The way consumers make buying decisions has undoubtedly changed over the past decade.
Long gone are the days of people watching commercials on TV and using the Yellow Pages before they make a purchase - buyers these days put more trust in recommendations and promotions from third party influencers than they do from paid advertisements. Third party credibility provided by social media celebrities and industry influencers can provide businesses with highly coveted visibility, traffic and ultimately, sales.
So where should you start on your own influencer strategy?
Here's a simple, seven-step strategy for harnessing the power of social media to launch your influencer marketing process.
Step 1: Goals, Goals, Goals
The first step to any marketing campaign should always be creating clear, concise goals for the campaign.
What do you hope to achieve from engaging with influencers? Are you hoping for content promotion, a partnership, or are you simply looking to generate backlinks?
By pinpointing exactly what you're aiming for, you can begin to strategize the best way to achieve the desired goal.
Step 2: Identify the Right Influencers
Knowing and understanding your audience is the key here. Which influencers hold sway over your target audience ?
Jason Berkowitz of Break the Web Digital Marketing suggests this:
"If you're not already familiar with the influencers in your industry, begin by searching relevant hashtags on Twitter to find out who's participating in the conversation. Setting up Google Alerts for trending topics to see who's writing about your industry is another good way to build your influencer list."
Once you have a preliminary list of influencers created, it's time to weed out the ones that aren't a good fit. Some of the initial metrics you should be looking for are follower count and engagement.
From there, get to know your target list by reading through their social media posts and content to make sure they align with your brand and your mission. Aligning with the wrong people can cause significant brand damage, if you're not careful. Quality always trumps quantity.
Step 3: Map Your Approach
Now it's time to map your plan of attack. How are you going to convince the target influencers to help you reach your goals? Are you going to reach out to them directly, or will you have a PR or marketing agency reach out to them for you?
There are pros and cons to both strategies, but recent studies show that 79% of influencers prefer personal outreach by a brand, over outreach by a third party agency.
You also need to consider how you'll incentivize them to work with you - people who've spent years amassing a following generally aren't going to help you out of the kindness of their hearts.
Are you going to offer them financial compensation, send them a free product, or help them with marketing and advertising? Figure that out before you even consider reaching out.
Step 4: Engage
Think of this as a pre-game strategy. Before you send your pitch, you should spend at least a couple weeks engaging with target influencers on social media.
Read and comment on the blog posts they write, re-tweet them on twitter, and find ways to insert yourself into the conversation.
Ideally, you'll get to know them before you pitch them - and equally as important, you'll be on their radar as well.
Step 5: Send the Pitch
It's game time. If you've played your cards right up to this point, this part should be easy because you'll hopefully have some rapport built already.
Present your pitch in a mutually beneficial way, and remember to treat influencers like humans.
Contrary to popular belief, they're not robots put on earth to help you promote your business. They're hard working people, like you and I, who have spent years building their brand. Remember this when you approach them, and treat them like a friend.
Step 6: Measure Results
Time for the moment of truth. Did influencers respond to your pitch? Did you get the results you were looking for? And if so, did it add to your bottom line?
Measure each part of your campaign, using tools like Google Analytics, Moz Open Site Explorer, and internal sales reports to determine whether or not your goals were met.
Step 7: Revise Your Strategy (Maybe)
If the results from your campaign were sub-par, it's time to rework your strategy.
Even the best marketers miss the mark sometimes - making small, subtle changes can mean a world of difference.
Create a new influencer list. Engage more before pitching. Try some A/B testing on things like subject lines and the incentive you're offering.
If your first run at the campaign left a lot to be desired, this is the step where you wash, rinse and repeat.
Influencer marketing is here to stay. Are you going to leverage the power of social media, or miss the boat on increased traffic, credibility and visibility?
(Of course, that's a rhetorical question).