A version of this post was published in Adweek.
While there’s lots of talk about how much influencers get paid and whether they’re effective, it’s clear to me that brands themselves should start learning from influencers. I don’t mean that Mr.Clean needs to start doing duckface selfies, but the overarching goal of an influencer program is to get content -- and the brand messages within -- distributed to as many people in a target audience as possible. That’s something influencers can most definitely be really good at.
When you think about influencer marketing, it’s useful to start with a concept that’s actually timeless, brand advocacy. People have always engaged with messages that come from others they are connected and whom are trustworthy. One of the challenges in influencer marketing is it’s often hard for consumers (and marketers) to know who’s sharing content because they genuinely are into the brand or only because they’re a paid shill. Inauthentic messages are shown to be discounted and less effective.
The brands we work with have seen that content can have significantly more engagement when curated and shared by “micro-influencers” on social networks. These messengers can be perceived as more genuine in their intentions than many of the big celebrities on Instagram or Pinterest. Distribution strategies can be still more effective when you don’t have to pay an influencer at all. How’s that for ROI? With new tools and platforms brands can identify the right influencers, and get a measure of the effectiveness of social media seeding and sharing programs that tap genuine fans across social networks and the web. Getting a smart strategy in place can pay clear dividends. Just ask Unilever CMO Keith Weed, who found that 74% of consumers get guidance from their social networks when they make purchase decisions.
These solutions help brands find the influencers who are bona fide brand advocates and tap them for viral brand momentum Let’s say, for example, you're Burton snowboards, and you find a bunch of great brand advocates who are actually sharing a lot of content, getting tremendous engagement. The next step would be to say, "Hey, I notice you're posting a lot of our content. I'd love to send you some of our next season's gloves. Let us know what you think." Smart moves as simple as that will turn a liker and sharer into a valuable content distributor.
But it’s not yet time to pity the poor celebrity “macro-influencers,” who still have a major role to play in the earned media machine. The Kardashians and Hadids are content creators, pushing the next viral Instagram post out into the world. The well-timed, art-directed, instantly meme-worthy nature and aesthetic of the next nude tree climbing photo is something brands should be looking to for inspiration. We have seen many successful brands follow similar formulas for producing winning social media content. And, this is the content that the micro-influencers and brand advocates are curating and sharing with their own “OMG, I love this” spin.
Brands that win with their visual content are those that combine the tactics of the celebrity and the micro-influencer. Major retailers, for example, invest millions producing images with the expectation of a return on that investment through sharing that content. They have to follow the same rules as a celebrity and create approachable, genuine content that people want to engage with and that micro-influencers want to share.
While celebrities and any old Joe with 100,000 Instagram followers rake in big bucks promoting products, it’s time for marketers to learn a lesson from the sharers themselves and start thinking like advocates and acting like celebrities.