“Don't Follow” by Phil Roeder is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Today, you don’t have to be a celebrity to qualify as a brand influencer. PHOTO: Phil Roeder

Influencer marketing is nothing new. In fact, the practice of recruiting celebrities to promote products can be traced back to the 1800s.

But the digital age has changed the game completely. Today, you don’t have to be a celebrity to qualify as an influencer.

Moving beyond George Clooney and Nespresso, contemporary influencer marketing revolves around well-followed social media personalities with raving fans. Their circle of influence is comparatively smaller, but measurably more potent.

The Case for Influencer Marketing

Hence, the world’s biggest brands are now more likely to partner with a Snapchat celebrity over a Hollywood hunk.

Word of mouth has always been a key factor in the growth of any business, and thankfully, the digital age hasn’t changed that in the slightest. In fact, 92 percent of consumers trust recommendations from other people — even if they’re strangers.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that brands engaging in social media influencer marketing are seeing conversion rates soar by up to 10X.

But before you get started with influencer marketing, here’s how to avoid the most common pitfalls.

1. Choosing Names Over Relevance

The more followers an influencer has, the more your brand will benefit from the partnership, right? Wrong.

One of the perks of influencer marketing is the ability to tap into targeted audiences that have an existing inclination towards your brand or industry. More often than not, the bigger the name, the less relevant their audience will be.

In other words, if you sell marketing software, then a marketing thought leader with 10,000 followers is far more valuable than a fashion blogger with 1 million followers.

2. Ignoring Engagement Levels

An influencer’s follower count is indeed important, but not every follower was created equal.

Just as you need to gauge how relevant their audience is, you also need to study how well that audience is engaging with the influencer’s existing content. If the likes, views, retweets and comments are lacking, steer clear.

3. Being Romantic About Platforms

Your brand’s biggest following may be on Twitter, but that doesn’t mean your influencer has to be.

Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat boast a combined user base of over 2 billion active monthly users. If you already have Twitter covered, an influencer is the perfect way to branch out to other platforms.

4. Planning One-Off Campaigns

Three out of four marketers — 75 percent — say it's challenging to identify the right influencer. So if you find an influencer that ticks all the right boxes, don’t make the mistake of working with them just once.

Instead, plan out a long, subtle and mutually beneficial relationship.

That way, the bond between your brand and the influencer will eventually become entrenched in the minds of their audience, making future campaigns feel even more natural — which leads me to the next pitfall.

5. Treating Influencers Like Other Advertising Partners

Working with an influencer shouldn't be anything like purchasing a website banner ad.

Rather than making it a transactional process, treat your influencer like a valued marketing partner. This will allow for your influencer to connect with your brand on a personal level, which in turn will keep the partnership from feeling forced. Plus, a partnership built upon generosity from your end will often be enough for the influencer to promote your brand all by himself or herself.

Qantas, the Australian airline, set the bar high in this regard by treating their influencer to a job. Nicole Warne, the Instagrammer with 1.7 million followers, now regularly promotes the airline to her followers in ways she sees fit. After all, she is their Digital Consultant.

6. Failing to Evolve

Although you should plan for long-term partnerships, it’s vital to know when to evolve your campaign.

As your business grows, your target audience may shift. At that stage, it’s important to move on swiftly in order to keep targeting relevant audience.

To make this whole process smoother, many brands diversify their investment from the beginning, making it quicker and easier to switch their focus if necessary. The example of Buick’s Pinterest influencer campaign comes to mind. They teamed up with a ten influencers simultaneously, with each one boasting a unique set of followers.

7. Shallow Data Analysis

Increased traffic and conversions are good indicators of success, but your analysis shouldn’t end there.

Most social networks make it easy to keep tabs on metrics like reach, impressions, likes, views and comments. These KPIs should be monitored so that you know precisely when your campaign is weakening.

8. Forgetting FTC Endorsement Rules

Last but certainly not least, is the legal stuff.

Recent changes to the US Federal Trade Commission’s rules for endorsements means all sponsored content must be clearly identified as such. Ignoring these guidelines can get your company in serious (and expensive) trouble.

With that in mind, be sure to give your influencers clear instructions to label all sponsored content accordingly.

Bolster Your Content Marketing Arsenal

The world’s biggest brands are pouring money into content marketing — and for good reason.

But there’s nothing groundbreaking about a well-oiled blog or a large social media presence.

To go beyond the basics and engage with niche communities, influencer marketing is the most logical next step. Just be sure to avoid those pitfalls in the process.