Brands that develop a personal relationship with their influencers gain an edge that other brands simply cannot offer. Relationship building is a slow process at first, but with the right team and the right tools in place, brands can take full advantage of an influencer’s engaged audience and leverage it to drive massive returns with careful influencer relationship management.
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What is influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing occurs when a brand partners with a content creator that has cultivated a substantial audience of engaged online followers, primarily through social media.
Creators generally need more than 1,000 followers to be considered an “influencer.” An influencer’s effectiveness is measured by engagement rate (i.e. ratio of total number of comments, shares, and ongoing user-generated content [UGC] to number of followers).
There are four main influencer types:
- Nano: 1,000-10,000 followers
- Micro: 10,000-100,000 followers
- Macro: 100,000-1 million followers
- Mega/Celebrity: 1 million+ followers
Influencers exist in every industry and hold considerable sway over the buying decisions of their followers. Partnering with influencers is one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways that brands can elevate their marketing approach.
Why is influencer marketing important?
Influencer marketing is important because it allows brands to leverage an influencer’s powerful voice to increase brand awareness, build trust, and drive sales.
Influencers help brands accomplish these goals by providing three invaluable assets:
Social proof is the idea that people copy the behavior of others to inform their own actions. Rather than trust the biased opinions of brands, consumers would rather consult the experiences of other buyers. This generally comes in the form of UGC, which is any content mentioning a product or brand coming from someone other than the brand itself.
Influencers are generally seen as industry experts, whether it be for fitness, health and beauty, gaming, or any other niche. When someone is seen as an authority on a particular topic, consumers are far more likely to take action on that individual’s recommendations.
Aligning with popular influencers gives brands instant credibility with that influencer’s audience. Brands are far more likely to capture the attention of their target audience when they partner with someone who is liked or idealized.
How are direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands using influencer marketing in the ecommerce space?
Influencers are essential to DTC brands in the ecommerce space. According to eMarketer, roughly 40% of shoppers in the United States say an influencer or celebrity has introduced them to a DTC brand, while more than a third of shoppers consider influencer recommendations before making a purchase.
To increase brand awareness, ecommerce brands use relevant content from their influencer to create brand recognition and enhance website SEO.
These requests include:
- Sponsored social media posts
- Guest blogs and articles
- Video or written product reviews
- Authentic backlink outreach
To increase sales, D2C brands can offer free products to their influencers in exchange for posts. The influencer then publicizes the product on their social channel and provides a referral link where their audience can purchase the product for themselves.
Product gifting is one of the best ways for D2C brands to establish a connection with an influencer. Once that relationship strengthens, brands can leverage influencers to announce product giveaways, guerilla campaigns (like holiday discounts), new or featured products, and more.
What is it like working with influencers?
Influencer marketing is more than a business transaction. A successful program requires brands to go beyond traditional metrics to get to know their influencers’ content, style, and brand on a more personal level.
Influencer marketing – at its core – is about building relationships. And like any strong relationship, brand-influencer partnerships thrive on mutual respect and open dialogue.
But it can’t happen overnight.
Brands have to dedicate time to build the trust needed to spark genuine connections with their influencers before they collaborate on branded content that resonates with consumers.
Sabrina Medert, the senior social media specialist at Vera Bradley, spends about 90% of her time communicating with the brand’s influencer partners and handling relationship management.
“There’s a relationship between (influencers) and their followers,” Sabrina says. “So I believe that there needs to be a relationship between the brand and the influencer, too. Our influencers become people that we can rely on. And then at the same time, they can rely on us, too, because that’s what you do with your friends. That’s what you do with your relationships.”
Brands can be more open and honest with their influencers when they develop a strong bond. At the end of the day, influencers want to work with brands, not for brands. Brands should encourage two-way communication and make sure they are giving – and receiving – honest feedback to help create the highest quality content.
What is influencer relationship management (IRM) and why is it important?
IRM is similar to customer relationship management (CRM) except that it focuses on influencer relationships instead of customer relationships.
Your brand will be able to ask more of its influencers as relationships grow stronger. But managing each relationship is no small task. Based on your campaign goals, you’ll need to zero in on what you need to do to make your relationships flourish and get the most out of your program.
Top 6 ways to effectively manage influencer relationships
1. Identify the right influencer
The right influencer is someone who aligns well with your brand’s mission and values. Some of your influencers will be better than others when you first start recruiting, but you will learn better ways to identify high-performing creators as you continue your efforts.
Brands should also consider expanding their influencer searches into new social media channels and types of content. Be sure to track progress and calculate engagement rates, even if that means doing it manually on a spreadsheet.
2. Calculate engagement metrics accurately
Vanity metrics like follower count and page/post likes can be deceptively manufactured and aren’t as meaningful as comments and shares. Influencers who use shady tactics to inflate their numbers can sometimes be hard to spot, but social media channels like Instagram help marketers differentiate true engagement from vanity metrics to help brands stay away from “fake” influencers.
By accurately calculating engagement metrics from your influencers, you’ll know which ones are most likely to help your brand meet its marketing objectives.
The technique to manually calculate an influencer’s engagement rate is:
Number of relevant comments and post shares / Number of followers
3. Create an influencer contract/agreement
Great brand-influencer relationships can dissolve quickly without a sustainable contract. It is discouraging for you and your team to go through the entire influencer recruitment process and then lose what could have been a successful, long-term influencer relationship.
That’s why your influencer agreement is so important. If you’re new to influencer marketing, spend a little extra time making sure your influencer contract is complete. As you gain more experience, you’ll begin to anticipate when and how an influencer agreement may need tweaking from one campaign to another.
4. Organize your creator team
Once you’ve hired the right influencer team, you’ll need to monitor their content across all channels, as well as any ongoing UGC.
This approach shows you how your influencers relate to their audience and helps monitor each influencer’s contribution to the success of your program. In time, you might find that some influencers do a better job of increasing brand awareness, while others are great at boosting your sales directly. It’s best to have a handful of successful influencers in both categories to maximize the success of your influencer program.
5. Attribute campaign results to the right influencers
When your web traffic and sales start to climb, try to understand how every new prospect or customer first learned about your brand. Not only will you want to know which influencers are responsible for the increased traffic, but your influencers will want credit for their work, too.
Google Analytics can help identify the digital path that a prospect took from influencer post to sale. But Google Analytics will only take you so far, and properly monitoring results often means investigating from where your new customers originated.
To achieve this, many brands create individual links manually for each influencer campaign. Marketers can then organize their links by influencer and social media channels.
6. Find a platform to manage your program
Most marketers use spreadsheets when they first start managing an influencer program. Spreadsheets work fine at first, but before long, the details become too overwhelming for traditional spreadsheets and CRM software platforms. As you scale your program, you’re going to need an influencer-specific software platform.
Finding the right creator management software will take time. The platform must be agile enough to keep up with the dynamic social media environment. Having the right software in place will streamline your program so you spend less time jumping across multiple spreadsheets and more time managing your influencer relationships.
Choosing the right creator management software
The right software simplifies your life and frees up your team. If you ever hope to scale your influencer program, streamlining the influencer process has to be the primary goal. The software you choose should ensure that no influencer management tasks fall through the cracks and instantly gives your marketing team more time to focus on your big-picture goals.
Creator management tools
The sheer volume of IRM tasks can require hundreds –or even thousands – of human hours. But successful IRM tools eliminate that labor constraint. Simply put, the right IRM tools improve the quality and number of influencers that a marketing team can effectively manage.
When searching for a IRM software, make sure it has tools allow you to:
Create a single communications hub
Influencer relationships are built on communication. Access to a single communications hub brings all of your communication under one roof so every message between your team and influencers lives in the same place. The software should integrate seamlessly with all your platforms, including Gmail, Slack, SMS, and Outlook.
Build and nurture lasting relationships
Your true brand champions should be in it for the long haul. An ideal IRM software gives you all the tools you need to nurture those marketing relationships, including tailored email sequences and the ability to track opens, clicks, and replies.
Create long-term partnerships
Once you find the perfect influencers for your brand, it’s time to consider partnerships. The software you choose should allow you to easily create, share, and manage one-on-one promotions, and provide you with deliverable tracking, product management, contracts, and more.
Handle every stage of the influencer relationship
Managing relationships can get complicated as you field applicants and court prospects, all while caring for your long-term favorites. Make sure your IRM software serves as your headquarters for all of them, with filtering options like audience report, sequence stage, and network reach.
Manage all relationships in one spot
Whether you have a team of five or 5,000 influencers, you need to give each one the attention they need. Preferred platforms make this easy by filing all your campaigns into one place and allowing you to organize relationships by stage, managers or agents, or custom properties.
Implementing the right IRM software with the right tools is essential for any influencer marketing program. For a marketing campaign to reach its full potential, brands must automate processes whenever possible to free up their team to scale their program and build strong relationships that will help achieve even the most ambitious long-term goals.