Using social media influencers as a key marketing lever is here to stay.
In 2023, the global market for influencers is projected to reach a record $21.1 billion dollars, with no signs of slowing. Surveys taken in 2023 indicate that spending on influencer marketing is growing faster than overall digital advertising. The rapid evolution of influencer marketing over the past five years – nearly doubling its market size in that span – is partially driven by the fact that it is an efficient and effective channel when deployed strategically.
Historically, industries like gaming, beauty, travel, and packaged goods have pioneered the use of influencers. Now, more industries are recognizing the value of incorporating influencers into integrated marketing campaigns and always-on strategies. The trend is expected to continue as non-traditional brands and organizations tap into the channel.
Whether used independently or integrated into a larger campaign, influencers help brands and organizations to facilitate authentic connections with audiences. Ten or even three short years ago, influencers achieved relevance through a large following, highly polished content, and content with a specific theme.
With the rise of low-fidelity content on TikTok and Instagram Reels, anyone can now wield influence or become a social media content creator. In research that was published by Forbes in 2022, over 50 million people globally now consider themselves social media influencers. That expands the possibilities for how organizations can creatively select and deploy influencers then repurpose that content to give their marketing campaigns even more reach and efficiency.
Influencers are effective because consumers trust their recommendations and opinions, especially when the influencer has proven that they consistently share credible content and opinions. When brands and organizations partner with influencers, they benefit from trust between the creator and their audience. For marketers, working with influencers who have an authentic connection and passion for their brand is critical.
This is where non-traditional industries can benefit from the expanding pool of influencers. The key is to creatively examine who can advocate for their cause or product. To find influencer partners, consider starting with nontraditional creators who are already engaging with your brand across owned or shared channels; a creator’s output will be stronger when there is a genuine connection with the content. It’s even better to partner with a creator who is an avid user and promoter of the brand being marketed. An influencer’s followers (and your customers) easily distinguish between content that is a paid integration versus content that the creator has a genuine connection with.
Just as important as influencer selection is deciding what type of partnership to have with creators. There are many ways to work with influencers to reach your organization’s goals. They can be combined to support a larger campaign or used independently to support an evergreen strategy.
Influencer partnerships typically fall in one of the following buckets:
- Content generation campaigns – This type of campaign is when you strictly use the influencer to create content that can be leveraged on your own channels or in ads. Reach of the content on the influencer’s channels doesn’t matter here, the goal is to get lower cost, quality content with a feel that is native to social.
- Awareness & reach campaigns – When increasing awareness for your product or service is the goal, using influencers is a good way to get there. This can be done by either partnering with creators that have large followings or working with a higher quantity of influencers with multiple following sizes.
- Conversion campaigns – Most effective when paired with other awareness and relationship-building tactics, conversion campaigns can include integrations like custom promo codes, affiliate links that incentivize frequent posting, and content allowlisting.
- Ambassador programs – Establishing longer term relationships with creators is a strategy that is most effective when paired with the other campaign types. Ambassador programs ensure that followers see messages at a higher frequency and builds a level of authenticity when the creator consistently posts about you genuinely.
- Product seeding programs – This type of campaign encourages trial and can act as a surprise and delight opportunity with influencers or ambassadors you are looking to build or strengthen relationships with.
Extending Influencer Content Reach
These campaign types really illustrate why using social media influencers can be so incredibly efficient. This is because outside of tapping into their followings, when you use influencer’s content on your paid, owned, and shared channels you are able to keep the halo effect of their content’s authenticity while extending the reach of the content.
There are key differences, however, when focusing on B2B, membership, or enrollment focused partnerships. For those types of programs, conversion results take longer than is typically expected with the promotion of a consumer packaged good. When partnering with creators for these non-traditional goals, the key to success is focusing on long-term influencer relationships and ensuring strong audience alignment. Overcoming those conversion barriers likely will require continuous reminders, such as frequently seeing content in their feeds. When selecting creator partners for these types of campaigns, it is essential to start with current customers, users, and advocates. For that reason, follower size may not be as important as audience authenticity, engagement, and alignment with key audiences.
Higher education is an industry that we can look to as an example of how to implement this strategy well. In recent years, some universities have begun using current students, student government, professors and campus guides as social media influencers that showcase life on campus. That content is then used on the school’s social media channels, and it’s working.
In 2022, the University of Alabama reported admitting its largest and most diverse freshman class ever – with over 55,000 college seniors submitting applications. Much of that increase in interest is thought to be driven by the popularity of #BamaRush (2.7B views) on TikTok the summer of 2021. The university’s culture also encouraged professors with active TikTok channels, student athletes, and newly entering students to become brand ambassadors on social. It’s an approach that taps into the reason influencer strategies work and is something other industries should consider if they aren’t already.
If you haven’t tried influencer relations yet, a small test-and-learn budget is a good place to start.
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