The Ultimate Guide To Finding & Engaging Influencers
8 January 2019, Jane Bellard
For a lot of companies, an influencer identification tool does not warrant the hefty price tag, but the truth is – whether you have a tool or not – you need to do a lot of thinking and questioning to get to the brief, before you ever start searching. If you don’t know what you’ll ask of them, what you’re trying to achieve and who you’re trying to influence, not even the best tools can provide the answer.
1. Ask yourself ‘why?’
Why influencer marketing? What do we need to achieve – is influencer marketing going to do that, or is it just because we feel we should?
Influencer marketing is ideal for building trust among a large audience quickly. It’s the word-of-mouth recommendation all companies crave, told to a lot more people in a visible, measurable space.
Most people reading this are going to be looking for online influencers, so that’s where I’m going to focus, but as a specialist in micro-influencers, I implore you to remember real-world influencers too.
Given >96% of the people that discuss brands online do not follow those brands’ owned profiles, online influencer marketing is a great way to reach your ‘non-follower fans’.
Influencer posts can also include links to purchase, be shared with the click of a button and can show footage of the product in action. What’s not to love?
But influencers are so much more than broadcasters of your message, they are advocates with opinions, reasoning, influences, humour and kindness. Real humans, who [if they’re reputable] will only recommend something they actually like and believe in. You would never recommend something you didn’t believe in. Why? Because your reputation would be at stake. Same applies to influencers, in a lot of ways more so.
The tough bit
- How on earth do I choose the right influencer/s?
- Where do I find them?
- How can I get them to write about my brand without paying them?
- How do I keep it credible and real, so consumers trust what the influencer says?
This article seeks to answer these questions for you. But before we even think about our lovely word-spreaders, we need to know what we’re trying to achieve.
Before you start desperately googling for top influencer lists, take a step back and ask yourself what the real end goal of this activity is. Most companies are ultimately looking for sales, behaviour change or brand-perception change. What are the real numbers you’re trying to achieve? How many people need to make a real-world action or change as a result of this activity, for it to be deemed a success?
If you find yourself thinking – but my goal is to grow my social media followership (or similar) – I urge you to dig deeper. Why does the company want more followers? What is the business impact this year, next year, in 5 years etc?
Growing your followership is a valid step on the course to a bigger business objective – but focus on the business objective with laser precision, then you’ll know what you need to make happen. It should also clarify what kind of social media followers are most valuable to you and give you a more defined goal. Quality is better than quantity.
Questions to ask yourself:
Example business objective: Sell 100 extra units a month for the next year (3% uplift)
- How many customers is that? Do people buy one each or multiples? How often do people usually purchase? Are they loyal or fleeting?
- What activity have we done to produce this level of uplift in the past? What was the catalyst which made it work and the budget for that activity? Is this a realistic goal given our current budget?
- Do we need to sell 100 every month or 1200 across the year?
- In advertising, what was the level of sales/acquisition per view on the last ad campaign, and on what budget? This should supply a benchmark the business understands.
- What are the barriers to people buying my product? How can we overcome them through third-party recommendation?
- Where are we directing traffic to? Can the purchase funnel link directly from the influencers post or is it an offline action we’re asking them to take? If offline, how do we reinforce the message at the physical touchpoint? e.g. point of sale use the same image your influencer uses etc.
- Is there a niche (e.g. activity, job, hobby, region, life-stage) which makes someone more likely to purchase my product?
- How many people are in my market? Do I need to steal share or is it a growing market? What would convert someone to my product? Is it seeing it work, someone recommending it, do they need to demonstrate it vs. a competitor, does it need explaining, should it be touched, tasted or smelled?
Once you have a picture of exactly what you need to achieve, you’ll have an idea of how many people you need to convert. Using the above example, you may now know that your average customer buys one unit a month and you have high retention, you know you need 100 new customers. If you also know that once people try it, 50% convert long term then you know you need 200 people to try it.
For 200 people to try it, you may only need one micro-influencer (1k-100k followers) who has a highly-engaged community of very targeted users. If it were 2,000 people you may need a ‘macro-influencer’ (100k-1m followers), or for 200,000 people to try it, you’ll know you’re more likely to need a ‘mega-influencer’ (1m+).
Alternatively, you can look at more influencers at a given level, say set a target of 20/200/2,000 new customers per influencer and work with 10 of them. As the below chart shows, engagement rates decrease with more followers, so think about whether deeper engagement with more influencers is preferable or not.
2. The first ‘who?’ is the reader – not the influencer
The end-game of using an influencer is to reach their followers, so it makes sense to think about them first, no? It’s easy to forget, and surprising how many professionals make this simple mistake. It’s also easy to assume that the readers are the same demographic as the influencer. They may well be, but most likely they have a few key traits, interests or hobbies in common which make them interesting, but nothing else is a given.
In order to work out who your readers are, you need to flesh out the reasons someone might be interested in your brand/product/service.
Find your niches
Yes plural. You may have an obvious niche, but I bet you can break it down by several layers and also find some outliers too.
Start by listing out your niches, just write, start broad and then go as granular as you can. For example, I recently worked on the launch of a natural, meat protein snack and their niches include:
- People who exercise regularly
- People who watch their protein intake
- People who are interested in eating less processed foods
- Personal trainers
- Jerky and flavoured-meat lovers
- Meat lovers
- Dieters looking for low fat, low sugar, filling snacks
- Mums looking for a nutritious snack for everyone in the family
- People looking for an emergency-snack that won’t go-off in the bottom of their bag
- Hungry people looking for something filling
- People working late
- People who forgot breakfast
- People eating whilst travelling
- People who like to try new things
- Intrigued grazers
- People prepared to pay a personal trainer to get them in shape
And so on…
This starts to give us a picture of what kind of readers we might be looking for, and therefore the type of influencer who attracts those people. It is important to remember that the influencer themselves is sometimes a slightly extreme version of the wider target audience. Someone who people look to as a specialist in that area, who is seen to know more than most. For example, you could look for personal trainers when targeting dieters.
I always encourage people in the Emarketeers Influencer Marketing course I run, to think about the many need-states of your customers. This is an extension of the niche, but it looks at the motivation of the consumer to use your product/service/company.
When launching a brand of toning trainers, we isolated the below consumer need-states for the product:
- Mums – wanting to lose baby weight
- Multi-taskers – wanting to get the most out of every step
- Early adopter – love to try the newest trends first
- Commuters – time efficient exercising
- Gym-goers – working themselves even harder
- Runners – extra toning and conditioning
- Exercise-phobic – tone without exercising
- Fashion conscious – first to market ‘normal looking’ toning trainer
- Age-defying – want to keep a perky bum for longer
- Tech-intrigued – those who love to know how they work
Once we knew the consumer need-states, we targeted 50 bloggers – 5 to fit each of the 10 different need-states. Finding 5 of each was much less daunting than trying to start looking for 50 people who would try a new trainer.
The product was expensive, so we needed to get it right. By finding influencers with the same motivations as their followers, that match the product benefits, we saw phenomenal results – the product sold out before the advertising campaign even went live.
So to recap, you should now have an idea of how many people your message needs to impact and broken down the consumers, and therefore influencers, into micro need-state groups. What we’ll explore next is the proposition – what you’ll ask them to do. Before you can identify an influencer, you need to know if they’ll be likely to be up for what you’re suggesting; and before you approach an influencer, you need a stand-out pitch, so let’s build one…
3. Motivate influencers to want to take part
In order to work out what you’re going to ask your influencer to do for you, you have to first work out what you can (and can’t give them).
Things to consider:
Budget – if it comes to it, are you prepared to pay an influencer for taking part, if so how much and what do you need in return? Everything I’m suggesting is designed to make your idea so motivating the influencer will want to take part without being paid, however, I recognise the inevitability sometimes. Do you also have the budget to boost or promote the content created by the influencer? That can be more persuasive than payment if the blogger wants to grow their followership.
Freebies – do you have anything you can give away? How many items? Do you have the budget to send it to the influencer or could you also send it to their followers?
Timings – is there a date this campaign hinges upon? Are there calendar dates, holidays, seasons which will make this more relevant? Does the life-stage of the influencer matter? Do you need influencers with a birthday, baby, wedding etc. around the time of the campaign to build relevance?
Access – what and who can you give your influencers access to that your average Joe can’t? Emails from the CEO? Can you introduce them to your inventor to tell the story of the prototypes that failed? Let them tell the inside story, the journey – this is so valuable and yet free! Can you take them to a factory, or create an experience which demonstrates your benefits in its natural environment? Can you do something which totally juxtaposes what they’d expect?
Knowledge – what information lies under your nose that can be gold in the hands of an influencer? Is it sharing data insights which led to your final creation, or research results? The information and people in your business can be the key to unlocking social currency by telling the untold stories. Go hunting for something which the public don’t know, but that you can imagine someone telling their mates about in the pub, making them seem informed, knowledgeable and on the inside. There’s your angle.
Create social currency
Your influencers want to tell their followers something interesting that they don’t already know. It’s your job to provide that. Not to every influencer, to each influencer. They all need their own proposition.
A lot of professionals come to me and say they have a 5-20% response rate from influencers – is that good enough? I’d say no. Aim for 100%. There may always be something beyond your control which may stop someone replying, but the proposition (pitch) should be so strong, that no matter what they have going on, or the amount they usually ask brands to pay, they are desperate to take part.
To do that you need to create the story the follower or the influencer will tell their mate next time they see each other, then work back from there. Think of influencer marketing as sparking a chain-reaction of recommendations, not eyeballs on content and it’ll be a lot more valuable.
The proposition is what you’re asking them to do. It could be reviewing your product or service, it could be something more entertaining or funny, it might be a challenge.
In order to create your proposition, we need to know what would persuade the end user to change their behaviour. At the beginning you asked yourself some challenging questions, revisit those now and think about what action, stat, endorsement etc. would persuade a potential customer to take the desired call to action?
Starting with your most sceptical potential customer can yield creative results. Finding an extreme case, for example, converting a competitor’s loyal customer can be both compelling and entertaining.
Working out first how to convert the toughest competitor’s loyal customers gave us our strategy. Had we started with a social media metric such as ‘grow by 10,000 followers’ as an objective we’re unlikely to have ended up here.
Brainstorming your propositions
Now you need to get creative…
- Write your need-states on a whiteboard across the top (x-axis)
- Down the side write your niches (y-axis)
- Take a pad of post-its each and write out all the ways you can think of to demonstrate that your product/service works for those people
- Don’t worry if the chart isn’t perfect, or some ideas fit in more than one place. That isn’t important – let it act as a stimulus for creativity
- Once you have a board covered in post-its, take a look as a group and discuss the ideas. One by one, think about ways you’d show a sceptic in that target audience that your brand is the “real deal”. How might you demonstrate it?
- List the best ideas (discard any which don’t get you all fired up)
- Take your list and think about humorous, sensitive, beautiful, innovative ways to demonstrate the point. What could you add to the situation to make it more surprising, pleasing to watch, compelling, intriguing, relevant, etc?
- You should now have a list of around 10 exciting ways to showcase your brand in its best light. Take each one and think about what kind of person needs to deliver this message, what traits do they need to have to persuade your audiences (remind yourself of your niches and need-states here)
- Now you have your brief.
The human approach
Remember they meet people in the real world too
I started in word-of-mouth marketing before brands were allowed on social media, so I’m a big advocate of offline, real-world influencers. After all, 82% of brand conversations still happen offline and only 2% on social media. It’s important to remember the real conversations your influencer will have with their social circle and don’t underestimate the impact that will have.
When you are looking at your influencers, look out for personality traits which give-away whether they are also real-world influencers.
Personality Traits of Influencers
- Do they have lots of friends but not in one close-knit group?
- Are they altruistic? Are they positioning themselves as here to help their followers, perhaps by reviewing things so you don’t make bad purchases, or sharing advice or recommendations?
- Are they kind, nice people?
- Do they seem genuine and unpretentious, being true to their real nature?
- Do they seem like an early adopter who is helping to spread the news of their discoveries?
- When they have done brand partnerships, have they felt natural and genuine?
- Do they reply to comments and engage with followers, always trying to be supportive, grateful and kind?
There are several benefits to looking for people with both on and offline influence – they are masters at putting people at their ease and making connections, they have large networks and they are incredibly persuasive. Their online content will likely show their endearing personality, which makes them so influential on their real-world networks.
Identifying your influencers
The easy bit, right? It certainly should feel significantly clearer by now, having taken the previous steps.
If you have a tool, this is when you should start using it. For everyone else, Google is a perfectly valid (if a little more arduous) tool.
The best results come from looking for videos or articles on the topics you’ve identified your influencers as being prolific in. But don’t just look for the top few results, keep digging until you feel like you’ve found the person who feels right. Using the videos tab on Google is a good way to find footage of your influencer, it will give you a quicker assessment of their personality than reading copious posts. Once you’ve seen someone you like the look of, take a look at their posts on all channels and see if they really are the right fit.
At Grapeviners we tend to go for the ‘hand-up’ approach. We create a proposition and then advertise it and ask people to apply to take part. That way you’re only getting interested people through, you have the chance to vet them for on and offline social influence, category influence and demographics.
Here is an example of a campaign we ran, which saw over 1,500 applications in a matter of hours. The proposition was carefully crafted to attract real-world influencers, but as you’d expect, a great number were also online influencers. So, we picked the top 125 applicants, and not only did they tell over 200,000 people prior to launch, they each had 15.4k average individual social media followership. They each got 9 friends together to try the products out, and each attendee posted on social media an average of 5.8 times. We paid no-one. We never do. The power of a strong influencer proposition meant that this product sold out on day one.
Whether you go for ‘hands-up’ or ‘handpicked’ you need to know why you’re targeting these influencers, what reaction you need their readers to have, what you plan to ask of them, what audience they should have, what traits and content subjects they should be known for. Once you know that they practically find themselves.
But know that there is no way around it, this is a manual process, even with a tool. You’re finding people, and people [thankfully] don’t come in neat boxes.
Top 10 tips for engaging influencers
- Remember they’re real people often writing in their precious spare time and about something they felt passionate enough about to start a blog in the first place.
- Be kind, polite and courteous just like you would in real life
- Talk like a person, not a marketer, they may not know the corporate world and the lingo. When you approach them to talk person to person, engage on a one to one level. Less ‘we’, more ‘I’.
- Never use a template, if your message isn’t totally personal it’ll quite rightly end up in the ‘no’ pile
- Read their first and last 10 posts, and skim in between; have they got a style? Why did they start? Where are their passion points? Have they changed? How much branded content have they got? Has it grown over time? Use all this in your pitch message.
- Flatter them. Influencers have egos, stroke them. Show them how much you know about them, what you find most interesting, what do you admire in their writing?
- It may take 1-2 hours to research and write your pitch, that’s fine. Writing one which hits the spot is more valuable than being rejected by 10 which each took 15 mins.
- Think quality not quantity; if you need higher reach, go for more influencers with better engagement than one high reach/low engagement influencer if you can.
- Give them a genuine experience – never tell them how good your product/service is, give them the chance to make their own mind up by experiencing it. There is nothing more important than their unbiased opinion
- Give them something others can’t access – even better give the same to several of their followers. Exclusive content, information, interviews, images, footage, access etc is the golden ticket for an influencer.
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