Despite all the recent hype around influencer marketing, it is really nothing new. In fact, I ran my first influencer marketing campaign for a large brand in 2006. We did not call it influencer marketing, it was called blogger outreach, but the premise was the same. We developed relationships with bloggers who had a large following and wrote about our niche. My first project was about cars. At the time the goal was to increase awareness. Our efforts were similar to a traditional media pitch and blogs were seen as “new media.”
As the social web evolved so did our outreach campaigns. Today, a content creator no longer needs a blog to be influential. Many influencers are focused on varied platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
What also has evolved the expectations of an influencer campaign. Through well-design campaigns and knowledge of how to use targeted advertising and lead generation tools on social platforms, influencer marketing campaigns can offer so much more than just brand awareness. Many brands have reported impressive results which have led to an increase in the hype about influencer marketing.
With great hype comes great expectations and more and more brands are reaching out to influencers to talk about a product or service and expecting a windfall of sales leads. The results are almost always disappointing. The reason is typically influencer campaigns are often executed without a plan or a strategy. More often then not I see influencers randomly posting about a brand with the hashtag #ad. This randomness makes it not an influencer marketing campaign. It is an ad buy and ads don’t work as well as a true influencer marketing program.
A successful influencer marketing program takes just as much planning as any other marketing program to be successful. Through the story-telling capabilities of the influencers that you are working with, an audience is able to experience your brand and develop an affinity for it. Because your brand is being introduced by a trusted influencer you should see an increase in followers on your brand platforms. If your campaign is designed to generate sales you should see a sustained increase in revenue.
Here are 5 steps that you can include in your planning to maximize your influencer marketing program.
1. Know what to expect from the influencers you work with
A common question I have been asked through the years is why would anyone work to become an influencer? That is actually a very important question to ask influencers before you decide to work with them. Their answers will reveal what their priorities are, how committed they are, their strengths, and how authentic they are. By understanding the motivations of the influencer you can create a program that is win-win for your brand and the influencer. You can also weed out the influencers who started because they thought it was a great way to make money. The influencers who are solely money motivated most likely have purchased followers and have no real relationship with their audience as well as little commitment to developing extraordinary content.
Many influencers see themselves as journalists and have found various ways to monetize their efforts. These influencers don’t want to be told what to write about or how to write their story. They know that the following they have built is based on their opinions and perspectives. However, you can provide in-depth, interesting, educational, and exclusive information to help guide the narrative.
Keep in mind that influencer marketing can be more than just an awareness campaign. The story your influencers share can lead their audience through the sales pipeline from awareness to a sale. But the program must be designed to meet the expectations of the audience as well as your brand. If you are working with an influencer with the goal of introducing your brand to their audience keep in mind your expectation is not simply awareness. Your campaign should be designed for storytelling that leads to people following your brand to continue through the sales process.
If you are working with an influencer who has an audience that already knows your brand you can develop a campaign with a call to action that can generate leads or a direct sale. But your campaign must be designed with the audience in mind and aligned with your goals.
2. Engage with your influencers during the campaign
One of the biggest missed opportunities is when a brand does not engage with the influencer’s content when they are writing about them. Engaging with the influencer’s content not only will increase reach it allows the audience to get to know the brand personally throughout the campaign. It also provides the brand with an opportunity to speak out if the campaign goes sideways for any reason.
During one of the influencer campaigns my team managed we increased the reach significantly by actively conversing with the influencers from the brand’s social media accounts and sharing their posts. At one point our influencer left a dessert she purchased on the train and tweeted her disappointment. Through our connections, we were able to have the dessert purchased again and delivered to her hotel room making the brand a hero and winning many fans from her followers.
Influencer marketing is not an ad buy and it is not something a brand needs to set in motion and then be hands-off. The more your brand is involved in the conversation the more you allow your influencer’s audience to get to know you and the more prepared you will be to step in if something goes wrong.
3. Create buzz-worthy experiences
Imagine inviting a well-known photographer to take pictures of your property and you don’t greet them when they arrive, don’t share with them the shots you think are most important, and don’t set up scenes worthy of photographing. At the end of the day, both you and the photographer would be quite disappointed in the experience.
Your influencers are photographers and videographers and story-tellers but you have to set up the scenes for them and guide them through what the most important shots are. This might include a behind-the-scenes tour, an interview with the chef, or free passes to attractions close by. For the most part you should never tell an influencer what to write about or what to post, but you can guide their experience and make sure it is truly buzz-worthy.
When you are working with an influencer that has a gift for photography or videography consider purchasing the rights to their work so that you can use these great assets in future campaigns.
4. Amplify your influencers content with targeted ads
Ideally, the influencers you are working with are creating great content and telling a compelling story. What makes them an influencer is that they have a significant audience and you should be working with them because their audience is relevant to your brand. But the reach of their content does not need to stop there.
By working with your influencer you can set up ads that target specific demographics and interests and have your influencer promote their content on their platform. You can also share the content that your influencer created on your own platform and promote it to a specific audience. The better you target the content to align with the audience’s interest the more the content will resonate and the greater your results will be.
You can also expand on the results that you gained from your influencer marketing campaign by designing an ad campaign that will retarget website visitors that resulted from the campaign. After a person visit your website from the campaign you ad team can continue to deliver follow up advertisements to them.
If you are working with an influencer who is active on Twitter, during the campaign, while they are talking about your brand, set up an advertisement with an offer and target it to the influencer’s followers so that as they are following the story of your brand they will see an opportunity to act.
Social Media advertising does not require a large budget and the more that as people engage with your ads the more results you will see from your advertising budget.
Step 5. Build long-term relationships with your influencers
Your brand’s relationship with influencers should not only revolve around your campaign. If you are working with influencers who are relevant to your brand your relationship should be ongoing. This means engaging on social media, asking your influencers for their input and ideas on new products and services, making introductions to other brands that would benefit from working them. An ongoing relationship takes evolves from having partners for a marketing campaign to having real brand ambassadors.
A well-designed influencer marketing campaign can provide a higher ROI than almost any other marketing program. Yet, too often influencer marketing programs are launched with little thought and based on weak relationships which leads to a waste of time and money. The more detrimental result of a bad campaign is that stakeholders no longer believe in the value of influencer marketing and will refuse to try again. That is why a small test pilot of such campaigns tend to do more harm than good. When a hotel provides a free stay to an influencer in return for a few posts they will see little return. If you are going to work with influencers it is well worth it to commit to building out a well-designed program that will yield specific results.
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Getting your hotel property or travel destination featured in a magazine takes a lot of work, relationship building, and story-telling. Is there a way to get a better return with less effort?
Yes. Work with a social media influencer, a person who is passionate about travel and built an audience that not only consumes the information that is posted, but interacts with it and shares it. Travel Influencers are story-tellers who will see the best of what you have to offer through the eyes of what is important to your guest. Many have a reach that rivals traditional magazines.
However, before you work with a travel influencer, may I suggest you read my article in Hotel Executive: The Rising Value of the Travel Influencer.
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Last October, we worked with the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau to host the first annual Social Influencer Travel Summit. As you can see from the Infographic below, it was a tremendous success.
What led to such a powerful event, beyond the amazing experiences that the city of Atlanta has to offer and the wonderful host that ACVB is, was that we brought influencers in as a group. The social networking was happening offline as well as online. Each attendee was able to learn and be inspired by each other. We are excited to announce we will be hosting another SITSum this October.