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Influencer Marketing: What Small Businesses Need to Know

The concept of marketing online is always developing. New advertising concepts are emerging all the time. Though the common practices of PPC, online banner ads, and pre-roll advertising are still very worthwhile opportunities for companies of all kinds, many organisations are starting to adopt a relatively new and effective practice: “influencer marketing”. But what is…

Many businesses use influencer marketing to grow brand awareness and raise their profile online. Let’s take a look at how it works and what’s involved.The concept of marketing online is always developing. New advertising concepts are emerging all the time.

Though the common practices of PPC, online banner ads, and pre-roll advertising are still very worthwhile opportunities for companies of all kinds, many organisations are starting to adopt a relatively new and effective practice: “influencer marketing”.

But what is it and how does it work?

What is Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is a marketing tactic that involves reaching out to influential online content creators who have a large, engaged following, and paying them (or otherwise compensating them in some way) to showcase your product to their audience.

By effectively sponsoring these “internet celebs” to create a piece of content that promotes your brand or product, you get to increase your reach to their follower base in a quite authentic-seeming way.

It’s much like what happens when big brands seek A-list celebrity endorsements. They pay the celebrity to be the face of their brand, and therefore get to piggyback on the general public’s trust and appreciation for that person. Influencer marketing does something very similar on a much smaller scale.

What Does Influencer Marketing Look Like?

Most social channels and media types can feature influencer marketing, but two of the most popular methods are through video (usually through platforms like YouTube and Instagram) and blog posts (posted through the influencer’s website, but usually promoted through social media).

The promotional element of sponsored content itself can take a few different forms, but the two most common are:

  • A piece of content produced by a popular influencer that talks exclusively about the product in question, usually in the form of a sponsored review.
  • A piece of content produced by a popular influencer that takes the form of one of their normal pieces of content but has a short advertisement for a product within it.

What Does Paid Influencer Marketing Involve?

Let’s look at a rundown of how collaborating with an influencer might work. Obviously this process may differ wildly depending on what you’re trying to do and which influencers you collaborate with, but here’s a rough idea of how it works:

  1. The company looking to promote themselves identifies the ideal audience for their product, finds out what social media channels that audience hangs out on, and notes the kinds of media they consume. They then use this data to decide which social channels may be the best fit for their product or brand.
  2. The company then researches the most pertinent social platforms to find popular, influential users that their target market follow there. They also look at what kind of engagement each influencer’s posts achieve in terms of likes, comments, and shares from the target audience in question.
  3. Then it’s time to reach out to those influencers whose content and audience are a good fit for the product. If the influencer is willing to showcase the product, the company asks their rates for producing a piece of promoted content.
  4. An agreement is then reached between the company and the influencer about timescales and payment, and the company may provide access to the products they’d like the influencer to talk about. Many retail companies also provide a discount code to share alongside the promoted content; this sweetens the deal for new customers, but also provides a trackable metric to gauge the content’s promotional success.
  5. The influencer creates their piece and it goes live. At the end of the day, they’ve been compensated for their time; the company gets to reach a new audience; and the influencer’s followers get a snazzy new piece of content to enjoy; everybody’s happy!

Advantages of Influencer Marketing

By reaching out to someone in your niche who has already earned credibility with their audience, you’re paying to tap into that credibility for your own benefit.

You get to showcase your product in front of a group that already has energy and buzz. When the company and the influencer’s audience are a good fit, the product becomes a genuine talking point within that community.

It can appear more authentic than an AdWords ad or paid social media campaign, and is a great way of increasing brand awareness and reach semi-organically.

Influencer marketing can be fruitful for indie brands and niche products. If you produce a great quality product but you don’t have a sizeable profile, collaborating with influencers can help you get the word out effectively.

People are becoming increasingly cynical about traditional marketing methods, and recent paid online methods are also sometimes looked upon with the same derision as pop-ups, spam, and TV ad breaks. Seeing a friendly “internet personality” that you like and trust endorsing a certain product seems more natural – and gets around ad-blockers!

If you do a good job of matching the right influencer and the right audience to the right product, influencer marketing can be a really fruitful strategy for companies of all sizes.

Disadvantages of Influencer Marketing

Even if you do a good job of matching the influencer, product, and audience, unfortunately results are not guaranteed. The internet can be a fickle place, and though pairing with the right person can minimise these risks, user behaviour can be unpredictable.

Finding the perfect influencers and discovering new, engaged audiences that really align with your offering is hard work. The research involved can be really time consuming and labour intensive, which all adds to the total investment into your influencer marketing strategy.

It can be very easy to get wrong. Small businesses looking to use influencer marketing can’t cut corners or take a “one-size-fits-all” approach – that’s simply not viable. Influencer marketing needs to be propped up by solid research into the audience, influencer, and platform to make sure they’re all well-aligned.

Influencer marketing is a paid advertisement, and as such the Advertising Standards Agency have released guidelines about how sponsored posts need to be communicated as paid marketing. This can take the edge off any earned authenticity, and could land you and/or the content creator in hot water if the ASA’s rules aren’t properly followed.

Though this strategy gets more eyeballs on your product, some people are just going to be checking out the influencer’s content because they are genuine fans, and may not be overly interested in what they’re selling. People check out beauty channels on YouTube because they want the latest tips – not your product. People tune in to business advice channels for entrepreneurial inspiration – not a plug for your company.

And finally, we have the fact that influencer marketing is not for every company. Product-based businesses are better set up for influencer marketing than purely service organisations. Similarly, if you only operate in or deliver to a small area, it’s likely that the influencer’s reach will be geographically wider than you are able to service, potentially leading to a lot of let down prospects.

Influencer marketing provides great marketing potential to a lot of organisations – especially those who sell consumer products. But it’s not a tactic that should be taken lightly, and can be a lot of work to get right.

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So what do you think of influencer marketing? Do you think it’s a novel new way of doing business, or an annoying source of yet more advertising? Would you use influencer marketing for your company? Let’s have a natter down in the comments!

Image Credit: Jack Moreh at FreeRangeStock

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