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What is Influencer Marketing and How Does it Drive Sales?

Business.com / Marketing Strategy / Last Modified: April 9, 2018
Image credit: My Portfolio/Shutterstock

In the fast-moving world of social media marketing trends, influencer marketing continues to thrive. Here's what makes this strategy so effective.

In the fast-moving world of social media marketing trends, one of the few strategies receiving repeated buzz is influencer marketing. The structure of influencer marketing has been fluid over the years, but the rise of social networks has given it a new and powerful form.

Influencer marketing has been disregarded by some as a fad, but considering word of mouth is the most successful marketing strategy, having an extension of that for the social media age seems like a natural and beneficial evolution.

To harness the potential of influencer marketing, brands must first understand what it means, who’s doing it, and what kind of strategy might work for them. Because each influencer has a distinct following and expertise, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. However, this is exactly what makes influencer marketing so effective. The sky's the limit for brands looking to capitalize on the hottest new marketing trend.  

What is Influencer Marketing?

Influencer marketing is a sophisticated, personalized marketing strategy that is considered the social media equivalent of “word of mouth.” An influencer — typically a celebrity, thought leader or popular blogger — has a large social reach and will get paid to advertise and endorse brands and products.

Because of their large following, an influencer gives a brand increased reach and awareness amongst a new pool of consumers while broadcasting advertisements with a human feel. The promotion can take a variety of forms, such as Twitter endorsements or staged Instagram shots, but the biggest market share is found via influencer’s own blogs.

There are guidelines in place requiring influencers to disclose when a post is part of a paid promotion, but as long as the disclaimer is featured, brands encourage influencers to use their own words to maintain an organic and conversational approach.

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Micro versus Macro Influencers

Macro-influencing is not a new practice. Radio personalities, celebrities and athletes have been endorsing products in public forums since the start of media. Though the concept has remained the same, social networks have altered the way macro-influencers communicate with their large fan base. Macro-influencers have typically become famous through traditional channels, which gives them the benefit of higher follower counts and household name recognition. However, this popularity also spurs a level of disconnect from their audience, meaning the fan base is less engaged overall.

Social media allows for almost anyone to grow their platform, and its unique niche in the world has given rise to a new kind of influencer: the micro-influencer.

The micro-influencer is typically someone who wouldn’t be considered famous in a traditional sense, but has invested in their online presence and personal brand to build a dedicated Internet following. A micro-influencer will typically have a lower overall follower count (usually in the thousands), but with that comes the benefit of a highly-targeted audience who places a high value on what they have to say. In fact, compared with influencers that have 100,000-plus Instagram followers, micro-influencers receive between 2 and 5 times more organic engagement per post.

How Does Influencer Marketing Lead to Sales?

The essential question when adopting any new marketing strategy is, “how can this help the brand grow and increase conversions?” The most important step in an effective influencer strategy is choosing the right person to partner with. In a recent survey, 44 percent of women who considered themselves “social media savvy” reported that a buying decision was influenced by a trusted blogger. This means that if a brand chooses to work with the right candidate, the potential for growth is huge.

While a macro-influencer will bring big-name appeal, choosing a micro-influencer that’s highly specialized in a demographic will reach more qualified sales leads that are more likely to become conversions. A small business seeking an increase in local engagement might look for influencers based in their area with a strong regional following, while a national brand might seek out a national celebrity.

A brand new to influencer marketing might consider working with several micro-influencers that specialize in different platforms in order to learn how blogs, photos, or newsletters resonate differently with their target audience. Every brand is unique, and every influencer is too, meaning there’s a bounty of opportunity for every kind of marketing objective. However, properly vetting influencers before working with them should not be underestimated. The number of fake influencer accounts is on the rise and presents a growing hurdle for brands new to influencer marketing.

Tools such Social Audit Pro can reveal an influencer’s account history and detect whether or not an influencer has a high level of fake followers, but it’s also important to research if influencers’ audiences seem genuinely engaged with their content. An influencer’s volume of posts or follower count can be important, but genuine brand alignment will be a more significant factor in determining whether or not your campaign will be a success.

With the rise of social followings, the potential for a brand to benefit from influencer marketing has become more lucrative. Whether researching a small business or a national corporation, consumers seek out and act on recommendations they trust. From talking to a friend or seeing an ad from a trusted celebrity, it’s natural for people to want to share reviews, experiences, and opinions about where they’re spending their dollars. Influencer marketing allows a brand to lead that conversation.

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