Three steps to avoid influencer marketing disaster

influencer marketing disaster

By Kerry Gorgone, {grow} Contributing Columnist

There’s little room for doubt these days that influencer marketing can work. According to a study from Tomoson, businesses earn $6.50 for every $1.00 spent on influencer marketing. Moreover, consumers are 92% more likely to trust peer recommendations over ads, so it makes sense that brands would want to borrow some trust from influencers when addressing their target audiences.

And yet influencer marketing can also go horribly wrong. Several years back, pasta brand Ragu hamfistedly reached out to my friend C.C. Chapman on Twitter in an effort to promote their product to dad bloggers.

Unfortunately, their approach involved blanketing Twitter with @ mentions asking “Do your kids like it when you cook dinner?” The post included a video that was more than a little insulting to dads. The whole campaign was based on the idea that dads can’t make dinner and should use Ragu.

C.C. wrote on his blog about the faux pas, and shared the post far and wide. He wrote a follow-up post, offering Ragu free marketing advice. Finally, C.C. had a call with someone at Ragu’s parent company, Unilever, and wrote one last post about the entire saga. So did Ragu get coverage from its influencer outreach? Absolutely. Just not the kind of coverage they were hoping for.

You want to use influencer marketing, but you’re not sure how to choose the right influencers or how to best work with them, and you’re worried about the risks.

The moral of the story is that you need to choose the right influencers and then work to cultivate a relationship with them—don’t just indiscriminately spam them on social networks hoping to generate buzz. You might get more buzz than you bargained for!

So here are some tips for influencer marketing that will help you to get it right.

First, identify the Right Influencers.

Tools abound for influencer marketing. Here are just a few you can try:

  • GroupHigh for researching who’s influential about specific topics
  • Followerwonk for researching your followers to identify influencers who are also fans
  • Klout for measuring social influence on specific topics (Don’t rely on this exclusively.)
  • Hootsuite for finding and posting social content and measuring its impact
  • Traackr for planning, implementing and measuring influencer marketing activities

If you can’t afford to use an end-to-end influencer marketing solution, search hashtags on Twitter and Instagram to see who’s talking about relevant topics. You can also do a simple Google search, which is particularly helpful if you’re looking for influencers in a specific geographic area.

So start with some preliminary research. Look for influencers based on whatever criteria you think makes them well suited to your brand. Some things to consider include:

  • Topic(s) of influence (Choose one or two areas that relate to your product or industry.)
  • Preferred social network(s) (Do they align with the ones your target audience uses?)
  • Size of following (But don’t eliminate “micro influencers” who have a smaller but highly engaged follower base.)
  • Other criteria? Male or female? Parents? Into extreme sports? Only you know what’s most relevant.

Tools like GroupHigh and Traackr can help you to make a large list of influencers who might be a good fit, but follow up with some manual research. It takes an actual human to assess whether someone’s personality, tone of voice, and overall vibe align with your brand.

From a practical standpoint, pay attention to the way they engage with their audience. How often do they post? Are they engaged? When people comment, do they respond?

Once you’ve identified the right influencers, start thinking about how you could most effectively work with them for your mutual benefit.

Second, set clear goals and have a strategic plan.

So first you need to identify and reach out to relevant influencers. Second, you should clear goals and create a plan for influencer marketing.

As a marketer, you have plenty of experience setting clear, measurable goals. Remember to do that for your influencer outreach efforts, as well. Go beyond “reach” or “buzz” to set specific goals relating to landing page views, video views, email sign-ups, sales calls or purchases, and other metrics that more directly relate to lead generation and revenue than social reach.

You’ll also want a comprehensive plan for your influencer marketing that covers things like effective dates, compensation, copyright ownership of content created by influencers for your campaign, etc. You can get more details in my prior {grow} post on influencer marketing.

Finally, include a plan for monitoring progress. Goals are meaningless unless you track progress against them. Keep an eye on referral traffic from your influencers’ sites, landing page views, time on site, asset downloads, seminar registrations, email sign-ups—whatever metrics you selected at the outset.

If you choose the right influencers and think strategically about how to leverage them, you’ll be off to an excellent start with your influencer marketing. But before you dive in, think about the legal aspects.

Third, minimize the legal risks.

I’ve written in some detail about the legal aspects of influence marketing and the Federal Trade Commission’s disclosure requirements. Be sure to check out the requirements and abide by them, and insist that any influencers you work with disclose that they’ve been paid or received sample products, or whatever.

You can find details in my previous posts, including this one and this one, but for now, remember that FTC requires influencers to disclose “material connection” to brands in every sponsored post. They’ve been issuing warnings to brands for years, and they’ve recently started issuing warning letters to individual influencers, as well. The FTC sued two individual influencers for the first time this year, and just last week issued fresh warnings to influencers who failed to adequately alert followers that their product posts were sponsored. You can find details—and updated guidelines—on the FTC website.

So read up on the legal requirements before you dive into influencer marketing!

Finally, remember to maintain influencer relationships between campaigns. Keep in touch with people throughout the year—not just when you have a product launch or event. Invite influencers to events, maintain a Slack channel or private Twitter DM group, or some other forum to keep in touch.

To summarize, here are some best practices for influencer marketing:

  • Don’t spam (remember Ragu?)
  • Do reach out in a thoughtful way that adds value
  • Set clear, measurable goals and have a strategic plan
  • Follow legal requirements for disclosing sponsored content, and insist that the influencers you work with do so, as well
  • Maintain influencer relationships throughout the year (not just when you’re promoting something)

Now you’re ready—go forth and recruit some influencers! Once you’re up and running, pop back here and comment on how it’s going. I’d love to hear!

kerry gorgone

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone is a writer, lawyer, speaker and educator. She’s also Director of Product Strategy, Training, at MarketingProfs. Kerry hosts the weekly Marketing Smarts podcast. Find Kerry on Twitter.

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