We hosted an event at Ketchum to help organisations make sense of influencer marketing and influencer relations. This is a summary of the conversation.
Influencers are a red hot topic in marketing and public relations but it’s an area fraught with confusion and complexity.
We brought together a panel of influencers along with specialists in research, planning and activation at an event at Ketchum last week to help make sense of influencer marketing.
“Public relations has always worked with influencers. We’ve use ambassadors and celebrities as a form of third party endorsement and means of engaging with their networks,” said Jo-ann Robertson, Partner and CEO, Ketchum London.
Reach is prioritised over relationships. Planning and measurement are limited. The cost of paid influencers is often inflated. Governance and transparency are a work in progress.
“Influencer marketing puts public relations on a collision course with marketing. It can be uncomfortable when a transaction is involved. Transparency is critical,” added Robertson.
At Ketchum we’ve developed a robust approach to influencer marketing that we’ve applied through testing and learning to both consumer and business markets.
There is no one size fits all approach to influencer work but we’ve built a systemised approach that combines data and planning with creative activation.
Through Ketchum’s influencer advocacy approach, we’re focused on delivering proven return on investment (ROI) by taking a business challenge and identifying the audience opportunity to influence, then vetting and identifying the relevant influencers that can deliver measureable and impactful results.
Each new form of digital and social media from LinkedIn to YouTube, and Instagram to Twitter, has given rise to a new breed of influencers. Individuals have recognised the opportunity to create content and build an audience or community.
This is the story of the social web that has emerged in the last decade. The scale of these networks based on peer to peer relationships is compelling for brands.
Social media and messaging platforms
Monthly active users, Ketchum data (December 2017)
Brands have been quick to spot the opportunity to engage with influencers and secure their endorsement and the reach of their network. Public relations has shifted from pitching journalists and traditional media to working with these individuals across all forms of media.
Influencers for their part have recognised their value in this relationship and the opportunity to partner with brands to create content on a paid basis as well as earned.
The value exchange between an organisation and influencer is the driver of the relationship. It can be exclusive access to content, products and services, or financial remuneration.
Opportunities to engage with influencers
One-on-one advocacy is the most powerful form of influence. Our friends and family have the greatest influence on us.
Social networks provide the means to build relationships at scale. Influencers provide a means of building trust with their communities through content and storytelling.
Influencers exist on every form of social media. They are opinion leaders, experts, ambassadors, creators, celebrities and professionals.
They’re individuals that have typically developed a following based on knowledge, skill or talent and can apply to any organisation seeking to influence behaviour or opinion, be that business to business or business to consumer.
Influencer marketing has applications in any marketing or public relations challenge where an organisation is seeking to influence behaviour or opinion. It can be applied to business to business and business to consumer markets.
- improving brand reputation
- content to commerce: driving purchase intent
- social selling
- thought leadership
- stakeholder engagement
Why influencer marketing is getting so much attention
Influencer marketing has become a strategic priority for organisations in the past 18 months. It’s proving to be a highly effective form of marketing but it is still in its infancy. These are some of the key challenges and opportunities.
Algorithms and influencers
Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have encouraged brands to build communities on their platforms. Over time organic reach has been slowly reduced so that the reach of content published to a community will be close to zero unless it is promoted. Influencers have direct relationships with followers and therefore their content has greater organic reach.
Reach versus relationshipsInfluencer relations has put the public relations business on a collision course with marketing. Public relations seeks to negotiate with influencers and build long term relationships, whereas marketing wants to buy access to audiences at scale in the same way you’d buy media space. Remember that you’re investing in a relationship for mutual benefit and not buying advertising.
“The key metric for influencer marketing is relevance and not reach. What impact will working with influencer have on the outcome of your campaign?” said Jo-ann Robertson, Partner and CEO, Ketchum London.
Paid relations must be disclosed in any form of media. It’s an area of social media that has fallen under fierce scrutiny thanks to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US. Both stipulate that paid relationships must be disclosed when content is published on social media. It’s an issue that the social media platforms themselves have recognised they need to tackle.
Social media manipulation
Governance and standards for influencer marketing are a work in progress. The attention of watchdogs such as the ASA and FTC is helping to address this issue but like any early stage market, influencer marketing can be manipulated. Fake follower accounts and dodgy metrics are used by individuals to appear more influential and artificially inflate their value to brands. We use a discovery platform to check out influencers and their audiences using analytics and human vetting.
Every click and comment that we make on the internet leaves an audit trail. This data can be interrogated to measure the effectiveness of a campaign. It can also be used to predict the likely outcome and return on investment. The impact of paid relationships and promotional activity can be evaluated prior to execution.
Behaviour and decency
Influencers are content creators who have built a relationship with their audience. Aligning the values of a brand with the values of an influencer is an important aspect of due diligence. A mismatch in this area is the greatest source of breakdown between a brand and an influencer. At worst it can result in reputational damage for the brand.
Consumers are fed up with intrusive banner and display advertising on mobile and desktop devices. They are turning to ad blockers to improve their experience. It’s an issue that is challenging advertisers and brands. Influencers provide third party validation and a direct means of engagement.
Hierarchy of influencers
Influencers come in all shapes and sizes. We’re all influential to someone.
Here I’ve set out the different types of influencers. Individuals can cross over categories, for example a blogger may also create short form video, but this breakdown is useful in understanding the market.
Executives and employees – earned
These individuals are typically leaders of an organisation. They are generally employees helping develop relationships by humanising the organisation, having a clear point of view, and promoting it through thought leadership. Employees can also be engaged more broadly via blogs and social network.
Industry experts – earned
Fact and fiction travel at equal speed on the internet but topic experts still have authority. Informed opinion from an expert carries weight particularly in a business to business community. Health professionals can be influential on issues related to health and wellbeing and a specialist journalist can change the conversation around current affairs and political issues.
“I started on radio and television. You didn’t think of it as influence, you thought of it as communication. Now it’s about conversations with people that are willing to engage with you. It helps you to better understand your audience and builds trust.”
“I don’t endorse. I try to explain the world of business. I engage in plain language using the most appropriate format and channel,” said Declan Curry.
Declan has been a business broadcast journalist turned commentator working on shows including BBC Breakfast, Working Lunch and Your Money. He’s a conference chair, awards host, and punchy speaker.
Bloggers – earned and paid
Bloggers are writers who share their own experiences and stories on their own websites and third party sites such as LinkedIn and Medium. They are one of the original forms of internet influencer and cover a wide range of consumer topics including food, style, DIY and parenting. Professional blogs are also popular in the business to business sector.
“I’m an expert consumer for the people that follow the ReallyRee.com web site. Most of my traffic is organic search, and income is from affiliate marketing links,” said Anne-Marie Lodge, ReallyRee.com.
Anne-Marie is the founder of the ReallyRee.com beauty website, with the purpose of keeping beauty real for ordinary people. She shares content and engages with her community via a blog, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.
Short form influencers – earned and paid
As new social media platforms have launched, influencers have created content and built audiences. Instagram has amassed huge followings skewed towards a younger audience. Short form influencers create content around topics including humour, fashion, music and food.
Celebrities – paid
Brands sought out celebrities as ambassadors long before the internet. Today celebrities use their own media to engage with fans frequently rivalling the reach of traditional media. Their profile often limits their ability to engage in conversations. The value of celebrities lies in endorsement and starting conversations.
Video stars – paid
YouTube’s launch in 2005 provided the means for anyone to create and publish video content to a global audience via the internet. Video influencers produce high-quality content around a specialised topic such as beauty, comedy, gaming or music. They have large and loyal following and are able to demand a premium for brand partnership.
Working with influencers
Influencer marketing is a mix of art and science.
There’s no one size fits all approach to influencer work for business-to-business and consumer campaigns.
“The fundamental challenge of influencers is not to try and squeeze it into existing media relations or media models,” said Ann Wool, Partner and President, Ketchum Sports & Entertainment and Ketchum Influencer
At Ketchum we’ve built a systemised approach to influencer advocacy that combines data and planning with creative activation.
- Establish objectives – What’s the purpose of your influencer campaign?
- Research, audience discovery and segmentation – Understand your audience, gain insights on trends, topics, passion points and channels that influence target audiences
- Identification, validation and mapping – Influencer identification and planning
- Engage influencers – Contract, brief and align on creative output and expectation
- Execute programme – Co-create, manage and ensure compliance
- Measure – Analyse, learn and optimise
#1 Establish objectives
You need to set out your campaign aims and objectives and desired outcomes in a brief and then determine the role of working with influencers. It should include your expectations of the influencer in terms of campaign metrics such as budget, content and engagement, but it should also tackle issues such as culture and values.
#2 Research, audience discovery and segmentation
Understand your audience, gain insights on trends, topics, passion points and channels that influence target audiences.
“We listen to conversation and understand networks as the start point to identify influencers. It’s about understanding relationships,” said Tom Earl, Senior Account Director, Research and Analytics, Ketchum
Here we’re seeking to understand the audience that you are ultimately wanting to engage and understand their motivations. This enables us to make decisions about media, influencer section, creative approach, channel and content.
#3 Identification, validation and mapping
A third party market of tool vendors has grown up around the influencer marketing space. Marketplaces have also emerged that act as an intermediary between brands and influencer.
Influencer marketing is dynamic and changes from sector to sector and topic to topic. Influencer selection can’t and shouldn’t be automated and it can’t be categorised by a database or list.
Ketchum advocates the use of social media listening and network analysis to understand the resonance, relevance and reach of influencers. Influencers are scored on these three variables and qualitatively assessed to determine their suitability for a campaign.
Influencers should have a shared affinity with the brand. Ensure that there’s a match between the values and personality of both the influencer and the brand.
“A brand campaign has to be the right fit and authentic or else consumers know it’s not real,” said Shaun Stafford.
Shaun is a professional fitness athlete, entrepreneur and body composition expert. He shares content on his blog, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with a combined community of more than 1.25 million people.
You’ll also need to make decisions about paid media investment and whether you need to promote content to meet your campaign objectives.
#4 Engage influencers
Engaging influencers in a campaign requires a value exchange. Earned influencers seek exclusives and insight. Paid influencers are looking for a partnership or financial payment.
It’s important to provide guidelines to influencers at the outset of a relationship so that all parties are aware of what to avoid and what to emphasise in content.
A clear brief is critical but don’t expect to have total creative control. Influencers are rightly protective of their relationship with their audience and they’ll also have firm views about what works and more importantly what doesn’t.
#5 Execute programme
Influencers are storytellers. A creative brief may focus on an event or task. Experiences and a behind-the-scenes point of view provides the means for influencers to engage in the brand story.
Disclosure is an important part of campaign execution when creative is shared by an influencer. It’s an issue under scrutiny by regulatory authorities that is slowly being addressed by social networks through clear tagging. There’s a simple rule of thumb. If a relationship is paid it should be disclosed.
Review performance and investment in paid media to optimise measurement outcomes.
Measurement is not just an evaluation mechanic, it’s a performance optimisation tool.
Measurement goals will differ from campaign to campaign depending on the objective and should always aim to showcase outcomes, not just outputs, of influencer activity.
There are any number of metrics that can help demonstrate making a difference in achieving social, brand or business goals, so it is important to design the measurement approach and metrics around these – selecting the metrics that matter. Potential metrics include: social goals such as mentions or reach; brand goals such as awareness or share of voice; and business goal such as clicks and referrals.