Influencer marketing has come a long way in recent years. It is no longer bound to the confines of Instagram, targeting an audience of teens and tweens. In short, influencer marketing has grown up.
Influencer marketing is no longer the sole domain of celebrity influencers and accounts with over one million followers. It’s far more nuanced and with the rise of niche content creators and shifts in consumer habits and behaviours, there is now more to online influencers than you may think.
This comes with the potential for pitfalls and missed steps. In this guide to influencer marketing campaigns, we explore the influencer marketing journey so far. We take a look at where it’s come from, where we are now and what the future may hold for the world of influencer marketing.
We also explore some of the theories behind social media and influencer marketing and the tactics which can be deployed for successful influencer marketing campaign activity.
Social media platforms: transient by nature
The prevalence of social media influencers has been, in part, formed by the rise in power of a multitude of platforms. In a post-MySpace generation, the sheer volume of social media channels available is frankly quite staggering and its fuelled a social media marketing boom.
Social media is most popular amongst Gen Z and Millennials here in the UK. One quarter of all social media users are between 25-to-34-years old, 12.8 percent are women, and 12.4 are men. Around 90 percent of people between these ages have a profile on a social media network.
TikTok, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are the current reigning ‘big four.’ But if history has taught us anything it’s that social channels can be very transient in nature, they can rise to power as quickly as they fall into obsolescence.
When it comes to implementing influencer marketing within your wider marketing tactics and strategies, it’s important to recognise that this is a changeable landscape. You need to be able to adapt to this truly mercurial way of communication.
Social media influencers explained
The growth of the influencer marketing industry has given rise to a number of different categorisations of influencers based on the individuals’ follower numbers. These are best described as:
Nano: 1K – 10K followers
Micro: 10K – 100K followers
Macro: 100K – 1M followers
Mega: 1M+ followers
The level of influencers with which you choose to engage will depend on your marketing goals, and your business and its principles will also have a bearing on this decision.
But beware, numbers can be deceiving.
Modern influencer marketing is as much about brand alignment as it is about selling or promoting products. It is about creating meaningful relationships with individuals outside your organisation.
The nuance of finding the right influencer for your needs can be a tricky one. It’s a task which requires considered care and attention, you shouldn’t just jump into a relationship with an influencer based on follower count. You must think about how your mutual brand values benefit one another.
You should also avoid treating influencer relations as a one-way transactional relationship. Take the view of creating long-term partnerships with these influencers and creators and you’ll find much more joy and success in the process.
Influencer marketing: loyalty and authenticity
The loyalty of the audience and the authenticity of content are two of the most crucial aspects of influencer marketing strategy and campaign success.
Going back to the influencer categorisations for a moment, there was a time when influencer marketing budgets and efforts were stacked heavily in favour of the macro and mega influencers.
Brands and businesses would rationalise that the greater the follower count, the greater the return on investment. While this may seem a logical sentiment, it is not necessarily true.
We’re finding that influencer campaigns are proving far more effective by using nano and micro-influencers. Businesses can find more significant ROI with a smaller social media influencer.
The reason behind this is a simple matter of loyalty and authenticity.
We’re now seeing that the smaller social media influencer garners far more loyalty from their followers. From a marketing sense, this translates as micro-influencers’ and macro-influencers’ content hitting home harder and more consistently.
For businesses looking to leverage that loyalty and convert followers into potential customers, finding the right influencers is the most important part of the entire strategy, then engaging them with authentic content.
Authentic content is the way to reach the hearts and minds of these audiences. Irrelevant and inauthentic content will not yield positive results for either party. The influencer posts will likely fall on deaf ears, your campaigns won’t have the bite you intended, and worse the influencer in question may lose out on followers.
Consider how you can engage with nano-influencers and micro-influencers in a way that is meaningful and mutually beneficial for both.
Influencer marketing strategy: identify influencers
Finding the right influencers for your business needs should be the cornerstone of all your influencer marketing campaigns. Getting things wrong at this stage can prove wasteful and costly.
When identifying influencers, regardless of the campaign, the most important aspect to factor is relevance for both the influencer and the business. Your influencer campaign will live and die by this.
This is no different to any ‘traditional’ media or marketing campaign activity. If your business is operating within the healthcare tech sector, it would be neither logical nor appropriate to market your business to the engineering market.
The same applies to influencer marketing.
Take the time at the outset of your influencer search to identify the right influencers for both your short and long-term goals. Also, consider how you select influencers based on your business ethos, mutuality works to your benefit here.
The definition of an influencer has also changed somewhat. Yes, there are still those TikTok influencers and talent agency influencers, but what we determine as an influencer in 2023 has much more nuance to it.
Take Cisco and its Cisco Champions for example. This campaign saw Cisco invite top IT experts to feature in a series of podcasts and videos and give them new products to test.
IT pros and influencers aren’t two words which are often put together. But if an influencer is, by the very name, an individual who holds sway and influence over large followings, they fit the very definition.
By this definition, so does any kind of expert with a noteworthy platform.
This is proven by the fact that influencers no longer live solely on consumer-led social channels.
We now find influencers on LinkedIn, in the form of thought leaders, analysts and business leaders. Youtube has become a rich repository of knowledge, with expert YouTube creators covering every conceivable subject.
Influence can no longer be solely defined as celebrity endorsement. The goalposts have shifted… and businesses can take advantage.
Influencer marketing campaigns: what to expect
Temper your expectations when it comes to results
If you’re in a B2B landscape don’t expect immediate results from influencer marketing.
Influencer campaigns for B2C brands can often yield more immediate-term results. But contrary to this, B2B campaigns burn much slower. This is because the transactions or purchases can often be much larger and involve more decision-makers.
Create content that counts
Quality content creates successful campaigns and the modern influencer can often be a highly skilled content creator in their own right.
If you are choosing to partner with influencers who possess significant content creation skills, then don’t hamper that process. Of course, give them a clear brief, but when it comes to their channel and their audience they know what works best, so give them a certain degree of creative freedom when it comes to creating content for their own channels.
Set your goals and monitor them
What do you want to achieve from your influencer engagement? Is it lead generation focused, or is it an exercise in brand awareness and reaching new audiences? Once you’ve established this, then consider what success looks like for you. Establish a realistic picture of clicks, impressions, conversions and what you expect to achieve.
Then consider how these will be measured, and how will your influencers report back to you so that you can gauge the return on your investment.
Influencer marketing: future trends
With the rise of newsletter services such as Substack and membership platforms like Patreon, there is a growing trend in influencer and creator subscriptions on these ‘alternative’ influencer marketing platforms.
These kinds of platforms allow for the creation of ultra-refined audiences. Individuals who are paying for content from their preferred influencers are likely fully bought into their cause and beliefs. Where this grants benefits for businesses is that, if they can engage with the right user on platforms such as this, they can almost guarantee a tailor-made audience.
Social takes over search?
It was revealed in 2022, that young internet users are now turning to the likes of TikTok instead of Google search. This demographic shift could have a massive impact on the way the internet is used as a tool for discovery and search.
The recent launch of ChatGPT caused a code red for Google, but it doesn’t look like this AI will take over Google – for the moment.
As more Gen Zs take to these other platforms for functions which once took place on Google, then businesses need to adapt to the times and look at how they can show up in meaningful places on social searches.
Right now, every social media platform is pushing short-form content as its most effective format. The likes of Youtube and now Google – with its Shorts Fund – are all competing with TikTok for short-form glory.
We’re seeing influencers carve themselves into specialisms of all shapes and sizes and this can have enormous benefits for the businesses which take the time to research potential influencers in the early stages of campaign strategy development.
With influencers aligning themselves to specific industries and verticals, comes the opportunity for brands, businesses and business leaders to align themselves with more specialised influencers.
None of this works without paid partnership budget
Just like the headline says, none of these tactics or deployments works without a paid budget. Influencer engagement is not a quid-pro-quo business, to treat it as such would be a mistake. If your commitment to influencer marketing or an influencer program is serious, then it will be backed up with an appropriate level of paid budget.
There’s now serious money in the influencer market. Statista has shown that in the last six years, the value of influencer marketing as an industry has risen from $1.6 billion in 2016 to $16.4 billion by 2022.
In many ways, this is the real way in which influencer marketing has grown up.
Or why influencer marketing is starting to grow up. The strategies and tactics behind influencer marketing have developed and finessed in some aspects and completely transformed in others. Influencer marketing is no longer exclusive to specific aspects of the consumer market, nor is it the sole remit of ultra-famous celebrity endorsements.
Its appeal and ability are now much more widespread. Take TikTok for example. There’s still a place for hot sauce challenges and dance moves, but it has grown into a much broader tool for engagement.
It’s a very different animal from what it once was. Politicians, businesses and brands are finding footholds on TikTok. The platform has a huge presence across all kinds of industries. The home renovation tag has upwards of 4.5 million views and its farming hashtag at the time of writing has 11.5 billion views. Will influential accounts sit at the heart of this?
Looking at these numbers and the content being produced, it’s easy to see that businesses in construction and agriculture can create inroads into TikTok influencer marketing, which is something no one really expected when TikTok was first founded.
Then we have Youtube creators. Any and every subject matter imaginable can be found here, along with an expert voice in the form of an influential creator. Then there’s Linkedin, which has become a prime target market for third-party advocacy and leadership in the business world.
For businesses, there’s a world of potential growth through social media and influencer marketing campaigns.