By Shari LeGate
Over the past two decades, social media has become an integral part of people’s lives and an essential component of companies’ marketing strategies. As people joined up-and-coming social media platforms, many wanted to share their experiences with friends and created stories with videos and photos, becoming content creators in their own right. Attracting the attention of innovative marketers on the lookout for ways to reach audiences, these content creators saw a new opportunity arise and influencer marketing was born.
Influencer marketing is taking your message to the consumer engaged in your industry instead of to the overall market. An individual influencer raises your brand or product awareness to their audience thereby bringing you more customers — theoretically.
This type of marketing has been very effective for the past five years, but recent reports indicate the impact of influencers has started to wane. Companies inundated with self-proclaimed influencers pressuring for free product or services in exchange for a social media post or a mention in a blog are now pushing back. The story of the California soft-serve ice cream vendor who had his fill of “influencers” asking for free product posted a sign that said, “Influencers will be charged double” on his social media and it went viral.
All of this is getting some marketers to rethink the influence of the influencer.
The brand ambassador has generally already bought-in, where many times the influencer may need to be brought in.”
Thomas Benge Brand Ambassador
Does It Work?
So, does influencer marketing really work? Thirty-one-year-old Hannah Meuser, a digital marketing consultant who negotiates contracts for influencers and brand ambassadors, says it does. During her eight years in the digital marketing sphere, she has seen how quickly the digital world has changed. Staying ahead can be tricky.
“When I first started it was all about SEO — key words and how to optimize your site for Google,” she recalled. “Then it moved on to ‘content is king’ — getting as many blog posts, pictures and videos on a site as fast as possible. We’re still in the content phase, but now it’s more about good content and who’s creating it. Today, it’s ‘how can I create meaningful content for my customers to help tell my story?’”
Used correctly, an influencer will enhance a customer’s connection with your brand.
“It’s about getting people to identify with your brand and the best way to do it is with an influencer,” Meuser added. “Influencers tell the story of who the brand is and they do make difference — but you have to be very selective of whom you work with.”
A major stumbling block she has noticed about the shooting sports industry is some of the people who have the largest followings and who post the best content aren’t always the people who have the best credentials. But some companies don’t seem to care. Are they looking for the person who has the greatest social following because it means they’re going to have the most eyeballs on their product?
“Not necessarily,” Meuser clarified. She believes the social following is the least important piece of the pie. Having 250,000 followers doesn’t automatically mean they’re moving product.
In fact, she says, they’re probably not. Influencers are great for brand awareness. Turning those people who wouldn’t know or see your brand into potential customers, but not for actual purchases.
Challenges With Influencers
Forty-nine-year-old Thomas Benge agrees with Meuser. In the industry for over 25 years as a brand ambassador (representing companies such as Danner and FrogLube), Benge shuns the “influencer” title.
“The difficulty with social media is it’s only snapshots and highlight reels of things,” he explained. “What’s missing is how did the individual arrive at this position. What did it take for them to understand the product, the end user and why they’re saying you need to use this product?”
He added, “What influencers do is create a lot of interest around a product or company very, very fast. But sometimes the most interesting people are not the best people. Most influencers tend to be younger and don’t necessarily utilize the product on a regular basis. Just because someone looks good and generates interest doesn’t mean it’s a long-term formula for success and sells product.”
We’re still in the content phase, but now it’s more about
good content and who’s creating it.”
Digital Marketing Consultant
The Affiliate-Link Model
Missy Tuttle, a 27-year-old influencer has a different approach. Tuttle is a mother of two, regularly posts on Instagram and has often been referred to as a “gun bunny.” Attractive and provocatively attired, she has a lot of followers (180,000 and growing). Tuttle admits to not having much experience, but insists it’s why her followers love her. They follow her progress in learning about what products she’s trying and what she’s accomplished.
“Running drills on my range, dry-fire practice, accessories I use and stages I run in competition are what I try to share most,” she said. “And when I do, it’s not as an expert but the opposite — someone trying to do better and sharing my mistakes and goals along the way. I want my followers to see my process. I want people to know you don’t have to be an expert in this industry because even the experts were once beginners. And along with that, I believe it’s way more entertaining.”
Tuttle isn’t on contract with anyone, but does receive product and has affiliate links on her Instagram feed (@missy_lynn).
As an affiliate link, if a follower clicks on the link and purchases something, Tuttle gets a commission. This model generates positives for both parties involved, according to Tuttle.
“With an affiliate link, you can see what the influencer is actually accomplishing,” she said. “This model of influencing is much more effective than just throwing money at the influencer. Now the influencer is hustling for a sale and their posts become a little more thoughtful. They’ll put time and effort into creating content that will resonate with their audience because they get a cut of the sale.”
Brand Ambassador Or Influencer?
Whichever type of person you opt to use for this type of marketing, the bottom line is to be selective. Choose someone who has a following (whether it’s 2,000 or 250,000), but make sure their following is comprised of people you want exposed to your brand. Verify it’s somebody you’re comfortable working with because they’re representing your brand. If you get somebody on video demonstrating your product and they don’t know what they’re doing, the average gun owner will pick up on it and your brand will suffer.
It’s also very important to manage the influencer — don’t let them manage you — and choose what they’re going to do. Make sure you’re walking away from the agreement with something tangible you can use down the road in other marketing endeavors, such as videos, blog posts and pictures.
Meuser encourages companies to formulate contracts outlining these expectations. These considerations should include the amount of content that has to be generated per month, how many number of blog posts are expected, the desired number of images or videos, etc. It’s up to the company to decide what they need.
Finding who will work best for your brand or product can be a struggle. A recent survey revealed 61% of marketers agree it’s difficult to find the right person to represent the brand.
There’s a difference between an influencer and brand ambassador as Benge pointed out: “The distinguishing characteristics between influencers and brand ambassadors comes down to what drives the connection between them and the company in the first place. Influencers generally already have an established presence (followers, people who like their content, etc.), so more often, it’s probably a company who wishes to capitalize on the strength and position the influencer has to leverage for a greater visibility of their product, service, etc.
“In contrast, the brand ambassador is more likely to have been a consumer and liked the product or service prior to any relationship with the company. So the affinity for what the product or service provides is already there. The brand ambassador has generally already bought-in, where many times the influencer may need to be brought in.”
In the best of both worlds, the brand ambassador is also an influencer. Properly vetting and taking the time to research will result in finding the right person and reaching the right consumer.