How to Craft a Sophisticated Influencer Marketing Program

Danielle Lapierre
February 22, 2021

In today’s saturated marketplace, consumer marketing has become a difficult task. As high as 84% of Millennials have been found to distrust traditional advertising, with Gen Z being even more skeptical. And while a great paid strategy is still important, the shift away from conventional methods has made acquiring new customers harder than ever, especially since Millennials and Gen Z are more likely than other generations to have a digital presence. Instead, these demographics are looking to people they trust, whether it’s friends, family, or influencers, for recommendations. In a recent survey, 40% of consumers have purchased a product after seeing it promoted by an influencer.

For brands, influencer marketing has shifted dramatically in the last few years from a supplementary (at best) part of a brand’s strategy, to one of the initiatives with the highest ROI. In 2019, 17% of companies spent over half of their marketing budget on influencers, and 89% said ROI from influencer marketing is comparable to, or better than, other marketing initiatives. And yet, despite the push to an influencer-first model, brands are still struggling to source influencers, measure their effectiveness, and maintain accurate data so that their influencer program can grow both in the short and long term. Influencer marketing has grown so quickly that, much like other channels like TikTok, brands are working from a blank slate—there’s no legacy process to iterate on!

Best practices are still being established, and are changing daily. However, one thing is clear: consumers are looking for content that feels real; they want recommendations from people they trust. A recent study showed that as high as 94% of marketers believe only authentic influencers drive results. Finding existing brand advocates through UGC can be one of the most impactful ways to put authenticity at the heart of your influencer marketing strategy.

Sophisticated brands often have a well-developed influencer sourcing process. They understand what types of creators tend to drive performance, and what demographics tend to be a good fit. Yet so much of the post-sourcing and evaluation workflow is done in spreadsheets with inadequate, or inconsistent access to the data needed to make strategic decisions. This takes time away from already time-strapped teams and can lead to inaccurate and incomplete data sets.  Impactful strategic decisions rely on true data; however, the industry and reporting solutions used by many brands haven’t caught up to the shifting landscape. As influencer marketing programs continue to evolve and mature, a consistent effort to measure and improve upon existing strategies will be crucial to growth.

Sourcing New Talent: Your Current Advocates Are Your Biggest Asset

Like influencers, UGC has quickly become one of the best ways for brands to integrate content into their strategies that feels both warm and unpolished, and showcases the brand in unique ways. Studies have shown that touching items in stores make buyers more likely to make a purchase. UGC is the digital version of touching a product—it encourages buyers to picture how they would style it, or how it would fit into their makeup routine, or look with their furniture. Similar to influencer content, 90% of users trust UGC to influence their purchase decisions.

We know that content created by users’ peers, whether it be UGC or influencers, converts at a much higher rate than many traditional marketing mediums. So how do brands tap into this consumer desire for insightful, authentic, content at scale?

The best way to find ultra-effective influencers is to tap into your UGC and top fans. By partnering with creators who already use and love your brand, you’re ensuring that your products are likely to be a hit with their audience since creators tend to attract followers and community members who have similar interests. It’s truly the best of both worlds.

Tip: Look to sister brands or brands under the same parent company for inspiration for who to work with. It’s easy for teams to become siloed, but if an influencer is a great fit for one brand they likely are for a sister brand as well. You’ll also be starting ahead since you’ll already have a handle on what types of content tend to perform best, and how easy the creator is to work with.

And with Dash Hudson, you can easily check to see who your top fans are using our UGC Tools.

Considerations When Building and Refining Your Program: Top Things To Keep In Mind For Long Term Growth

While there are dozens of things a brand should consider while building out a top-notch influencer marketing program, these are just a few of the things we recommend building into the core of your strategy.

1. Ensure that your creators fit your brand ethos

Brands must ensure that everyone they work with fits their brand aesthetic, values, and general ethos. This seems obvious but is so often overlooked, and can be detrimental to partnership success. A history of quality content is a good indicator of the type of content you can expect for your campaign. A paid partner is a direct representative of your brand and, while they must be given creative freedom—they know their audience best after all—they can quickly become a liability if they aren’t appropriately vetted and re-evaluated over time.

Top Tip: Dash Hudson customers use Relationship IQ to measure and monitor brand fit by comparing an influencer's overall engagement rate to the engagement rate on posts featuring that brand. If the engagement rate is lower on paid content for an influencer compared to their overall engagement rate, it’s a leading indicator that the influencer is not a good fit for that brand. If the engagement rate was the same in the past for sponsored content vs. overall content, but is lower on recent campaigns with your brand, it may indicate that the influencer’s audience has changed, or that the featured product didn’t resonate with their community.

2. Engagement is key

For influencers to drive sales for your brand they must have a high engagement rate. Fake followers just won’t cut it! There’s a common misconception that macro-influencers (100,000+ followers) are more effective than micro or mid-level influencers (10,000 - 100,000 followers). While large players have more reach, smaller players tend to be more niche, have higher engagement rates, and are usually much cheaper. Macro-influencers most definitely have their place in influencer marketing, but it  depends on the goals of your campaign. When you’re tracking the success of a campaign, ensure you’re comparing apples to apples. For example, reach likely won’t show overall impact, but something like earned media value (EMV) will.

3. Keep authenticity at the center of your influencer marketing program

For an influencer to be effective, their audience needs to truly believe that the influencer genuinely likes and uses the product or service. There’s nothing Millennials and Gen Z are better at than sensing an inauthentic sponsorship. They’ll also be less likely to trust that influencer’s recommendations in the future. Putting authenticity at the forefront of your influencer marketing program will ensure that it’s successful now, and in the future. That means working with influencers who genuinely love your products and your brand.

Using Insights to Constantly Improve Performance: The Importance of True Data

Unfortunately, one of the hardest parts of managing an influencer marketing program is getting access to the insights needed to make strategic decisions. Brand leaders are expected to be more cross-functional than ever, and yet they’re spending hours on admin work. This typically includes sourcing and vetting influencers, working with influencers to get engagement data, and doing post-campaign analysis. Brands often rely on performance data obtained via screenshots sent directly from influencers. This data is then managed in spreadsheets, with brands manually calculating top metrics. Metrics like followers gained are particularly hard to calculate manually—especially with multiple campaigns running as it’s so context-dependent, and there’s no easy way to easily track it back to a particular influencer retroactively.

Performance data is typically then copied into decks to share with leadership. We’re talking two-to-three manual data transfers minimum. The manual data management process currently used by many brands is not only time consuming for time-poor marketing professionals, but can lead to poor data quality and reliability—both of which are crucial for making strategic decisions. If strategic decisions are made based on inaccurate data, it can cost the brand millions in lost sales and in opportunity cost.

Strategic decisions rely on having access to true data, or data that brands know is accurate, that is consistent (they won’t lose access to it) and that is updated very regularly. Automating data collection and storage, and cutting out error-prone admin work, is key as influencer programs continue to grow and mature.

We’ve briefly discussed the importance of “true” data, but what does that mean in practice? It’s important to remember that data integrity exists on a spectrum, from unreliable to very reliable. There are a few ways to get access to true data from influencers.

1. (Good) Set up a regular reporting cadence

If you’re getting data directly from influencers, experts recommend setting up a reporting cadence with regular updates. There are still limitations, but it’s less risky than relying on one-off reports. We recommend that brands continue to get updates on older campaigns to monitor changes. There’ll likely be a plateau, where metrics for older campaigns stop changing. This is something that we recommend testing. For example, you might notice that for Instagram posts there isn’t much change after one week, and so it may not make sense to keep updating numbers on that post after a week. These reports should include precise posting time so you can do any analysis around followers gained.

2. (Best) Connect to an influencer analytics platform

Platforms which provide influencer analytics will be connected to the channel directly — such as the Facebook API. They’re able to periodically (often hourly or daily) pull data directly from that source so they have a constant beat on changes to historical and current metrics.

Working with an Influencer Analytics Platform does two things: firstly, it ensures that you have access to historical data at all times, and secondly, platforms will often calculate many of the key metrics for you, saving hours of work and allowing you to focus on strategic decisions. If it’s important to your brand to metaphorically hold the keys to the kingdom (data storage), we recommend connecting to a platform and periodically downloading your data to save on your internal database.

Tip: Always stick to platforms which are Facebook Marketing Partners. We’ve seen too many brands lose historical data because Facebook cracked down on scraping or shut down a platform's access to data due to compliance issues. Working with Facebook Marketing Partners ensures that you’ll never lose access to your data.

In Summary

Influencers can be incredibly profitable but, like any modern digital marketing technique, expensive if done wrong. When you’re building out your influencer marketing program, sourcing creators from accounts that are already engaging with your brand is a great basis for a long-term, profitable, partnership because their audience truly believes that they like and use the product, not just because they were paid to promote it.

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