Influencer Marketing is About the How, not Just the Who

By Jennifer Polk | January 29, 2016 | 4 Comments

Influencer marketing isn’t new. It’s a staple of PR, media relations and analyst relations functions. Influencer marketing has also evolved into a tactic that marketers use to drive word of mouth marketing, fitting neatly into social marketing strategies as a way to:

  • Promote campaigns
  • Generate content
  • Engage audiences

Influencer marketing is about the how, not just the whoMarketers can choose from a variety of influencer marketing techniques available to marketers, from employee engagement to blogger outreach. In “Build an Influencer Social Marketing Program That Delivers Results”, my colleague Jay Wilson and I explain program types and how to build a program. The influencer marketing technique you choose depends on how you plan to manage your influencer marketing program. Are you managing an employee engagement program in partnership with HR or a blogger outreach campaign as an extension of your PR team’s media relations program?

There are tools to manage the content that flows from these programs and vendors that specialize in helping you find influencers of a sort. But, influencer marketing, in general, can be a manual and resource intensive undertaking because outreach, in order to be effective, needs to be personalized. If you’re planning or already running an influencer marketing program, think about how you plan to resource it, whether to get it off the ground or scale and sustain it. Make sure your high value marketing team is focused on high value activities. Combing through blog posts might not qualify.

Here are three approaches to managing and resourcing your influencer marketing program:

Manage it Manually, but be Ready to Shift Gears

If your program is small or new, or your budget is limited, you’re likely leaning toward manual influencer marketing, maybe as an extension of social marketing. Like a manual transmission, a manually managed influencer marketing program require you to shift gears from demographics and databases and re-learn how to engage with individuals. But manual programs can also be agile and nimble. While it’s not an ideal way to scale a program or manage a complex campaign, this can be done and is a solid way to get started. It does mean you or your team will spend significant time finding influencers. Even with social listening tools in place, expect to spend a few hours per influencer on mundane, but important tasks:

  • Vetting influencers
  • Learning what they actually write and care about
  • Making sure they’re relevant and appropriate for your brand
  • Tailoring your outreach, rather than sending generic pitch emails to “Dear Blogger”

If you have the resources to manage this well, you can build valuable, long-term relationships with influencers and the foundation of a close-knit community that can be advocates and advisors for your brand. No tool can achieve that goal. An agency managing multiple campaigns and operating externally may not be able to build deep relationships or leverage influencers across the business.

Automate Your Program for Speed and Power

Like the Hydra-Matic, GM’s first automatic transmission car, automation can bring speed and power to your influencer marketing program. As your program, and hopefully your budget, grows, you may find it advantageous to automate some, though not all, aspects of influencer marketing.  You can use social listening and analytics tools to find influencers and influencer marketing automation tools that support your program from identification to campaign measurement. Automation tools can be costly, especially for a small program and they remain focused on bloggers, but they can free your team to focus on other aspects of the program that can’t be automated and may be more valuable to marketing as a whole, such as making the most of user-generated content. Tools can also bring greater analytical rigor to your program by helping you measure influencer and content effectiveness, although metrics are usually based on industry standards. Nevertheless, technology can support an efficient, scalable process, and, often includes access to a broad network of influencers.

Let Someone Else Take the Wheel

Another approach that brands take when they’re scaling an influencer marketing program or don’t have the manpower to manage it internally is to outsource it to an agency or a blogger network. In general, outsourcing influencer marketing, especially blogger outreach, provides scalability and campaign coordination. But, it can be pricy, especially if it’s being managed by a digital or social marketing agency that’s billing by the hour. Consider the hours it takes to find, vet and engage influencers, not to mention execute a high-touch or complex program. Nevertheless, agencies can manage some or all of your program, from finding influencers to engaging on behalf of your brand to executing and measuring the campaign. Some, like PR agencies, specialize in this type of campaign. Those that do have great influencer relationships, but might be reluctant to hand over their lists to your team. Other agencies are essentially blogger networks, like BlogHer or Sway. They may have different specialties and offer different campaign packages and pricing, but they are similar in many ways in that they offer access to bloggers, structured campaigns with varying levels of customization, access to a metrics dashboard and documented success.

Whichever route you take, think about your short and long term goals, the value you’ll derive and the best way to staff the program to manage the details, costs and outcomes.

Categories: digital marketing

4 Comments
  1. January 30, 2016 at 4:06 pm
    David H. Deans says:

    In the B2B arena, outsourcing to agencies and contractors can be very problematic. But there are also issues to consider when using your internal talent to perform the outreach. Vetting influencers isn’t the greatest challenge — it’s the reverse — influencers will often do a Google and LinkedIn search on the person doing the outreach. If they don’t like what they find, then they won’t engage.

    Sometimes the ‘appointed’ outreach person isn’t a good fit (credible) for the task. Here’s why — “you are what you share” via social media. Meaning, authentic influencers will look at your online persona and wonder “are you a collaborative giver, or just a mercenary taker?” Also, is your online commentary meaningful and substantive, or more like a constant stream of “cool” and “awesome” blurbs? The answers to these questions are important.

    • January 30, 2016 at 4:11 pm
      Jennifer Polk says:

      Great point and another reason to think about how you manage your influencer program, specifically when to use technology to separate the task from the person performing the task and when to hire someone or outsource to an agency with more credibility.

  2. January 30, 2016 at 10:41 pm
    Cindy Kelly says:

    Great post! I like your recommendation for using automation to listen and find your influences. Marketing automation tools can surely save time. but I think it’s important to mention that there will always be a need to have real, human interactions, even in a digital world.

  3. February 3, 2016 at 10:35 pm
    kevin magee says:

    Great article and perspective on influencer and the ‘how’. There is a lot of focus on the ‘who’ that confuses millions of followers/friends per influencer with success. Programs that are really successful start with great content that gets in front of the right customer on the right channel, positioned to optimize the goal of the program. Each program is unique and should be treated as such, and finding influencers is only part of the process.

    Remember when real time marketing burst onto the scene and brands scrambled to be like Oreo? The influencer movement is just like that and you make a great point: marketing has always used influencers, this is nothing new. What is new are all the places your customers are. Getting original and authentic content positioned for action is an art and a science and the ‘how’ is the key. Thanks for taking the time to share!

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