Ten years ago, few people could have foreseen the impact that social media would have on public relations and marketing.
These days, the Internet is making celebrities—and advocates—out of ordinary people all over the world. And whether you’re a brand, a marketing company, or a PR firm, you’re going to want to find a way to utilize the far-reaching power of social media.
Enter the social media influencer. These individuals are the ones who have a large, dedicated following across Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube or other social media networks. They are the people whose audiences await every update and hang onto every word. When they speak, their peers listen.
In fact, 90% of consumers trust their peers when they recommend something, as opposed to 33% who are impacted by ads. This is creating a brand new world when it comes to marketing a product to the increasingly savvy masses—now it’s all about authenticity, transparency, and creating a reliable source for excitement.
Yet in the ever-changing digital landscape, how do you approach social media influencers to speak for a brand, and how can you go about building a relationship with them? Let’s take a look at how it can be done, and what key things you need to remember.
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Why Social Media Influencers Are Important
Say you have a new product you want to promote, and your target demographic is that nebulous yet valuable center of the consumer population: the Millennial. Millennials are the ones who are the most tapped into what’s happening in the digital world, and according to this article from GroupHigh, they’re the most likely to make purchases based on a brand’s story, online feedback, and peer recommendations.
But trying to market to millennials can be a tricky thing; they’re very wise to the ways of traditional marketing, and they can be tough to impress. Aiming for that sweet spot where they find a brand’s product pitch both entertaining and worth purchasing isn’t as easy as releasing a steady stream of tweets or making a colorful Facebook page.
This is where the social media influencers come in. They’ve likely built their digital following on being comedians, offering tutorials, posting beautiful photos, and above all being “real” people.
Explains this whitepaper by Act-On: “In pure marketing terms, social media influencers deliver commentary that boils down to free publicity, enhanced by the authenticity of the known and trusted opinion maker.” It’s this trust that an audience has in influencers that can be absolutely successful to a brand – if the relationship is handled the right way.
What They Can Do for You
Having social media influencers on your brand’s side can be a wonderfully beneficial relationship for both parties involved. Once you’ve built up a relationship with a social media influencer, they’ll be able to spread the word much further and more organically than a corporate profile. Plus, if they’re genuinely passionate about the brand, they’ll also be quick to advocate for them and control the conversation in a way that feels much more down-to-earth than a statement coming from a corporate social media account.
This can sound like a tall order, especially if a brand is used to spreading awareness through paid sponsorships. But Act-On lays it out plainly: “You need to turn influencers on to your company, product, or service before you ask them to endorse it, or try to arrange circumstances so that they choose to endorse it without being asked.”
It’s not about being too pushy or too distant in encouraging an influencer to endorse something; it’s about fostering a relationship and attempting to create a genuine, authentic love for a brand, product or service.
At the end of the day, it ought to be a mutually beneficial relationship for both brand and influencer. If the social media influencer feels like they aren’t getting enough rewards or recognition for their work, the relationship may sour; if the brand is not getting enough return on investment in the influencer, they may sever the ties and look for a better partnership elsewhere.
How to Approach Influencers
First, it’s important to understand just how many brands pitch social media influencers every day. Top-tier Twitter influencers and YouTube channel hosts are inundated with offers of free products, all in the hopes that they might take a liking to a new gadget or type of makeup and sing its praises to their network of followers.
So before jumping right into the influencer pool, take note of a few recommended do’s and don’ts first:
DO identify the correct influencers for your product. Pitching the wrong influencers for a product is still a frequent mistake that brands make, particularly if they have limited experience with social media. Instead, take the time to research which influencers might best suit the brand, and which ones would be open to receiving a free product or being invited to partake in an event. This whitepaper recommends monitoring potential influencers over time to see their usual conversation topics and note if there’s anything that could be controversial about the individual.
DO be patient. A relationship isn’t built overnight. You’re still dealing with a human being, and some may be wary of “selling out” or having their carefully built influence being used by a brand. “The time you need to gain their trust is difficult to evaluate at first,” says the whitepaper from Augure. “Don’t skip ahead; be patient, the opportunity will always present itself at some point.” Keep monitoring your influencers, and then when an opportunity to interact comes up, reach out to see if they’re interested and follow up as necessary. Be personable, and always personalize your communication with the influencers rather than using dry form emails.
DON’T be a nuisance. Again, many online influencers may already be fielding a number of pitches from brands, so it’s just not a good move to pester anyone to endorse a product. The social media backlash from an influencer can be swift and unrelenting, and in a tightly knit network like BlogHer or the Gawker sites, a firestorm can take a long time to die down.
DON’T aim for the big leagues. As much as a brand may love the exposure they’d get from a tweet by Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber, it’s not as simple as sending them a message asking for some support. (That doesn’t stop a lot of brands from trying, though.) Instead, this article recommends that you aim for “mid-level influencers,” as they may have a smaller audience than celebrities, but their followers are much more loyal – creating “16 times more engagement than paid media and “mega-influencers.”” (Act-On also notes that celebrities are generally paid for their endorsements, so they are less likely to be receptive to a brand/influencer relationship.)
Expand Your Reach with Social Media Influencers
Although it may seem like it takes some effort, creating and building a relationship with social media influencers will pay dividends in the end. If you focus on making a partnership that lasts rather than a one-off engagement, both sides can reap the benefits of having a more authentic and less corporate relationship with one of today’s most powerful consumer audiences.