By spring 2020, the influencer market had become greatly inflated – some calling it a bubble – with more than 500,000 active influencers on Instagram alone. Because of the pandemic, one would think there'd be a shift in the landscape, trimming some of the "bloat" and making the whole operation leaner.
Unfortunately, this did not happen. As businesses around the world went dark, the doors almost flew off the hinges in the influencer space, with 73% of marketers moving additional spend to this form of outreach. Of course, there were tough times for influencers who relied on travel or events to create content. Most of the increased spend went to the likes of retail (79%). It also went to legal (79%) and manufacturing (75%), oddly enough. But the industry itself still grew, shifting more toward influencers who catered to consumers stuck at home.
As of fall 2020, the influencer market remains highly saturated — and sustains its bubble. That bubble isn't fully bursting, but advertisers are now changing how they’re harnessing the power of these social media forces. Instead of going after those with huge followings, they're seeking microinfluencers with more authentic fans and genuine engagement metrics.
In fact, a campaign consisting of 10 influencers with 10,000 followers each can be just as valuable as one with a solitary influencer who brings tens of thousands of followers.
Influencing that delicate balance
Though the face of a celebrity on some billboard is "influencer" marketing, that's not what most people mean when they refer to influencer marketing. Influencer marketing is a digitally paid post on social media that includes a tag of your brand.
This form of marketing may not be right for all businesses: Unless they have some sort of digital presence, they won't benefit from the exposure. Without that digital or e-commerce component, you're relying on long-cycle brand recognition to generate leads with the hopes that consumers will remember seeing your brand later when offline.
The best results come when the advertiser can capture a sale minutes after consumers see the sponsored post. Think online retail, event bookings, subscriptions, free trials, etc. Try to avoid the hype, instead, make sure influencer marketing is right for your business. There's no shortage of people in the space willing to take your money in exchange for no real value.
Even if your brand has carved the smallest of niches in the digital realm, it's still buyer beware. Plenty of influencers will take your cash and try to pass off a post as a genuine recommendation. It reads even more fake than if they'd simply copied and pasted your marketing message onto their feed. Transparency mixed with an authentic appreciation for your product is key to making an impact with an influencer marketing campaign.
A truly influential promotion
Daniel Wellington is probably one of the most inspiring brands to tap the full potential of influencer marketing – all without using celebrities or influencers touting followers in the millions. With no more than $30,000, the watch seller used multiple microinfluencers to promote the brand on Instagram in exchange for a free watch. The only request: Share a code for 15% off with their followers. Totally trackable and repeatable with those influencers who drove sales.
Women's fashion brand NA-KD did something similar, using micro and mid-level influencers with high engagement rates – that is, of course, after using someone with a massive following who provided little to no results. One of its microinfluencers, with just 35,000 followers, brought in an absurd volume of sales within 24 hours of her first post.
Both brands are now wildly successful. Because of this approach, their influencer marketing campaigns still experience higher-than-average engagement, whereas those relying on mega-influencers are experiencing diminished returns.
Maximizing your influence
The question, then, is how exactly do small businesses leverage influence-based marketing to its fullest potential? While the messaging will vary from brand to brand, any brand should take a few steps to ensure a return on investment. The following are often the best areas to start:
1. Work with an array of smaller influencers.
Gone are the days of using influencers with massive followings. Often, you'll find them overpriced, lacking in engagement and riddled with fake followers. To ensure that your messaging reaches the right audience, employ influencers with smaller (yet more targeted) followings. They generally come across as authentic, reliable, and trustworthy – and with a much more engaged audience that has a higher likelihood of responding to an influencer-based marketing campaign. And if your concern is reach, enlist the help of a number of smaller influencers. Just make sure to use a diverse selection that matches your brand in some way.
2. Avoid influencers with an oversaturation of paid posts.
As you compile a list of potential influencers, focus on the numbers – and by numbers, I mean paid-post numbers. Ideally, only 10% to 20% of an influencer's feed should contain paid posts. Otherwise, his or her followers won't likely engage with your campaign: They can now smell a paid post as soon as it hits the feed. An oversaturated influencer's post won't be as persuasive as it could be from another influencer. Oversaturation simply kills authenticity.
3. Play the long game with a campaign.
An influencer dropping a post about a product isn't always enough to drive sales. The goal should be to build up some anticipation by getting a discussion going in the influencer's feed about your brand over some time. While there's no magic number, we've certainly seen good results when influencers pepper in mentions of your brand for two to three weeks. This might cost a little more, but it can strengthen the authenticity factor as they get closer to the core of a campaign. Collaborate with your influencers to arrive at not only the perfect timing but also the best series of messaging to resonate with their specific audiences.
4. Engage your current customer base.
Sometimes, your customer base can be just as critical to an influencer-based marketing campaign as the influencers themselves. Look for ways to encourage current customers to promote your brand across social media channels. For instance, we're starting a campaign targeted to members of our app: Post a photo to social media, and tag both the experience and the app to get a free gift card. They must first have booked an actual reservation with us and then visited the venue to be eligible. It generates real leverage and is extremely authentic. Think of it as a mix of influencer and word-of-mouth marketing.
Platforms that enable advertisers to find microinfluencers will continue to do well into 2021 and beyond. What's more, brands will start to recognize the value of their own customers as another channel of influencers. But the ability to attribute sales to the proper influencer will become even more important, as marketing efforts will spread broader among a wide variety of smaller influential people.
As you explore influencer marketing, try to come to an understanding of the space, learn up on its potential benefits, and find the means to track and measure success. Don't get into long-term commitments until you have a grasp on what it means to influence consumers through social channels. Only then will you keep campaigns fresh and see true returns on your social investment.