Influencer marketing is a term that everyone can now imagine. But the concept behind it is neither an invention of the social media era, nor is it an automatic guarantee of success that requires little effort or concept creation. It needs a clear strategy.
As negative as the term influencer may be: From a marketing perspective, there is much more to it than young, superficial social media pin-ups who apparently earn a lot of money with little work. Influencer marketing, with its clearly measurable reach and the undisputed influence of its actors, which is already evident in the name, has become an indispensable part of the advertising material reservoir of many companies.
Influencer Marketing: Not an invention of the digital age
However, influencer marketing is not an invention of the digital age. Forbes magazine traces it back to the two-stage flow of communication, a communication model according to Paul Lazarsfeld, which the sociologist formulated as early as 1940.
In his research on the influence of mass media for the US presidential election at the time, he came to the conclusion that opinions are shaped more strongly by interpersonal communication than by the media themselves – these therefore require an intermediate stage in the form of an opinion maker. Advertisers today like to use the voice of influencers for this intermediate mouthpiece.
This is how influencer marketing works
So, instead of targeting the masses with a broad marketing campaign and hoping for conversion, influencer marketing focuses on single individuals who can reach a smaller but still significant crowd in a more targeted way – ideally in a way that is more personal to the target audience, appears more natural and believable. As a result, communication is more vertical in that it is continued from top to bottom via intermediary instances and should ideally create an effect of recommendation, long-term customer loyalty and immediate conversion.
Especially with the growth of social networks in recent years, this idea has proven to be increasingly popular with brands. According to figures from the Influencer Marketing Hub, global corporate spending on influencer marketing is expected to top $16 billion by 2022. In 2017 it was three billion dollars.
The concept is also becoming increasingly popular in Germany, as the Federal Association for the Digital Economy determined in a survey. According to this, only twelve percent of companies in this country were willing to spend more than 100,000 euros on influencer marketing in 2018 – two years later it was already 25 percent. During the corona pandemic, around 70 percent of the companies saw the importance of this form of marketing as having increased significantly.
An increasingly popular concept that seems extremely simple, but is anything but a sure-fire success, but a marketing concept that requires a well thought-out strategy.
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For whom influencer marketing makes sense
With the increasing popularity, the approach to influencer marketing has also changed. Rather than just putting one foot in the water and running it alongside numerous other strategies, it’s mostly seen as an integral part of the campaign, with its own budget and concept.
It does not make sense for every company or product to invest a lot of time and money in this type of digital marketing.
Ana Codallo, CTO and Influencers Officer at Key Opinion Leaders, advises Forbes magazine to ask yourself three questions to determine the need for influencer marketing:
- Can someone who is not an expert explain the product or the service?
- Can a potential customer understand the cost structure of the product or service without direct interaction?
- Can you offer a free trial or discount offer to get you started?
If the answer to these questions is yes, influencers could be considered as part of the marketing strategy.
Micro instead of macro: sacrifice reach for authenticity
After the decision, a company is faced with a choice: Do you collaborate with nano or micro influencers, do you grab one or a mega influencer with a reach of millions, or do you even rely on star power? At a time when celebs have the largest followings on Instagram and Twitter, the lines between influencer and classic celebrity testimonial are blurring. Just remember the small gesture by Cristiano Ronaldo (currently almost half a billion followers on Instagram), who put a Coca-Cola bottle away from him at a press conference and caused the company’s shares to collapse. Such potential can also be used positively in the media.
However, a trend of the hour in influencer marketing are micro-influencers. These are social media influencers who have a compact but loyal following of between 10,000 and 100,000 instead of millions of followers.
They are usually cheaper than the big stars of the scene, which is why companies like to focus on a bunch of “micros” instead of betting a lot of money on a bigger horse.
But that also entails risks. In an interview with the “Deutsches Institut für Marketing”, marketing entrepreneur Michael Bernecker calls micro-influencer marketing a “tedious business” in a world that is primarily characterized by reach: “For example, is there a community with a potential of 100,000 potential Customers and I work with four or five micro-influencers, who in total might have a reach of 2000. You have to think about how much effort is required for the few contacts.”
A small number of followers, on the other hand, also has potential. In general, such influencers are perceived by their followers as more credible and authentic. Products and services that can benefit from specialized influencers with expertise and a following with an affinity for a topic may fare better if they sacrifice a little reach for a long-term image gain. “If I manage to be presented and mentioned again and again by four or five micro-influencers who have a good reputation in the industry, then of course it’s super successful for the reputation of the brand,” explains Bernecker .
In any case, a look at the data from the number of followers to the target group and engagement is mandatory before choosing an influencer – whether macro or mega.
B2B influencer marketing: An underestimated field
Quality instead of quantity is also important in influencer marketing at the B2B level, an underestimated but important area, as Sandra Gärtner, co-founder of the market research service provider GreendAdz and CEO of Mediaresearch42, the “Statista” magazine, explains: “Influencers are also in B2B Marketing on a similar level to printed mailings and can be used in addition to PR measures – with a clear upward trend.”
After all, the challenges are the same as with B2C, as Gärtner explains: “1. The impact of classic advertising is diminishing due to the information overload, 2. Online and social media are overtaking print and 3. The specialists who fill these channels are becoming rare or are more likely to opt for B2C brands as employers.”
Only the implementation of such a campaign differs. When selecting B2B influencers, it is not the reach or the so-called brand fit that is decisive, but authority, authenticity and industry-relevant expertise.
The platforms are also different here: “What Instagram and Tiktok are to B2C, Xing and LinkedIn are to B2B. And as a distribution channel for social media campaigns, Facebook should still not be underestimated for B2C and B2B,” explains Gärtner.
The question of the platform
The question of the platform is generally an important point, both for B2B and B2C. Instagram still seems to be the ultimate when it comes to sponsored posts and evaluations by the “Influencer Marketing Hub”, at least in terms of numbers, and according to its extremely high engagement rate, the photo platform is still unsurpassed when it comes to influencer marketing. With its large number of users and young target group, Tiktok is also becoming more and more attractive for marketers.
But if it’s not about a fitness or food product that Instagram is made for, it’s worth taking a look beyond the virtual horizon. Platforms like Pinterest can provide a willing audience for lifestyle products, while LinkedIn is increasingly establishing itself as a home for influencers on specialist topics or B2B content.
When choosing the platform – and thus also the influencers – it is advisable to carry out a detailed analysis of your own goals and the respective apps. According to statistics from “Smart Insights”, it is mainly women on Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok, while YouTube, Twitter and Reddit are more popular with men. There are also differences in terms of gender, age and regionality.
Meanwhile, the Influencer Marketing Hub has identified a trend for influencers to have super fans following them on every platform. According to this, there are often no longer pure Instagram bloggers, Youtubers or Tiktokers, but rather “social media multimedia stars” who show off their skills – and the products they advertise – all over the internet. This should be used in a broad digital marketing strategy: what works on Facebook may not work on Tiktok, but those who know how to use multiple channels and who may also loyally bind influencers to themselves can develop an enormous PR advantage.
Future prospects: Influencer campaigns increasingly rely on live shopping
Another big topic in terms of e-commerce and digital marketing is live shopping, which got a big boost during the Corona pandemic and, according to experts, is still growing. Streaming events with live shopping options are also becoming increasingly important for influencers, especially on Tiktok or Youtube. But Amazon, Facebook, and Instagram all already have live streaming shopping tools and partnerships that influencers can leverage to drive instant conversions. A direct link between marketing and e-commerce – many companies can only dream of that.
Whichever approach you choose, anyone who relies on influencer marketing benefits most when it is part of a clearly defined campaign and follows precise goals and strategies.
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