Influencer marketing, also sometimes referred to as third-party storytelling or social influence, is the digital marketing equivalent of word-of-mouth marketing. Influencer marketing platform TapInfluence defines it as "a type of marketing that focuses on using key leaders to drive your brand’s message to the larger market."
Sometimes loosely associated with just about any social or content marketing activity, the true promise of this concept (when at its full extension) is fully attributed social sales.
As a digital media industry veteran since 2009, my focus was very much on sales via affiliate commissions—our key performance indicators were clearly defined. For me, former CEO of a performance marketing business and now founder and CEO of a search engine optimization company, KPIs are everything.
The ideas of “visibility” and “clout” have always been suspect. Back then, when it was difficult to tie transactions due to social activity back to an origin post, marketers had to devise a multitude of soft metric terms. We had no idea which of our "spray and pray" tactics were accounting for sales.
—Joe Sinkwitz, co-founder, Intellifluence
Those were the old days, though. Now, we have access to much more data that allows talented marketers to perform extensive analyses on everything, from generating content plans based on buyer personas to figuring out the right handful of people to give products to in order to increase sales.
Using everything from SpyFu to Ahrefs and BuzzSumo to Buzzstream, the number of tools available to truly dissect predictive consumer behavior is nothing short of amazing. I asked Joe Sinkwitz, a good friend of mine who is known for seeing emerging marketing patterns, to sit with me for an afternoon. Sinkwitz is the co-founder and CEO of Intellifluence and a veteran internet marketer; I find his insights on growth opportunities like influencer marketing particularly insightful. He is also CEO and co-founder of a company that helps small businesses discover influencers to strictly sell over social, so the timing of our discussion was perfect.
Diving Into Influencer Marketing
Through our discussion, we debated one simple topic: Is social influence the next big thing in selling online?
For the most part, we agreed on the following:
- The amount of energy and money now employed by both publishers and advertisers in the ad blocking wars is making initial display and retargeting a more difficult proposition.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) have had their share of uphill battles in attempting to optimize.
- Email isn't going anywhere and is still extremely valuable, but it's better to implement after top-of-the-funnel activities have occurred.
This left us with social and how best to use it, which as it turns out, can be through influencer marketing.
“Keep in mind that the reason influencer marketing works is because of trust," Sinkwitz explained. "It's a valuable currency that, if squandered, becomes worthless. By leveraging this trust towards specific buyer personas, a brand can influence not only direct sales but encourage further sharing and future indirect sales after turning the initial social product reviewer into an enthusiast.”
How Influencer Marketing Can Help Expand Sales
During our back and forth, Sinkwitz began writing a rough list of rules to follow on my office whiteboard, which, after we distilled, became a process that small and large businesses alike could follow.
- Define your goal. We both agreed that in a discussion on the next big thing in selling online, sales had to be the goal. But Sinkwitz suggests getting more granular: “Since we now have the capacity to utilize UTM campaigns [a code you can attach to a URL to track where sources are coming from] on most websites, shorten the links for readability and attribute [them] in Google Analytics based on conversion pixels, there's no reason why we shouldn't singularly focus on specific products or set revenue/ROI goals for each as they pertain to the overall campaign.”
- Use the right influencer type. Sinkwitz explained that there are three main influencer types: aspirational (celebrity), authoritative and peer. Each campaign is going to be different, but for growing businesses, achieving a mixture of peer pressure and authoritative appeal can help you yield the best results.
- Pick the right channels. As you can probably imagine, not all social channels are created equal. Most fashion-oriented businesses are likely to have better results on Instagram and Pinterest, whereas a B2B SaaS shouldn't stray too far from LinkedIn and Twitter. One channel Sinkwitz was adamant about, though, is Amazon, thanks to Vine Voices, an invite-only program for its top reviewers. “Vine Voices show that Amazon understands and respects social product reviews, so long as they are properly disclosed as being compensated. If you're selling on Amazon and getting left behind, chances are your competition is already making use of product reviews.”
- Make your pitch. The pitch is the most important part of the process: “Just be upfront and honest,” Sinkwitz said. “Explain what product you're trying to get reviews on, which channel, why you thought the person is a fit and what you're offering in exchange for a review. If you've done your homework, then it is usually a win-win proposition.”
Influencer marketing and social influence both have an enormous amount of promise as new channels are created on a nearly daily basis. (Periscope and Snapchat, anyone?) By following the rules above when undergoing an influencer marketing campaign, and starting slowly, businesses can help set themselves up for success in their sales goals.
Kristopher B. Jones is the founder and former president and CEO of Pepperjam (sold to eBay), managing partner of KBJ Capital (13 companies), and the founder and CEO of LSEO.com and APPEK Mobile Apps. He is also a member of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC).
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