Are you ready for influencer marketing?

Social media is particularly effective for brands trying to reach Millennials and Gen Z, digital generations who grew up interacting online and are more fluent in social media than older cohorts. While there are plenty of differences between these two generations, there’s one big thing they have in common: their purchases are influenced by social media.

In fact, according to a recent study more than 80% of Gen Z consumers and 74% of Millennials are influenced by social media in their shopping—a striking difference with Boomers at 41%, and significantly more than Gen X at 58%. They look to their friends and networks for implicit and explicit advice, and they follow brands and celebrities. And those celebrities aren’t limited to Hollywood anymore; YouTube celebrities, Snapchat stars and the Insta-famous are all legitimate influencers when it comes to impacting consumer behavior.

But how do you reach those consumers with meaningful content if they don’t follow your brand, don’t engage with ads, and might not even know you exist? That’s where influencer marketing comes in. Whether it’s a highly curated or a more far-reaching program, it involves leveraging that close relationship between influencer and consumer to advocate for a brand, product or service. It instills immediate trust, and the most successful influencers are true partners who know how to do it authentically in ways that really resonate with their readers.

There’s been a lot of buzz around influencer marketing this month, particularly around strategy and measurement. And for good reason—while influencer programs are one of the most powerful ways that businesses can market to consumers, it can often be difficult to measure the true return on investment (ROI). If you’re considering venturing into influencer marketing, here are a few considerations that can help you plan:

Define the purpose of your program

Are you looking to gain more followers, or acquire new emails? Reach new audiences, or change the way people think about your brand? Knowing what you plan to achieve will help you frame up the goals of the program, a first step toward determining whether influencer marketing is indeed a good fit, and which channels and types of influencers might be right for you.

Similarly, try to identify the target audience for your program from a psychographic and demographic perspective; even if it’s a hunch at the moment, the more insight and information at this stage the better. Convinced that 25-29 year-old females in Brooklyn who love unicorn glitter and rainbow-colored foods will also love your new line of t-shirts? Talk about that up front with your marketing team to avoid wasted time further along in the process.

Determine how you’ll measure success

In order to create an effective strategy, you’ll need to define the objectives in terms of data and measurement as well—a step that often gets missed when you're approaching the limelight. You can certainly measure the performance on each post (the number of video views, comments or likes on Instagram, for example), but engagement and eyeballs don’t necessarily translate to a key performance indicator. And unless you have a sophisticated attribution model in place that can track who saw what, and when, and what action that drove, it may be difficult to match up your spend in influencer marketing to leads, sales, acquisition or purchase.

That being said, the level of confidence and complexity in your analytics plan should be relative to overall spend. You can infer ROI if influencer marketing is the only factor that changed in your program and you saw a spike in sales, or if new referral traffic drove more transactions in your site’s analytics. In addition, Snapchat and Amazon recently rolled out platforms that improve purchase tracking from influencer campaigns, and Linqia has announced improved analytic ability at scale that promises to predict performance and help brands decide whom to engage. Tools will continue to improve as marketers demand the ability to track impact.

Research and vet potential influencers

Whether you’re sourcing your own list, having someone on your team do the research, or hiring an agency, you’ll need to have a solid sense of the do’s and don’ts for working with your brand. The vetting process involves not just searching for potential partners, but also combing through each influencer’s profile—reading all the content, looking at the images, and thinking about whether it seems appropriate for the brand. Since vetting also involves finding the right match for authenticity from the influencer’s perspective, sometimes the answer to your partnership request will be no. And that’s okay; just know up front that you need to source more prospects than you expect to sign and rank them according to priority and fit.

This can be a very time-consuming process, so planning in advance will avoid a lot of wasted effort down the road. Prepare for it by developing a list of desires and disqualifiers; for example, do you want gender, race, and geographic diversity represented? What's an automatic disqualifier in a profile history—visible tattoos, piercings, and ice cream consumption? By providing those yes/no parameters early on, your research team will be able to build a prospect list that fits your needs on the right channels.

Don't forget the foundation

Last but certainly not least, I would be remiss if I didn't say that you absolutely need to have a sophisticated social presence before you delve into influencer marketing. Your profiles will be tagged and referenced, and it won't reflect well on your brand or on the influencer you're trying to work with if you look like you're not ready to play in the big leagues. Similarly, if you take a hard look at your overall marketing strategy relative to your competitive set, you may find out that you're not quite ready to make the leap and need to focus on other areas like SEO, mobile optimization, email campaigns and owned channels. You can always come back to influencer marketing once you have a sound marketing strategy foundation in place. 

If you've got all that working well and you're ready to jump in, this Forbes article on getting started gives a nice rundown of the basics of influencer marketing that business owners can take themselves, or work with a marketing partner to execute.

Have a question about influencer marketing, or any marketing topic? We'd love to help: just ask!