What comes to mind when you think about influencer marketing?
If you take the word of mainstream media, you’ll likely believe influencers are Instagrammers with large followings, duck-lip selfies and unmeasurable content — but that’s far from the truth.
Author, podcaster and digital marketing thought leader Jason Falls dove into the possibilities of influencer marketing in his third book, “Winfluence: Reframing Influencer Marketing to Ignite Your Brand.”
In this episode of That Solo Life: The Solo PR Pro Podcast, we led an enlightening discussion with Jason about how brands and solo PR pros can broaden their strategic approach to influencer marketing to yield desired results.
The perspective of influencer marketing — and what it really is
Despite their characterization, Jason says a majority of influencers are brilliant content creators who’ve built communities and audiences that engage with their content and hang on their every word. And that could be anyone, because we all have a sphere of influence to drive results, regardless of online notoriety.
When we stick to the narrative framed by the portrayal of influencers, Jason says brands and solo PR pros miss out on the vast world of opportunity available to amplify marketing efforts.
Plus, we take away “the strategic reason [of] the thing we're doing, which is influencing, and influence can happen in a lot of different ways through a lot of different channels.”
In his book, Jason breaks down the four main purposes of using influencer marketing to boost a campaign:
- Word of mouth. Influencers can persuade your customers to consider or buy your product.
- Association. To align your brand with your vision, you can use influencers to help your audience associate your brand with a lifestyle or certain aesthetic.
- Validation. Influencer marketing can drive people to post ratings and reviews of your product or service, which helps with search engine optimization (SEO) and increases website traffic.
- Enthusiasm. Another component of word of mouth, influencers can drive enthusiasm around your brand.
“Winfluence” is a new approach to influencer marketing that improves your chances of success, because it shifts the perspective from the channel to the action.
For example, Jason argues that “most of the great word-of-mouth programs are influence marketing programs.” However, they may not be influence-r marketing programs, because they're not dedicated to the online space.
Dare to find influencer marketing outside the digital sphere
No matter your product or service, the goal of influencer marketing is to persuade your audience to take any action — but you need the right person’s influence to do this successfully.
Have you ever considered they might not be online?
‘Influencer’ has become a general term for online influencers who create content and intend to persuade and build an audience. Yet, Jason says he wants to drop the ‘R’ so brands and solo PR pros can assess marketing goals from a broader perspective.
That way, you’ll consider offline influence to answer these questions: Who influences the audience you’re trying to reach? Which channels impact them? What do you want the influence to accomplish?
If the channels your audience responds to most include LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram, that’s where you should aim your influencer marketing efforts. In fact, Jason says there are many industries where Instagrammers make the most sense, including beauty and fashion.
But depending on your geography, type of business and whether your audience frequents those online hubs, they might not be the right places to focus on — sometimes, local marketing is key.
In “Winfluence,” Jason shared a case study about the success he achieved by foregoing the digital landscape for his client, the University of Kentucky Healthcare. Rather than reach out to online influencers to lead his campaign, Falls targeted the community leaders who influence medical decision-makers in the central Kentucky area.
“The mayor, CEO of the Urban League, local dentist — who's very popular — and music director at the Presbyterian church with a big congregation, these people have [an] impact on the direct community we're trying to reach,” explains Jason, and people respect their opinions. After combining their networks, he says, “It was a very successful campaign.”
Based on your goals, the best influencer could be the president of the local PTA or lobbyists to persuade the state legislator. Plus, they might even promote your brand for free or at discounted rates and create more authentic content.
A community influencer may have less impact on the marketing campaign for a national brand that needs brand awareness, exposure, impressions and reach.
In that case, Jason says there are tons of tools to use that’ll take your keywords and generate lists of influencers whose content incorporates them. But before you reach out to anyone, you have to vet each algorithm-produced result.
“You've got to consume their content,” advises Jason. “Do they do sponsored content? Is it good? Is it persuasive? Does it look like their audience is actually going to take action?”
If you want to ensure authentic content creation for a large campaign from an influencer with an engaged audience, don’t just chase a follower count, make sure their content is right for you and prioritize the channels your audience uses.
How to succeed with influencers? Simple: Avoid these mistakes
Influencer marketing is a great way for brands and solo PR pros to show audiences how you can help them — as long as you avoid these three mistakes.
1. Chasing short-term reach
“The biggest mistake brands of all sizes make is they go after the reach,” warns Jason. While a larger following can sometimes be better, you always want to prioritize quality over quantity.
For example, an influencer with 25,000 engaged fans is much more worthwhile than one with 250,000 followers and light engagement.
Besides this, he says brands are also often too transactional with influencer marketing.
Rather than hire various influencers for one-off projects, Jason says it’s smarter and more beneficial to work with “10 or 12 really engaged, influential people” long-term that reach your audience.
That way, you can build a relationship, take advantage of the consistency, align both your brands and achieve consistency with their audience.
“If you do that over the long haul and build those relationships, you're going to get much more value out of each thing they do for you than you’d get out of paying them for a post and walking away,” he adds.
2. Overlooking built-in brand ambassadors
You have a wealth of influencers right in front of you, but you don’t tap into them: your employees.
The best part of engaging employees in your influencer marketing campaigns is they can share your brand with the audiences they’ve cultivated that are filled with people who listen to them. Plus, they can share an authentic perspective of being excited about their work and the brand they help support.
Don’t make the mistake of hindering this avenue with restrictive rules and policies.
When you invest in your employees, “You can grow the footprint and the impact your employee base can have.” After all, if you take the employee, online and community influence and put it all together, Jason says, “Now you've got a campaign I would kitschily call a ‘Winfluence’ campaign.”
3. Only looking out for your ROI
With any influencer you hope to work with — whether they’re on or offline — you have to consider what's in it for them and their audience.
“If you think of it in terms of, ‘I've got to do something for their audience,’” Jason says, “It takes you out of the corporate mindset of, ‘I have to sell stuff,’ and, ‘It's all about me.’”
By leading with a value exchange, you increase the quality of the pool of influencers available to you. Plus, it’s likely they’ll be more intentional about creating engagement around your brand in ways that produce desired outcomes.
Without a focus on relationship-building, on the other hand, you risk hiring transactional influencers who create ineffective, fill-in-the-blank content — and people can always tell.
Have you used an influencer to boost a marketing campaign? Share your results in the comments or on social media using #solopr! If you’re considering this, be sure to tell us why it intrigues you.