Let’s take a look at influencer marketing landscape for 2017. What exactly are all these marketers investing in? To say sponsored content is to oversimplify the social ecosystem of influence.
First and foremost, influence is not simply writing a blog post or sharing an item on a social platform. While 68% of Americans use Facebook (Source: Pew), the most ubiquitous of the social platforms, we wouldn’t consider them all to be influencers. For our purposes, influence requires both intent and action; the person endorsing (or disparaging) a product intends for others to be influenced by their comments, and those others are actually (and preferably provably) impacted by the opinion. Influence is that moment where endorsement sparks action.
Trust is the currency of this social ecosystem. We trust influencers — people like us — more than any other digital source when it comes to purchase decisions. Influencers are trusted more than brands, industry leaders, publishers and celebrities, and 68% of women social media users report making a purchase as a result of an influencer recommendation (Source: In the Company of Friends, SheKnows/Research Narrative Influencer Marketing Study, October 1, 2015, PDF).
Who are these influencers? In 2017, most influencer marketing strategies will tap into three types of influencer: the mid-tier content creator, celebrity influencers and microinfluencers.
Let’s start with the most familiar – the mid-tier content creator. For the past few years, the most prolific influencers have been the mid-tier content creators, often referred to as the “magic middle.” Most are active, daily users of Facebook and at least one or two additional platforms. She posts on her blog 2-3 times per week, with somewhere between 100,000-300,000 average monthly page views (MPVs). She loves creating authentic sponsored content for the brands she loves, but her primary motivation is to entertain and inform her readers. (Source: In the Company of Friends, PDF)
Most importantly, she is both the customer and a conduit to other customers who are highly likely to engage with her content, by sharing, liking, commenting, and yes, trying and buying products. In my opinion, she is the most productive candidate for long-term brand ambassador programs because other consumers will trust and follow her personal product journey.
However, no single mid-tier influencer will personally reach millions of consumers. To achieve this sort of scale, marketers turn to, at one end of the spectrum, microinfluencers, and at the other, the celebrity influencers.
A microinfluencer is a consumer who actively uses her social channels to support brand marketing objectives. Anyone can write an Amazon Review or share a product experience on Twitter or Facebook, but it’s a bit like the tree falling in the woods when no one is present. With only a few followers or an occasional reader, the endorsement has little impact. Scale, and measurable results, are achieved when we aggregate the small actions of many influencers, organized around a single message.
Who is the microinfluencer? She is, quite literally, all of us; consumers with as few as 100 followers who love brands and love sharing them with others. We harness their power by working with hundreds, thousands of them at once, all sharing a similar and simple message to their friends. In the past, these sort of promotions have been limited to product sampling and couponing. With improvements in influencer marketing technology that allow brands to loosely script the social shares (so the message doesn’t get lost in the transmission by so many individuals), and to process micropayments to these individuals in the $1-2 per social share range, we have already seen an increase in more sophisticated scale social promotions. 2017 will bring more.
At the other end of the spectrum is the celebrity influencer. This is a blogger or social influencer with millions of readers and followers. She isn’t a celebrity in the traditional sense — actor, politician, heir/heiress, music superstar etc. — but like those famous people, she is just as likely to be engaging with brands on behalf of her audience than she is to be an actual customer of your product. Her endorsement is thus very similar to a celebrity endorsement; to the degree she is a trusted tastemaker, it will drive awareness, but the celebrity influencer often has a much lower engagement rate than her mid-tier counterpart. Of course her overall audience is that much larger, so she still may be reaching more consumers. When comparing the celebrity with the mid-tier influencer, keep that in mind. The sheer number of people the celebrity influencer reaches is not to be ignored or dismissed.
Who is the celebrity influencer? In our experience, she is a blogger with a unique story and strong audience and social following, a great video personality with a large YouTube following or an Instagram star. Like real-life celebrities, her endorsement is costly. When using celebrity influencers, it is important to have a very clear vision of the return on the investment.
Success with influencer marketing in 2017 starts with identifying the right type of influencer for the story you want to tell and understanding your performance objective — awareness, engagement, product trial, purchase.
Critical though is to set up your measurement models to match your objective, both for understanding the end result and optimizing performance during the campaign. I’ll cover that in my next post.