As the old marketing proverb goes: people are more likely to trust what others say about you over what you say about yourself.
The challenge is getting people to talk about you in the first place.
This is where social influencer marketing comes into play. It’s an approach that puts your message in the mouths of those your audience trusts the most.
According to research from Twitter, 49% of consumers seek guidance from influencers on their purchasing decisions. Furthermore, 40% of those users said they had purchased something as a direct result of an influencer’s Tweet.
And these are findings from a single channel. As the likes of Instagram and Snapchat begin to mature, these effects will be found across the board.
In this guide, we’re going to outline 7 of the most effective social influencer marketing tactics to help get your products and services out to an expanded audience.
Whether you’re trying to grow your own business, or an agency serving your clients, these can be applied no matter what business you’re in.
Before we dive into each technique, let’s talk about why you should care.
Why social influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing opens up several new channels for brands. Your message bypasses interruptive channels and is delivered by a trustworthy source. These are influencers that consumers already trust.
At its core, social influencer marketing is a scalable word-of-mouth approach. It takes the power of advocacy and amplifies it.
Furthermore, it’s executed on social media platforms. The key is to go where the attention is. Influencers have already made huge fan-bases on these channels, and they’re creating content that fits within the context of that platform.
Therefore, your message comes through in a non-interruptive manner.
Take a look at this Google trends report on the rise of influencer marketing over the past 5 years:
It’s certainly rising in popularity. But it’s not too late to join the party. Right now we’re in an arbitrage bubble. This means the cost of implementation is less than what it’s worth.
Building influencer relationships is still an affordable practice. And these relationships will have value for a long time to come. But it won’t last for long.
Here are some other tangible results of influencer engagement:
- It’s trackable: There’s plenty of data to determine whether you’re targeting the right influencer and whether or not they bring a strong ROI. We’ll cover this in more depth shortly.
- It’s native: Content created by influencers is non-interruptive. They sit within the context of the platform they create on.
- Consumers are sick of ads: Banner blindness is a condition that grows with each new emerging marketing platform. Influencer marketing gets you over this hurdle.
- It helps SEO: User-generated content accounts for 25% of organic search for the world’s top 20 brands.
Now you see how powerful social influencer marketing is, let’s get into some cutting-edge techniques on how to properly execute it.
1) Use hashtags to identify influencers
Identifying the right influencers is half the game. If you target an influencer who has access to a large audience that doesn’t care about your message and you’ll waste huge amounts of money.
Luckily, the data is already available to you. Social media platforms rank influencers objectively. You just need to know what to search for.
Identify the best influencers using hashtag searches. There’s a hashtag for almost any topic, which makes for a great source for target influencers.
Instagram provides relevant hashtags that have less competition. For example, these are the suggested hashtags when we search for #adventure:
There’s a lot of attention going for the #adventure hashtag. Therefore, consider identifying suggested hashtags with less competition.
Make a note of the suggestions and number of posts for each. We’ll need these when searching for influencers on Twitter.
On Instagram, click on a hashtag to view the top posts. Click through on images that appear relevant to your brand:
Make a note of their username, number of followers, and any branded posts they’ve created in the past:
Searching for influencers on Twitter has other benefits, as it lists the top users relevant to that hashtag. The downside is it doesn’t show you many related hashtags.
Start by running a Twitter search for your chosen hashtag. You’ll see a handful of top users and relevant posts. Click on the “View all” link next to the People section:
You’ll be presented with a list of potential influencers you can engage with. Make a note of their username, follow count as well as any branded content they’ve created in the past.
It’s also worth noting what kind of content they create. Are they photos or illustrations? Do they retweet content or do they create their own?
The more you know about your target influencers, the more successful your engagement with them will be.
2) Target micro-influencers for affordable wins
As social influencer marketing becomes more popular, it’ll become less effective. Not only this, but it will be harder to gain the attention of influencers with huge followings.
So, you should consider targeting micro-influencers first.
The key characteristics of a micro-influencer are:
- A following of 10,000 and 100,000 users (and sometimes even less).
- They’re affordable – 84% charge less than $250 and 97% charge less than $500 on Instagram (Bloglovin).
- Are 4x more likely to generate comments on their posts than those with more than 10 million followers (Markerly).
Using the hashtag technique in the previous section, you can easily find micro-influencers that fit these criteria. You have likely already engaged with a few of your own followers.
The key metric to look at is engagement rather than the size of their following. Look at how fans are interacting. Are they commenting, liking and sharing their content?
Look at the metrics that prove they have an engaged audience. These include shares, likes, comments, questions, repins and tweets. It’s easier for micro-influencers to engage with their audience because they’re smaller.
With this strategy, start by recruiting one micro-influencer at first. Scale as you yield an ROI by employing many at once. It can be more effective spreading your budget across many micro-influencers than hiring one.
You’ll find that many micro-influencers have formed a network within their niche. These influencers support each other and promote each other’s’ content.
It’s also likely that these micro-influencers share the same audience. Therefore, there are benefits in targeting these entire networks.
Having your audience see a message from one influencer is great. Seeing the same endorsement from several is even better.
3) Use market data to identify the most relevant influencers
So far, we’ve relied on social media data to identify influencers. But there’s a host of consumer data out there for us to tap into.
With this data, you can reverse engineer who (and where) you should be targeting your efforts. If you’re an agency leader, this is especially important when backing up your pitches to clients.
Use the insight from this data to identify which influencers have an affinity with your ideal audience. There are many tools out there that can collect and model this data for you. For the sake of this article, we’re going to use our own proprietary data here at SpotRight.
In this example, we’re targeting women Major League Baseball (MLB) fans (who make up 42.03% of the MLB audience):
Looking deeper into this audience, we can identify the publications, brands, and influencers they have the strongest affinity with.
For example, 78% of this audience has an interest in musicians such as Josh Kelley and Nikko Smith:
With this insight, we now have opportunities to:
- Create influencer personas to identify similar influencers to them
- Use Twitter and Instagram to find similar profiles
- Look at their following and identify micro-influencers that influence them
You can also identify additional hashtags to search from with this reverse engineering approach. From our own research, we’ve found the hashtags this audience has an affinity with:
Not only can this help you identify relevant influencers, but it also gives you more insight into your audience’s behavior. In this case, they are interested in giveaways and contests.
4) Engage prior to outreach for greater response rates
Other brands will be vying for your target influencer’s attention. To get past the noise, engage with them before you begin asking for something.
This means finding out where they hang out online. Figure out how they use each platform and work within the context of how those platforms work.
Influencers with millions of followers may have processes for this. You can often find their business email addresses on their profiles:
There are also services out there that connect brands to influencers like Acorn Influence. Brands can join the likes of Crest and Dr. Pepper in promoting their products through the power of social influencer marketing.
This approach, however, is key when building long-term relationships. You’re getting on their radar and making friends with them in advance.
Make a note of the channels they hang out in. You’ll also want to list the forms of content they create:
- Are they creating visual content on Instagram or Snapchat?
- Do they create YouTube videos?
- Are they engaging with their fans on Twitter?
You may find some influencers create content on their own website (or third party publications). This content is what they pour their heart into, and is the best place to engage with them.
They say it takes 7 touch points to get someone’s attention. You can engage with influencers by:
- Tweeting @ them
- Sharing their content on Twitter
- Commenting on their content (blog posts, YouTube videos etc.)
- Engaging with their photos on Instagram
- Mentioning them in your own content
Whichever approach you use, make sure you do it within the context of the platform that each influencer uses.
Struggling to start a conversation? Influencers often chat with fans and other brands or influencers. Contribute to these conversations to get on their radar.
You don’t need to limit this engagement to digital channels. Send influencers gifts based on their likes and interests. This requires you have a strong understanding of their motivations first.
In his vlogs, Casey Neistat has a “Mailtime” segment that he reserves for fan mail. Not only do brands get their name in front of Casey himself, but also puts their message out to his fans:
You likely have a strong network of your own. Acting as a connector for influencers is a powerful way to get their attention. If you have access to interesting people, reach out to influencers offering to make an introduction.
Remember, digital channels are great, but if you can get in front of these influencers at events or at the coffee shop, even better.
5) Collaborate on content
Many brands and influencers see the importance of acting as a publisher. The challenge is finding the time to create it in the first place.
So, why not offer your services to create a piece of co-branded (or co-authored) content?
Some of the biggest brands in the world are taking advantage of this approach.
Look at the partnership between GoPro and Red Bull. They’ve both extended beyond the products they sell, positioning themselves as lifestyle brands – which is why they go so well together.
How does the partnership work? Red Bull sponsor and run events for athletes and adventurers that have been kitted with gear by GoPro.
In other words: Red Bull provides the platform and GoPro creates the content.
This content is a great example of effective storytelling. Their “Stratos” video had Felix Baumgartner jump from a pod from more than 24 miles above the Earth’s surface. The fall was captured using GoPro’s technology.
And the result? Over 40 million views on YouTube and countless amounts of buzz all over the web.
Co-branded content doesn’t need to be this complicated. Take the partnership between BuzzFeed and Fur Baby Rescue for example.
Fur Baby Rescue wanted to tap into BuzzFeed’s huge audience, so they created the exact kind of content that this audience wants to see. The result was an article titled “We Gave Drunk Girls a Bunch of Puppies and There Were Lots of Tears.”
The article itself utilizes different forms of content. It opens up with a video (meaning extra traffic from YouTube) and has GIFs peppered throughout. There are links to Fur Baby Rescue’s website and, of course, all the puppies in the article are up for adoption.
Another simple social influencer marketing example comes from Welch’s and Walmart. The two joined forces to bring in several food bloggers to try different recipes with their chia seed fruit spread.
This approach took a dual approach to co-branded content and social influencer marketing. Both brands tapped into each others’ audiences, as well as those of the bloggers they featured. Here’s an example from food blog Living the Gourmet:
— Living the Gourmet (@livingtgourmet) January 17, 2017
Want to partner with brands in this manner? Start by looking at the data. Look at your audience and the brands and interests they have an affinity with.
Our women MLB fans have an affinity with food brands like Chai Moments and Mocktails. Fashion brands Bamboo Clothing Co. and Earl Jean are also of interest:
Identify related brands using the techniques listed in this article. Reach out to the right people at each brand by engaging with them where they hang out the most.
Even better: find brands who already have relationships with influencers. Do what Welch’s did by tapping into Walmart’s existing network.
6) Tap into new and upcoming platforms
There is an unavoidable rule that affects all marketing approaches. Sooner or later they become oversaturated, lose effectiveness and become more expensive.
Take Facebook Ads, for example. At first, it delivered an incredible ROI to marketers. But as more flocked over, the more expensive it became.
The same goes for social influencer marketing. As influencers become more sought after on popular platforms, the more expensive it will be to work with them.
To stay ahead of the curve, get on board new and emerging platforms before they become over-saturated. This is exactly what ADIDAS and Pharrell did with Snapchat Stories in the early days. In just less than 24 hours, their co-branded Story generated 3.5 million views.
This approach requires keeping a close eye on the market’s pulse. You need to understand what’s emerging. It also requires taking bets that may not yield a return.
Take Snapchat for example. Very few thought it was going to take off at first. Now brands are paying attention to users flock to the platform.
So, how can you identify these platforms? Pay attention to industry publications such as Mashable and WIRED. These technology sites are often first to cover new technologies. The likes of Forbes and Fast Company will follow suit once a business case has been established.
Product Hunt is another great source for emerging apps. It’s here that the likes of Meerkat and Periscope generated a huge amount of interest in the early days.
To get a feel for how much a platform is worth pursuing, look at the upvotes. Periscope, for example, has received more than 3,000 upvotes since it was originally hunted:
Mashable is another strong source of emerging platforms. For example, under their Apps And Software category, they have a weekly “This week in apps” segment that highlights and analyzes new apps that were launched that week:
Of course, not all emerging platforms will win. Periscope and Meerkat came out around the same time, and in 2016 the latter closed its doors.
Which should marketers have focused on? The answer is both.
There’s no telling what will make a platform more successful than another. The best approach is to hedge your bets and go all-in. Figure out what makes each platform unique and identify the key users as it grows.
When a platform does break through, you’ll be in a strong position to turn it into an effective marketing channel.
7) Hire influencers as brand ambassadors
There is an implication that social influencer marketing campaigns are one-off. But wouldn’t it be great if they became permanent advocates for your brand?
A brand ambassador program will take your influencer efforts to the next level. Ambassadors work to represent your product, service or event. They believe in your message and are willing to spread it for you.
Target, for example, partnered up with style influencer Emily Henderson. Together, they curate different looks using their furniture products.
Lululemon has a hugely successful ambassador program that influencers and fans can join. They have a process for regional ambassadors as well as professional athletes who help spread the word for them:
Begin this process by identifying initial ambassadors. Look for customers and fans who are already advocating you. Use social listening tools such as Mention to see who’s raving about your products and services.
Help these customers by empowering them to do what they love when using your products. Lululemon’s workshops and events add more value for their customers.
Take inspiration from referral programs and ensure there’s a win-win for all involved. Give them swag, discounts and free product to reward them for spreading the word.
Lululemon does this by sending advocates to their annual summit. This encourages those ambassadors and influencers to create content around the event. The benefits include extended social reach and third-party endorsements.
The key is to keep empowering your biggest advocates. Identify your biggest fans and find out what interests them. Send them gifts tailored to these interests (see tactic #4 above).
Make sure to keep things simple. On a technical level, there’s no point in sweating things that other people have worked to take care of.
Use a platform like Ambassador to create a digital platform for your platform. This helps you create an omnichannel approach for you and your ambassadors. Most importantly, it will help you identify, track and easily reward those who talk about your brand most often.
Word-of-mouth marketing has grown up. Social influencer marketing is an approach that’s here to stay.
But with this comes several challenges. The level of difficulty rises as marketers begin to use and abuse this approach.
The key is to identify the right kind of influencers and give them value up front. Find micro-influencers and work up the chain. Engage and add value to them upfront before asking for anything.
The key to winning long-term, of course, is to focus on long-term relationships. These will turn your influencers into raging fans for many years to come.