Digital influencers: love them or hate them? Either way, they are here to stay and their power to influence consumer behaviour is only set to grow. Studies reveal that 82% of consumers say that they’re more likely to purchase a product based on influencer recommendation, and in 2018, 70% of brands will be actively working with influencers. So, with all the data indicating the imperative of influencer campaigns, are brands really making the best use of this new form of advocacy and making it work to their benefit?
There’s no escaping the debate surrounding the real value of digital influencer campaigns as part of a wider PR plan. They can be seen as inauthentic, unbelievable, or just another form of advertising. There are also questions around ROI and whether working with influencers adds any actual value in terms of sales. Does it make the tills ring, or is it just an exercise in creating some nice-looking content?
Debate aside, if you are considering a digital influencer campaign, there are a few basic rules of thumb that, if done well, can make for a successful campaign that adds real value and recruits long-term brand ambassadors:
Strike a balance between relevance and reputation – Yes, you want to work with influencers who have great media appeal but, more importantly, find someone who is relevant and lives and breathes the brand. This will make it more authentic when they actually post about the brand. It follows that if the influencer likes your brand, chances are their followers will too – resulting in high engagement rates, more brand advocates and greater sales. If the collaboration appears to be unnatural, trust in both the influencer and the brand will be lost. Working with an influencer who is right for the brand also means that there is a greater chance of building a longer-term relationship, and a partnership that will come across as being more organic, and more credible, next time around. You never know, if the relationship is well nurtured, they may also be more willing to attend events or do some ad hoc Instagram stories free of charge.
Understand your target audience – Are your prospective customers engaged with social media, and are they using it as a forum to gather recommendations? For instance, if you’re trying to target 35+ year old males, chances are that they’re not engaged with social media in this way, so an influencer campaign isn’t the way forward. Understanding the demographic of the kind of people buying into your brand is key when choosing your influencers. It’s important that they reflect the brand and the kind of people engaged with it, otherwise it comes across as being inauthentic and false.
Macro versus micro – The objectives of your campaign will determine whether macro or micro influencers are most suitable. Is it an awareness-raising exercise, or are you looking to get more people actively engaged with, and purchasing, the brand? If it’s the former, then going big with a few high reaching influencers who can get your message out quickly could be the way forward. If it’s the latter, working with a few micro influencers who will be willing to buy into the brand over a longer period of time may be more effective. Remember that the number of followers doesn’t necessarily translate into number of engagements, particularly in such a saturated market.
Measurement is key – Don’t be afraid to ask influencers for engagement rates and views figures – this is key when establishing if their fans are reacting to the collaboration. It also allows you to see what kind of posts are resonating most with their followers. If your campaign is about pushing sales of a certain product, then trying to be smart about it by giving influencers unique codes for their followers to enter at point of purchase, for instance, is a great way to see which influencer is really being successful in pushing sales. Setting out clear deliverables at the beginning of the campaign will also ensure that you get the right content and, in turn, that the influencer is aware of what the expectation is.
Pricing is key – As the world of digital influencer campaigns is still relatively new, pricing is a bit of a grey area, meaning influencers often just sell out to the highest bidder. Sadly, there is no ‘one price fits all’ solution, however being smart about the amount you pay them – just as you would be with any supplier – is key. Firstly, fee should absolutely not be based upon number of followers, but rather upon engagement rates and how much traffic each influencer will be driving to your website. Engagement is pretty simple to calculate, so make sure that you have had a look at this before agreeing upon a fee. It’s also important to think about how you want to work with the influencer – if it’s about building a longer-term relationship then paying them fairly will mean that, next time, they will be more willing to work in collaboration, maybe for a lower fee if they know that there are going to be some more projects in the pipeline. Finally, remember that just as you wouldn’t work for free, neither will they, so if you want to create some great content that you can re-use on your own channels, fair remuneration is crucial.
So, what role does PR play in all of this?
With media increasingly being consumed online, brands need to ensure that they are communicating with their target audience through the most relevant channels. Although some brands run digital influencer campaigns in isolation of their core PR tactics, having them run in tandem both strengthens key messaging and ensures consistency.
Having a couple of well selected key messages seeded out through your press office, but that also dovetails into your influencer campaign, is likely to gain much stronger cut through as consumers make the link between what they see in the press and what they see on their social channels. Equally, as digital influencer campaigns are essentially another form of PR advocacy, ensuring that they are run as authentically as possible and avoid clunky advertising messaging is key to ensuring results. If executed well, digital influencer campaigns can succeed in raising brand awareness, recruiting new brand advocates, and changing consumer habits, all resulting in more money through the tills.