Influencer Marketing in Ecommerce: 5 Crucial Guidelines for Success (Updated 2021)

GRIN also recommends this free guide:
Influencer Marketing Best Practices

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When it comes to influencer marketing, many online store owners ask: Why should I focus on influencer marketing when I could spend money on SEO, PPC and online ads for my store?  This is a valid question. After all, each of those methods mentioned above will help your ecommerce brand, depending on your industry and quality of execution. Let us ask you this: When you’re thinking of buying a new gadget, say, a smartphone or a laptop, what’s your first step? Do you visit the website of tech-giants like Apple or Samsung? Do you check YouTube videos or blog reviews? Do you ask friends and family if they have a preference and why?

Bar graph of "How do online customer reviews affect your opinion of a local business?
Image via Statista

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How do online customer reviews affect your opinion of a local business?

  • 94% of respondents indicated positive reviews make them more likely to use a business
  • 92% of respondents indicated negative reviews make them less likely to use a business
  • 79% of respondents indicated they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends or family

Source

BrightLocal

Statista 2022

Additional Information:

United States: December 2020; 1,013 respondents

If you’re like most buyers in the United States, gleaning feedback from fellow consumers is a big deal. You want to trust a brand before you invest money in its products or services. And there you have it. In today’s social media age, peer recommendations from social media community-builders, aka influencers, are providing this social proof in their role as tastemakers, key opinion leaders, brand ambassadors, customer advocates, industry experts, or lifestyle gurus. The best influencers have an advantage over messaging, ads, and posts from retail brands. Consumers see influencers as more authentic, and when that influencer genuinely loves the products that they promote, followers are inspired to try the products for themselves.

The rise of social media influencers

Line graph of "Share of US Market Using Social Media and Influencer Marketing, 2019-2022 (% of total marketers)"
Image via eMarketer 

Transcript:

Share of US Marketers Using Social Media and Influencer Marketing, 2019-2022 

% of total marketers

  • In 2019, 91% of US marketers used social media marketing, and 55.4% of US marketers used influencer marketing.
  • In 2020, 91.7% of US marketers used social media marketing, and 62.3% of US marketers used influencer marketing.
  • In 2021, 91.9% of US marketers used social media marketing, and 67.9% of US marketers used influencer marketing.
  • In 2022, 92.1% of US marketers used social media marketing, and 72.5% of US marketers used influencer marketing.

Note: companies with 100+ employees; includes both paid and unpaid (i.e. compensation in the form of free product or trips) brand-influencer partnerships

Source: eMarketer, Nov 2020

Today’s consumers no longer trust brands that use celebrities to promote their products. Buyers are suspicious of these transactional endorsements. They know that the celebrity is promoting the product only on a commercial basis, and that’s not a compelling reason for them to make a purchase. Instead, influencers are the ones driving brand awareness and sales by incorporating their favorite products into their content – sometimes without brands asking them to do so. Influencers exist across nearly every industry and lifestyle niche.

As brand-creator collaborations grow, influencers wear many hats, from quality content creators to affiliates, customer advocates, and so much more. (For a deeper dive into all the different roles that influencers play in ecommerce today, check out our complete guide to influencer types and categories.) Because of this trend, marketers are shifting and/or increasing their budgets to nurture relationships with these social media creators. Influencers engage online communities made of consumers who trust that influencer to empower them to address problems and achieve goals.

Bar graph of "Change in Influencer Marketing Spending According to Marketers Worldwide, Jan 2021 (% of respondents)"
Image via eMarketer

Transcript:

Change in Influencer Marketing Spending According to Marketers Worldwide, Jan 2021 

% of respondents

  • 62% of respondents intend to increase their influencer marketing budget
  • 20% of respondents expect to keep their budgets the same as in 2020
  • 12% of respondents are unsure about how their influencer marketing budgets would change
  • 7% of respondents intend to decrease their influencer marketing budgets

Source: Influencer Marketing Hub in association with Upfluence, “Influencer Marketing Benchmark Report: 2021,” Feb 15, 2021

Why ecommerce stores can’t afford to ignore influencer marketing

Influencers give you instant access to a highly engaged audience that you wouldn’t be able to reach using traditional marketing methods. The best part is that influencer marketing isn’t a haphazard “shot in the dark.” When done correctly, influencer marketing allows you to identify specific audience segments led by a trusted leader on social media. Followers perceive their favorite influencers as inspirational or aspirational and are likely to listen to and act on their recommendations. Influencer-led online communities tend to be value-driven, allowing your brand to reach thousands of like-minded consumers at a time.

“Influencers are consumers who have done the work to create authentic content on a regular basis. By partnering with social media power users that genuinely love your brand, you can benefit from the authenticity that your influencers possess.”

– GRIN, How to Create Authentic Content

So when you get the right influencer to endorse your product, you can access returns that many influencer marketers enjoy on a regular basis – as much as 5, 6, or 20x ROI.

Ecommerce marketing strategy – 5 rules to influencer marketing success

If you’re not sure where to start, you’re not alone. Many ecommerce brands are just now “testing the waters” with influencer marketing. This approach is not like other digital marketing strategies. Social media creators are collaborators and capable of doing so much more for your brand than merely helping you sell your products. Influencers will allow you to connect with your audience in a deeper way. The results don’t just increase your immediate returns, they will also lower your costs when getting new customers, increase customer loyalty, and normalize fast-spreading word-of-mouth among your audience segments.

Rule #1: Follower counts don’t show you the whole picture.

Influencers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, styles, voices, and content types. There are YouTubers, bloggers, Instagram celebrities, product reviewers, Facebook Group leaders, TikTokers, Twitter/LinkedIn thought leaders, Pinterest tastemakers, and more.  Initially, influencer follower counts are what stick out most to marketers. But just because an influencer has one million followers doesn’t mean that they have an engaged audience.

Influencer size based on their number of followers does, however, indicate how popular an influencer is. And you should know that when it comes to influencers, bigger isn’t always better. Otherwise, celebrity endorsements would make sense for everyone that could afford them. In a recent consumer survey conducted by GRIN, respondents noted that they preferred to engage influencers with fewer than 500,000 followers. This is good news for marketers, since creators with over 500k followers tend to be significantly more expensive.

The Key Takeaway

Influencer recruitment strategy among larger programs is a fairly involved strategy. But to keep it simple for smaller and younger programs, here are a few ways to find out whether an influencer is a good fit for your brand.

  • Follow influencers in your industry that you genuinely love (regardless of follower count).
  • Look at follower comments and examine how that influencer interacts with their followers.
  • See if the creator is already endorsing certain products. If so, see if it is apparent that the influencer loves and uses the products he/she promotes.

These techniques will show you where to start your influencer search.

Rule #2: Learn to be selective and to negotiate with creators.

It’s tempting to go with the influencer who charges you the least or is the first to reply to your outreach message. But being too eager is a fatal mistake, one that could damage your ecommerce reputation. Recognize that your brand doesn’t just sell a product – it improves the quality of life for specific groups of people. These people form segments within your target audience.  You need to look for niche influencers who represent those audience segments.

After examining a thousand influencers, you may find that only a handful that meet your standards.  That’s perfectly okay! You will achieve a much higher ROI with five influencers that fit your brand perfectly than you will with 50 influencers who are “hit or miss.” After creating a shortlist, the next step is to approach them. If the influencer hasn’t used your product before, you’ll need to focus on getting them to try it out for themselves.

Sometimes the best way to get a creator’s attention is to tell them that you love their content and want to send them free product, no strings attached. Once you’ve confirmed that the influencer likes your products, the next step is to discuss a partnership. If you’re a small business or startup, the influencer’s standard rate may not fit your budget. But don’t give up just yet. There are many different ways to negotiate with influencers.

Some creators (particularly those with fewer than 10,000 followers) are happy to do product seeding campaigns (compensation through free products). Other influencers assume an affiliate role when you can pay them a commission on sales. Either way, remember that a mix of cash and perks can “seal the deal” with your favorite influencers. Once your influencer program is running at full speed, you’ll have more opportunities to pay your influencers flat rates or retainer fees.

The Key Takeaway

“If I did my research right, then my audience will be their [the creator’s] audience. If what the creator is saying or doing works for their audience, then it should work for our audience.”

Dwayne Waite, Marketing Manager at Schell Games

Invest time to find and recruit the best influencers for your brand. In the end, it will be worth it.

Rule #3: Establish your campaign goals and select the right social media channel(s).

Most influencers are active on multiple platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. It’s not necessary for you to target audiences on every platform. In fact, less is more when you’re just getting started with creator collaborations. Here’s a look at the leading social media platforms for influencer marketing, courtesy of Insider Intelligence.

Table of "Which Social Media Platforms Are US Marketers Planning to Use for Influencer Marketing? (% of respondents, Dec 2019 vs. March 2021)"
Image via eMarketer

When ecommerce brands think of influencer marketing, they usually only think about the big names like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram. But other platforms like blogs or forums can sometimes give you better results. For example, Schell Games is a video game brand that generates enormous influencer success on Discord. Pinterest is also widely popular for ecommerce brands in nutrition, DIY, fashion, and more. Influencers on Pinterest can create buyer wish lists, lifestyle images with product combinations, and more. When deciding where to focus your influencer campaigns, here are some simple steps that will help you.

  • Step 1 – Be present on channels that your audience uses. If your target audience is primarily on Instagram, then that’s likely where you want to start. The same is true for any other channel.
  • Step 2 – Choose the platform(s) that make the most sense for the type of content you want to use. Another consideration is the type of content that will best showcase your products. Some products do well in images or unboxing videos, while others work better in blogs.
  • Step 3 – Discuss your campaign goals with your creators. Even if you’re not a social media expert, your influencers are. Don’t be afraid to collaborate with them on types of content and the best social channels to use.

The Key Takeaway

The platform you use to promote your products with influencers matters a great deal. So taking the time to decide on where to promote your brand will only make your campaigns that much more effective.

Rule #4: Make sure that your influencer can seamlessly integrate your product into their organic content.

An influencer’s audience primarily loves that influencer for their non-sponsored content. And while consumers don’t usually mind a clear product endorsement, they don’t much appreciate inauthentic brand mentions.

@maddiehen02 traveling hacks 🤫 #travelhacks #ineedanultimatebreak #efultimatebreak @efultimatebreak ♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys – Kevin MacLeod & Kevin The Monkey

Your influencer campaigns should be a win-win for you and the creator. By ensuring that any product mentions fit neatly within that influencer’s greater content collection, audiences will be more inclined to engage and convert.

The Key Takeaway

Make your influencer marketing campaigns as authentic as possible by confirming that your influencers love your product and know how to smoothly integrate it within their lifestyle content.

Rule #5: Use the right tools to launch, scale, and track your influencer program.

The more data you track, the easier it will be to manage your influencer relationships and know whether your campaigns are working. When you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to create a collection of spreadsheets to keep track of influencer information, such as social media handles, email, posts, addresses (for shipping products), product preferences (shirt sizes, favorite colors, etc.), and any influencer-specific data that you feel you need to be a success.

The Key Takeaway

Use the right influencer and campaign data to track success. As you grow, invest in an influencer-specific management platform that allows you to do more in fewer clicks.

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Conclusion: Start right, right now.

We live in a world of social media, and influencers are the most lucrative form of digital word-of-mouth. When done right, influencer marketing is a powerful way to increase brand awareness, nurture audiences, and boost ecommerce sales. Make scaling your ecommerce influencer marketing simple using GRIN’s influencer automated platform. Check it out today!

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