Social Media Influencers: The Future of Word of Mouth Marketing

If you’re looking for a new TV show to watch, where to buy your next pair of shoes, or which gym to join, chances are, you’re asking your friends. And you’re not asking your friends in real life — you’re asking them online.

Social media has spun the marketing game around. Consumers are growing tired of dry ads and even more tired of pop ups and 30 second reels before their minute long YouTube video. Peer recommendation is on the up — word-of-mouth marketing is the primary player in 20 to 50 percent of purchases, according to a recent study. But if word-of-mouth is key, how do you get people to talk about you? How do you get the ball rolling?

It’s suffice to say that the internet is the go-to for almost everything, with both celebrities and everyday people like you and me becoming authorities in different verticals. Fashion bloggers are sitting next to print magazine editors at runway shows; people watch fitness videos from YouTubers instead of buying DVDs, and you can’t wait to try making those Paleo granola bars you saw on Pinterest.

Enter influencer marketing, loosely defined by Forbes as “a form of marketing that identifies and targets individuals with influence over potential buyers.” These are the people consumers watch on social media, who they trust. If your favorite beauty blogger tweets her love for the latest Maybelline mascara, you’re apt to think “Hm, maybe I should try that.” You — and likely many more of her 100,000 followers.

The process is relatively simple, and can be hugely effective. Identify who your fans are — their demographics, relevant interests, etc. From there, you can make assumptions about what kind of influencers fit your brand and have a fan base of like-minded people.

Here is where brands have the potential to take a wrong turn. Avoid falling into the trap of “Influencer A has 10,000 more followers than Influencer B — they’re the right fit.” Number of followers alone should not justify one influencer over another. Relevance is key. They may have a larger audience, but do they really talk about your vertical enough to be considered a good fit? Employing them to be a brand evangelist will ring phony with their followers, turning them off to you instead of turning them on.

Cost is another factor in why influencer marketing is taking off. Budgets for sponsored content can be as big or as small as you need. Some bloggers may only charge in the realm of $50 per tweet, while reaching 10,000 or more people. Others might agree to do it for free on the basis of mutual exposure and promotion, which is a win-win situation for both parties involved. They’re getting more followers and page views while you’re getting advertising at the cost of a simple retweet.

Bigger isn’t always better, either. Successfully implementing a program with 10 smaller bloggers tweeting about your product for $500 may be more beneficial than paying just one minor celebrity or bigger influencer upwards of $2,000 for a single tweet.

Nearly 65 percent of brands participate in influencer marketing already, and the market is only expected to grow from here. As brand presence on social media expands into newer and emerging platforms like Snapchat and Periscope, the variety of influencers and opportunities to tap into will increase. The future of influencer marketing is uncertain. Will regulations be enforced to make the advertising model more transparent? Will this form of marketing ever grow large enough to rival traditional paid advertising? Only time will tell. In the meantime, word of mouth works. The key to getting your brand out there is in finding the right mouths to spread your gospel.