Influencer marketing shows no signs of slowing down. It has evolved into a core marketing strategy that is practiced by more than 93% of marketers. Predicted to be a C$10 billion industry globally by the end of 2020, the role of influencers will continue to help brands connect with their consumers in highly relevant ways.
Sean Stanleigh and Melissa Mendes of Globe Content Studio, which is the content studio of The Globe and Mail, presented a blueprint for how to effectively work with influencers in a recent INMA-member Webinar.
What is influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing is a form of marketing that focuses on targeting key industry leaders to drive brand message and awareness to a specific market of consumers.
“Influencers kind of play in many fields. But primarily in travel, beauty, and lifestyle you see brands using influencer marketing to broaden their voice,” Mendes said.
“We need to start thinking and strategising about how we’re going to introduce the role of influencers into our strategy. We’re going to look at how to incorporate them in an authentic way.”
Mendes added that as a Millennial herself, she can relate to the statistic that only 1% of Millennials trust advertisements, while 33% trust personal social reviews.
“I think influencer marketing is just an extension of word-of-mouth, digitally,” she said.
Stanleigh jumped in to say that a lot of people talked last year about the death of influencers, but that is not the case. Influencer marketing yields a C$6.50 return on investment for every dollar spent.
“The reason we launched influencer campaigns two years ago was in response to clients wanting them,” he said. “It was really their requests that got us started in this field, and it continues to be them that are driving the conversations.”
Benefits of influencer marketing
Mendes shared a number of benefits of using this marketing strategy:
- Extremely effective, drives sales with 30% conversion.
- Increases customer loyalty by 41%.
- Awareness of a brand or product with 33% effectiveness.
- Reaches where traditional ads don’t.
- Lets marketers reach a specific, targeted audience.
Why would a media organisation play in this space?
Influencer marketing is adopting a new way of storytelling, Mendes said. It’s content narration in a manner and language that the audience understands.
“We’re able to position our story in a more informal way of storytelling,” she added.
The strategy also helps brand partnerships and becomes an extension of content marketing. “Having that voice tell the story rather than us telling the story as journalists.”
Big social platforms with many influencers, such as Tik-Tok, allow brands to reach an audience they would not be able to reach otherwise, with potentially massive exposure, Stanleigh said: “It’s one thing to do a paid social campaign to target the audience that you want, but through the influencers we’re reaching an audience that’s going to respond more favourably to the content that’s being delivered organically.”
It’s a method that skews content and product away from traditional advertising. “We get to really be creative when we’re working with influencers,” Mendes said. “A lot of influencers that we see don’t promote themselves on just one platform; they’re also YouTube vloggers, or they’re [on] Tik-Tok, so we’re not just focusing on one platform for organic reach.”
Are influencers worth the investment?
Globe Content Studio has been running influencer campaigns for two years now, and Mendes said that the company has seen a good return on investment. Such a campaign essentially acts as “mini-magazines” for a brand, she said.
“You do want to place your ads with those influencers who fit your brand, who match your appeal. I definitely think that they are an extension of a brand’s core value and allow it to reach a different audience and appeal to a different demographic.”
Companies spend a lot of money targeting, designing, and promoting their products. Influencers, on the other hand, promote their lifestyles and nurture relationships with followers — while featuring products here and there in their content.
“They really allow that kind of open dialogue,” Mendes said. “They really engage with their platform, they’re talking with their audience.”
The ROI with influencer marketing is strong, while at the same time costing less than traditional advertising.
Challenges and solutions for working with influencers
Mendes next talked about the specific challenges to influencer marketing, what publishers should be aware of, and how they might address those challenges.
- Time management: It takes two to three weeks to properly source an influencer campaign and another one to two weeks to secure the correct influencer.
- Vetting: Does the influencer have fake followers? Will their content match the organisation’s goals?
- Relationship management: It’s important to nurture and stay on top of your relationship with the influencer.
Identifying the right influencer — one that matches with a company’s brand and has the audience it wants to target — is vital, Mendes said. Know up front what the brand’s core values and goals are, and ask proper questions.
“The vetting process does take a long time, and you need to be aware of that,” she said. Take the time to really get to know an influencer through their feed and read the comments that their followers make.
The process is a little like hiring freelance writers, Stanleight said: “You wouldn’t assign a freelance writer to work on a health article if their background was in business. Same type of deal, where you want to make sure that the influencers you are hiring are not only going to give you the right voice, but that their quality standards match the standards that your readers and your audience expect from you.”
If an influencer doesn’t follow the campaign timelines or contract, that creates a risk of not getting the results that the company wants. “I really take that time, even before a campaign starts, to really get to know them,” Mendes said. “Get to know their writing style, get to know their content, so we get the results we want.”
Process of finding quality contributors
The most important step is for a company to know its own audience, and to know the influencer’s audience, first. Audiences are one of three cornerstones of influencer marketing.
“You really need to understand the brand’s target audience before you execute with an influencer,” Mendes said. Consider the following audience demographics:
- Interest (beauty, travel, tech, etc.).
Make sure the influencer’s audience aligns with the publisher’s or is a new audience that the publisher wants to target.
“You also want to know that the influencer has a good reach and engagement,” Mendes said. “Are they authentic? What’s their personality? And what’s their following?”
She explained there are larger influencers with big audiences, as well as micro-influencers, that may have a smaller following — but that audience is highly targeted and may be niche.
“A micro-influencer kind of skews anywhere around a 10,000 following. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have high engagement or that they’re not as good as someone who has 100,000 followers.”
Those micro-influencers will also cost less and might be easier to work with, Stanleigh added. Micro-influencers are also particularly effective if they have a specific geographic target, and the media company wants to run a hyper-local or regional campaign that aligns with that.
Lastly, he advised that it’s worthwhile to do some background research and look at the influencer’s history, to make sure they haven’t ever come under fire for doing or saying something in appropriate.
Where to find influencers
There are a number of ways to research influencers to identify and contact those that might be a good fit.
- Social media, which can be monitored with tools such as Hootsuite, Simply, Mention, etc.
- Hashtags, such as #blogger or #sponsored.
- Google alerts for relevant keywords relevant to your brand.
- Influencer marketing platforms such as Hashtag paid and Shine PR.
“I’m looking for those relevant words that the brand or client has given me, and so I’m able to track that brand voice,” Mendes said. She recommended using the platforms such as Hashtag paid to access a large network of influencers if you’re strapped for time. “Keep in mind that there is a fee that they will get if you use one of their influencers.”
Five steps to build your own influencer campaign
“I’ve narrowed it down to five steps for building your own influencer campaign,” Mendes said.
- Set the right goals for the campaign. Understand your KPIs.
- Find the right influencers and followers that meet your goal objectives.
- Create the right content and make sure the influencer matches that content. Remember that the content has to sell twice.
- Identify the right channels for the campaign and for your influence.
- Measure your results.
What does success look like?
“For us, it’s reaching that high engagement [goal] for our target audience,” Mendes said.
Another way to measure success is through direct product sales from the campaign.
Next, Mendes took the INMA audience through a successful case study. For a New Balance campaign, Globe Content Studio worked with an influencer who was the mother of three children. The messaging goal of New Balance was to be fearlessly independent.
“We were able to tell a story about how this mom really encourages her kids to be fearless and independent while wearing New Balance shoes as the product.”
The campaign resulted in a high conversion of sales. “The reason why this was successful is the influencer was really easy to work with. She let us come into her home, and we saw high engagement on her platform. She just followed the guidelines, and provided us with really high quality photos.” These were linked with e-commerce destinations.
Stanleigh pointed out that once the content is created for the influencer campaign, it can be repurposed to use on the publisher’s own site or social media.
Globe influencer marketing
Unlike typical influencer networks, which only access an influencer’s own channels, Globe is able to leverage The Globe and Mail’s own digital and print platforms to host content and further amplify the campaign with greater reach and brand alignment.
“We also do paid social. So once this influencer launches, we do get paid social that we drive from our Globe sites to the article.” Other delivery methods include professional photography, video, and events.
Influencer online journey
Mendes took INMA members through the steps on a typical Globe Content Studio influencer campaign.
- Discoverability: Paid social, targeted content drivers, and influencer’s social posts.
- Engagement: Influencer article page.
- Traffic to brand site.
Organic traffic directs from the influencer’s social media accounts, and ultimately an article at The Globe and Mail from the story.
“Travel is obviously a huge category,” Stanleigh said. “When it comes to influencer campaigns, that is the number one category.”
Mendes pointed out another advantage of influencers is that they are seen as an average person that the audience can relate to, versus a celebrity. “They want to see just a normal person travelling. We’ve seen really good results in travel, and also just in lifestyle as well.”
INMA: That stat of C$6.50 return on every dollar spent is incredible. Can you elaborate on that?
Globe: Brands are always looking for a shiny new object, and this is still new and different. Brands want to have somebody who can engage their audience. Reach is important, but it’s less about reach and more about engagement. The No. 1 thing that determines success for a piece of content is whether or not it led to a subscription. If 10,000 people see something and 10% of those people make a purchase, that’s better than if 500,000 people saw it but nobody buys anything.
INMA: Do you think influencers are in a bubble right now?
Globe: That's a very difficult question to answer. The approach that we’re taking to influencers is, I think, different than the way a brand on its own would approach influencers. I think the way a lot of brands are approaching it is probably a bit of a bubble that could burst at any time, because I think the big question for a lot of people out there is, “When I see sponsored, what does that mean? Am I getting an authentic influencer, or am I getting an influencer that's always making positive comments because they’re getting paid to do it.” I think when you filter it through a media organisation, there’s a little bit more trust involved. People respond to recommendations from other people, much more than they do from a brand or advertiser.
INMA: What about the costs of working with influencers?
Globe: It really depends on what the client wants and the scale. Keep in mind production fees, such as photography cost, travel costs, etc. A micro-influencer versus somebody who has a big follower, etc. How much are we going to be valuing the influencer? Typically, it will cost anywhere between C$500 and C$2,000 in terms of actual fee. That also depends on how many posts they are creating, photographs, will they be writing an article afterwards. It really depends on what are the client’s goals, and what are they willing to pay for it?