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How important is influencer Outreach in your 2018 digital marketing strategy?

Influencer marketing flourished last year – brands scrambled to get on board with the influencers as a means to market their products and services to engaged audiences.

Influencer marketing is fast becoming a validated marketing avenue and it’s set to continue throughout 2018, and with companies like Facebook releasing statements that they will continue to adjust their news feed algorithm in favour of personal posts over brands and publishers, influencer marketing will only continue to grow as brands look to brand advocates with wide reaching networks to ensure they’re able to get their brand’s message out to their target audiences.

So if you’re like many other brands and companies and are looking to amp up your efforts in influencer marketing this year, here are our top tips to keep your influencer campaigns above board and driving business value:

1. Follow ASA guidelines

Inevitably, regulation has been formulated to ensure best practice, and one of the key attributes of influencer marketing in 2018 is transparency. During its infancy, brands could avoid openly stating their affiliation with celebrities and other social influencers, and in essence it allowed for influencers to promote a service or product without directly disclosing their financial gain for doing so.

Regulation was necessary, and rightly so, as consumers don’t take kindly to being overtly marketed to by deception. Besides the ASA guidelines, Google algorithms in the last 5 years have also focused heavily on weeding out ‘black hat’ companies paying for links and deploying tactics to grow their traffic in non-organic ways, so our opinion is that it’s always best to stay on the side of caution and transparency – protect your brand’s image and protect your Google ranking.

Instagram has adapted their platform by providing a branded tagging which enables influencers to clearly disclose when one of their posts is affiliated with a brand. Essentially, the brand sets up their influencer accounts which then enables the influencer to ‘tag’ that brand on their post. Not only does this add more transparency to the consumer, it also looks much nicer than the previously used hashtags such as #ad or #sponsored.

With the increasing regulation it’s important to keep the following in mind to avoid falling foul of the regulations;

1. Disclose the affiliation on each post. It’s not sufficient for the first post to disclose the partnerships and not on the others going forward. Each and every post must be clear.

2. Protect your brand. Don’t rely on the influencer to disclose the affiliation on each post, ensure you also review each post as otherwise you could be placing your brand at risk.

3. #ad or #sponsored. The rules have been tightened around hashtags, it’s no longer sufficient to have #sp or #partner, if money has been exchanged then it must be #ad or #sponsored.

4. Hashtag placement. If you do use hashtags to show the post is paid, as most people will be viewing posts on mobile, consumers are not expected to have to scroll to end of the post to see the hashtag, therefore they should be displayed at the beginning.

2. Spread your bets – influencers aren’t only on Instagram

Whilst Instagram has most definitely carved itself out as the chief influencer network, you shouldn’t by any means write off the other channels. Influencers are heavily active on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest – all of which are vying to draw market share away from Instagram so there’s plenty of opportunity.

Opportunity is also reflected in the fact that desirable influencers price according to demand, therefore, although your brand’s budget may not stretch to a certain influencer on Instagram, their demand on say, Pinterest, may be significantly less in which case you can work with the influencer you want within budget. Whilst this may limit the reach, it could provide a better ROI if your audience is more likely to be on the other platform, meaning you’re paying less for better conversions.

This point is key – before you start investing in influencer marketing you must first consider where your target audience is most active. It could be the case that your target audience is more active on a channel other than Instagram, in which case your budget is better spent sourcing an influencer on that alternative channel.

3. Focus on ROI

It’s not sufficient to simply state you’re working with a top influencer – ultimately that partnership is meant to drive results by increasing sales. While there is still a non-financial but worthwhile element in being mentioned by a particular influencer, the key measure its tracking how much revenue an influencer can help you achieve.

There are a growing number of tools to assist such as tapinfluenceupfluence and sprout social, however, we believe in a more natural and manual approach. This may take more effort, but the output will be much more believable as you will focus on genuine brand advocates, not influencers who are willing to post your content for a fee without any previous experience with and/or connection to your brand, product or service. Consumers will see through non-genuine content therefore seeking out brand advocates and building relationships with key influencers is the best way to increase your reach to your target audience, which should in turn increase brand preference and purchase consideration.

In terms of tracking ROI, with UTM parameters, you can simply assign specific parameters to your influencers which enable you to track the movements of every visitor they drive to the site. Another option is to provide the influencers with a specific promotional code as a way of tracking influencer driven site visitors.

4. Make sure your content is appropriate for the audience

Forget the stereotype of an influencer displaying the item saying how much they love the brand or product with little believability and blatant sponsorship (scrolling past already…). 2018 will shape influencer marketing so that it much more closely resembles content marketing. Take Casey Neistat, for example, who was given a budget from Nike to undertake a sponsored ad, however, instead of posting a traditional ad post he used the money to go on a worldwide trip and documented it. You can view the video here.

The video combined what viewers of his channel already liked to watch from him and dispensed with the typical ad format, meaning the outcome had a genuine and authentic feel. Whilst many of the larger brands are already on board with this technique, 2018 will see smaller brands employing much more creativity in this space as well.

5. Don’t underestimate influencers with a smaller following

Stories of the exceptional earnings by some of the top influencers, combined with their profile being expanded into the mainstream media, has lured in people keen to emanate their success – so much so that it has become a recognised career.

The good news for brands is that it means a much greater choice of influencers, and reduces the barrier for entry as whilst the top influencers may be out of reach, influencers with circa 10,000 followers will be much more attainable.

Although, as a word of warning, it’s important not to get hung up on the follower count as a pure measure, the true measure is to what extent their audience engages with the influencer. Finding an influencer with 10,000 followers who rarely gets over 50 likes and only 2-3 comments is a clear sign they have purchased likes, so stay clear! You want to ensure the influencers you’re working with have followers who are within your target market, otherwise it’s a waste of budget and not worth your time.

6. Don’t forget about YouTube

A number of large brands pulled out of YouTube advertising in 2017, for example Mars and Lidl, due to their ads appearing on inappropriate and exploitative content. The net effect was that content creators saw significant reductions in ad income.

As a result, YouTubers have looked to alternative revenue sources, and as such revenue through influencer marketing has risen. Influencers on YouTube can exert significant reach, so budget spent with them can represent great value. Especially so with the younger generation, so much so that 70% of YouTube subscribers stated that they relate to YouTubers more than traditional celebrities.

The benefit of YouTube influencers is their ability to know how to engage their audience and in turn frame your product or service in a way that comes across as far more natural and genuine.

Such a valuable revenue stream is not lost on YouTube and they have created their own influencer platform, Famebit, which provides a means for both brands and influencers to find each other.

7. Long term partnerships over quick wins

2018 should be about longer term partnerships rather one-off transactions. Brands that will see more successful influencer relationships are those that will view their influencer network as partners as opposed to singular transactions. It’s a key shift in making influencers build greater rapport with their brand partners and in turn will lead to a greater quality of promotion.

The more genuine and authentic the partnership, the greater value in having that influencer promoting your brand/service. As mentioned above, this is why we like to focus on finding influencers who are already brand advocates and start building a relationship from there – the content is more genuine, they’re more loyal to the brand and the net result is significantly greater as well because of this.

In summary, influencer marketing has gained attraction for the simple fact it works and many brands have seen great returns on their investment. However, it is not as simple as finding an influencer with a significant following and requesting they plug your product/service. If you can invest some time in carefully curated content and spend the time building a relationship with influencers, the reward for the brand could be huge.

If you’re interested in learning more about influencer marketing and would like some help with your influencer marketing strategy and outreach, please contact our helpful team. We’d be more than happy to talk you through best practice approach and further explain the benefits and potential ROI of an influencer outreach programme.

Creator and co-founder of Ecrubox Digital, MBA student at Warwick University and mum of three.