By 2020 marketers and agencies will spend upwards of $10 billion on influencer marketing.
For those unfamiliar with this segment of the $300 billion digital ad industry, it is largely comprised of everyday consumers who create content through social platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
I had the opportunity to meet some of the movers and shakers in this segment while attending MENfluential in Atlanta. The two-day conference, initially launched as StyleCon, now extends beyond fashion and style (e.g. grooming, fitness and entrepreneurship). The 300-plus attendees included influencers from a variety of categories as well as aspiring influencers, entrepreneurs and personal development enthusiasts.
While influencer marketing itself has a long history, it is very much in its early days when it comes to social media. There are four primary ways brands align with influencer content:
- Sponsorships – brand messaging or product will appear via influencer content
- Affiliate deals – links are provided by the influencer; typically includes a code for discounted pricing
- Product trade – in exchange for product, an influencer will plug a brand or product
- Advertising – traditional ad insertion (banners, video, etc.) within a blog or vlog
There are various levels of influencers, whom may have established audiences in the form of followers (e.g. Instagram, Facebook) or subscribers (e.g. YouTube, podcasts). An influencer’s content and audience may be niche or mass market, tiers are as follows:
- Micro influencers: 500-10,000 followers
- Macro influencers: 10,001-1,000,000 followers
- Mega influencers: 1,000,000+ followers
Depending on who you talk to, influencer marketing may carry a positive or negative connotation. Successful campaigns are never a guarantee, however, a few basic elements marketers or agencies consider include:
- Partnering with the right influencer
- Picking the right channel
- Establishing ROI metrics
Identifying an influencer that matches a brand’s product or service is paramount. For example, the spirits brand Absolut Vodka inquiring about life coach, author and speaker Tony Robbins’ interest level doesn’t make sense as Tony doesn’t drink; however, clothier Peter Manning NYC caters to men 5’8” and shorter, so a campaign with the Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve (5’6”) is a more logical fit, no pun intended. Even if there is a good match on the surface between a brand and influencer, the recent debacle whereby Bre Tiesi-Manziel and Khloe Terae allegedly cheated during a charity half-marathon is just one example of how quickly an influencer — and brand alignment — can go south. Knowing the values of an influencer goes a long way (pun intended).
What does it take to be a an influencer?
The bar for entry is simple: there really is none. Someone may identify a market opportunity and nominate a category. This makes the segment appealing; however, the road is long and hard for those who pursuing influencer status as a full-time gig. Many presenters earned college degrees and opted for some form of entrepreneurship after a few years experience in the corporate world. Others maintain 9 to 5 jobs with influencer side hustle businesses. Many were mocked or failed in their initial attempts. Humble beginnings make for hungry entrepreneurs.
Consider the following:
While success is relative, more than one influencer shared a story of living on peanut butter sandwiches and doing odd jobs to make ends meet as they built their business. An article by Forbes highlights the fact that the vast majority of YouTuber income is poverty level.
Aaron Marino, co-founder of the MENfluential conference and MENfluential Media shared his story whereby he dreamed of owning a workout facility since the age of 13. The day arrived but it came at the cost of bankruptcy. With no plan B, Marino, then age 30, found himself working as a golf course beer jockey. At this point he decided to launch an image consulting business launch, posting his first YouTube video in October 2009. Since then, Marino’s YouTube channel (AlphaM) has grown to 4.8 million subscribers; he also maintains a line of men’s care products, and an influencer network.
While an author like me isn’t quite an entrepreneur, authorpreneur or an influencer yet, the trip was well-worth the price of admission as I had a chance to meet Aaron and connect with influencers that I had interacted with virtually via guest blogs and podcast interviews, including:
- Brock McGoff, The Modest Man
- Myke Macapinlac, Social Confidence Mastery
- Kyle Ingham, The Distilled Man
Each of these influencers has a different educational background, business niche and model for monetization. The common thread is they each aim to help individuals become better in some aspect of everyday life. So, whether you’re a not-so-tall guy looking for trends in fashion and style, a STEM professional trying to improve your social skills, or simply becoming a more well-rounded gentleman — there is content out there for you.
Why do brands partner with influencers?
Now that you understand the business from the influencers, you may be curious why this segment is increasingly interesting for brands and agencies. While there are a multitude of reasons, here are two that I find most compelling:
Trust — influencers of any level have established a level of trust with their audience through ongoing content streams that span weeks, months and years. If they eat a given brand’s dog food, so to speak, so will their subscribers/followers.
Media consumption — while traditional TV programming isn’t going away, the business model is under pressure as consumer media viewing habits shift. YouTubers and Instagramers offer bite size, on-demand content that speaks to consumers in new ways.
The event was as well-run as many of the enterprise technology vendors I have covered as an IT industry analyst. The content was both educational and inspiring. Instagramers like Travis White aren’t just pretty faces, they understand the technical nuances (e.g. algorithms) of these social platforms.In this vein, White provided attendees with best practices to maximize results on Instagram.
With a background in digital marketing, it was fascinating to hear how the some of the influencers grew their respective audiences through content creation. There is no blueprint for building one’s followers; similarly, there are many paths when it comes to content monetization — this is what ultimately makes the segment so interesting (and potentially daunting). From an enterprise tech vendor standpoint, the opportunities for YouTube (owned by Google) and Instagram (owned by Facebook) are nearly limitless.
In addition to deciding whether or not to accept marketing dollars from a brand, influencers face two major challenges:
- How much of their time and energy do the invest in each social platform?
- How do they insulate their business/audience should terms of engagement with these platforms change?
This is where the value of a 1-to-1 relationship with audience members becomes invaluable for the influencer – maintaining dialog via email and owned sites are ways to mitigate business risk and truly “own” the relationship with followers.
Create the content or become the content
Similar to traditional TV viewing, consumers only have a limited number of hours to consume social media. This means YouTubers and Instagramers need to consistently produce relevant content, while being mindful about business opportunities with brands. There are many roads to enter influencer marketing. Once you arrive, just beware of taking any shortcuts. Even when the world isn’t watching you, they may be timing you.
Seth Ulinski is a market research professional with a background in digital marketing. He has a passion for writing as well as health and fitness. Seth is the author of Amazing Heights: How Short Guys Stand Tall.