With the prevalence of social media has come the rise of the most prominent individuals on social platforms: influencers. Chances are we’ve all encountered influencers in the digital sphere and have seen an influencer marketing campaign, whether we think we have or not.
From jet-setting holidays and drool-worthy food snaps to the latest in fashion or design, influencers are being tapped by brands the world over who want to reach their highly engaged audiences while leveraging the authentic spin that these creators bring to marketing campaigns. This is influencer marketing — a balancing act of investment and ROI involving reach, engagement, impressions, and more.
What Is Influencer Marketing?
An influencer is a content creator with a significant following who can use their online presence to inspire ideas, sway opinions, and sell products. The rise of influencer marketing has been linked to a number of key platforms with high follower bases and engagement rates, especially YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Each platform delivers its own value proposition to a content creator and the follower base they can build. The end goal for influencers? To monetize their content. However, like different ad units and buys, working with influencers to achieve marketing goals is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Influencers can be particular — they have their own image to protect, after all — and are selective with the brands that they choose to associate with.
For example, these popular social media personalities and content creators will sometimes align themselves with a brand for a single post or a series to tell that brand’s story or promote its products or services to their followers. The posts must be marked as ads or promotions (usually with the #ad, #promotion, or #sponsored hashtags, according to FTC guidelines). But influencer marketing can prove to cut through and drive higher conversion than your standard ad buy as it feels more personal to their viewers, and it can be a truly effective way to reach a large base of people to not only drive awareness, but also real engagement.
It’s a convenient way to attract an audience that goes beyond the capabilities of traditional paid advertising. The story told by the influencer can be organic (posted only to that person’s earned audience) or it can be promoted and amplified (given extended reach with paid support and marked further as an advertisement) — or both. For example, you may see a brand name’s tag under the creator’s handle at the top of the post indicating a sponsored arrangement.
However a brand chooses to execute an influencer marketing campaign, this method has emerged as a reliable way to extend brand reach into the feeds of potential customers. Studies show that people are more likely to pay attention to a person than a brand directly.
How Does Influencer Marketing Work?
Many brands will reach out directly to users on social platforms — Instagram being the most common — by commenting on their posts or photos or by sending direct messages. That’s one way to do it, but influencer marketing is now a lucrative business with dedicated marketing agencies focusing on pairing relevant content creators with brands for the campaigns they want to run.
And it comes down to more than follower count. These firms provide analytics, which ensures each brand works with the right influencer for their campaign objectives and knows from the start what to expect in terms of ROI. Data can include audience composition (e.g., male vs. female split), and top-level biographical data such as age group, location, and interests, as well as engagement rates for branded posts vs. organic posts, different content forms (e.g., images vs. video, static post vs. stories) and even considers influencer tone, style, and other brands they’ve worked with.
Usually, the influencer will be the one to generate the campaign creative, with a bit of back-and-forth process between the influencer and the brand. The creative must tell the brand’s story, but ultimately it must also suit the tone and aesthetic of the influencer’s feed — that’s part of what the brand is paying for. At the end of the day, though, the brand usually has veto power over the final content.
After the campaign has run, the agency can supply metrics, such as impressions (how many times the post appeared in someone’s feed), engagements (how many times someone clicked on the post, liked, shared, or commented), and even click-through rates to a campaign landing page.
How Much Does Influencer Marketing Cost?
It can cost anything, from an exchange of product in kind to a monetary payment of as little as $50 per post or up to millions of dollars per post. This depends on the influencer, their follower base, and engagement rates, as well as the amount of content. Generally, the cost increases depending on the number of followers an influencer has. But fame outside Instagram counts, too. Someone who creates great content with 5,000 followers will be much less expensive than someone like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who charges more than $1 million for a single post to his 202 million followers. And new platforms like TikTok, which attract the attention and engagement of the oft-desired Gen-Z audience, are emerging as a new battleground for influencer marketing.
Every influencer marketing agency will have its own fee structure and breakdown. Agencies usually have a specialty, like celebrity influencers, target age groups (such as Gen-Z), or approach (e.g., ongoing AI analysis).
What’s the Benefit?
Influencer marketing is one part of an omnichannel approach and can work for virtually any type of business. Running an influencer activation as part of a broader approach can increase the reach of traditional campaigns. But it’s important to weigh your objectives and ensure the influencers you choose to work with also align to your brand’s values.
Some brands have become overnight success stories following their influencer marketing campaigns. Take HiSmile, an Australia-based startup which turned into a global phenomenon after a social-first and influencer-first strategy catapulted the brand to worldwide recognition. The brand’s strategic maneuver to engage Kylie Jenner for a selection for posts endorsing their teeth-whitening products saw instant conversion for the brand – a strategy that has clearly paid off.
Because users opt in to following influencers, there is already trust implicit to the relationship, and increased brand awareness is a primary outcome of most campaigns. If influencer campaigns are successful, brands could also have the start of an effective ongoing partnership on their hands — influencers love successful content just as much as brands do.