The popularity of influencer marketing has surged in recent years. While it’s been around as a marketing tactic for the best part of a century, this recent growth can be largely attributed to the sheer volume of content being shared across social media. Amidst so much online noise, it’s little wonder brands are increasingly turning to influencers to help get them in front of audiences in an authentic and meaningful way.
As 2017 shapes up to become the year influencer marketing finally comes of age, evolving from an experimental promotional channel into a key part of the marketing mix, we explore why influencer marketing and charitable organisations are a match made in heaven – and how you can leverage the trend.
What is influencer marketing?
Put simply, influencer marketing is the practice by which businesses recruit a person of influence to share the organisation’s messages with the influencer’s own audience, often (but not always) in return for a financial incentive. For obvious reasons, in recent years influencer marketing has gravitated towards influencers with strong digital networks and the power to spread a message far and wide. The practice is based on one of the fundamental truths of marketing: people are more likely to absorb and act on the recommendation of a friend or individual they trust than that of a brand or organisation.
The six rules of influencer marketing
Whether you’re considering dipping a toe in the waters of influencer marketing or simply want to add further rigour to your current influencer program, your timing couldn’t be better. As the channel matures, many of the challenges and teething problems of the last few years have been solved or improved upon. The relationships between brands and their influencers are becoming less murky and more sophisticated. Best practice approaches have been identified and perfected.
Here are a few rules of thumb to help you get the most out of your influencer marketing program:
1. Be authentic. Authenticity is the key to a successful influencer campaign. Audiences have a nose for when something feels contrived or an influencer is ‘doing it for the money’ so it’s critical to work with people who have a genuine stake in your cause. One of the reasons influencer marketing and charities are such a good fit is that influencers will often already be vocal about causes they support; this in turn makes them easier to identify, the relationship smoother to establish and your message a more natural fit.
Harnessing an influencer’s existing passion ensures they’re fully invested in sharing your content and encouraging donations, and also opens the door to what is arguably the pinnacle of influencer marketing: the creation of powerful, highly shareable content of their own.
2. Don’t assume bigger is better. Experience has taught us that going after big-name celebrities or digital influencers with huge fanbases to endorse your cause doesn’t always provide the best ROI. In fact, statistics have shown that niche social influencers with smaller followings tend to enjoy greater engagement with their audience and higher conversion rates , all of which is great news for charities with limited marketing budgets. We call these individuals micro-influencers or long tail influencers: their audiences are smaller but highly targeted and more active online.
In the past, identifying these micro-influencers was a significant challenge; done manually, the process is time-consuming and requires considerable resource. Fortunately for time-strapped marketeers, a number of platforms now exist which enable you to identify who is talking about your brand online, together with their social reach and engagement metrics.
Where it gets really interesting, however, is when you can start to search for these individuals within your existing donor database. Recently acquired by our parent company Blackbaud, Attentive.ly is a social listening software provider that reveals what people in your email list are saying on social media, as well as which issues resonate and why, allowing you to identify who your own micro-influencers are and build rich social profiles on those individuals. This offers charities the potential to radically increase the engagement and reach of campaigns by creating tailored outreach to influential and highly engaged individuals from within their own networks.
3. Choose quality over quantity. Influencers like to feel valued and expect to be treated as individuals. Even if they provide access to their fans in return for financial reward, it’s still important that you invest time in the relationship to ensure they are emotionally committed to your cause. That’s why we advise on working with just a handful of influencers at a time and tailoring your program to each individual. Don’t spread yourself too thinly and allow yourself time to nurture each relationship.
4. Be strategic. Before committing to an influencer program, have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, how you’d like to achieve it and how you plan to measure success. Consider how best to use your influencers and what actions you want them to take: is the primary goal sharing your brand’s content with as many people as possible? Or collaborating with you to create their own content and engage people at a deeper level? Which mediums are most relevant to your audience? Try to engage your influencers at an early stage and seek their input on how the partnership could work.
5. Play by the rules. While some influencers will be happy to promote your cause pro bono, more often than not a financial incentive is required to secure an official partnership – particularly if working with influencers who have a reasonable social following or media profile. With this comes an obligation to abide by Australian Consumer Law, which states that you must disclose when an endorsement has been paid for. You can read more about it here.
6. Track & measure. Measuring the success of influencer marketing campaigns has historically been problematic – and continues to be. According to a recent industry survey, 78 per cent of marketers said measuring ROI for influencer marketing was their biggest challenge for 2017 – and it’s easy to see why.
As a channel it offers huge opportunities to reach new audiences organically, but the reliability of ‘reach’ as a genuine metric is questionable. After all, when it’s possible to buy 10,000 Instagram fans or Youtube views for a few dollars, artificially inflating your influence has never been easier. What’s more, using reach alone fails to acknowledge other important factors such as the quality and sentiment of interactions.
So how should brands be measuring success? For starters, introducing a wider range of metrics, such as engagement, audience sentiment and conversions will help to level the playing field and ensure you are measuring more than just fan numbers. It’s also important to set real, measurable KPIs for your influencers at the start of the campaign – such as number of clicks and engagements. Even easier to incorporate into your campaign are hashtags: they encourage others to join the conversation and make it easy to track.