From celebrities to micro-influencers on social media, brands have many opportunities to create awareness and new sales thanks to trendsetters. However, a precise strategy is needed to choose testimonials, channels, objectives, and compliance with advertising rules. Influencer marketing involves a testimonial, blogger, digital creator, or social reviewer who can test, validate, and then communicate to followers the goodness of a brand, product, or service.
Some experts define it as outdated or consider it the “Cinderella” of marketing activities. However, scouting for the right resources, contact and selection, briefing and reviewing the output, and monitoring the results made it a lever of awareness and conversions with considerable potential. Between the “creator economy” and being careful not to stray into hidden advertising, here is a guide to understanding how to do influencer marketing today.
What Is Influencer Marketing?
The definition of influencer marketing is challenging to contain in just one sentence. Put, influencer marketing is a strategy that uses sponsorships and mentions from influencers, i.e., individuals with a large social following and are seen as experts in their particular niche.
Whether it is food, tech, travel, business, fashion or beauty, Do It Yourself (DIY), automotive, or digital marketing, each sector has its influencers, opinion leaders, gurus, and trendsetters who test novelties, talk about new products, spread news and reviews on their channels.
If, until a few years ago, much of this discipline had blogs and sites owned by the influencers as their privileged channel, today, the social media most suited to the topic is used more.
In 2020, according to the Multichannel Observatory of the School of Management of the Polytechnic of Milan and Nielsen, 65% of users searched online for information on products and services to purchase. Altroconsumo found with a survey that in the 18 to 34 age group, approximately 22% of users decided on a purchase following an influencer’s advice.
What Is Meant By Influencer Marketing? Not Just Product Reviews But Today’s Creators’ “Guide.”
Be careful when calling them influencers, testimonials, or ambassadors; the risk of having a somewhat “boomer” effect is high: today, they prefer to be called digital creators. After the pioneering phase, which saw the birth of real celebrities such as Ferragni or Clio MakeUp, we find ourselves living in an era in which the role of influencer has been democratized, also thanks to the advent of Instagram and especially TikTok.
Creativity is truly at the center, but also the ability to make “shorts” (not to say “very shorts”) that are technically perfect in terms of rhythm, location, narrative structure, riding trends, and building empathy with one’s community. Detractors may think it’s a simple job or not a job.
Still, the truth is that – despite temporary phenomena and meteors – digital creativity professionals do a full-time job that mixes copywriting, photography, video-making, and PR. According to the ” Future of Creativity” research released by Adobe in the second half of 2022, the creator economy is allowing more and more people to monetize their online content, goods, and services by leveraging creativity and passion.
In the last two years, therefore, from the pandemic onwards, the global market has seen the entry of over 165 million new creators, for a total of 303 million digital creators worldwide. The study also demonstrates that the Creator Economy is redefining various aspects of culture and society, from the future of work to how companies advertise to the promotion of social causes and essential issues such as the environment, inclusiveness, and mental health.
How Influencer Marketing Works
Influencer marketing works thanks to the high trust that influencers have accumulated on social media from their followers. Their recommendations are perceived as powerful social proof for a brand’s potential customers. Returning to the question of areas and channels, it is good to understand that each sector has its audience and the most suitable social networks. Ergo, each industry will also have the most followed and effective influencers active precisely on those specific platforms.
To give a concrete example, Instagram – one of the favorite platforms for influencer marketing in general – is very versatile but certainly has a massive following on the topics of fashion, travel, food in all its forms with recipes and reviews, fitness, and well- being, beauty, with a target, therefore, percentage more female, but also issues related to psychology and motivation, digital marketing and innovation. YouTube, for its part, is one of the major channels for everything automotive, DYI, and technology, with a mainly male target looking for tutorials, video reviews, and informative how-tos, which often precede the purchase of a product.
Influencer Marketing Strategies
So, concretely, how do you do influencer marketing? A good strategy must include a series of steps and cannot be carried away by the simple “enthusiasm” of having involved the most popular VIP of the moment or the guru of the topic we are dealing with. This will not bring tangible results. Here are some suggestions.
Choose A Primary Channel To Scout
This will have to happen based on your target users, buyer personas, and the type of output we want to obtain. Suppose we launch a new line of 100% natural vegan cosmetics. In that case, Instagram will be an excellent channel for getting reviews, stories, reels, and live broadcasts with the most popular beauty bloggers.
Consider TikTok if we are addressing an extremely young audience and want to give a fun twist. Instead, if we’re going to show actual professional make-up tutorials, very extensive in video format, the best choice will be YouTube. Nothing excludes using a mix of different channels, but remember that influencers are often specialized and highly followed on a single platform.
Set A Budget And Understand How To Reimburse The Influencers’ Work
This means doing outreach, i.e., actively researching and selecting profiles aligning with the product, service, or brand we want to promote. Here, the main question concerns the “size” of the shapes themselves, which also depends significantly on the budget available to the brand. Expecting to reach and engage celebrities with several hundred thousand followers while only having products available in exchange for goods is impossible.
Still, it may also be a different goal. For very niche products, for example, nano-influencers or micro-influencers may be more suitable, i.e., those accounts that have from 2,000 to 10,000 followers on IG, often very specialized and with a high engagement rate on their fan base.
Provide A Clear Brief On The Desired Output
Communication guidelines to follow mentions and hashtags to use. It’s not an automated digital campaign, and it’s not just advertising: influencers are people with their style, and that’s why they are followed. It is essential, therefore, to provide them with all the information to talk about our brand correctly, but without pretending to tell them about every detail: it is not only for their fan base, but it is precisely for their creativity and credibility that we involve them.
There are many possible types of collaboration: creating reviews directly with other subjects involved or with spokespersons for the company itself, video tutorials, witty and engaging content, surveys and giveaways for followers, recipes, and more structured content, such as guides and insights signed by the testimonial, which become quality assets for the brand.
Set Your Goals Scientifically
This is the usual, eternal question of vanity metrics: is it better to have a post with dozens of likes and comments but no real return or to be able to generate conversions from the influencer’s work? The answer is it depends. If we want to raise awareness for a new brand or product line, the simple diffusion of content will be our primary goal because we will want to “spread” the new logo, pack, or slogan.
If, however, we are a consolidated reality that intends to enhance lead generation – to have an item purchased, an app downloaded, a form filled out – then activities more in terms of affiliate marketing, i.e., with a fee paid to the influencer for every conversion achieved, they will be more helpful. Also, according to a study by the Talkwalker platform, more and more brands are undertaking influencer marketing campaigns oriented towards pure lead generation and not just brand awareness, as happened years ago.
Collect The Output
Please keep track of publications made by influencers and analyze them according to the objectives above. This complex activity is halfway between PR and social media marketing and is often considered unmeasurable. On the contrary, giving yourself some numbers to analyze is good.
For example, having each testimonial involved provide a personalized discount code dedicated to their fan base is a simple and immediate way for e-commerce to measure the initiative’s return, counting how many times the code has been used and the amount for each cart.
Why It Matters For Brands: The Benefits
The advantages of this type of activity for companies are considerable. First, you can show yourself through the voice and face of a strong testimonial on your customer base. This means that the promotional message will be conveyed in a less blatantly advertising manner but according to the logic of content marketing, with a style and tone of voice that the influencer’s fan base loves and understands.
The result? Greater effectiveness and a more excellent perception of trust, spontaneity, and truthfulness. Massimiliano Dona of the National Consumer Union also spoke about it in the latest edition of the Web Marketing Festival in November 2020. In the speech “Influencer Marketing, market, and Consumers,” this discipline is defined through 4 fundamental terms, with a view to how the end-user perceives it: authority, knowledge of the subject, positioning, and relationship with the fan base, in one word: trust.
An influencer’s followers consider him an expert and influential on a topic, so they trust his advice on brands, products, and services. If you do not choose high-profile opinion leaders and trendsetters but carefully select medium profiles and micro-influencers, a significant advantage is the possibility of containing costs.
How Much Does Influencer Marketing Cost?
But how much does it cost to hire a team of influencers to create ad hoc content to promote your service, product, or brand? The answer, of course, is “it depends,” particularly on the size of the creator’s community and his notoriety. Not only that, it must be remembered that creators who work independently are often more accessible than those followed by talent agencies.
There is a natural subdivision of these professionals by segments of the public belonging to their community:
- Nano influencers, between 1,000 and 10,000 followers, have the advantage of working for modest sums or even in exchange for goods, with straightforward content such as product reviews, but can build strong relationships with their followers, who consider them true friends
- Micro-influencers are capable of inspiring between 10,000 and 100,000 followers, often in particular market niches, thus creating very responsive sector communities on topics such as travel, food, work, make-up, fashion, and more;
- Macro influencers have between 100,000 and 500,000 followers and are often those who have become professionals in digital creation – on Instagram, YouTube, or with their blog – since the dawn of the phenomenon, with a loyal audience that has grown organically in time;
- The mega influencers are the stars, the actual celebrities of the sector such as the Chiara above Ferragni, Estetista Cinica, and Clio MakeUp, who have now become public figures, or the public figures – such as athletes or people from the entertainment world – who have followed the path reverse and have exploited their notoriety to become trend setters.
What Does An Influencer Marketing Manager Do?
Not a simple role, that of the influencer marketing manager, which mixes creative, project management, and relationship management skills. An influencer marketing manager must, first of all, be capable of analyzing the needs of his brand and then defining which creators are most suitable for conveying his messages.
If the choice of the right testimonials is fundamental, so is the creative brief that must be drawn up and delivered to them. Leaving the influencer’s creativity completely free can sometimes be risky, and providing at least some guidelines on what to say, what not to say, and what aspects to highlight is very useful.
Keeping track of publication times and deadlines, managing relationships with creators, and providing feedback on previews of materials is another task of great responsibility, together with managing the costs of the operation. There may also be a need to organize special activities, such as events and blogger tours.
Finally, the collection of the material created and the analysis of KPIs are essential, i.e., the monitoring of all those parameters – increase in followers on a company social page, increase in direct purchases for an e-commerce site, engagement rate, etc. – which make us understand the quality of the work done.
Branded Content And Regulations
Can there also be “cons” to influencer marketing? In principle, no, but attention must be paid to what the legislation imposes as an explanation of the “paid” nature of these collaborations.
It is essential to practice all the necessary precautions from a legal point of view: a promotional collaboration must always be indicated to avoid incurring sanctions, both for the company and the influencer. The social platforms themselves, Instagram and Facebook, first automatically suggest inserting the specific wording of “branded content” when the algorithm detects content of a promotional nature.
The legislation provides that when products or brands are mentioned, used, or framed, mainly in videos streamed on social networks, their promotional nature must be brought to users’ attention through specific disclaimers. These can be published in the video’s beginning and end shots or through the protagonist’s statements. “For correct communication, we always ask influencers to declare their connection with Coca-Cola through some measures openly or to add the hashtags #AD + #CocaCola in communications on social networks whenever compensation is expected .” we read on the company website.
Beware Of Hidden Advertising
Influencer marketing sometimes follows these rules. For users, it can hide pitfalls: posts containing advertising and sponsorships are often not easily recognizable and correctly indicated but transformed into innocent advice or products “used” by the influencer.
“ Although specific rules are lacking, the Italian legal system has also equipped itself with some tools to combat the phenomenon of hidden advertising in influencer marketing, which we find above all in the so-called Digital Chart adopted by the Institute of Advertising Self-Discipline which establishes the rules for correct advertising to protect consumers, but also in the Consumer Code and the Self-Discipline Code of Commercial Communication, ” expert in New Technologies Law and Business Digitalisation.
In addition to respecting the principle of transparency and the use of specific words and hashtags, as seen before, the influencer must also report in the case of sending free material or free services such as, for example, a hotel facility that hosts the influencer for free for a stay. It is necessary to insert words such as ” product sent by… brand,”/ “gifted by,”/ “supplied by. “
Correct Management Of Discount Codes
The expert explains that correct management of discount codes is also necessary. In this case, the proper administration of the promotion varies.
- In the absence of an economic agreement between the influencer and the brand and the sending of free products with a discount code to offer to followers, the influencer can indicate the words “supplied by”/” gifted by ” and can decide independently whether to “show” these freebies to your audience or not.
- If there is a contract between the influencer and the brand by which the former, in addition to being reimbursed, receives a free product and a discount code to indicate to their followers. In this case, the gift is excluded and the post with the discount code must be accompanied by the wording ” adv. “
- If the product provided free of charge to the influencer has a valuable economic value and represents the consideration for the contractually regulated collaboration with the brand. In addition to the free product, the brand also provides the influencer with a discount code for his followers with an essential obligation to advertise and sponsor the product on social media, to be indicated with the wording “adv.”
- The influencer offers a discount code on the purchase of a product but is reimbursed for the promotion only with the recognition of a percentage if the code is used. In this case, he must indicate “affiliate link” in the promotional post, as in affiliate marketing.
Be Careful Of The Boomerang Effect
The Chinese Fast Fashion giant Shein is to be counted among the pioneers of Influencer Marketing. Especially in the United States, the company has built a massive following by working on micro-influencers and asking its customers to post photos of the outfits created using the hashtag #sheingal (Shein girl) in response to the publication of these images on its official channel of eCommerce.
However, the company has long been in the crosshairs of detractors and the media for its unethical, super-fast, and low-cost production model, as demonstrated by various investigations (note, in this regard, that of the British broadcaster Channel 4 ), to practices of exploitation of child labor, particularly polluting processes and the use of even toxic materials. The company recently attempted to clean up its image by inviting some of America’s top fashion influencers to its Guangzhou factories. However, the move turned out to be a boomerang for the brand, which received criticism.
The influencers involved were also inundated with negative comments. The most ferocious ones targeted the curvy model Dani Carbonari, who on her Instagram account had posted a video (later removed) of her press trip, commenting that she felt “excited and impressed” by the working conditions of Shein employees.