The rise of the influencer is perhaps one of the hallmarks of the 21st century. While the reach of influencers has grown with the rise of social media, they predate it by decades on the conservative side and by centuries if we cast our net a little further. So, let's look at what influencer marketing is and how knowing its history can help you develop your strategy.
What Is Influencer Marketing?
Influencer marketing is, more or less, exactly what it says on the label. You partner with a social media influencer in order to promote your brand, product, or service. By that definition, influencer marketing has a lot in common with celebrity sponsorship. Where it differs is in how influencers reach their level of fame.
Generally, influencers aren't what we'd consider traditionally famous people. They're not singers or movie stars. They're people who build up a following on social media, usually by finding a niche that interests them and entertaining people who share their interests. Because of the way influencers gain their audience on social media, their followers feel closer to them. They feel like they know them and therefore put more trust in what they tell them.
It's this trust that we hope to build on with influencer marketing.
The History of Influencer Marketing
While the term Influencer Marketing is fairly new, the practice is far older than most people realize. The first influencers were those who gained prestige. That includes Roman Gladiators as well as prominent nobility, whose choices have influenced what people decided to purchase. In the 20th century, fictional characters like Santa Claus (for Coca-Cola) and Little Mikey (for Quaker Oats Company) drew on people's imaginations to sell products. Celebrity endorsements, which became more prominent in the latter part of the 20th century, were just a natural progression of the already existent influencer marketing.
Understanding the Heart of Influencer Marketing
What do Queen Charlotte of England, Kim Kardashian, Santa Claus, and Michael Jordan all have in common? All three represent something that we aspire to become. It may be the adoration of a Queen or a wealthy socialite, the graciousness of a man who dedicates his time to making kids happy, or the ability to develop and showcase our talent by doing something we love. Even characters like Little Mikey have something aspirational to offer. We recognize Mikey's pickiness in ourselves or our kids, and in turn, when he's happy, we think, "We want to be happy like him too."
Developing Your Influencer Marketing Strategy
When we understand this commonality between the influential, the celebrity, and the influencer, understanding how to make influencer marketing a key part of our strategy becomes clear.
Research social media platforms for your target market and see who your audience is following - each social media is unique in audience, usage, and reach, so choose carefully.
Set your budget - this will help you and your intended Influencers find each other.
Establish your goals and message - do you want to reach a new audience or introduce something new to an existing audience? What is the key information you want people to know about your brand and product?
Determine how to reach out to your chosen influencers - will you reach out through social media platforms (for smaller influencers) or through business contact information (for more established influencers)?
Refine your strategy - check on your strategy as you go and make adjustments to how you present messaging.
Remember, It's about the Connection
The most important thing to remember in building your influencer marketing strategy is that it's about the connection influencers have to their audience. From gladiators to prank instigators, what makes influencer marketing work for you is the relationship between the person and their audience. If you choose an influencer whose style, image, and interests work with your brand, you have an excellent starting point.
Pay attention to how the audience responds to your brand. If you're not getting the results you need, don't be afraid to cut ties with the influencer. In the end, it will be good for your brand – you'll have the budget to find another influencer who better matches your goals. It's also good for the influencer, who will no longer try to push products or services their audience aren't interested in. As with any marketing strategy, influencer marketing takes time to build – both the strategy and the relationships.