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September 26, 2016

The basics of influencer marketing: who are ‘influencers’ and why do you need them?

Learn what the hottest term in the industry is all about, and how it fits into content marketing

What is influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing leverages key figures and voices in an industry or community to drive your brand’s message to a wider audience. If you think that sounds like a watered-down version of celebrity endorsement, think again. The point of influencer marketing isn’t to piggyback on mainstream popularity, but to make a valuable contribution to your target niche via, or in partnership with, some its most influential people.

Is influencer marketing different to content marketing?

Yes and no. Influencer marketing cuts across multiple marketing techniques, including content marketing. The range of channels and techniques is likely to vary according to your influencer’s own key touchpoints. To work with socially active influencers you’ll need a good grasp of social media marketing techniques; to work with an influencer whose appeal is built on quality content, you’re likely to need content marketing techniques – specifically, you’ll want to develop content ideas in partnership with your influencer, or develop distribution campaigns around content they create for you.

Who are ‘influencers’?

Influencers don’t have to be lively, smiley YouTube stars (though they can be). An influencer is anyone who has visibility, appeal and trust in a given community. Broadly speaking, influencers fall into one of the following categories:

Bloggers and vloggers

Talk to traditional media about bloggers and you’ll encounter three main objections: prestige, professionalism and reach. How can anyone wield influence without an established brand and sales and CRM teams behind them? How could they possibly reach the kind of audience ‘real’ media does? While those are interesting questions to ponder, they don’t change the fact that many independent voices have achieved those things. And what’s more, the personal, one-to-one feel of their work has allowed them to build audiences that are deeply loyal and engaged.

Celebrities

Things get a little tricky here. As we said earlier, influencer marketing isn’t the same as celebrity endorsement. But that doesn’t mean a celebrity can’t be an influencer. What counts is the nature of their influence – that is, are they just a well-known face, or are they influential about a particular topic relevant to your brand? – and the nature of their relationship with you. If you pay a grime MC to wear your clothes, that’s an endorsement; if you work with a grime MC to make a series of videos focused on a football club he famously loves, that’s influencer marketing. (And pretty successful influencer marketing at that.)

Brands

Brands as influencers? It’s unusual, but it can work. For example, if you sell fair-trade coffee beans, The Fairtrade Foundation and various coffee chains could be influencers. Again, the key question is the nature of their influence and of your relationship with them. Slapping a logo on your product? Endorsement. Working together to create and promote content that will appeal to your target audience? Influencer marketing.

Thought leaders

Industry experts and thought leaders can be influencers too, particularly in the b2b space. This category might include journalists and media outlets that cover your industry, but it also overlaps somewhat with the blogger category – if you’re looking for highly relevant audiences that can deliver qualified traffic, niche industry bloggers can work wonders.

The arguments for influencer marketing

Trust

Research shows 84% of consumers make purchases after reading about a product or service on a blog. With trust in brands waning, consumers are increasingly turning to their peers for guidance in decision making. Influencers provide an authentic voice. And as role models, their advocacy can create new advocates, not just new buyers.

Originality

Working with influencers can help you develop content that stands out from your usual in-house marketing. You’ll be surprised what a genuine desire to work with influencers and creatives can lead to. A hamburger chain reaching new audiences with a trap mixtape? Yes, that really happened.

Feedback

The best influencers get a steady stream or replies, comments and shares from their followers. By sparking conversations, influencers can help generate valuable insights into how your brand is perceived among your target audience. You can use this to refine your offering or tweak your content marketing strategy.

Long-term engagement

Having built a personal brand, most influencers are assiduous about protecting it. That means they’re unlikely to get involved with a project unless it genuinely pushes their buttons. Bad news in as far as it makes it harder to get an influencer on board; good news in that when you do, they’ll often be open to an extended partnership, not just a one-off project.

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