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Marketing 101: What is influencer marketing?

January 24th, 2022
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Marketing has a language all its own. This is our latest in a series of posts aimed at helping new marketers learn that language. What term do you find yourself explaining most often to new hires during onboarding? Let us know.

This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

An influencer is a person or thing (like a cartoon character, bot, etc.) with an audience and the ability to “influence” that audience to take certain actions – usually involving both their content area of expertise as well as purchasing products and services.

For example, a fitness influencer might convince his or her audience to follow a specific workout plan (free) as well buy a certain pair of workout pants (paid product).

The rise of influencers

In the early 1900’s, America was the land of opportunity drawing immigrants from around the world with the hope that “the streets are paved in gold.” Today those golden streets are on TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, and the like drawing mere mortals with the hopes that they could be the next homegrown celebrity.

The growth of social media and easy internet publishing has enabled this new rise of influencers, however, brands have always leveraged people with influence to act as a spokesperson. In the past, the role was often filled by movie starts, athletes, musicians, or others with access to a large audience thanks to traditional publishing and media distribution channels. Today’s influencers have a far more direct relationship with their audience, and often use their own channels in marketing partnerships.

Another factor that has enabled the rise of influencers is the fractured media landscape. As brands found it more difficult to reach mass audiences through traditional channels like television and newspaper advertising, they were forced to find new avenues to reach potential customers.

Which brings us to today. The global influencer market is worth $13.8 billion, according to Statista Research Department. More than half of marketers (57%) use influencer marketing, according to Pamela Bump on HubSpot.

The role of influencers in a marketing plan

There are eight micro-yeses you need to earn from a customer for a transaction or other conversion action to take place, according to the free digital marketing course Become A Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages from MECLABS Institute (MarketingSherpa’s parent organization). You can see all eight micro-yeses in the Landing Page Blueprint PDF.

Influencer marketing can help with three of those micro-yeses:

  • Yes, I will pay attention – influencers can help bring their audience’s attention to your brand
  • Yes, I will engage deeper – influencers can create content or position your brand in other ways to engage their audience
  • Yes, I believe – influencers have credibility with their audience, and that credibility can help their audiences believe in your products and services

The success (and failures) of influencers

Influencer marketing can be successful for brands, and wildly successful for the most popular influencers. In TikTok Stars’ Earnings Rival CEOs’ As They Build Their Own Empires, Joseph Pisani and Theo Francis compared influencer earnings to CEO salaries, with some of the most popular influencers on TikTok outearning CEOs of Fortune 500 companies like Exxon Mobil, Starbucks, and Delta Air Lines. It should be noted that while influencer income came from brand promotions, it also came from creating their own product lines and signing media deals with traditional publishers.

But as with any tactic, results will vary and social media following is not the same as revenue and sales. BHCosmetics Holdings, LLC filed for bankruptcy protection two weeks ago despite having 3.6 million Instagram followers and 1.8 million Facebook followers thanks to its influencer marketing campaigns.

“BHCosmetics pinned its hopes last year on product launches promoted by newly signed celebrity influencers Doja Cat and Iggy Azalea, Mr. [Chief Restructuring Officer Spencer] Ware said. The influencer campaigns failed to drive the expected sales, exacerbating the company’s liquidity crunch and forcing it to look at restructuring alternatives, according to papers in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware,” Andrew Scrurria report in The Wall Street Journal article Beauty Brand Fails as Influencers Fall Short.

Transparency in influencer marketing

When influencer marketing works, it is because these paid promotions are very similar to organic product recommendations from a trusted friend. The difference is these recommendations aren’t being made only because the influencer likes the product. These recommendations are made because influencers are paid by brands (or given something of value).

Its important to be transparent and open about these relationships – not only because you don’t want to alienate your customers, but also because there are Federal Trade Commission regulations. (Editor’s note: obviously this is not specific legal advice and if you have any questions, you should consult an attorney).

Here’s a quick example of the importance of transparency in your influencer marketing, from Kelly Keenan’s book Everyone Is An “Influencer” (Full Disclosure: the publishers sent me a free copy of this book):

“In 2018, the agency [FTC] issued a formal admonition to detox tea company Teami. The FTC warning clearly advised the Florida-based tea company that all connections between endorsers and advertisers much be disclosed and viewable. Teami, like many other brands, refused to take the warning seriously.

In 2020, Teami was charged with making false claims about the benefits of their teas. They were also breaking rules: Burying sponsored post descriptions on Instagram from well-known entertainers and influencers who were endorsing these fallacies. The FTC bluntly indicated that they had seen enough of Teami’s deceptive practices and handed down a $15 million judgement. However, based on the company’s financial condition, the $15 million find was partially suspended upon the payment of $1 million.”

Protecting influencer’s reputations

Transparency is important to protect your brand’s relationship with its customers and influencers relationship with their followers, and so is coming through for customers by delivering on your company’s value proposition and promises.

As mentioned, influencers can help customers reach the conclusion “Yes, I believe.” They are vouching for your brand. They are putting their reputation on the line. So, make sure your company delivers on whatever they are promising.

Here’s an example. “We had an Instagram influencer new product/holiday promotion scheduled to run from December 11th – 19th [in 2020] during Covid,” said Karin Shoup, Founder, Sportchic.

The vegan leather tote bag and backpack company received 107 orders – 37 were fulfilled directly but 70 of the orders were for products that were stuck on a cargo ship from China and hadn’t arrived yet.

The team personally emailed each of the 70 customers letting them know that they did not have the inventory in stock yet and could not promise delivery before Christmas. They offered to immediately reimburse their purchase if the customer chose to do so and wished them happy holidays.

There were only four order cancellations. When the company finally received the shipment on December 21st, they notified each customer that their package would ship on the following day.

“We were so surprised to see consistent five-star product reviews appear on our website from those customers who praised the customer service as highly as they loved the product. So, setting expectations with timely personal communication is key to putting yourself in your customer’s shoes,” Shoup said.

Putting the influencer in the customer’s shoes

Putting yourself in the customer’s shoes is not only key for your marketing department, but also for the influencer as well. While it is up to your company to come through on its promises, the better influencers understand your brand’s value prop and its customers, the better they will be able to make the right (appealing and credible) promises.

“While working with a snack company, I put myself in the brand’s (and their customers’) shoes by visiting their office and store location. It was enlightening to speak with actual customers and listen to their snack preferences, their brand discovery process, and how they came to love our client’s products,” said Amra Beganovich, Founder and CEO, Amra & Elma, an influencer with 671,000 followers on Instagram.

By getting a better understanding of their target audience and crafting the campaign accordingly – highlighting what they learned while speaking to their customers – they received five million impressions and 212,000 clicks on the campaign.

You can follow Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute, on Twitter @DanielBurstein.

If you are interested in influencer marketing, you might also like…

Attract New Customers and Increase Engagement: 3 quick case studies of brands using TikTok influencer marketing, email deliverability, and emotive blog posts to get attention and drive sales

Marketing Tests: 3 quick case studies of influencer marketing, homepage headline, and Facebook ad campaign tests (with results)

Case study examples for each of the 4 parts of marketing

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Marketing 101: What is social listening?

July 3rd, 2018
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Marketing has a language all its own. This is our latest in a series of posts aimed at helping new marketers learn that language. What term do you find yourself explaining most often to new hires during onboarding? Let us know.

In the early 2000s when social media networks like My Space and Facebook first came out, many of us thought they were just a passing fad. We were wrong.

These social networks have been so successful because people are hardwired to be social. And they want to share on social platforms.

Then businesses began to realize that customers were reacting more positively toward this gentler inbound strategy as opposed to the traditional, more aggressive outbound methods. Today, social media marketing is a vital part of most companies.

Yes, social media marketing is here to stay, and statistics show that it reigns as king of the mountain in the business world, being one of the most widely used lead gen tactics.

Most Widely Used Lead Gen Tactics

If you have been trying to avoid learning hashtag lingo, retweet etiquette and analytics, then chances are your business won’t last long among its many competitors. Because THEY most certainly are utilizing social platforms to their advantage. You, on the other hand, are trying to execute your business strategy blindfolded.

Some benefits of social listening

Even if your business doesn’t have the budget for a dedicated social media analyst or the latest and greatest social monitoring tools, you can still go ahead and set up some accounts. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are some of the most popular ones but you should conduct some sleuthing to determine which social media platforms are the best fit for your ideal customer.

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Social Doubt: Beware the downside of social proof in social media marketing

March 8th, 2018
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Back when I was an undergrad at the University of Florida, our basketball team won in the Elite Eight round of March Madness, meaning we were headed to the Final Four. Right after we won that game, students poured out onto University Avenue. There was jubilation in the street.

And then … all of a sudden … everyone just ran down to the football stadium and tore down the goalposts. (We were a football school at the time, not yet accustomed to basketball success)

It was a very odd moment. No one planned anything. People didn’t even shout out any directions. Most (but not all, let the record show I stayed put) of the students in the streets simply started running together toward the stadium.

Ah, the human animal

Much like a V-shaped formation of birds adjusting down the line to keep the formation tight, or a school of fish quickly changing direction, humans also engage in unthinking, subconscious herd behavior without even realizing what they’re doing.

And this is one of the most powerful drivers behind social media marketing.

Psychologists call this phenomenon social proof, which Wikipedia describes as “where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior in a given situation.”

Do you see what I just did there? Wikipedia is another example of social proof. If enough people agree to a definition of a term — even if they’re not experts — I guess it’s reliable enough to include in this MarketingSherpa blog post.

But social proof has its downsides for social media marketing as well

Now, I’m not the only person to write about social proof in social media marketing. Just search the term, and you’ll find endless articles and blog posts.

However, I noticed a serious dearth of conversation about the opposite of social proof in social media marketing. If social proof works because it shows other people are interested in your brand, the opposite of social proof shows that other people are not interested in your brand. What is the word for that?

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Marketing 101: What is a GIF?

September 29th, 2017
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Marketing has a language all its own. This is our latest in a series of posts aimed at helping new marketers learn that language. What term do you find yourself explaining most often to new hires during onboarding? Let us know.

The way we communicate has changed drastically from the days when we had to run to the phone in the kitchen that was *gasp* attached to a wall to call a friend. When we actually had to call someone to ask them out for a date, instead of swiping right or shooting a text.

We have evolved from phone calls to text messages and countless emojis (even animojis). And now, thanks to the popularization of GIFs — quick, bite-sized animated graphics that play over and over again in a loop with no sound — we barely need to use any words at all to communicate how we are feeling and what we are thinking. Even many corporate communication systems, like Slack, have integrated GIFs.


This transformation is not isolated to our personal use — brands and marketers are incorporating this type of visual content into their content strategy and campaigns. Why? Because they drive engagement and clickthrough, in both email and social media.

But what is it about GIFs that makes such a big impression?

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How Brand Marketers Hitched a Ride on The Solar Eclipse in Social Media Marketing

August 31st, 2017
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Every few years, everyone everywhere stops what they’re doing to watch the BIG THING that is happening, whatever it might be — the OJ Simpson trial, balloon boy or, most recently, last Monday’s (moon-day’s) total solar eclipse.

While it may have culminated in everyone gazing up at the sky Monday afternoon, wearing funny-looking glasses, remember that in the weeks beforehand, they had been looking at and searching for information online.

The question for marketers is, do you just watch these events pass you by, or do you capitalize on them for a little social cache?

Even our parent company, MECLABS Institute, got in on the moon madness and posted our eclipse party on social media.

 

 

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Social Media Marketing: Should I include paid influencers in my marketing spend?

July 6th, 2017
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It’s almost unusual these days to make a purchase before quickly checking online to look at stars, comments and blogger reviews.

A whole industry has sprung up out of our consumer need for secondary validation before each swipe of our credit card or “Confirm Purchase” click.

The people behind it are called, generally, paid influencers. They make capital for their blogs and vlogs from companies by reviewing, vouching for, or generally promoting products to their audience.

While traditional celebrities of various degrees of fame participate in this, microinfluencers, as they’re also known as, are general defined as untraditional celebrities. They’re individuals who work in their category, or are truly knowledgeable, passionate and authentic within it, to be seen as a trusted source of buying recommendations.

A MarketingSherpa chart article that covers this topic, featuring a 2016 study by Experticity, an influencer marketing company, in collaboration with Keller Fay Group and Dr. Jonah Berger, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, discovered that 82% of people are willing to follow an influencer’s recommendation, over the 73% who would follow the average customer’s.

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Insta-famous: 4 quick tips on how to build your brand’s Instagram profile

June 16th, 2017
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Instagram is a great space for marketers. Brands and friends are freely intermixed, and the platform has a light, fun vibe, and there is an emphasis on creativity.

This is a space where, when done correctly, you can be counted among your followers’ favorites. They’ll look forward to your brand’s posts, or click to view your stories, more than any of their real-life friends.

Read these four tips to get a jump on how to take your brand to another level on Instagram and get in with the platform’s cool kids — some of whom are actually giving these tips.

Tip #1. Interact with other brand Instagram accounts

After BBC Earth and 500px discovered a natural overlap between their two communities, they decided to shake things up and offer Instagram followers a different perspective.

500px users are a full range of photographers, from those just starting out to professionals. BBC Earth has a photographer following as the natural history brand for the British Broadcasting Corporation.

They created an opportunity to bring each other’s content to a wider audience in a week-long “Instagram takeover.” The two brands posted content for each other for a week, bringing each other’s community and conversations with them.

“We saw this Instagram opportunity as a way to show off our community to the world, in particular [to] the 500px community of really highly skilled photographers,” said Kara Segedin, Community Executive, BBC Earth.

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Snapchat Do’s and Don’ts from HP’s session at MarketingSherpa Summit 2017

April 21st, 2017
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Throughout my tenure at MECLABS Institute, parent company of MarketingSherpa, I’ve worn a lot of hats. I have been the managing editor of MECLABS.com, produced web clinics for MarketingSherpa’s sister site, MarketingExperiments, and currently serve as a senior manager of digital analytics, where I help our Research Partners make sense of mountains of customer data.

Perhaps my most cherished responsibility, however, has been to act as the resident Snapchat journalist around the MECLABS campus. Whether the office alligator is sunning himself beside the lake, a company-wide ping pong tournament is taking place, or we’re surprising Aimee Reynard, Senior Events Manager, on her birthday at Summit, if something interesting is going on, I consider it my duty to spread the word to my coworkers via Snap.

For this reason, I jumped at the opportunity to work with Frank Danna, Content Director, Softway and Stef Brower, Global Social Marketing, HP on their MarketingSherpa 2017 Best Practices session, “Navigating the Complex (and Weird) Landscape of Snapchat: An inside look at HP’s Snapchat journey.”

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Social Media: How to make [the right] friends and influence people [who matter]

March 13th, 2017
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It’s one of those randomly attributed phrases that people throw around in social media: “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

We’ve all probably randomly scrolled past that phrase and ones like it a thousand times. But for some reason, reading that today on LinkedIn got me thinking — why do so many brands just follow the status quo for social media when the space is made so that the user can stand out from the crowd?

There are so many different ways to reach out not only to your customers as a whole, but to maybe even excite a niche crowd. Here are three of those ways:

Tactic #1. Pioneer uncharted platforms — go where competitors aren’t

In navigating the competitive marketplace for high-end jewelry, the team at Brian Gavin Diamonds needed a cost-effective method to help them stand out.

At MarketingSherpa Summit 2016, Danny Gavin, Vice President and Director of Marketing, Brian Gavin Diamonds, discussed how the team wasn’t afraid of going somewhere the competition had yet to explore to do that.

This attitude led them to Vine, a social app that allows for six seconds of looping video clips.

“The natural paths of marketing can be more expensive. We turned to social,” he said. “No one in the jewelry business was using Vine. It was a wide-open playing field.”

There’s a reason no one else had dared — six seconds is not a lot of time to tell a story and sell customers.

The team came up with a four-part strategy to their Vine videos to surpass that hurdle:

  1. Don’t oversell
  2. Be true to the platform
  3. Be timely and relevant
  4. Distill

This Vine video follows that strategy by quickly showcasing what the company can do with the caption: “From idea, to design, to the custom engagement ring of your dreams … Brian Gavin Diamonds is a cut beyond brilliant.”

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Social Media Marketing: Online organic retailer grows following 600% in 18 months

April 8th, 2016
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“Your brand is not what you say it is, but what your customers say it is.”

Or so goes the old advertising maxim.

If we were to update that to modern times, we might add, “And you can discover what they’re saying about your brand on social media.”

When Cambria Jacobs, Vice President of Marketing, Door to Door Organics, sat down for an interview at MarketingSherpa Summit 2016 with Courtney Eckerle, Managing Editor, MarketingSherpa, she shared that old advertising maxim along with her team’s journey on social media — from a customer service channel to a unified, proactive, brand-building strategy.

 

Here are four key lessons from Cambria’s interview …

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