Can you think of the last thing you bought on someone’s recommendation? Chances are, it happened recently. A stunning 92 percent of people trust recommendations from people — even people they don’t know — over recommendations from brands.

That’s powerful.

influencer marketing

Retail brands are eager to tap into the power of personal recommendations. Influencer marketing continues to boom as a result. What initially began in the blogging world, with brands throwing heaps of samples and discounts at parenting bloggers, has become more structured. But it hasn’t gotten any easier to find the right path toward effective influencer marketing.

As you plan your marketing strategies for next year, your tactics should include influencer marketing. Thoughtful influencer marketing.

Measure influencer marketing success

Look for a continued emphasis on ROI. Sending a blogger to a conference wearing your tee shirt or paying a group of bloggers to tweet from your restaurant is fine, but what are you hoping to achieve? These questions will be at the forefront as influencer marketing continues to boom. Don’t jump onto a trend because it’s popular. Engage because you have a specific goal.

Some goals are harder to measure than others. When a brand is seeking buzz alone, tapping into an active network of influencers will certainly get conversations going. But even then, make sure you’re tracking the activity. Don’t rely on your gut when you have the ability to see social reach metrics. For example, a hashtag specific to your campaign will help you follow conversations closely. Leverage reporting and tracking technology. Pay attention.

Identify your goals at the very beginning

Every brand’s goal is different, so there are no universal standards of success for an influencer marketing campaign. It’s about knowing what you want to achieve, and developing the right strategies to get there. When it comes to influencer marketing, it’s also critical that you have realistic expectations.  “We are big believers in quality over quantity,” says Stefania Pomponi, Founder and President of influencer marketing agency CLEVER. “So if you’re searching for numbers only, or direct sales, influencer marketing might not be your jam.”

“We are constantly in awe of the technology that pops up making tracking quantitative results easier to do and much more consistent, but there will never be a tool that can encompass all success… and that is what makes influencer marketing so unique — there is no ‘one-size-fits all’ set of metrics in this strain of marketing,” she says. “There is human thought behind every step — which doesn’t easily translate into a number that says ‘successful’ or ‘bust’.”

Establish benchmarks before you get started

“Benchmarking is also something you’ll want to keep an eye on,” says Pomponi. “The best benchmarks are those that help compare your influencer marketing program to other marketing initiatives your brand has run with comparable goals or stages of the customer journey.”

Before you can compare the success of influencer marketing to your other marketing campaigns, you need to have solid reporting and benchmarks in place. Use this as a reminder to update progress, establish new benchmarks, and ensure that what you’re measuring aligns to your marketing goals.

Don’t wing it.

Know your audience

Want to waste some money? Throw your product at anyone with a social media account and hope it’ll spark conversations. If that sounds ridiculous, you may be surprised at how often brands don’t engage in thoughtful market research.

Consider creating or refreshing your buyer personas before you start an influencer marketing campaign. Interview your existing customers. Brainstorm on where you want to be at the end of 2017. You may find that you have new personas to market to, aspirational personas that can help you grow your business.

Inbound marketing methodology involves using those personas’ pain points to deliver content that solves their problems and helps them make a decision. Influencer marketing works in tandem. Look into where those personas get recommendations and inspiration online. Where they have fun. What they consider before they buy. What they find distasteful. What they laugh at and share.

Now go after that audience.

Go where your followers are

If you’re obsessed with Twitter and you haven’t moved into other social media platforms, you’re already way behind the curve. Don’t chase trends, but stay on top of which platforms are right for your brand. Video remains huge. Leverage it.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor, founder of Tampa Bay Bloggers, hasn’t seen much brand interest in Snapchat or Instagram yet, despite the huge user bases and video-friendliness of these platforms. “I always encourage our bloggers to live broadcast because I know it’s a matter of time before brands request it,” she says. Don’t be the last one on board. Both Instagram and Snapchat are seeing 50+ percent annual growth. Get there.

Make sure you’re not bending or breaking the rules

Paid influencer marketing is advertising. There are rules. If you’re working with a network, make sure that network has a working understanding of disclaimers that need to be in place when money or samples have exchanged hands.

“I request that the bloggers add a disclaimer and ask that they let it be known that they received the opportunity through Tampa Bay Bloggers,” says Mestanza-Taylor. “I offer an example so they can understand the format and I request that a formal one appear at the at the top or naturally within the body of their post.”

If you’re handling this on your own, you still have to abide by the rules. Being a small business does not mean you’re flying under the radar.

Authenticity is key, but it’s hard to pull off

As a culture, we’re becoming increasingly sensitive to bullshit. We’re becoming more aware of advertisements sneaking into journalism and online media. Native advertising is everywhere. On Facebook, we’re tired of our friends recommending multi-level-marketing products just to make a buck off friendships. Most of us are blocking ads.

In a cynical phase in our social culture, how do brands leverage influencer marketing? The key is authenticity, but that’s a tough space for brands to break into. True authenticity is a dad on Facebook telling his friends he just found an amazing diaper cream that really works. It’s a business owner recommending a grocery delivery service to her friends at a networking event. Those interactions happened without a brand stepping in and fostering them.

Organic influencers are your best friends

Transactions between you and your influencers may create a sense of obligation that could lead to lukewarm conversations and posts. “If you really don’t like a product but you ‘fake it’, it will come across to your audience,” says Mestanza-Taylor. You can get around this by carefully vetting your influencers or by asking for unique partnerships that don’t include a product review.

Of course, the easiest path to authenticity is staying out of it. As a brand, you naturally want to direct the conversations around what you’re putting out in the world. It’s scary to step back and let people talk. Some of them are going to be negative. (And negative reviews aren’t inherently bad.) Genuine conversations around your brand have tremendous value to you in terms of visibility and social proof.

You have to be worth talking about

Fostering organic influencers starts by having a product or a campaign worth talking about. (If you’re not there yet, are you really ready to dive into influencer marketing?) If you’re confident in your brand and its value to your consumers, give them a little nudge to talk. Make it easy to review and recommend your products. Distribute shareable photos and videos. Engage with your customers via email and on social. Offer noteworthy customer service. Don’t half-ass anything.

Even when you’re engaging in a more structured influencer campaign via a network or outreach, you have to start out by being shareable and fantastic. Otherwise your influencers’ friends will call them out for watered down social posts and blogging and you could damage your brand. Paying influencers or offering free product does not absolve you of the responsibility to be amazing.

Let the experts handle it for you

Not every brand has a built-in marketing department with the power to execute digitals strategies like inbound marketing and influencer marketing. Before you hit the ground running, do some soul searching about your staff’s capabilities and bandwidth.

Oftentimes moving the needle means engaging with a marketing agency capable of strategizing and leveraging an entire team of creative professionals. You have many options at your fingertips, from running a campaign in house to engaging with a traditional marketing agency — or hiring an influencer marketing agency to run a large-scale campaign for your brand.  As you weigh your options, consider the cost of your in-house team’s time. Influencer marketing is highly time-intensive. If you engage with an agency, be realistic about your budget and goals as you seek the perfect fit.

“Influencer marketing can be tricky in the fact that it is not…traditional! And, neither are influencers! It is quite the art to determine the right influencer, engage with them (remember: they’re not robots! They’re people!), and manage and execute a unique campaign,” says Pomponi.  “At CLEVER, we know the landscape — and we care about each influencer we suggest to a brand. Brands — big and small — have so, so much on their plate, that the care and attention to detail that is beyond important in influencer marketing is often missed.”

In the words of the hopefully immortal queen Bonnie Raitt, give them something to talk about. Nothing else you can do will matter if you’re not putting something into the world that people will want to share with their friends and family. Good luck!

Want to chat about your marketing goals? Drop us a line.