There’s no doubt about it: we are living in the age of influencers, and 2018 is just going to see their reach increase. We’ve moved comfortably from celebrity product placement and through bloggers with high follower counts, and we’re now nudging into micro-influencer territory, forming relationships with Instagrammers and YouTubers who may not have the followers of a Kardashian, but who have much more authentic and personal relationships with their audiences.

So it was no surprise to see a packed room on 18 January as London’s social movers and shakers gathered to hear more about leveraging influencers across your digital strategy. The breakfast discussion, jointly-hosted by Linkfluence and Spredfast, included sessions from Arsenal Football Club, Hotels.com, Benefit Cosmetics and Ogilvy UK, and got Twitter a-flutter as we #spredideas.

In-house doesn’t make it easier

While most of us scramble or use social insights to identify our influencers, Arsenal Football Club has an in-house squad of influencers ready and waiting to go. But, said the club’s Senior Content Manager Tom Hines, that doesn’t make it easier – the content team has limited access to players and managers. Still, it’s always been part of the digital strategy at Arsenal to leverage those influencers – they know that if they get star names in the title, they’ll hit a certain reach and engagement.

There are also those pesky external influences – such as team performance – that are hard to predict yet have a massive impact on social.

“Club media is not the reason you’re going to become an Arsenal supporter; it’s how the team is doing on the pitch,” Hines told the audience. “We’ll make little changes, look for the right fan influencers, create new content, get a 2-3% change in metrics, then the team wins 5-0 and everything goes through the roof. We’re pretty much a slave to what happens on the pitch, and that’s interesting from a brand point of view – week to week we have swings in sentiment, and we have to deal with that.”

Brief influencers like agencies

Hotels.com also works to leverage the in-house influencer: its own staff. Talking about a fantastic employee engagement programme, Global Head of Social Media Tim McLoughlin spoke of how Hotels.com made its own staff the center of attention on the brand’s social feeds.

“Many of our staff are as talented as influencers, they travel the world and are great photographers,” he said. “By sharing photos taken by staff around the world on Instagram, we get great unique content. We went from spending on Getty images to spending on prizes for staff. It was a great engagement programme.”

Hotels.com does still use external influencers, looking for people who are fun and a bit quirky. It’s the influencer’s tone of voice that then expresses the Hotels.com tone. But, he cautioned, it’s important to ensure there are clear expectations on both sides of the equation. After sharing a horror story to show why briefs are so important, McLoughlin then shared his checklist for success:

  1. Brief influencers like agencies
  2. Get influencers to create for you
  3. Let them be authentic
  4. Measure everything
  5. It’s not just about money

Harness the passion that’s already out there

When it came to setting up its own influencer programme, Benefit Cosmetics knew it needed to harness the amazing fans it already had on social media. Showing off its own brand tone, Benefit set up a micro-influencer programme named “Friends with Benefit”, offering exclusive events, workshops and sneak peeks to those who totally love its products.

Lauren Spearman, Digital Manager at Benefit Cosmetics UK, spoke about how the brand built its micro-influencer programme initially without money changing hands. “At this level,” she said, “there is an opportunity – what else can you offer them? They’re building a following with a topic they’re really passionate about.”

Spearman advised really getting to know your audience, your customers, how they behave. Who are the people already talking about you? Plus, she said, don’t be afraid to be a “social stalker” while doing your research.

“Brand fit is most important,” she said. “The influencers you choose to work with are a reflection of you and your company. Don’t always jump on the first person who wants to come and work with you. Don’t be desperate – check you’re the right fit for each other. Ask questions, show you care. Do your homework. Make sure you’re happy and comfortable that they are the right person to represent your brand externally.”

Don’t just jump on the bandwagon

Among the great case studies and thoughts from brands themselves, we also heard the sage wisdom of Rahul Titus, Head of Influencer Marketing at Ogilvy UK. Inspiring the audience with science and expertise, Titus spoke of “the tragedy of the commons” currently happening in influencer marketing – that is, we’re all focussing on ourselves, and the common opportunity is suffering. In his own words, we are “wrecking the common with over-exploitation”.

Titus’s guidance for ensuring there’s enough to go around – about how to work smartly with influencers – had plenty of heads nodding.

  1. Empower the content, don’t disturb it – nobody knows their audience better than the influencer. Work with them to find out the best way to create content that works for their audience. Protect authenticity at all costs.
  2. Embrace the new. Embrace new formats and new forms of creativity. If it’s not a little uncomfortable, it’s too conventional. Push harder to stand out in a cluttered marketplace.
  3. Follow the rules. Disclosure is not optional.
  4. Connect the dots. Think systems not silos. Influencers work across multiple channels including ATL, PR, SEO and social. Optimise the bigger picture to maximize ROI.
  5. Think medium, not platform. Go beyond YouTube and Instagram to really make this channel work for you. Live, AI, podcasts, Twitch, Musical.ly all are channels that have been untapped in this space. Different is good.
  6. Compensate, don’t overpay. Influencers deserve to be compensated for their time and trouble the same as any partner. But avoid the ridiculous. Define the value exchange to go beyond the transactional and hold them accountable. Too much cash distorts the value for everyone.

 

And of course, the best way to identify influencers, to research them, to check they are right for your brand, is by using technology. Social insights can help you to not only identify the right influencers for your brand but also to monitor the success of the engagement – and to get data to help with the next step.

Find out how Linkfluence can help you get more influential.

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