Bad news first — it might already be too late to think about working with influencers.
Here are the reasons why I think that is (bear with me as I go through a little history).
When trying to get your brand out there (mentioned), you essentially want to just get in front of as many people as possible. But when you’re starting out, the only people that know about your brand are the ones who know you personally (your family, and maybe a few customers that stumbled upon you).
So, if you want to get in front of more people you need to figure out 1) where people are and 2) how to get in front of them. This is the model that you see everywhere (and how advertising exists). TV, billboards, newspapers, even radio are all places where people gather/give away their attention. And it’s these traditional channels that brands used to get in front of a large audience (paid advertising).
However, with the rise of social media also came the rise of a very distracted audience. No longer were people watching massive amounts of TV or consuming newspapers on a daily basis (yes there are plenty of people who do that but let’s look at the trends instead). Social has become more and more important because that’s where people are spending their time.
But if we look at social, it’s important to understand what it is that people are doing there. They open the Facebook or Instagram app, but what exactly are they doing there? And what keeps them going back (unlike a newspaper for example where you read it in the morning and rarely re-visit it multiple times throughout the day)?
There are a few reasons that people go on social for (these aren’t all the reasons but the key ones). They’re 1) looking for a distraction and some form of entertainment, 2) staying up to do date on everything that is happening, 3) finding out what other people are doing (FOMO).
(The biggest channels on social can do all these — celebrities accounts are best at doing all three. Other sports or news media outlets do something similar but obviously concentrate on news.)
So why are influencers a big deal? They have large audiences that engage with them regularly. Depending on the fanbase that they have generated, they also have a lot of sway and can impact what fans do (maybe even to buy something!).
A couple of years ago, influencer marketing was relatively small — not many brands were trying it. As a result, it was easy to get in touch with influencers, and if needed, the fee to work with them was relatively low. However, as the popularity and effectiveness of influencer work increased so did the cost.
Influencers were being contacted on a regular basis because their ‘rates’ were really only determined by the demand. It wasn’t until the demand skyrocketed that the rates also increased to ridiculous amounts. On the other hand, the more popular it got, the less effective it became — people are smart enough to realise when influencers are endorsing a product and not actually a real fan.
So when the prices became unreasonable, brands starting to go for more affordable influencers (from 5 million fans to 1 million fans to 50 thousand fans) — the fewer fans they had, the cheaper they were to work with (but interestingly not necessarily easier to work with). And while the ROI was still decent, the market quickly became flooded. This led to the rise of micro-influencers (depending on how you define this, can be anyone with under 10 thousand followers to even under 5k thousand followers).
The influencer market has become so saturated that in most cases, you’re not going to be able to get a decent enough return in your investment (time and money) to spend the time to investigate and execute (working with micro-influencers still works but it can be insanely time intensive). So is it all a lost cause? Not necessarily.
The most effective influencers are ones who are passionate about your brand — they’re the one who uses your product regularly and probably did so before you even contacted them. They’re the ones who are happy to talk about your brand before even mentioning compensations. These are the types of people you want to work with — the evangelists. The influencers that most people are talking about though are the ones with massive audiences and treat all interactions as transactions — the ones whose livelihoods are dependent on selling their influence. There’s still value here but treat with caution.
What’s key here, is finding your true evangelists and giving them reasons to talk about your brand, while somehow maximising their reach. It’s a very tricky situation, but completely doable. Just don’t waste your time (and money) working with people who won’t be able to help your brand.