The beginning of the year brought the usual deluge of posts about trends and predictions for marketing in 2017. A common trend across quite a number of these posts—including pieces from Forbes, Entrepreneur, NewCo Shift, and AdWeek—was increased use of influencer marketing.
It’s little surprise why. As noted in Forbes, influencer recommendations have more impact than ads. They help build credibility and trust for brands. They aren’t affected by ad blocking technology. Further, as R2integrated adds, influencer marketing is a cost-effective way to reach targeted audiences, and boosts SEO efforts. It delivers high ROI and extends the reach of your messages.
A final benefit of influencer marketing is it can be used by companies of any size, from startups to the largest enterprises. While having a big budget doesn’t hurt, it’s often crafting a compelling story that’s most effective for getting the attention of key influencers.
How to Develop an Influencer Marketing Campaign
While specific tactics will vary by the type of campaign and size of budget, these eight steps are common to most influencer marketing programs.
1. Identify your key influencers. For a mature brand, product, or services, you may already have an extensive model of your influencer landscape. For a new product or startup company, you may have to develop that framework from scratch.
In any case, influence marketing tools like Little Bird, Onalytica, InkyBee, and Klear can help you find and evaluate key influencers by topic industry, and assist in managing your outreach efforts.
2. Prioritize your list. Categorize your influencers as “A list,” “B list,” and “C list” based on audience size and authority. When evaluating influencers, it’s important to look at engagement, not just audience size alone.
For example, for tech companies (and especially tech startups), sites like Mashable, TechCrunch, and VentureBeat will be on the A list. For marketing technology vendors, Scott Brinker, David Raab, and Stewart Rogers are highly influential. It can be challenging to get the attention of A-listers, but the impact of coverage can be substantial.
B-list influencers have significant followings, though not as large as those on the A list. However, B-listers are more approachable, and generally more open to (for example) participating in expert roundup posts.
C-list influencers have smaller but often highly engaged networks. While they may not justify quite the level of effort or investment of A-listers, their potential collective impact shouldn’t be underestimated.
3. Strategize your approach. Plan your outreach for each group. What is the “ask”? What is your message?
Most publications and even A-list bloggers will post explicit instructions about how to pitch them. Look for these. If your most important potential influencers have posted such directions, follow them.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t color outside the lines just a bit. For example, sending a tchotchke or hand-written note just before or after your outreach can help draw attention and interest to your pitch.
Larger firms may invite A-list bloggers and consultants to attend company events and (for a fee) either speak or write about their impressions of the company’s technology and / or strategy.
Smaller companies have to get more creative. Think about what you can offer of value to a A-list influencer, such as: a “sneak peek” first look at a new offering or free use of the product or application.
B-list influencers are generally amenable to sponsored posts; participating in expert roundups; and contributing content, compensated or (in the case of highly popular company blog) for the benefit of exposure.
C-list influencers often accept guest posts and may write reviews or content in exchange for free trials. B- or C-list bloggers may also be interested in affiliate sales programs.
While perhaps only A-list outreach needs to be customized for each individual, all outreach should be personalized. Most bloggers and influencers, regardless of audience size, are offended by and will generally ignore “Dear Editor” pitches.
4. Warm up your network. Most influencers are more likely to respond favorably to warm outreach—where they’ve had at least passing interaction with the brand on social media—than a cold pitch. Again, regardless of the influencer’s audience size, if the first communication they ever receive from you is asking for coverage, it comes off as self serving.
As soon as you have your influencer map created, and well before you do any outreach, connect with as many of those influencers as possible on as many social networks as they actively use: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, etc. Start liking, commenting on, and (selectively) sharing their content.
This shouldn’t feel forced. If you’ve created the right network of influencers, this interaction should feel natural and authentic. These should be writers, speakers, and bloggers with whom you want to build relationships. The engagement should be mutually beneficial.
5. Conduct your outreach. If you’ve done the previous steps well, this is just a matter of executing the outreach steps you’ve planned, to your target influencers. Be sure to follow proven best practices for outreach, such as:
- Have a clear objective for each outreach email—and make the objective clear in your message.
- Always personalize with the recipient’s name.
- Proof-read before sending; errors really diminish your credibility.
- Time your sending for maximum open rate; the best send times are midmorning (9:00 a.m. to noon) at midweek (Tuesday through Thursday).
- Craft your subject line carefully.
- Never send more than two follow-up inquiries.
6. Amplify outreach results. When influencers act, let the world know! Retweet their response, publicize any content they produce across your social networks, and like and comment on their related status updates.
This extends the reach of influencer reactions, builds credibility for your brand, and demonstrates to those bloggers and content producers that you acknowledge and appreciate their efforts on your behalf.
7. Measure the results. Monitor and capture all the results of your outreach efforts. At a minimum, metrics to report and analyze include:
- Email open and click-through rates.
- Social engagement (likes, tweets and retweets, campaign hashtag use, brand mentions, comments, etc.)
- Website traffic and goal conversions in Google Analytics
To capture campaign results at a more granular level, create and use specific Google tracking URLs for your outreach. Using a conversion pixel on your website will help capture traffic from influencer marketing beyond direct click-throughs.
Ultimately, results need to be tied to lead generation or sales to enable calculating the ROI of influencer marketing efforts.
8. Maintain the relationships. Influencer marketing campaigns are based around a specific occurrence: an event, a product launch, a promotion. The practice of influencer marketing, however, should be ongoing.
Continue engaging with key influencers and brand advocates after the campaign is wrapped up. Retweet them, comment on their updates, share their content periodically. This assures influencers your interest in them was more than a “one time use,” and it makes them much more likely to participate in your next campaign.
Influencer marketing practices will likely continue to evolve, but the approach will remain popular. Social signals have greater credibility than advertising. That’s why, in a recent study, 51 percent of respondents said they plan on “significantly increasing” influencer marketing investment in 2017.
Bloggers and other experts in specific industry niches who’ve built a significant social following will see even more pitches blasted their way in the coming months. By following these steps and emphasizing authenticity and relationship-building, your pitch can be one that stands out and gets influencers to take action on your behalf.
This article was first published on V3Broadsuite.