The world of influencer marketing in many circles has become, well, a lot like politics, nasty, negative and full of questionable ethics. Just this past month, renowned makeup artist Kevin James Bennett published an Instagram post warning of “mobster-like behavior of top-level beauty influencers and their management.” 

The legitimacy and transparency of influencers was even questioned at the highest of communication regulation levels last year when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent out 90 letters reminding influencers and marketers that “influencers should clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationships to brands when promoting or endorsing products through social media.” 

Influencer Marketing Authenticity Problem Widespread

And the problem with celebrity influencers isn’t contained to the US. In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) last month launched an investigation into concerns that social media stars are not "properly declaring when they have been paid, or otherwise rewarded, to endorse goods or services," according to the UK Government.

“When some organizations start out with influencer marketing, they seek the easy route by applying a traditional paid media approach to influencers,” said Pierre-Loic Assayag, CEO and co-founder of Traackr, an influencer marketing platform. “The reality is that influencer marketing requires long-term thinking. It’s about building relationships with people who have the ear of your audience. They have built loyal followings and the best will want to work with organizations who value trust, authenticity and transparency.”

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What is Influencer Marketing?

We recognize not every marketing team is tapping celebrities to endorse their brand in an influencer marketing program. Nonetheless, it’s a good time to ensure your influencer marketing programs are well-planned, strategic endeavors that have clear objectives and a strong level of transparency, experts told CMSWire. 

Before we offer some more tips, let’s discuss how some define influencer marketing. In short, an influencer for a marketing team is someone who “helps other people buy from you.” Influencers for your brand leverage reach, contextual credibility and salesmanship, according to Gerardo A. Dada, of the Forbes Communication Council. Influencers can be buyers themselves or third-parties such as celebrities and “value-added influencers” such as journalists, academics, industry analysts and professional advisers. Brands can leverage influencer marketing platforms that help them connect to relevant influencers and manage influencer campaigns and content. 

Who Do Consumers Trust?

Here are some statistics to consider regarding influencer marketing. According to the 2018 Sprout Social Index, consumers are almost twice as likely to consider a product recommended from a friend rather than an influencer or celebrity. Further, 61 percent of consumers said they’d be more likely to research a product or service recommended on social by a friend vs. 36 percent for influencers/celebrities. Sprout Social researchers suggested employees are often brands’ biggest fans. And, they’re relatable, offering marketers a more cost efficient and scalable solution to influencer marketing.

Sprout Social researchers also found 46 percent of marketers believe leveraging influencers is vital, but only a fraction (19 percent) have budget for it. People consume influencer content at a surprisingly low level across platforms — on average between 1 and 11 percent. 

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Show, Don’t Tell in the Influencer World

Grace Pinegar, content marketing specialist at G2 Crowd, said influencers come with their own existing networks that already trust and admire them. Get an influencer to demo your product on their platform, effectively introducing the product to their audience and displaying its efficacy. “You could quote their testimonials and use that information as your own marketing copy,” she said. “You can have them drive traffic to your website by linking to you, or including the opportunity to purchase a product within a post.” 

Remember, Pinegar said, influencers are everyday people who happen to have a large following surrounding their makeup tutorials, or workout videos, or baking skills, etc. “Their audience,” she said, “trusts them as a voice of authority regarding products and brands. If you can get an influencer to believe in your product, chances are their audience will follow suit.” 

Driving Consideration and Purchase Intent

Influencer marketing can be utilized in many parts of the path to purchase journey, but its sweet spot is driving consideration and purchase intent, according to Richard Wong, vice president of marketing and creator relations at #paid. “In terms of attributing the value and impact of influencer marketing, we need to think about what brand marketing metrics make sense,” Wong said. “We can go beyond just the total number of people we reach, or engage with our sponsored collaborations.” 

Learning Opportunities

How you adopt influencer marketing depends on how you bring each campaign to life, Wong said. “Consumers,” he said, “crave human experiences — as marketers we need to think about how our brands participate with our consumers’ lives, whether it’s for an everyday consumer brand or a product/service we use at work.”

Related Article: 6 Successful B2B Influencer Marketing Approaches

Know Who Resonates in Your Area

Sometimes influencer marketing is all about recognizing the local talent. Suburban Collection partnered with a YouTube influencer to increase subscriptions to its YouTube page, according to Dan Fuoco, social media manager at Suburban Collection. “Katie Betzing is a national influencer who lives locally (Detroit area),” Fuoco said. “We invited her to be on our Suburban Drives Michigan video series in exchange for her to create a promo video in the intro of one of her weekly videos.”

Know Your Intended Targets

While some influencer marketing platforms outperform others, the strategy is always the first step and starting point, said Stephanie Robbins, CEO of Robbins Interactive, an influencer marketing consultant. How do you want to work with influencers? Are you looking to drive sales? “If yes, you want to focus on micro-influencers in your niche,” Robbins said. Are you looking for user-driven content? You can approach customer-driven content options as an affordable approach, Robbins said. “Micro-influencers will often provide images and videos in exchange for exposure on the brands’ social media,” she added. Are you looking for brand awareness? Here is where you should allow for a mix of large and micro influencers to lift your brand with content experts in your niche. “For an influencer campaign, have concrete goals with multiple tactics to reach, understand and set a budget based on these goals and tactics, test and test again,” Robbins said. 

Fuoco agreed adding that success in influencer marketing comes from defined goals, Fuoco said. “Sure, we can be successful from luck but we can’t repeat luck,” he said. “Communicate with influencers to determine goals and tactics to ensure both parties have stake in the game.” 

Related Article: Micro-Influencer Marketing: 5 Enterprise Tech Companies Getting It Done

Stick With What Influencer Knows Best

Raleigh Norris, public relations associate at Tictail, said brands and marketers need to resist the urge to control an influencer’s presence and actions with their brand. “Let them behave as a consumer when working with them,” Norris said. “Allow them as much choice as possible while picking out products to feature, and while you should provide them with clear goals and messaging for a campaign, don’t make ultra-specific requests for a shot or caption.” 

Remember, most influencers are “elevated consumers who have gained the trust of their followings through their particular taste and aesthetic,” Norris added. “They’re more equivalent to the friend in the group who always shows up in the coolest outfit, but instead of a few friends, they have tens of thousands. Let them be successful for your brand by sticking to the type of posts and style that their followers were drawn to in the first place. “If their audience is happy with the content that you’ve helped them to create,” Norris said, “the influencer is more likely to work with you again in the future.”