Last year I was having dinner with the head buyer for a global fashion house when her iPhone exploded with a flurry of messages and texts. The Duchess of Cambridge, formerly known as Kate Middleton, had just been seen with one of the company’s bags.
This was big news for the company, because sales already were spiking as a result of the tacit endorsement by this member of the British royalty. Our dinner was ruined, but my friend’s firm had just scored a major marketing victory.
Such is the power of influencer marketing. With so many choices on the market today, an endorsement by a celebrity or a trusted industry expert can make a huge difference in both brand awareness and sales. People listen and take their buying cues from influencers.
Influencer cultivation has always been important for savvy marketing departments, but the rules have changed.
Less than 20 years ago, a business could reach out to the editors of traditional media and a handful of blogs, and safely say they had connected with everyone who mattered, barring celebrities. Now there are more blogs and industry influencers than most businesses can count, and cultivating influencers has become a defined marketing discipline.
Not all influencers are equally useful, however, and one important skill is knowing which influencers a business should focus on and which to ignore. The universe of bloggers and experts with large communities is too large for haphazard or imprecise influencer cultivation. Businesses need to decide not only who matters, but also who is most useful for marketing purposes.
So how to find the right influencers?
Here is how you find them, ask these four key questions when targeting market influencers.
Question #1: Is this the right community?
A large community of followers is not enough. Just because an influencer has a big audience does not mean it is a useful following.
The first question you should ask yourself is whether the influencer in question has not only a large following, but also an engaged audience that takes action based on the suggestions of the influencer.
Look for influencers who have cultivated a strong community where engagement is high and mentions translate into clicks and sales. Things to check include comments, retweets, shares, replies and the response from the community when the influencer shares his or her thoughts and recommendations.
Make sure the community is receptive and not just large.
Question #2: Is my message relevant?
The second question you should ask is whether the influencer and the community cares about your brand and its message. An influencer might have a large and engaged following, but the message you want spread might not be appropriate or relevant for the community.
Good influencer communities are already talking about the topics that matter to your business. Before reaching out to an influencer, take a few minutes to lurk in their community and see what matters to the influencer and what type of discussions are taking place.
If you find that the influencer already is talking about what you want to pitch, you have a good indication that you’ve found a relevant influencer. Not only does relevancy make the cultivation of an influencer dramatically easier, it also signals that the influencer will deliver results.
Question #3: Will the influencer further my campaign goals?
Working with influencers is about more than just brand awareness; a good marketing campaign will use influencers for specific outcomes.
A third important question therefore is whether the influencer can further the goals of your marketing campaign and deliver the call to action you want. Review your key performance indicators (KPIs) and check these indicators against the possible utility of your influencer.
Your KPIs might include backlinks, sales conversions, new email subscribers, social media shares and overall web site traffic, for instance. When honing in on the best influencers, ask yourself how this influencer can deliver on these KPIs.
Question #4: Is there a history of successful outcomes?
Figuring out which people matter the most is an art as much as a science, and testing the usefulness of an influencer is a messy, ongoing process. There’s no sure thing until you’ve engaged with an influencer and seen the results.
That said, past performance can indicate future results.
If an influencer has engaged with your business in the past and delivered the goods, they obviously have proven utility and you should continue cultivating these people. Don’t neglect your existing stable of influencers.
When engaging and assessing new influencers, you can use past performance with other products and service as a gauge for how they might help your business. Look at the products and brands they have promoted in the past and see what kind of response it generated. Extrapolate from this for your own brand and its marketing goals.
If the influencer wants payment for endorsement, you also can ask them for concrete examples of past success. This is their business, after all. Make them show you the goods, however, only do this for paid influencers.
Every business knows that social media and word-of-mouth matters, but not every business knows how to cultivate it. The secret is not engagement on social media, although that is important. The secret sauce is your company’s network of influencers who help you talk about the issues that matter, promote your products and services, and help you reach the customers with the right call to actions.
This starts with identifying the right influencers for your business.