Where media advertising, print and mailers used to exert the most impact on buying, more and more it is the voices of online influencers we are hearing in our heads as we shop for both goods and services.
Chances are your most recent purchase decisions were more affected by the blogs from influencer content that you may read and who you are connected to through the web of social media, than through traditional marketing channels.
As we discussed last time, final purchasing decisions are most frequently related to emotional reactions, more than cold rational thinking. The decision to buy a new car, or computer is often a thoughtful decision, but our determination of which laptop to buy, or which car to drive, usually comes down to one’s emotional resonance with one choice over another.
The power, and principal advantage that online influencers have over traditional channels comes from the more direct, more personal connection that develops in digital spaces: interacting with a blog, participating in discussions in forums and through social media platforms, etc.
From all this direct interaction, participants feel a high level of trust and interest in the opinions of their favorite blogger, moderator, or host.
Influencer marketing is a new twist on content marketing. Instead of focusing resources on creating content for your brand’s blog and social channels, focus is on cultivating a community of influencers who are sympathetic and friendly to your brand, and motivating them to create new content for you, that supports your brand.
From simple shout-outs to long-form reviews with unboxing videos, there is an army out there willing to help tell your brand’s story, if you can gain their interest.
Build Your Influencer Network
The first step when implementing an influencer marketing strategy is to build your network of influencers. The most potent class of influencer these days is the blogger. Close to 90% of all current influencers publish at least one blog, and they tend to be very active across a myriad of social media platforms.
You will want to identify the most widely read and respected blogs and bloggers relevant to your brand, review their existing content, SEO statistics, social media reach and engagement to determine those that align best with your brand’s story.
Activists, trend setters, educators, entertainers, artists, coaches, and authors with significant social reach are strong influencers or “socially savvy”. If you have the time and motivation, you can often use tools within your social platforms to identify those who are posting content related to your specific target market or segment.
There are also paid services, like Little Bird (www.GetLittleBird.com) who compile influencer data, and are skilled at helping to narrow your focus and effectively identify relevant influencers.
Create a Community
The methods use to acquaint yourself with top influencers varies widely. The more personal the approach the better. When circumstances permit, approaching influencers at a conference or convention, or at some kind of formal meeting or meet-up, is an excellent first step, but it is not always practical, and often it is not necessary.
In most cases, you and your brand are already active on social channels. Great first connections can often be made through their blogs or social channels, by simply commenting on their content, sharing that which resonates naturally with your brand, or looking for opportunities to help them by engaging with them and their followers.
Look for opportunities to strengthen these relationships by introducing influencers to others with similar interests and goals, just as you would with personal acquaintances. The more steadfast a friend you are to them, the more they are likely to corroborate with your brand and goals.
Invite Them to the Party
As you develop a community of influencers who are amicable to your brand, invite them to online or real-world events designed to attract with interesting speakers, a behind-the-scenes look at your brand, or the launch of a new product or service.
Be creative. Focus more on adding value to the influencer’s experience, than aggressively hawking your brand, and you will see those connections deepen.
Document the Process – Everything is Content
You will be amazed how much relevant, interesting content you can develop through simply documenting this process, as you go through it. Photos, screen shots, video, blog posts, social posts, quotes and tweets for your social channels will serve as a scrapbook for your budding influencer community, and can create feelings of personal investment among your influencers.
Incentives Influence Influencers
As your network grows friendlier toward your brand, you can begin to ask your influencers to upload/post photos or video of them with your products, perhaps with a promise to share their content through your social network.
Endeavor to offer swapping posts with your influencers, which will allow you to shape the message they will send for you. Suggest guest blogging for them on topics of mutual interest, and invite them to do the same for you on their area of expertise.
Prizes, drawing entries, or discounts on products and services, can also be effective incentives for media influencers to discuss and support your brand with their audience.
Or, give them the incentive on the front-end! Send your network of influencers free products (or trial access to services) and ask them to try your products, and discuss them on their media channels.
Originally appeared on SAP Commerce