Does the state of your influencer marketing campaigns keep you up at night because you feel like the landscape is changing? Time to get a good night's sleep.
Give Me Some Context
Growing a brand on Instagram is not the game it was two years ago, or even one year ago. Sure, the marketing landscape has changed, as it always does, but some of the biggest transformations actually came courtesy of the social platform itself. Instagram has undergone some major shifts in recent months, leaving most businesses to scramble, reassess, and adapt.
Just as brands were finally beginning to think they had this social marketing thing in the bag, a good old fashioned evolution took place. Le sigh. Some would argue this is part of the fun, others (as in most people) are bummed out at the thought of having to reimagine a strategy after a solid run of coasting.
Things began shifting when the algorithm arrived—the domino effect that ensued was rip-roaring. Business accounts became a thing shortly thereafter, then so did native shopping. The Facebook-owned company then recognized its role in the influencer marketing industry and made it official by implementing a conspicuous paid partnership button for bloggers to use. Then in an unprecedented move, one that seems to have been the most pivotal of all, the APIpocalpyse arrived and, let's face it, things haven't been the same since.
Which is not surprising, given the king platform's steady rise in usership. Instagram passed the one billion user mark right around the time it launched its latest product, IGTV. Quite the feat. But the underlying meaning of that announcement, the part that affects all accounts, is that it's making it harder than ever to get in front of followers.
You are competing with so many accounts for the attention of your audience that even the hackiest of hacks are often not enough to trump the mean machine. Which is why influencer marketing is more important than ever for your budding or established brand.
Tell Me Something I don't Know
That was the short version of Instagram's algorithm era historical recap—all to say that you should always expect the unexpected. We know, this precariousness makes it extra hard to master anything, but becoming a pro at adaptability and attentiveness will give you the upper hand. Understanding the sector's movements and directions will enable you to act fast and intelligently.
Now about the state of influencer marketing, it has also gone through a ton of a change in recent months. The pool has vastly expanded, making it a dense, often polluted territory—there are fame-seekers, social-climbers, large following-fakers, and bot-users. It's exhausting just thinking about it.
So what should brands do? It's time to smarten up. While there are still no real rules to the system, it is maturing, and all parties involved (brand side and influencer side) are increasingly shrewd with their requirements. While influencer marketing was still an elusive game as recently as two years ago, it's now a widespread practice that has taken on multiple forms and that has seen many a weed grow.
Because there are now plenty more fish crowding the sea in all capacities of Instagram, one must tread with absolute precision when dipping in it. If one-off transactional exchanges might have worked in the past, that's no longer the case. There's too much noise to cut through, too many brands competing for reach, and extremely knowledgable, slightly skeptical followers.
Now where does that leave us? What is the state of affairs? There's no denying the power of influencer marketing—people look to these bloggers for inspiration in all matters of stuff, and most millennials are influenced by what they see on Instagram. A lot of times, those interactions will lead to purchases.
But in today's influencer economy, it's not as simple as a transaction, no matter the type of collaboration you're seeking. There are all sorts of factors that can make or break the success of your product placements. For that reason, we evaluated the current state of the practice to understand exactly what brands need to do today to build successful social campaigns.
1. Evaluate Your Own Channels
What we mean by that is that before you go and hire some great people to spread the good word about your awesome brand, turn the lens on the state of your own channel for a moment of unbiased self-assessment: if people land on your brand's profile page, is it going to be worthy of a follow, or even a further exploration leading to purchase? Be objective and rational.
Things to ask yourself include: are you using Instagram's native filters versus a great editing app? Are your creative posts intermittently interrupted with unsavory promotional photo montages announcing sales? Do you have too many product images from your e-comm pages? Are you using the optimum image size on your feed? Is your aesthetic questionable (be honest and then fix it)? Is there visual cohesion? Is there a disconnect between your brand values and the creative you've been publishing (perhaps you need a rebranding)?
This is an important exercise because if your profile (aka the nouveau homepage) is unappealing, it doesn't matter how many influencers you pay or how much they post about you—you won't see results.
2. Define Some Realistic Goals
We've talked ad nauseam about establishing goals when doing anything relating to social marketing, but this time we're adding a caveat: understand what is realistic when it comes to A) your brand, and B) who you're hiring. If your number one priority is to see a spike in sales, then align with someone who has positioned themselves that way and trained their audience to shop what they feature.
If you're a new brand, perhaps building a foundation in the marketplace by running an awareness campaign would serve you more than attempting to drive sales first and foremost. Establish guidelines based on your goals and tailor the partnerships to the influencer's strength. Being fair to your business and to the people you're working with will help manage expectations.
Quantifying the results of you influencer partnerships is a tricky affair because there are so many intangible benefits that eventually lead to those concrete conversions. This is especially true if you're a lesser known brand, where a direct sales spike is not a sensible collaboration goal. Make sure the KPIs you choose to monitor are congruous with your expectations.
3. Lay Out Clear Deliverables
There's a lot of disappointment to be had with influencer marketing, both from unprofessionalism on the instagrammer's part and from brands making false assumptions. If you're paying someone to post something on your behalf and you're seeking specificity, outline some content creation guidelines if applicable, along with every deliverable they must meet. Partnerships are always more successful when all parties involved are aligned and aware of the scope of work.
That said, remember that you're working with a person and not just making a transactional media buy for a magazine or a billboard. You chose those influencers because you like their voice and aesthetic, and you're looking to reach their audience, who they know best. Your product placement will be so much more effective when you let them showcase it through their own lens—it's what their followers want to see and what will make them convert. Some degree of creative freedom is paramount for the paid content to resonate.
4.Repeat After Us: Relationships, Relationships, Relationships
This point is of utmost importance. Finding great people is not as easy as it once was (refer to the above saturation conversation), and neither is that elusive authenticity factor. Yup, that word again. Since more phonies than ever are calling themselves influencers, creating close connections with your partners is more significant than it ever was to ensure you're in the ring with the right people.
To solidify ties with your influencer community, start by finding Instagrammers that are already engaged with your brand and tagging it organically in their posts. Using fans with influence is a fail-proof tactic that safeguards the authenticity of your endorsements. Those partnerships will ooze sincerity and will be much more effective because of it.
Even so, it might take a few times for a brand or specific item you're having your partners promote to resonate with viewers, which explains why one-off posts don't work. Seeing as Instagrammers tend to be in discovery mode when they scroll, it may take a few times for the promotion to have a real impact. If you build a great relationship with those you hire, that authenticity will come through in your product placements and will make them more effective.
The less transactional, the better, which is part of why micro influencers have had such a strong appeal. Their engagement tends to be really high because their posts genuinely showcase them just living their regular lives and documenting it in the process. On the flip side, audiences are more likely to question the credibility of power influencers because they're more tied to sponsorships to earn their living.
No matter which direction you choose to go in when tapping influencers, remember that being thoughtful goes a long way. Understanding brand fit and creating strong connections should be prioritized, and with so many collaborations gone wrong, a little human touch can make all the difference.
5. Do NOT underestimate the value of Stories
Because they are more raw, less edited, off the cuff, and often allow for a better display of one's personality, users tend to be really engaged on Instagram Stories. A lot of brands have dismissed the tool as an added bonus when placing a product on an influencer's feed due to its ephemeral nature, but it's actually where they can get way more personal to advocate for a brand.
Stories Interactions happen in the dark and are therefore deemed less valuable than a permanent post that's artfully directed and likely captioned a little clinically with a bunch of required hashtags that followers are not really interacting with. Audiences are keen to consume these beautiful photos, but the interaction is often very quick and less conducive to them forming an opinion on a brand or an item.
Instagram Stories truly facilitate deeper connections because the influencer can talk through why they like something. It allows for a certain closeness and intimacy that followers revel in. Take it from Katie Sturino, she knows what she's talking about.
There is so much value in those legitimate conversations happening on Instagram Stories. They lend additional credibility to your product placements, raising chances of your brand receiving more engagement. Food for thought.
If you're still evaluating whether or not you should be using influencer marketing, or if you're questioning its value, there are two important things to remember. One, that it's extremely powerful if your approach is on point (aka follow the guidelines mentioned above). If you're not adequately and tactically approaching the process, you'll get nowhere while spending a lot of money.
And two, when it comes down to it, influencer marketing costs way less than traditional advertising, which by the way doesn't really work. Ask yourself how much of your budget you would have to dedicate to producing an ad and pay media outlets to place it. Now think of how much money you're paying someone who genuinely represents your brand in front of an audience that contains just as many people, but who are hyper targeted and mostly quality potential consumers.
When your brand is being organically showcased by a trusted source, the chances of being embraced are high. Influencer marketing is also more economic than regular advertising because it provides your business with beautiful, on-brand content for its own channels. Collateral that you didn't have to pay to produce yourself.
With influencer marketing's drastic evolution in the past few months, brands are in a spot where they've got to adapt their strategies. The good news is that while there are still no regular standards for the practice, it's now been around long enough for all players to have a good understanding of what makes for successful results. So long as they keep up with its development, and even participate in forging its future direction.
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