Three Questions to Guide Your Influencer Marketing Strategy

This post originally appeared on the Hootsuite blog

It’s tough out there for a marketer. Digital content is at record volume, and hyper-informed consumers are better than ever at tuning your messages out. In this noisy world, smart marketers are recognizing the value of partnering with influencers to separate themselves from the pack and add much-needed punch to their messages.

In a May 2015 study by Schlesinger Associates for Augure, 84 percent of marketers expected to launch at least one campaign involving an influencer in the next 12 months. Respondents who had already done so were pleased with the results: 81 percent said influencer partnerships were an effective tactic.

It’s not easy though. The same study indicated that 75 percent of brands have a hard time identifying the right influencers to partner with. Successful influencer engagement hinges on sourcing and selecting influencers who drive real changes in attitude, behaviour, perception, or adoption patterns. So how do smart marketers figure out where to start? Spend some time nailing down solid answers to these three questions:

Who am I trying to influence?

This simple question cuts deep. Most marketers will have no trouble with a high-level answer: we’re usually trying to influence our customers, prospects, and broader industry community. However, a meaningful answer to this question requires a little deeper digging. Smart answers will comprise well-developed customer personas, including behaviours.

Perhaps you’re trying to influence people who work in a specific job function — social media professionals or community managers who tend to spend significant amounts of time on social media every day, for example. Or maybe your goal is to influence decision-makers in a particular vertical — maybe government or finance leaders who tend to place deep trust in recommendations from their peer network. Each of your customer characters will be influenced in a different way, by different people. A deep understanding of this behaviour will help you focus your influencer marketing efforts for real impact.

Who do my customers, prospects, and community trust?

For marketers, the key requirement for true influence is trust. Your audience must trust and respect the opinion of the influencers you partner with. Without the trust component, any lift in results will be superficial and you’ll struggle to see a tangible business impact from your efforts.

Working from a clear idea of exactly who you’re trying to influence, take the extra step to find key opinion and thought leaders who your audience already looks to as sources of meaningful information. Chances are, there are people on social media who are already engaged as thought and opinion leaders for your audience. These are the real influencers — people with whom partnerships can drive real impact.

Tools like followerwonk, Traackr, and Hootsuite can help you identify people with large and engaged networks talking about topics that matter to your audience. But choosing influencers to partner with requires more. A powerful method is to create influencer personas and characters, in the same way you’ve (hopefully) done for your customers. You can then use social media tools to find influencers matching these target personas.

Influencer personas can be particularly impactful when based on an actual human. Meet “Russ.” Russ is an influencer in an area of specific subject matter expertise, whose opinion drives change in his network In this case the Russ persona is loosely based onRussel Lolacher, an influencer passionate about customer service who is highly engaged in his local social media community (#yyj). When interacting with influencers that fit the Russ persona, it becomes simple and powerful to think “Would Russel like what we’re doing?” and let that answer guide your behaviour.

“Russ” is one example of a persona that smart marketers might use to define the type of influencer important to their target audience. With some focused effort, most brands will be able to create three to five influencer personas to target for partnerships of different types. Your personas might (and probably should) depict everyone from well-connected customers to complementary brands.

Influencer personas allow smart marketers to clearly define what an influencer is and, more importantly, what an influencer isn’t. Without a well-developed persona set it becomes very easy to slip into defining influence by vanity metrics like follower count or Klout score, numbers which can indicate reach but may or may not be important to your goals.

How can we work together for mutual value?

A lot of today’s influencer marketing conversations center around “what influencers can do for your brand.” The assumption is that you, as a marketer, are going to go out and find these people and use them to amplify or validate your message. The focus is on the value that the influencer can provide to the brand, not the other way around.

Marketers who start from this angle are missing a key piece of the puzzle:Influencers must derive value from partnering with your brand. Without a mutual exchange of value, you’ll struggle to create truly beneficial long-term partnerships and you’ll have a tough time engaging influencers in your activations.

“Value” doesn’t necessarily mean financial compensation (although sometimes it might). Value simply means that the perceived benefit of the partnership is equally important to both parties; both sides are receiving similar value from the exchange. For brands with strong name recognition, maybe that value as simple as the social reach and validation that comes with being associated with your brand. For others, perhaps it’s a content swap: You share their content to your networks, and they share yours with theirs. Or maybe the exchange is something entirely different altogether, like an introduction to a unique community in exchange for custom swag. Think outside the box and be creative, but always keep in mind that mutual value will be the key driver of long-term influencer relationships.

Get started now

Now that you’ve got the questions, go out and find the answers. Map out your customer behaviours, and the things that might influence their journey. Think about who your customers trust, and whose opinions they’re already looking to as a guide. And define your value proposition, so you’re armed and ready when you reach out to those influencers to build relationships.

With well-defined answers to these three questions, you’ll find building your strategy will be much more targeted, focused, and successful. You’ll be well-equipped for influencer marketing success.

Influencer marketing is just one way that brands use Hootsuite to #WinWithSocial. Check out how Virgin inspires with Hootsuite, and other stories of social awesomeness on our customers page.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Matt Diederichs’s story.