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Despite the ongoing fallout from the COVID-19 crisis, influencer marketing appears to be thriving.
In a recent influencer survey, 70 percent reported that their audiences have turned to them for guidance on the crisis and the stay-at-home order. Seventy-three percent said they had already begun covering the crisis in their content, and 36 percent indicated that COVID-19 had brought “significant” increases in engagement on their Instagram pages.
Of all industries, why does influencer marketing appear to be on solid ground? Ultimately, the factors that set influencers apart from traditional marketing approaches are the very same that make them indelible during times of crisis and normalcy: their authenticity, content creation expertise, trustworthiness, communication skills, and passion.
As you set out to find and recruit influencers for your brand, here are the top five characteristics every brand should look for when searching for influencers.
You can’t read an article about influencer marketing without a discussion of authenticity. And that’s for a good reason. While it’s easy to dismiss “authenticity” as mere marketing jargon, it has long been considered a key among successful and influential public figures, influencer marketers included.
“The public has a sixth sense for detecting insincerity; they know instinctively when words ring true.”Early-20th-century advertiser Bruce Barton
Barton is expressing a fundamental truth in communications. Due to extensive exposure to commercial messages, modern audiences have been trained to continually evaluate what they see and hear for any signs of misinformation or inauthenticity. Those in the public eye who say one thing and do another, whether brands, public officials, celebrities, or even influencers, are subject to criticism, sanctions, or cancelation.
This effect may explain a great deal about today’s audiences’ overall level of distrust of media and traditional advertising. This modern-day commercial dynamic also amplifies the persuasive power of influencers, who, if they’re truly authentic, practice what they preach.
It’s this quality that makes influencers perfectly suited to the role of spokesperson, likely more so than celebrities, in fact. When evaluating product endorsements, consumers value relatability two times higher than the popularity of the spokesperson, one study found. Another sixty-three percent of polled consumers said they trusted the word of influencers over how brands portray themselves in messaging.
And they appear to be more persuasive than their real-life peers, as well, with influencers responsible for 94 percent higher sales compared to recommendations from friends and family.
You don’t need an advanced degree or specialized training to become an influencer. However, to develop a sizable and authentic following, one must be able to produce content that stands out from the veritable ocean of content competing for consumers’ attention.
In developing, maintaining, and engaging loyal audiences, today’s influencers must master an array of disciplines—writing, photography, community management, project management, and marketing—synthesizing them into their distinct voice and perspective.
And while this content can be consumed almost instantaneously, its creation is anything but straightforward. Creating posts can take influencers anywhere from a few minutes to a few months, depending on the project. This includes work like location scouting, outfit selection and styling, hashtag research, writing, and rewriting copy with brand partners—all the way to the logistics involved in planning and organizing photo shoots.
“It’s easy to see a final YouTube video and to think that it looks so simple,” said Lucie Fink, a veteran influencer interviewed by Forbes. “But the actual act of putting a video together from start to finish is a full-on process that has taken me years to master.”
The result of this labor of love is some of the most skillfully created and well-targeted content on the internet.
When influences are compared to brand-based content creation—in the broader industry of content marketing—the results speak for themself. According to a survey from the Content Marketing Institute, most (53 percent) marketers deemed their content marketing efforts “moderately successful,” with an additional 22 percent describing the performance as “minimally” successful. The top reason cited for poor performance: not having enough time to devote to content creation.
These results stand in contrast to influencer marketing, which proliferated in large part due to word of its explosive performance. One study found businesses using influencer marketing generated $6.50 in revenue for each dollar invested—only the bottom 18 percent of companies failed to generate revenue altogether.
Much of an influencer’s job, beyond cultivating their following, is fostering an authentic relationship between them and their audience. Answering their follower’s questions, holding competitions, and managing passionate disagreements; it’s all daily parts of the job.
Fashion influencer Elle Ferguson cites her time spent interacting with her community as responsible for her success.
“I always answer my DMs. That community has enabled me to build my brand. So I take probably three hours, morning and evening, to reply to my DMs on Elle Effect and Elle Ferguson because essentially they’re my customers – it’s so important to ensure that relationship is strong.”
Influencer marketing, above all, is based on the strength of the influencer-follower relationship. Authentic influencers like Ferguson take an active role in their followers’ lives, commenting, liking, and clarifying—all of it leading to a powerful bond.
Much like authenticity, maintaining trust between influencers and audiences is strictly necessary; good influencers are keenly aware of that. After all, trust guides our every decision, in the information we have faith in, the people we surround ourselves with, and also in who we trust to guide us through difficult decisions.
Eighty-one percent of polled consumers respondents said that they need to trust brands to “do what is right.” However, the Edelman same survey found that one-third of consumers purchase from many brands they don’t trust.
Trust is not only central to the influencer and audience relationship; it’s a necessity for this trust to extend to the brand/influencer relationship as well. That means providing audiences with transparency around sponsored content, being fair in product reviews and content, admitting one’s mistakes, and selectively approaching sponsors who fit with their audience and their needs, among other practices.
The consequences for breaking that trust is high, as anyone familiar with the celebrity apology news cycle understands intuitively. Forty-five percent of consumers polled in the above Edelman survey said they’d never regain confidence in a brand after unethical behavior, and 40 percent said they would stop buying from that brand altogether.
If authenticity is the glue that binds influencers and audiences, then passion is the fuel. And much like authenticity, passion can’t be faked.
For their followers, influencers represent aspirational role models. Whether they pursue fashion, woodworking, home decor, or cooking—influencers allow people to watch relatable, likable people pursue their dreams and creativity right in front of them.
That’s why the passion, excitement, and creativity demonstrated by influencers are infectious and persuasive. Followers not only get to learn more about a passion of theirs; they’re able to follow along each step of the way, ask questions, share their stories, and even receive encouragement in their shared creative passion.
The best influencers can convey this passion equally in sponsored content and original content. And this passion needs to go both ways: to their followers and their brand partners. Without love for their field, influencers won’t find a following. And without a genuine interest or passion for a brand’s products, their campaign won’t benefit from the persuasive amplification that makes truly authentic influencer marketing so successful.
At its best, influencer marketing appears effortless. To followers, the influencer relationship is intuitive, reassuring, and aspirational. To the brand, their relationship brings exciting new audiences. And it’s all made possible thanks to hard work, creativity, and a tireless commitment to authenticity.
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