Imagine someone spends most of their time telling everyone they know they are a travel influencer. Every time you hang out with them, they talk about it. They keep reminding you. They have an Instagram account, a YouTube channel, and a blog. Every once in a while, when they’re in the right mood, they’ll post something.
But here’s the thing:
They haven’t spent any time developing a community, nor have they created an actual brand presence – one that makes people want to follow them for their content instead of their words. As a result, no one really knows they exist, and no one engages with them, and, of course, no one shares their content.
Walking the Influencer Marketing Walk
Luckily, this person is hypothetical (though there are surely some who fall into that same trap).
In contrast, travel influencers like Meg Jerrard, whose award-winning website draws in people interested in travel. To create her online presence, she’s visited over 50 countries and cultivates a community of more than 118,000 Twitter followers and more than 200,000 followers overall.
The difference is Meg doesn’t just talk the talk – she walks the walk. Over the last year, at least 33 pieces of her content have been shared a minimum of 500 times. And that’s the minimum, with some content pieces shared as much as 1,700 times.
She’s someone that clearly has a good degree of authority – when she writes something, people take notice, consume her content and pass it along, because they trust her. Working with influencers people can trust and turn to for answers is one of the most vital ingredients in building a brand, not just because your audience likes it more, but because Google does, too.
What is E-A-T?
In the early days of search engines, marketers quickly learned the immense value that came with ranking competitively for key terms and phrases that aligned with their businesses. This lead to all manner of black-hat tactics employed by SEOs to artificially manipulate organic rankings for high-value keywords. For savvy brands, it was a sprint to the top, an arms race of sketchiness with the goal of ranking number one and looking down on their competition from the summit of their search engine results page.
How did search engines respond? They got smarter about how they viewed quality in their search results. This lead THE search engine, Google, to continuously evolve their algorithms to push quality content to the top, and everything else down into the abyss of “Page Two and Beyond…”
In an immature and emerging industry, Google had to reevaluate how they separated the good from the bad. Today, a large part of that process is represented by E-A-T.
E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. Basically, it’s an SEO term, and it’s also one of the ways Google determines the quality of a website, web page, or other piece of online content. The term appears multiple times in Google’s official Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, forming a core concept at the heart of what Google cares about.
If you search for something – anything – and something appears towards the top of the search results, it’s because Google has assessed its E-A-T value and chosen it as relevant to your search.
Google uses these guidelines because their goal is to show searchers the best, most relevant, and valuable content possible. This is why Google is such a huge platform to begin with; people know that when they need information, Google will strive to provide the best of the best.
In this process, Google decides what factors make a web page, video, infographic, webinar recording, or other pieces of content valuable. Google’s conclusion? Expertise, authority, and trustworthiness are qualities users are looking for when deciding whether or not to click, read, or download. It’s also a determining factor whether the ultimate experience is going to be a satisfying one.
So what does an SEO concept like E-A-T have to do with influencer marketing?
Like the early days of SEO, influencer marketing is a new and evolving industry. Lots of brands have had success leveraging influencers as part of their marketing strategies, but plenty more are simply doing it wrong. Just as Google has evolved and matured by viewing content quality through the lens of E-A-T, marketers need to start expanding their own definitions of quality as it relates to influencers. What lessons can influencers and influencer marketers take from Google’s E-A-T?
First and foremost, if you’re an influencer, demonstrate your expertise – share your knowledge. Strive to be the content creator in your niche that all the other players are chasing.
If you’re a brand, partner with influencers who are experts in their niche. You wouldn’t seek out an English teacher to show you math, nor a hardware store to serve you food. So why would you want an influencer who isn’t an expert in your niche to promote your brand?
And here’s a tip: Followers do NOT equal expertise. Too many brands fall into the trap of chasing influencers based on follower counts and engagements alone. You shouldn’t care about a “beauty YouTuber” with a million subscribers if that person hasn’t demonstrated a level of expertise that aligns with your brand through the quality of their content. Choose influencers who really know their stuff, so they can help you find people who want to know your stuff, too.
Next, they need to be authoritative. Again, don’t mistake a large follower count for authority.
In fact, micro- and nano-influencers often have more authority in their specific niche than, say, a celebrity influencer like Kim Kardashian. A micro-influencer’s audience follows them for their interesting and engaging content – not some starry-eyed celebrity factor.
So, if you’re selling ethically made, upcycled sneakers, it’s probably a bad idea to hire Kim Kardashian. Instead, find sustainable fashion influencers to promote your product.
Do some investigating: Which influencers are setting trends in the eco-fashion world? Who is everyone else emulating? It’s not always the Kim Kardashians. In fact, the influencers who are best for your brand might have only 30,000 followers, but you get the benefit of knowing that every single one of those followers is more likely to be interested in your product. Basically, you get more bang for your buck.
The trust people have in influencers is dwindling. Why? Too many brands have chosen influencers for the wrong reasons, and ended up asking the wrong influencers to promote their brands to the wrong audiences. Likewise, too many influencers have partnered with the wrong brands without doing their own due diligence, and have ended up tarnishing the trust they once had with their audiences in exchange for a short term gain. Whether or not certain influencers have even paid for fake followers, social platforms are now riddled with bots and phony engagements.
So how do you know who to trust? A good place to start is by looking for influencers who are already fans of your products or have a need for your product that they may not even know about yet. Trying to cram your brand into an influencer’s feed solely to capitalize on their reach and engagement when it doesn’t make sense in their content is a losing strategy.
Often, even when brands find a great influencer who’s a perfect fit, they’ll squander the opportunity by forcing an inauthentic campaign into an otherwise perfectly trustworthy influencer relationship. Let the influencers take the lead on introducing your brand to their audience; trust they know what their audience is going to care about and respond to most.
People want authenticity. They crave it, and they expect it from the influencers they follow. That’s what builds trust. When choosing an influencer to partner with, make sure they’re real (both literally and figuratively), then make sure your audience is aligned with theirs. Try giving the influencer the chance to customize a creative campaign their audience will love so much that they won’t even care if they see the required “#ad” in the caption.
Google loves E-A-T because people love E-A-T. It’s time for influencer marketers to take a lesson from Google and start choosing partners based on more than just a couple of arbitrary numbers on a social profile. If you’re serious about influencer marketing and want to be a success story in an emerging industry rather than another cautionary tale of “how-not-to-do-it,” pay attention to Google and embrace E-A-T as your standard.