack - Would it be appropriate for your campaign to be promoted by this influencer (based on what they're famous for)?
  • The sway - Can this influencer engage your audience?
  • The people - Does this influencer affect the same people; people similar to both the former's following as well as the company's buyer persona?
  • The rep - Is this influencer well liked? Are they famous for the wrong reasons?

5. Retaining relations -  Once you've gotten an influencer to partner with you, do not dump them after the sales have been made! That's just plain rough. Stay in touch, help promote their content every now and then, keep tabs on what they've been up to, and send further offers their way. You'll soon realize that focusing on this side of the marketing fence involves a great deal of personal flair and ingenuity to highlight brands - all cornerstones to a healthy dose of popularity.

Whether it's features like "Stories" on Instagram or Snapchat, or going "Live", or creating video ads - influencer marketing has seen some phenomenal growth. Major companies like Sprint (Remember the video ad that featured Lele Pons, Gerard Adams, Prince Royce, Bradley Martyn, and Rachel Cook?), Calvin Klein (The advertising campaign with Lifestyle YouTuber Lauren Elizabeth), H&M (With the largest Instagram following of any fashion brand on social media today), GAP, American Express (leveraging top Instagram influencers to become the face of the brand online) etc continue to reap the rewards of influencer marketing and its radical impact on audience behaviour.

Influencer marketing has the capacity for "viral" growth, allowing brands to establish a firm foothold on social media platforms and gaining much-craved audience engagement. With millions upon millions of people spending most of their time online, it was only a matter of time before brands swooped in to claim their attention. Influencer marketing is one ploy that is creative, compelling, and able to chart long-lasting collaboration.