We have a lot of decisions to make each day. And if you want to triple this amount, all you have to do is walk into an electronics store or look at vacation spots. How many times have you paced an aisle back and forth, comparing prices and trying to make a choice? Did you break down and call a friend? Did you look up online reviews or ask for recommendations from the people that follow you?
We all want firsthand knowledge of how someone we trust chose this brand over that one. While advertisements can influence our decisions, recommendations from friends, family, and online influencers have a much larger impact on our decisions.
This creates a challenge for brands: How does a brand participate in -- and add value to -- these trusted conversations?
Influencer marketing gives brands access to specific audiences by identifying key influencers in a brand's niche (bloggers and social personalities with a loyal online following) and partnering with them to create high-quality sponsored content.
If a brand can make its way onto an influential blogger's site, it has the opportunity to join consumers at the top of the digital conversation food chain -- the websites that consumers go to for advice and guidance on their next purchase decision.
However, brands often make mistakes when entering the influencer marketing circle -- mistakes that can ruin relationships with influencers and damage their credibility. Steer clear of these common influencer marketing faux pas to create a symbiotic relationship that benefits influencers, their followers, and your brand.
Only seeking bloggers with huge numbers
This is the first and most common mistake marketers make when identifying influencers in their space, and it's understandable. It's easy to be tempted by 100,000 unique visitors or 1 million Twitter followers, but having a large following doesn't necessarily make someone influential.
My advice: Steer toward the middle of the pack. Niche bloggers with smaller followings can often carry just as much influence as bloggers with larger audiences. Niche bloggers' audiences are very targeted, so readers may be more loyal and likely to engage with the content.
Cold pitching influencers
Many marketers try cold pitching a blogger to cover a brand without forming a relationship with the influencer beforehand, getting to know his work, or even offering to compensate him for the sponsored content. This is a huge mistake that can cause the brand to lose the trust of key influencers; your pitches will likely go unanswered.
My advice: Compensate influencers. Bloggers work hard to build an audience, and they put their reputation on the line when they publish content sponsored by your brand. Think of it this way: Influencer marketing is a partnership, and a partnership usually involves an exchange. Take the time to connect with bloggers before reaching out for a favor. Retweet their work, comment on their blog, or do something that shows you took the time to ensure that your brand is a good fit for the blogger and his audience.
Not setting clear expectations
Failing to set clear goals and expectations is another common mistake that marketers (usually those without a firm grasp on influencer marketing) tend to make. Often, the blogger is simply told to write about the brand or product and then share it on social media. This can result in off-the-mark content that doesn't drive strategic brand goals and, at the end of the day, more noise that dilutes your message.
My advice: Clearly communicate to the influencer what you want his readers to do after consuming the content. Do you want them to share a link, visit your site, "like" your brand's page on Facebook, or watch a video? Setting specific goals allows the blogger to tailor the content to your call to action.
Ignoring content distribution
Some marketers ask bloggers to post the sponsored content only on their blogs and don't emphasize integrating other important social media content channels. Others fail to integrate the content into other marketing materials (e-books, newsletters, testimonials, etc.) or curate the content in a central location. This is a waste of resources, both for the blogger and the brand.
My advice: Ensure you don't miss out on visibility with key audiences by identifying the platforms relevant to your niche and asking the blogger to distribute the content accordingly. Smart brands take comments, videos, posts, and images and feed them to a community section of their site or a hub page, which gives visitors further opportunities to engage with the content.
Not tracking engagement
Even if your influencer marketing is wildly successful, you'll never know how successful it is if you don't track engagement with the content. It's possible to track every piece of content and measure views, shares, votes, and other metrics. Once you have this information, you can determine the actual dollar value of that engagement. Without deep analytics, it becomes difficult to determine ROI and justify time and money spent on the initiative.
My advice: Measure the entire process. Track posts, shares, tweets, and comments on each platform. Track each influencer's impressions and engagement, which allows you to measure the true value of each piece of content.
When influencer marketing succeeds
When done right, influencer marketing can connect brands with their audiences in meaningful, natural ways. Recently, when Black Box Wines wanted to increase its share of voice online (the portion of online conversations about wine that included them), it identified 50 relevant influencers -- those with engaged audiences, not just big traffic numbers -- and gave bloggers creative license with its content.
Its team told influencers to distribute the content on specific social platforms and aggregated that content to a mobile-optimized social hub page, where visitors could see all of the content in one place. The brand reached 2.3 million readers and received 73,000 views.
Black Box Wines didn't jump on the content train without a clear strategy in mind. It took the time to connect with the appropriate influencers, set clear expectations, and optimize the distribution of content. Earning a trusted seat at the table takes effort and relationship skills, but for brands trying to stay relevant to their customers online, it's worth the effort.
Holly Hamann is the co-founder and CMO of TapInfluence.
On Twitter? Connect with Holly and follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.