5 takeaways from our ‘brands and influencers’ panel
Our wide-ranging session covered definitions, misconceptions, and the steady rise of standards and expectations on both sides
At May’s Melt Digital Breakfast we discussed influencer marketing with a panel of leading travel influencers and an audience of marketers from all over the travel industry.
In case there was any doubt, this is very much a live topic. In a poll at the event, 79% of attendees said that they were already using or planning to use influencers as part of their marketing strategy for 2017; a relatively low 17% felt they didn’t know enough about influencer marketing to decide; and a tiny 3% had no plans to use influencer marketing.
Below we round up some of the key themes that emerged from the panel’s insights and the audience’s questions.
1. Your definition of ‘influencer’ might be all wrong
Melt’s Hannah Butcher kicked off the discussion by talking definitions. She argued that there is widespread misunderstanding of the term ‘influencer marketing’, and that as a result it has unfairly taken the blame for several recent marketing snafus. Our panel agreed that an influencer is someone who has genuine credibility in a specific industry or niche – which is not the same as simply being popular (though the two can overlap, of course).
For example: a hostel brand could hook up with a globetrotting Instagram sensation and win a few lucky conversions. But if they worked with specialist gap year and backpacker blogs, they’d be sure of a targeted audience that is actively researching their brand and their products.
For our panel, this distinction was the key to understanding how successful influencer marketing works, and why it is rapidly growing and maturing.
2. “Blogging is about to get a whole lot more professional”
This was one of the key messages from Macca Sherifi (A Brit and a Broad) who spoke at the event as a veteran influencer with experience in journalism, media and PR.
Graft and professionalism were constant themes throughout both Macca’s talk and the wider discussion. The consensus was that it takes craft, creativity and hard work to become influential. Many successful influencers owe their careers to more than a decade of building follower relationships. Panellist Brenna Holeman (This Battered Suitcase) told us that she has spent 14 years building her audience, starting on LiveJournal before migrating to her current site.
3. Finding the right influencer takes graft too
On the brand side, to get ROI from influencer marketing you need to do your homework. This proved a key concern for the audience – several guests asked questions on how to find the right influencer. There’s no easy answer; data analysis, judgment, experience and research all play their part (more on that in our guide to finding the right influencer).
If that sounds like a lot of effort, it’s worth it for what you get with the right influencer. As brands come to expect more from influencer marketing and influencers make full-time careers from their work, Macca pointed out that the influencer world is professionalising fast. That means clearer contracts, better content, a new focus on ethics and new scrutiny under consumer protection legislation.
Brenna – who in addition to blogging has worked with Visit Britain and Hilton, and helps Expedia connect with influencers for its UK marketing strategy – recommended social analysis tools, notably Social Blade. But she also stressed the amount of manual work you still need to do to evaluate an influencer.
4. Think of influencers as publishers, not just bloggers
It’s important to remember that most influencers work on several channels, and many are experienced media professionals and creatives. Choose the right influencer and you’re not solely getting ‘influence’. You’ll potentially get everything you’d expect from a traditional media channel, with professionally produced content going straight to a readily engaged audience.
Talent agencies for influencers have existed for several years, with companies like AwesomenessTV and Fullscreen growing out of YouTube partnership networks and connecting brands with vloggers to reach a qualified audience.
Brenna pointed out that influencer marketing is not limited to social channels, and that influencers can provide pathways to consumers of all ages all over the web, reminding the audience that “not everyone uses social media, but nearly everyone knows how to use Google”. In other words, influencers can become an extension of your organic strategy, and influencer relationships can genuinely super-power your link-building.
Whatever your audience is interested in, chances are there’s an influencer who can connected with them, however niche their interests.
5. Relationships are key
That means that working with an influencer is very different from traditional celebrity endorsements. If you decide to work with an influencer, they must be a natural fit for your brand and be able to promote it to their audience authentically.
In Macca’s words, “the relationship between an influencer and a brand should be a happy thing”. Yes, influencer marketing can go wrong when it’s executed poorly. But that’s no different from any marketing discipline. When it’s done right, everyone wins; your brand reaches a qualified audience who are pleased to find content and products that are relevant to their interests, and the influencer increases their influence (and gets paid).
More Melt events
Our next Melt Digital Breakfast will tackle email marketing. Grab a free place and check out future events on our events page.