What is influencer marketing?

Last week I was speaking at a major industry conference and chatted with many of my 120 peers about the state of the industry. More than ever, influencer marketing seems to be on the rise. As such, I started to think ‘what is it?’, and ‘what isn’t it?’ before coming to some of my views around the current approaches.

As such, let’s get moving with a definition…
“Influencer Marketing is the process of identifying, researching, engaging and supporting the people who create the conversations impacting your brand, products or services.” – Traackr.com

Done right it is one of the most powerful ways to for a business to take its product to market as people trust the people they follow the most. The information, your brand, and its messaging will spread far and wide – getting attention, and hopefully generate the outcomes you want from the outreach.

What is ‘not’ influencer marketing?

It is not brands making friends with people so they can get a free route to market, and so often I feel what it has become for many.

Who gets a pass?

Your allies get a pass. These are the ones that you’ve been building relationships with for years. They can call on your for anything. You are ‘team’ and in it for the long haul.

Why does this matter now?

Culture is formed by people’s shared views of ‘how things are around here’, but it is through their behaviours that it becomes reinforced. You remember this one, right?

Well, sometimes you need to question ‘why’ and through changing behaviours, and often saying ‘no more’, you begin to change the culture. If new people are entering into the Social Media space, for instance, expecting they can make a living but everyone is willing to work for free all the time then the model doesn’t work.

I had this just yesterday, saying ‘we don’t pay the influencers; they work for exposure’. Sadly, you can’t eat exposure.
It feels somewhat abusive when it comes from a large corporation, like it is the latest trick to get free labor. And unfortunately if major influencers buy into it, then the ripples will not only go outwards (see the link to the blog image now?) but also the money fails to be there to pay other people in the community for their work, leading to a vicious circle. I’ve fallen foul of this myself – you expect people to do things for free as you are doing too much for free yourself. Money solves the problem.

All that being said, this is just one of the areas I think need addressing and hopefully these tips will help you win even more with your outreach. And note, this is a narrow take on the industry and many people do it ‘well’ I am sure. I look forward to meeting more of them. You can contact me here.

What to do instead:

Let’s now look at the 15 ways we’ve identified that are going to make your outreach bomb, and how to avoid them.

1. Thinking that the influencer is the answer
Whatever you offer has less to do with the influencer, than it does to the community they serve. You have to be aligned to their values, their needs.

An influencer who doesn’t get that won’t be an influencer for long. You have to make it about ‘them’, the community.
As such, whatever deals you put together need to be in the interest of the whole community. Really, what you want to do is build evangelism for your products, services, or brand and it is just a case that the influencer is the bridge to them.
Some of them will become your customers, but even if they don’t they will be telling their friends, which is always good.

2. Not building a community around your brand
In a way this is the core problem. You are thinking in terms of one person influencing their following. Instead think about how their following is excited to be part of something, led by the influencer, that helps them fall in love with your brand.

3. Thinking in terms of a ‘one off shot’
Even the term ‘campaign’ is not ideal – instead look at building relationships that sustain themselves over time. You will get a lot more lift this way.

4. Not paying the influencer
When you get an email saying “but you’ll get loads of exposure…” I would say many people heckle’s are rising.

You wouldn’t do this, right? I mean, ask people to work for free. Well, there is definitely a vibe of free in many circles.
For instance, I would say right now that the ideas of ‘speaking for exposure’ and ‘creating free content for exposure’ have run their course. (note: the ones that got you ‘there’ get the passes.)

When starting out though you may need to do things for free, I know that.
I learned this from Shawn Welch, who (together with Guy Kawasaki) wrote ‘APE’ for self publishers, you may say ‘If all of the other speakers are not getting paid, I would love the experience of X, and would be willing to waive my usual fee if you cover travel and expenses.’ I think that is a good approach.

And let’s say that the person does decide to do it for free (which I would discourage as soon as you’ve done a few gigs successfully) I think you should treat like like a king, not put them up in a 2 star hotel.
Don’t you want them to promote you and your business online. Go 4 or 5 star and they will feel appreciated. In other words, don’t be cheap.

5. Not being relevant enough
I get a lot of request to write guest blogs on this site. I turn down 95%. Unless it is going to serve the people paying attention then it is a waste of time.
Be targeted, product quality. Serve your people.

Whatever you are looking to peddle relating to a subject, brand, product needs to be something that makes sense.
Chris Brogan worked with Staples recently as it was a) a local connection to the brand, b) a business outreach around office supplies, and c) Chris, probably most importantly is a ‘self confessed office supply geek.’

Put simply, an aligned approach will simply ‘not work’ as people won’t relate at best, and at worst they will stop following the person.

6. Hiding the facts
When people ask you to ‘guest blog on your site’, or to come on your show/podcast etc, it is to your benefit. It is almost a favour to you, especially when the person is a ‘big name’.
Be honest about it. Know the fact that you are being helped out here. That is ok, we all have to do it to get where we are.

7. Using a cookie cutter approach.
The “Want to come on my podcast? I’ve interviewed Neil Patel, don’t you know…” emails many of us are going to get diminishing returns.
(btw, I know Neil, and love what he is doing…)

Cutting and pasting the same of message to everyone, especially when it has been taught on a ‘How to get influencers to do what you want’ course (I made that up, but expect people are teaching it someplace…) is no bueno as they don’t say too often in SoCal, but you know what I mean.

Read, research and general make an effort to connect with a person’s story and you may well find they connect with you more too.

8. “Share my stuff, share my stuff!”
Just because a person shares something related to your subject area doesn’t mean they will share your content. Build a relationship first, then see how you can best work together, then (maybe) they will be inclined to share you stuff.

People have spent years building up a reputation, and becoming part of a sharing culture, and as such you will need to work to become part of it. Or, of course, look to pay – but remember it is about ‘them’ (the people who are paying attention to what is being said).

9. Asking for links in a sneaky way
“Hey, I notice in [awesome blog post] on X that you mention Y. We do Y too. Any chance you could link out to our article?”
So you want us to a) give you a backlink, and b) drive you traffic. For free.
Be honest about it and it may happen. We all know the game by now. But being sneaky will probably just get your emails deleted.

10. Passing someone off to your assistant too soon
When you connect with someone, and they agree to work with you, you have the relationship so don’t blow it.

Know this: You cannot outsource relationships

11. You don’t understand the backchannels
Unless you are a major league celeb, there is something happening in Social Media that you need to understand – there are backchannels.
In other words, information flows ‘in the background’ through private groups, conversations, and meet ups much more than you will ever know.
When you fail to see how ‘things work’ you will simply be looking for the surface metrics.
If you campaign is about building brand, and reputation, then this is so important.
If you are seeking conversions then the results will ultimately show up as sales.

12. Not replying to inbound emails
When people reach out to you that are interested in what you do, and you fail to reply, you blow a fan. Then a few of things can happen:
They don’t talk about you on social anymore as they move on to the next outreach
They harbour a grudge (never wise long term)
They don’t tell their five closest friends about you – and you’ll never know who they were, which is sad as you may have wasted a bigger opportunity

You could get an influencer marketing campaign for free if you just generate a fan, be nice, connect with them.

13. Not saying thank you
I was chatting with Guy Kawasaki on email earlier today to thank him for ‘doing me a solid’ when I first got started. I owe him still, years on.
The thing for you is this – never take for granted that business is built on relationships, and people do have feelings. You want to make sure you appreciate what people do for you, and thank you is just the start.

14. You don’t make them feel special
If you want influencers to love you more, then give them something they cannot get elsewhere.
Plantronics (headsets) are winning me right now as I got a load of cool information from one of their team when I was at a conference. They didn’t even have to send me anything, I felt special to be having the conversation and to learn where they are going next with VR ready headphones.

15. You are not friendly enough, and think you are special
It doesn’t matter how big you are, if you value someone then
There are a couple of brands that have won me lately, one being AltSpaceVR who have Lisa at the helm of their community management. Be down to earth, not matter how high you may fly.

Community Marketing

I think we need to shift our minds in this direction.
Stop thinking solely about influencers and start thinking about the people they lead.
This is a different map to the one that many people are using, and I think if we look at influencer outreach just being the start and Community Marketing being the approach then everyone involved will win a lot more.

Credit to my mentor Chris Brogan on this piece as he has taught me so much about serving. Sign up to his programs here. (I am a paying member myself.)

We help you build a community around your brand. Interested? Hit me up here.
Or if you want to pay me to speak/produce content/tell hilarious jokes, all that works too.