Have you heard of Lil Miquela? What about Bermuda? Not the British territory, no. I’m talking about the growing trend in the world of online influence: virtual influencers. They’re made up characters who live fake lives through social media. Their creators use artificial intelligence to create their faces and bodies, and then place them in real life situations. Here is an example:
Is this the future of influencer marketing? Is influencer marketing really worth it? How should it fit into your marketing strategy? Let’s answer all of that.
The history of influencer marketing
Influencer marketing is as old as… well, power dynamics. When a human we admire owns or does something, we likely will want to own or do the same. In the 1900’s, movies and TV were the predominant channels of influencer marketing. Brands paid an ad fee and provided their products to be added to a movie’s storyline. Americans will remember Pizza Hut and Pepsi in Wayne’s World of course. For others, Wilson in Cast Away or Nokia in The Matrix may ring a bell. (Side note: Wilson actually didn’t pay to be in Cast Away. It was part of the script from the start.)
The emergence of social media in the early 2000’s gave birth to a new type of influencer marketing: online reviews. Now we follow real people using a product in their real life and telling us what they think before we buy it. This type of influencer marketing seems more authentic. The influencer is not a fictional character living a fictional life anymore. Or so we think.
But in reality, it’s still more of the same. Online influencers are often paid for their review, which creates a natural bias. And with the arrival of virtual influencers, we’re back to fictional characters living fake lives, like in movies.
And yet, influencer marketing is becoming one of the most effective marketing tools available. The market grew from less than $2B in 2016 to almost $14B in 2021. Why? Because advertising is losing steam. Increase in user data protection makes it harder to do effective ad targeting. And the growth of ad blocker and ad blindness also hurts the industry as a whole. Meanwhile, influencer marketing is naturally targeted and offers the authenticity viewers now crave.
Is it really worth it?
Influencer marketing still has something in common with advertising. That is, it’s mainly worth it if you have a budget. For your campaign to be effective in a short amount of time, you’ll need to spend some money.
Until recently, the trend was to pay sizable checks to a few super influencers in your industry. They were usually Youtube stars with millions of followers who asked for $500k+ for a product review. But as the industry matures, it’s becoming more interesting to hire micro-influencers. Micro-influencers have much smaller audiences and thus ask for lower compensation. With as little as $500, you can have access to their thousands of highly-engaged members on Instagram, TikTok or other social networks. But to reach as many viewers as the super-influencers, you’ll need to hire a lot of them.
So influencer marketing is worth it, especially if you have a budget that would otherwise go to advertising. But the lower your budget, the longer it will take to reach your goal. To maximize your investment, you’ll need to build strong relationships with relevant influencers. Let’s talk about how to do this right.
How to do Influencer Marketing right?
Building an influencer marketing campaign is like building a PR campaign. You’ll need to build your list, maintain relationships, and provide value to get coverage. Like for PR campaigns, you can outsource the work to an agency who already has the relationships in place. The downside with that strategy is that it prevents you from building your own relationships. That forces you to always rely on the agency for future campaigns. Doing it yourself will require a bit more work, but will provide much more value in the long run.
Step 1: Build your list
The hardest part of building an influencer campaign is to find the right influencers. Spotting fake influencers is one of the main challenges companies face. That’s because the investigative work of looking for influencers can be tedious. This is even more true if you want to work with micro-influencers who are less visible. You have to spend a lot of time looking at profiles and their activity on social media to figure out whether an influencer is relevant to you.
The good news is, you can outsource this part of the work. On Gravitr, you can hire researchers who will create lists of the best influencers for you based on your products and goals. You’ll get a list of at least dozens of influencers within a week and can move directly to step 2.
Now if you still want to do this part yourself, here is how: you have to Google a lot. For each influencer, here is the information you’ll need to gather to ensure they are relevant to you:
- Contact Information
- Links to social media profiles
- Following on each platform
- Engagement rate on each platform
- Press coverage
- Topics of predilection (content with the most engagement)
- Tone (Educational, entertaining, artistic, etc.)
- Audience demographics
- Types of possible partnerships (reviews, sponsored content, ad placement)
- Examples of relevant content
Although most of the information will be available online, rates might not be easy to find at this stage. You may need to wait until Step 2 to fill this column.
Once you have all the information for at least 20 to 30 different influencers, rate them based on relevance. The influencers at the top should be the ones who are the most aligned to your goals in terms of audience, tone and topics of predilection. Ensure that all these influencers have higher-than-average engagement rates. If they don’t, put them at the bottom.
The following count should not impact your relevance score. As we discussed above, micro-influencers can actually have a bigger impact than super-influencers. However, the following count will help later on to determine rates. The bigger the following, the higher the compensation the influencer will likely ask for.
Step 2: Reach out and negotiate
Like journalists in PR, influencers become harder to reach out to the more famous they are. So don’t waste your time with the big ones at first. Instead, connect with relevant micro-influencers who will help build your brand. Once you get more noticeable, the super-influencers might even see you before you see them.
Start by building a template email that you can copy and paste. You can hire a writer on Gravitr to help you articulate the perfect copy. But the outsourcing should stop here. Once you have the list and the email copy, you should be the one sending the actual message from your private inbox. This will enable you to create more authentic relationships with the influencers. Instead of talking to some PR person, they get to interact with the creator of the product. How cool! But above all, it will enable you to own the relationship with the influencers. Now they will know you directly and you can reach out to them in the future.
Before sending the message, make sure to personalize it to show that you know who the influencer is. Use the “examples of relevant content” column from your list as reference in your email – i.e. “I really enjoyed this video you did about X. Super informative.”
When the influencer responds, you’ve done the hardest part! Now it’s time to negotiate types of campaigns and rates. To ensure the influencer is offering a fair rate, compare it to the rates of other influencers on your list based on their following.
Step 3: Stay in touch
At the end of the campaign, it’s time to measure effectiveness. Add a few columns to your spreadsheet to measure how each influencer performed. What to add here will depend on your campaign goals, but could include conversion rates, traffic created or social engagement. Reorder your influencer list to put the highest performers at the top.
The ones at the top should now be the ones you stay in touch with on at least a monthly basis. First, ensure that your brands follow and engage with them on social media. Send them periodic emails with product updates and other details you want them to know before anyone else. And of course, send them messages to just ask them how they are, and care about their answer. Human relationships are what this is all about at the end of the day. Unless of course, they’re virtual influencers.