The shoutout. The mention. The thunderclap.
Over the last three year, interest in influencer marketing has skyrocketed:
The reasons are obvious. With the rise of social media, today’s Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook stars wield incredible buying power. As Adweek reports, “Ninety-four percent of those who’ve used influencer marketing believe the tactic to be effective.”
Unfortunately, while traditional influencer marketing can draw huge crowds, traffic, and revenue … there’s a problem very few of its advocates talk about.
After an initial burst of brand awareness what usually follows is the deafening silence of a marketing plan with no strategy to keep the momentum rolling. While this method certainly has its place at the top of the funnel, retaining customers is another matter entirely.
Fixing influencer marketing’s long-term downside means addressing two flaws that can easily condemn your campaigns to the “one and done” scrap heap.
Influencer Marketing for Retention Isn’t a Transaction … It’s a Relationship
Any business owners knows that the most significant benefits of any transaction don’t come from the transaction itself. Naturally, there are immediate payoffs surrounding sales and revenue, but present benefits pale in comparison to future rewards.
Another way to put this is that relationships are what build businesses and retain customers. Sadly, influencer marketing typically consists of a simple “You post. We pay.” exchange. And neither side invests beyond their initial payoff.
So how do you use influencer marketing to cultivate ongoing relationships?
You start by getting picky. There’s an influencer out there for you. Your job is to find them.
Just like any relationship, however, it’s easy to get fooled by shallow figures. Not only are social media followings easily truncated, even legitimate influencers won’t always overlap with your target demographic.
If you run a fashion business, using Gary Vaynerchuk or Jay Baer as your advocate doesn’t make sense (no offense to their choice of clothing). Likewise, if you sell workplace products, Mimi Ikonn or Chiara Ferragni would be equally out of style.
How do you find your fit?
“The key,” as Foundr Magazine’s Jonathan Chan explains, “is to do your own due diligence and identify the overlapping accounts your target personas are already following.” In other words, it’s not just about verifying an influencer has, well, influence; it’s about verifying they’re influencing the right people.
To do that, Chan offers a twelve-step process aimed at Instagram influencer marketing. Thankfully, his detailed approach can easily be applied to other networks and is well worth the investment.
In addition to “your own due diligence,” a host of influencer platforms — like Neoreach, BrandBacker, and FameBit — also exist to make the fit process streamlined.
Image via Neoreach
Whatever your approach, the takeaway is the same: it’s not the size of the influencer that matters, it’s whether or not their audience matches your own. Aligning on this front is crucial.
Then, get to know them. Beyond nailing down influencer’s audience and numbers — i.e., reach, engagement rate, cost per engagement, and cost per acquisition — developing a relationship hinges on your brand and your influencer sharing the same:
- And even, hates
As a discovery template, Zach Benson — founder of Assistagram — vets the influencers he works with using variations on these ten questions:
- What is the purpose of your account?
- How long have you had it?
- How often do you post?
- Who is your core demographic?
- Who are the influencers you admire and follow?
- Who are your competitors?
- Is your account linked to other social media platforms?
- Are you currently using any automation tools, apps, or services?
- What posts best represent your mission and values?
- How do you respond to criticism on social media?
While this process may take longer than just picking the top five influencers in your niche via Google or searching hashtags, remember: you’re not looking for a one-night stand but a sustainable partnership.
Of course, you’ll still have to settle on the nature of your transaction, whether that’s free product, joint ventures, or a paycheck.
But as Benson told me:
“Just like life, marketing is about people, not products. When you look at great brands, people only attach themselves to products that resonate with the values they already hold. Leveraging influencers without ensuring their values match the people you serve is doomed to fail.”
“You might get away with it the first time, but the positive effects will be short lived. Developing a relationship with your influencers and understanding what they’re all about is the foundation.”
Let’s take a look at what all that looks like when a campaign goes live.
In 2016, Hallmark used the hashtag #Keepsakeit to promote candid photos from their influencers. The style, tone, and imagery all reflect shared ethos. The posts unfolded over time and the shoutouts to Hallmark’s ornaments were naturally embedded.
Similarly, Loeffler Randall — known for their appeal to the “cool girls doing cool things” — regularly partners with female artists, fashion insiders, and bloggers with the hashtag #LRambassadors. Again, these influencers overlap with the brand’s mission and vision:
Influencer Marketing for Retention Isn’t a Commercial … It’s a Story
What’s more powerful than an influencer who claims to love your product? An influencer who tells the story of why they love your product.
Stories have always been part of our DNA. Stories not only captivate, but convince. As Brains Crave explains in The Psychology of Stories: The Storytelling Formula our Brains Crave: “When we hear a story, our brains change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts activated, but so are whatever areas that would be used if you were actually in the story yourself.”
Unlike a shoutout or thunderclap, which only creates a single burst of engagement, stories unfold over time, creating enduring trust, visibility, and retention.
How do you use influencer marketing to tell a story?
The stories you create can be as varied as the people you’re trying to reach. But at their heart, every plot follows at least two of rules.
First, the problem. Meaningful stories turns on conflict, and conflict turns on a shared enemy, obstacle, or pain. Every hero needs a nemesis. In the case of marketing, this nemesis has to be something your hero — i.e., your audience (not you or your product) — must overcome.
By connecting with influencers who share candidly about struggles your product helps them conquer, you can naturally incorporate your product into their own existing stories. Alternatively, you can also “create” a struggle, not in the sense of fabricating one but by building toward your product mentions through pre-product posts in the influencer’s stream that surface the problem you’re about to solve.
Second, the climax. This is when the influencer discovers your product — and all their problems fall by the wayside (or, at least the problem you can solve). Once they’ve established the pain of living without your product, guide the influencer to describe the hope they found during and after use.
This simple one-two structure is far more effective than blasting social media with product placements, but there’s another secret to great storytelling.
But there’s one last ingredient you’ll need …
A single influencer is good. Multiple influencers is better. Multiple influencers with overlapping audiences is best. Thunderclaps run on this principle. Stories add a twist.
Rather than coordinating multiple influencers to flood social media on the same day at the same time, stagger their promotions so that they emerge slowly. Over the span of a week, a month, or even a year, let your influencers tell your brand’s story that way we naturally experience stories: with twists and turns, ups and downs, unfolding a little bit at a time.
British Airways, for instance, told a touching story with their Underground Innovation Lab influencer marketing campaign. From initial invitations, to brainstorm sessions, to the launch of new initiatives, all the way down to the aftermath, the campaign centered on how they’re helping encourage STEM education.
In similar fashion, Kettle Chips teamed up with Emily King and Corey Smith — advocates for “van life” who’re live their dream travelling the world. Over the course of months, Kettle Chips aligned their brand with the edgy, well-marketed life of Emily and Corey.
In the end, British Airways and Kettle Chips played supporting roles in the stories their influencers and audiences were already living.
By (1) combating common enemies like lack of STEM support and the struggle to live life on your own terms and (2) documenting how to win that battle over time, the brands earned their customers’ trust. Moreover, they remained top of mind for months, instead of just one bright moment.
Influencer marketing over the long haul
Influencer marketing is a powerful tool. Unfortunately, that tool focuses almost exclusively on acquisition. The good news is that influencer marketing can yield long-term fruits for retention as well. Instead of thinking in terms of transactions and commercials, think: (1) relationships and (2) stories.
Don’t let your influencer marketing be “one and done.” Make sure you find the right influencer and then partner with them to make your brand a part of the real-life story your market experiences on a daily basis.