“[Influence marketing] is no longer about ‘Hi, I’m a creator, I like this brand, go buy it.’ That doesn’t work anymore. It has to be much more involved, creative, strategic, and authentic for it to actually work.” – Jason Falls
It’s understandable why some brand marketing teams shy away from influencer marketing, especially if they equate “influencer” with “millions of followers.” But there are plenty of amazing content creators with engaged followings that you can partner with to extend your reach and drive meaningful results—without needing to pay thousands of dollars.
In this #ContentChat recap, Erika joins Jason Falls, influence marketing thought leader and host of Winfluence—The Influence Marketing Podcast, to discuss why influence(r) marketing is still a smart content marketing strategy and how to make the most from your investment.
Watch the full conversation on YouTube or read through the highlights below:
Q1: What is influencer marketing, and how does it fit into a content marketing strategy?
Influencer marketing is about collaborating with content creators who have engaged audiences that trust the creator and their recommendations or opinions. Yes, some influencers buy followers or engagement, but Jason says that’s maybe only 5-15% of creators out there.
“It’s really important for brands to focus on influence marketing because that is the pathway to the trusted third-party recommendation. When you are a brand, you can take out all the ads you want. You can put out all your own content you want. And a certain amount of that will be successful. But it’s when the media, or it’s when an influential person on some social network, or a friend or a family [member] of the target consumer you’re trying to reach actually talks about you to them in a very genuine and authentic way, that’s when you have a much higher chance of converting a new customer.” – Jason Falls
“Every time you heard a story about an influencer, it was a negative story. It was that someone bought followers or Photoshopped clouds into their Instagram pictures, or whatever. I have been working with online influencers, bloggers, Instagrammers, etc., for many years, and I happen to know that there is a superficial line of influential people out there—or social media stars—that aren’t real cost effective for you because they may buy their followers, buy engagement, or even mislead people when representing how big and how influential they are. That superficial layer of lack of substance [and] lack of true influence does exist. But it’s maybe 5-15% of everything that is there. All of the other people in the influencer content creator space are people who have outstanding content. They’re very engaged with their audience and their audience is very engaged with them. And when they recommend products and services, their audience goes and tries it.” – Jason Falls
Jason advocates for ‘influence marketing.’ Here’s why:
“What I started to think about was: Here’s the problem. We’re talking about the influencers too much. What we need to focus on is what we’re trying to do, which is influence our audience to take action. If you take that ‘r’ off, it’s a subtle change. But if you say ‘I’m focused on influence marketing and not influencer marketing,’ your mindset shifts. It’s all about persuading the audience to take action. Someone who has half a million followers or subscribers on YouTube is a potentially viable path to that audience, but so is the president of the local PTA if you are the local franchisee of the Parent-Teacher Store.” – Jason Falls
Q2: What types of influencers should brands consider engaging with?
To find potential influencer content partners, you can use an influencer marketing platform or search Google for influencers in your space. When assessing potential partners, ensure that they talk about products and services in a natural and engaging way, sparking conversation with their followers. If the partner doesn’t look credible then they likely aren’t the right fit.
“You’re trying to get a read for their social media content and/or their podcast and/or their blog, because those are communication pathways that the influencer marketing tools often overlook. You’re looking to see if they’re engaged with their audience and if their audience engaged with them. Do they talk about products and services? Do they spark conversation around those products and services, in the comment section, in the ‘at’ replies, etc.? Go back and look at some of their content going back a few weeks or months. Do they look credible? Are they a credible person who can talk about this particular category or product/service. When you start to find the people who have a decent following, engage that following, and are able to drive conversation, then you have a pretty good hunch that they can drive that offline action as well.” – Jason Falls
An ideal collaborator can share examples that showcase results they’ve driven before. That said, some great partners may simply not understand that they should provide this information, so don’t write them off completely.
“A good content creator [is] going to have the proof points for you and say these are the previous brand partnerships we’ve done, these are the results they’ve produced, so we can verify that we are actually credible and able to move the needle for you. The ones who don’t or can’t provide that, [it] doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t good to partner with, they may just not know any better. There are a lot of content creators out there who are great at creating content and engaging their audience, but they don’t really know anything about the business of marketing or advertising.” – Jason Falls
Q3: How can brands partner with influencers for content marketing?
User-generated content is increasingly valuable.
“There has been a shift in the last six months almost away from the concept of influencers and influence marketing to brands going after micro- and nano-influencers and creators to get the content. It’s more a user generated content play than ‘I want you to post the product on your channel.’ It’s ‘I like the way you create content, and I want it on my channels.” – Jason Falls
An easy starting point is to ask the influencer to create a product review.
“The easiest place to start out is ‘can we get you to review the product? Can we send you the product for free? Use it, and post content about what you think about it.’ And then you can start to work with them and see ‘do they follow the instructions we sent? Are they a good partner with a brand? Do I like working with them?’ And then you can go from there.” – Jason Falls
Consider featuring the influencer as a byline on your company blog.
“Something you see frequently with enterprise blogs is you need to have these blog posts come from a human being. Brands frequently want the posts to just come from the brand. But you need to have examples, you need to have anecdotes—it needs to be real, so it needs to come from a human being. Working with influencers to create that bylined content and who have that knowledge of the audience is such a really smart way to start out in building those relationships.” – Erika Heald
As you learn more about influencer marketing, help nano- and micro-influencers understand how they can stay competitive and appropriately price their work.
“The impetus is on us as influence marketing professionals for those newer, those micro- and nano-influencers or creators who don’t really have the savvy of doing this for a living, the impetus is on us to coach them, teach them, show them how to do this. I’ve responded to people and said you’re not charging enough. You’ve got a bigger audience and much better engagement footprint than you think you do, and I think you can charge more for that.” – Jason Falls
Q4: Do you have some tips for how should brands first approach an influencer to propose a content partnership?
Approach influencers to create content that they’re good at creating and can translate your brand through their work. Jason explains that short-form (10-60 seconds) video content is the main priority for B2C brands. Short-form content is also great in the B2B space, but long-form content and diverse content assets are essential for supporting longer buyer cycles.
“It depends on the influencer, their audience, and what they’re good at creating. There are a ton of influencers out there that are really good at creating short form but can’t write to save their lives. And there’s the opposite of that. There are people who are great at writing whitepapers, articles, and reports that fall apart when the camera turns on. It’s really about finding the right combination of content creator, type of content, and are they going to be a good partner for your brand in translating your brand through whatever they create.” – Jason Falls
When reaching out to a creator, be concise.
“Be very short and to the point. Typically, content creators get inundated with spam emails and spam outreach. You’ve got to make it short and compelling. Then just let them decide whether or not they want to respond. The example that I’ve used before: A consumer electronics company was unveiling a new $3,000 audio system that was weatherproof. My outreach to these content creators was ‘Hi, I can put a $3,000 audio system in your backyard. Are you interested? Let me know.’ The response rate on that was pretty good compared to other campaigns I had done before.” – Jason Falls
Jason advises you to not reach out to the same person more than two or three times. At that point, you’re spamming them.
“Persistence is great. But in the world that we live in, persistence is just spam.” – Jason Falls
Q5: What red flags should content marketers look out for when assessing potential influencers?
Review several months of the creator’s content to see if they say anything or discuss topics that do not align with your brand or values. After that check, you can reach out to the creator.
If a potential creator partner is only focused on money, then they likely won’t care if the project meets your goals.
“The biggest that I typically see—and the one that probably informs my decision about if I want to work with a creator—is if [when] I reach out and say ‘I’d like to talk to you about a collaboration’ and the first thing they respond with is ‘what’s your budget’ then I know they’re not interested in anything but money. And if they are only interested in money then they won’t care whether or not the communication is successful.” – Jason Falls
“If a content creator comes back to you consistently, and all they’re concerned about is money or upcharging you… then you’re dealing with somebody who is just going to consistently be a headache.” – Jason Falls
This includes if the creator won’t agree to a meeting without you disclosing pricing first.
“If it is something that is going to be mutually beneficial, and you are really meeting a need in that creator’s community, they’ll at least be willing to have a conversation. You still might not be able to agree on terms, but at least you can have that conversation and you can pitch the idea of the collaboration and see what comes of it.” – Erika Heald
Look out for creators that could partner with your competitors.
“[Influencers] are probably going to be [working with] your competitors. And you have to think about how you feel about that. Because if they are looking at money first and foremost, they’re going to be looking for you to pay them extra in order to not be talking to your competitors. Or they’re going to use the fact that they just got sponsored by you to pitch your competitor. So that’s why it’s important to find folks who actually have an affinity for your brand.” – Erika Heald
Q6: How can brands collaboratively engage with influencers to identify possible content or activations?
Ensure that all potential engagements have a clear goal and measurement strategy. Collect data throughout the campaign to measure and monitor what is and is not working. That helps you change directions midway if you need and quantify your results so far.
“Before you ever reach out to an influencer [ask yourself] ‘what are we trying to accomplish here?’ Are we trying to send people to a website to purchase something? Then trackable links and URLs and pixels are going to be needed. Are we trying to get people to think differently about a topic or our product or service? Then we need to do some measure of survey on the front end to give us a benchmark of where we started so we can do the same thing at the back end to figure out where we ended, so we know where the needle moved, if at all.” – Jason Falls
Map your brand community to identify the people who already buy from you and engage with you online. Approach these people and use their past content to inform what type of partnership you propose.
“One thing we’ve skipped for a long time in terms of outreach and influence marketing is actually mapping your brand community and looking at the people you already know. Let’s look at the people who already buy from you, your customer base. Let’s look at your social media following. Who follows your brand online, who talks about you online? Let’s look at the people who are already creating content and find and map the influential voices there. That’s the core premise that CIPIO was built on.” – Jason Falls
Q7: What are the common pitfalls of brand influencer content marketing programs, and how can we avoid them?
Jason says there are two documents that are critically important to every creator campaign: an agreement and creative brief. He explains each below:
“Even if it’s just one piece of paper that says ‘we’re gonna pay you this much money or this much product in exchange for this, and let’s sign the bottom line’, [an agreement] makes it more official, it’s somewhat legally binding, and it plants the seed of expectation of formality in the creator’s mind.” – Jason Falls
“[Something] a lot of people skip because they think they don’t need it—but you do need it—is the creative brief. The impetus is on the brand to understand the influencer content creator collaboration and know you can’t really dictate ‘the content must say this, must have this, and must do that.’ What you have to say is ‘what we’re going for you is for you to communicate to your audience these things. We want to leave it up to your creativity to do that.’ If you try to take too much of the creative direction from the creator, the communication is going to fall flat because they’re just doing a sponsored post at that point, reiterating your talking points. You’ve got to let them create something that is meaningful to their audience because they know their audience way better than you do.” – Jason Falls
As part of the creative brief, explain any do’s or don’ts, including anything that could cause your legal department to step in.
“If you’re going to have your legal department step in and just kill something, you got to know what those triggers are, because you can’t expect that your creators will know.” – Erika Heald
Q8: What examples can you share of highly successful influencer content marketing programs?
Jason discusses the first time that his concept of influence marketing came to life in a case study at 50:40 in the recap. He explains how a Facebook video challenge for a former client inspired people to share their personal stories. His team approached influencers—including the mayor, state representatives, and local business leaders—asking them to do three things: like the video, comment on it and tell their story, and share the video with their network.
“Because we were able to collect so many great stories about UK HealthCare, it actually launched an entire new content marketing suite called We Are Proof, which is now on the UK HealthCare website where you can go and read all these real stories. So that was the influencer piece and the influence piece all coming together in one cohesive campaign that was super successful.” – Jason Falls