By now, almost everyone in marketing knows the importance of influencers. A recent take on the use of opinion leaders and celebrities to sell goods and services, a quality influencer program is a highly effective way to drive sales. Unfortunately, influencer marketing is full of complications and dangers that were uncommon in the days when traditional media had a near monopoly. One reason for this is the high number of fakes and frauds out there. Fortunately, with proper planning and the use of best practices you can reduce the risks while increasing the rewards. Let us look at how to set your influencer program up for success.
What are influencer programs?
Like any other form of advertising, influencer marketing requires a strategy to be cost-effective. As the old saying goes, a failure to plan is a plan to fail. One of the challenges of influencer marketing is the large number of variables involved with planning and executing your strategy. It’s much more complicated than calling up an advertising sales line and placing an order. Furthermore, much of the content generated and used has been produced by outside parties. Each person must be compensated separately, and there frequently are wide variations in the rates charged.
Fortunately, there are ways to keep everything organized and manage risk. A well-defined influencer program will help you stay organized while implementing the influencer strategy you have chosen. Everyone will understand their role and expectations much better, which can improve influencer retention. Better yet, you may decide to set your influencer program up in such a way that influencers will want to work with your company after reading about it. Quality programs have several things in common.
Defined ways of identifying influencers
Before anyone can launch an influencer marketing campaign, it is important to know who they can trust. Properly executed, an influencer program will have ways of identifying those people. For instance, Amazon has both affiliates and social media influencers working with them. In order to join either program, you need to fill out a form. Of course, Amazon is a well-known brand, so recruitment is relatively easy. They have a website where you can read about the program and apply. If your brand is big enough, this might be practical for you as well. Other methods of finding influencers will be discussed later.
Predetermined methods of influencer compensation
Like anyone who runs a business, influencers have to be compensated. Some prefer cash, others product, and a third group will accept both. Everyone has a minimum that they will accept, and everyone has a value to your company. To run an influencer program, you need to have a maximum price you can pay. This isn’t monolithic, however: some influencers are worth more to you than others. It could vary based on engagement rates, follower counts, type of content, and more. No matter how you set price ranges, however, it is important to have some consistency.
Besides consistency, there needs to be a defined way to get money or product to your influencer. With cash, this can be as simple as separate line items in accounting. Product can be a bit more complicated. While digital products are easy to deliver over the internet, tangible objects must be shipped. Make sure your team has access to the information they need to get the shipping done right.
Notice I said designated, not dedicated. To efficiently run an influencer program, certain people need to be in charge. For smaller firms, this might be a senior marketing assistant. Larger firms might need a senior assistant and several juniors helping. No matter how much personnel you need, it is important to have consistency. If an influencer is working with someone different every time they need to touch base, it can get confusing fast. Worse, they might decide that your brand does not value them enough. Having influencers feel like just another faceless person is a great way to ensure they don’t keep working with your brand.
Compliance and brand management
Influencer marketing is no longer the “wild West” it used to be. While a few years ago it was possible to throw sponsored content out there without a comment, nowadays that can get you in trouble. At least in the US, advertising is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, which has ruled that influencer marketing constitutes advertising. To underline their point, the FTC has released strict rules for both brands and influencers to follow. Few things could be worse for your influencer program than everyone getting in trouble. Remember, if the government is involved then your brand can face public humiliation in addition to fines.
Related to compliance is brand management. Here, you need to set the parameters within which influencers can create content. In other words, there needs to be some guidance on what can or cannot be said. Your brand has a reputation to protect, and there have been unfortunate situations where an influencer campaign has backfired. By properly designing your influencer program, many of these issues can be avoided.
How do I start an influencer program?
Once your brand has decided to implement an influencer program, the system needs to be set up. Depending on the size of your brand, the program can be larger or smaller. Some very small brands might decide to outsource most of the work by using an influencer marketing agency. However, even in this situation there needs to be a significant amount of planning done in house.
Design the program in terms of your marketing goals, collaboration ideas, and how you are going to incentivize influencers.
Any influencer program must be carefully designed for maximum effectiveness. When you are just starting out, the program will probably be rudimentary. As the program grows, however, the complexity will increase. While designing the program, there are several considerations involved.
No matter how you run your influencer program, it is critical to ensure that it meets your company’s marketing goals. Brands at all stages of their lifecycle will want to increase brand awareness at some point. However, this is often more critical for brands that are recently launched, have smaller market share, or are breaking into a new market. Influencer marketing is a great way to achieve this goal because it lets someone introduce the brand to their followers.
There are many ways to collaborate with an influencer. While having them post sponsored pictures or Stories is hot on Instagram, there are other options. Instagram TV allows users to post videos, and this is a great opportunity to have a sponsored video review or tutorial made. Beauty brands do a lot with YouTube tutorials, because makeup and skincare can be intimidating to beginners. Bloggers can talk about their favorite products through sponsored reviews and similar content.
However, these aren’t the only kinds of collaborations available. Some brands will work with larger-scale influencers on product collaborations. In this case, the influencer helps design a product that is cobranded with the sponsor company. These are often very popular with the influencer’s fans. Best of all, they let these fans see the quality products that are available through this company.
For an influencer program to work, there needs to be an effective way of incentivizing influencers. Generally speaking, the type of incentive is related to the type of collaboration. Sponsored product reviews typically involve gifting product or service to your influencer. This allows him or her to try it out and make a better-informed review. On the other hand, product design collaborations will probably be commission-based and might involve a consulting fee, as well. No matter what options you choose, build them into your program from the beginning.
Find your employees, partners, customers, and fans that are influencers
No influencer program can operate without influencers. And while advanced influencer discovery techniques are important down the road, you need a few people to start out with. The best way of doing this is by looking for influencers among those that already have brand affinity.
Generally speaking, these influencers with brand affinity already have some sort of business relationship with your company. They might be partners or employees, both of whom derive some or most of their income from your company. As a result, they have a significant interest in the success of your brand. Current customers have tried your products at some point already. Look for the ones who have bought your product more than once or who have made a significant purchase, because it is a predictor of satisfaction. Finally, fans of your brand might not have purchased your core products. This can be due to availability, price, or many other factors. Give them a chance to try your products in return for a collaboration, and there is a decent chance they will agree.
Do outreach and begin to have conversations to gauge interest in your influencer program
Once you have identified appropriate influencers, you need to reach out. With the exception of partners, most affinity influencers won’t know that you are planning an influencer program until you reach this stage.
Outreach can take several forms. In the case of employees, consider having a meeting about the launch of your program. Explain to them what your strategy is and why it is important to the welfare of your company. Then, ask them to participate in this important program. With employees, the incentives may be different than they are with outside influencers. Discuss with HR and legal what these should be.
Outsiders to the company can be reached a different way. Consider sending them messages on social media to let them know about the new influencer program. You might also post a link like Amazon does. Make sure that they know how this is beneficial, both to you and to them. If the potential influencer is a fan or customer, there’s a good chance that they already know. Who knows: they might’ve been waiting a long time for this opportunity.
Based on conversations with influencers, you may need to tweak the program features. For instance, you might find that the incentives are too small or the expectations too big. Keep working until you find a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Create a communication channel to stay in touch with them.
Finally, no influencer program can exist without a way to keep in touch with influencers. While social media messaging is useful initially, at some point this will become too cumbersome. A better approach for the long term is to have a dedicated channel of communication. For example, Slack is a great place for teams to hang out, and it has the added benefit of helping to build an influencer community. Likewise, a Facebook page could be a private place to both communicate with influencers and trade ideas. Email allows for privacy while sending personal information back and forth. Keep in mind, using more than one channel can also be beneficial.
Activate your influencers through one of these popular collaborations
Now that you have designed your influencer program, it is time to activate your influencers. There is a wide variety of possible collaborations. When starting out, it is probably best to start with simpler collaborations. You can always make things more complex later, especially if an influencer is highly successful.
Gift product for sponsored content or a product review
This kind of arrangement has been common from the beginning. It is simple to implement, and losing track of who gets how much money is unlikely. Best of all, it doesn’t cost much to start this way. However, there is an important drawback: it doesn’t work for all influencer types. Fans are likely to benefit, but an employee or partner probably won’t.
Have influencers create user-generated content for you to leverage internally
Here, you will typically pay cash for content. By letting an influencer generate content, you are giving the advertising staff a sort of break. When moving your influencer’s content to your website, you are generating links back to their social media sites and vice versa. This can increase traffic substantially.
Create coupons for influencers and even sign them up as affiliates if they are interested
There are ways to show influencers how much they are appreciated that reach beyond the paid collaboration. For instance, beauty brands often mail “public relations” packages to influencers in the hope that they’ll spontaneously do a review. However, this isn’t the only way to give influencers perks.
Creating coupons for influencers is a nice way to say “thank you.” Discounts are a common perk for employees, and influencers are just as valuable to your company in their own way. Coupons provide a middle ground between gifting product and expecting influencers to buy things at full price. Nano influencers can use these products to expand their network and earn the privilege of traditional paid promotions.
Adding interested influencers to your affiliate program is another way to grant perks. They can add the affiliate links to multiple pieces of content on their profiles or channels, even if it isn’t sponsored. This way, they can earn money for a larger percentage of their content. At the same time, your company can increase sales for a longer period of time.
Optimize your influencer program
After your influencer program has been running for a while, it may need some new features and faces. People come and go, especially in the influencer marketing world. Not only that, but audiences change over time. Therefore, a consistent system of evaluation is necessary.
Conduct performance reviews
Besides your internal analysis of influencer program features, it is critical to review influencers within your program. When new influencers are added to your program, be sure to agree on a performance review interval. Most programs designate annual reviews, although different time periods may be better for your brand or for a certain influencer. At each performance review, you should decide if the influencer is performing to a high enough standard to have the contract renewed. If your program has multiple tiers, you can also consider moving influencers into a different level based on performance.
Recruit new members
As influencers are removed from the program for performance issues, and as your brand grows, it is important to recruit new influencers. When choosing new people to approach, consider their following and engagement rates. Ideally, potential new influencers should be chosen for many of the same reasons as the original ones were. The only real difference is that you may have fewer joining with a high level of brand affinity.
Designing and running an influencer program can be a challenge. With so many influencers and a myriad of ideas, your team needs significant direction to be successful at influencer marketing. Fortunately, with a well-defined program this will be a much more organized and efficient process.
Photo: Tim Marshall / Unsplash