Identifying influencers to work with has traditionally been a manual, time-consuming task. However, as the industry has expanded, there have been developments in technologies and platforms to assist brands with their research.
Christina Westley, Head of Influencer Marketing at PepsiCo Content Studio, describes the balancing act between qualitative and quantitative research in an interview with Econsultancy.
“There is always a human element that will be there,” Westley emphasised, “and brands need to know how to be able to screen people, and look at their page from an aesthetic perspective, making sure it feels aligned with the brand.
“It is important not to miss the cultural cues (i.e. audience-first trends) that should play a part in your decision-making. However, quantitative data is also important – looking at the talent’s audience demographics and performance metrics.”
Econsultancy’s Influencer Marketing Best Practice Guide, in partnership with Influencer Intelligence, features a chapter on selecting influencers, which includes information and advice on tech, brand purpose, diversity and inclusion, whitelisting, integrating paid media, and new platforms. But in this article, we’re going to look at the bigger picture and some of the key considerations when choosing an influencer to work with.
Selecting an influencer – what matters?
Historically, influencers have been categorised by their follow numbers, and terms such as ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ influencers have been the focus of any conversation regarding influencer selection. Although these terms are still being used, priorities are changing. Initially, the industry saw a shift in focus from macro and celebrity influencers to balancing these with the talents and capabilities of micro and niche influencers.
However, as influencer marketing matures, the experts confirm that brands are paying less attention to follower count. They cite platforms, such as TikTok, which are helping to reinforce this trend, where follower count barely registers in its algorithm; instead, content ranks and goes viral when there is high engagement around a particular subject matter, meaning that the quality of content and subject expertise are the most important factors.
Consider the who
- Look for existing fans of the brand. This supports authenticity and credibility. Elise Hamer, Senior Global PR Manager of Clarks, explains: “It really helps with authenticity if the influencer we want to work with is already a fan of the brand, or has chosen to wear us in the past, as they have to embody the same values in order for their followers to believe they would actually buy the product.”
- Consider existing customers and employees. Loyal customers and employees can represent the perfect influencer for brand collaborations, particularly in the B2B space. “Usually, the best influencers are your own customers, the ones that are happy with your value proposition and believe in your brand,” says Edwin Merchan, Demand Marketing Manager at Pentair.
- Consider engaging a range of influencers. Consider what a brand is trying to achieve and how different influencers can support that, whether that involves looking at different follower counts, areas of expertise or primary platforms. “You work with different layers of talent for different reasons,” says Jennifer Powell, CEO of Jennifer Powell Inc. “I wouldn’t put all my eggs in a macro basket, and I wouldn’t put all my eggs in a micro basket. It must be thoughtful. There are a lot of very engaged mid-tier influencers, for example.”
Consider the content
- Be immersed in the space. Being on trend is a significant aspect of influencer marketing. Brands need to understand what is happening within the vertical, keeping track of online communities and spikes in commentary. PepsiCo, for example, uses community managers to review the organic conversations that are happening around all of its brands.
- Look for natural alignment. Does the influencer’s content align with what the brand is looking for? The style and aesthetic of the influencer’s content needs to resonate with the brand; it must feel like a good, natural fit. The influencer needs to be an extension of the brand, and the partnership should be an authentic fit for the influencer and their audience.
- Assess the audience. Does the influencer speak to the demographic being targeting? A common mistake is to make incorrect assumptions about an influencer’s following. Brands should take a data-led approach to researching an influencer’s audience demographics to ensure they fit the desired brief.
- Assess the content. Does the influencer’s content stand out positively, and will it resonate with the target audience? These are important questions that brands need to ask and generally this can only be done via a manual review. Stephanie Hubbard, Senior Content Consultant at Brilliant Noise, shares that she will spend an intensive month reviewing the content of influencers shortlisted for a campaign, before casting them.
- Look for key content attributes. Consistency, quality and the originality of the content as well as its regulatory compliance (see Section 6 of Econsultancy’s Influencer Marketing Best Practice Guide), are some of the top attributes brands should be looking at, according to Sonsoles Piñeiro Kruik, VP Sales at SamyRoad.
Consider the data
- Look at conversion metrics. When traffic and sales are the focus of the campaign, look at past conversion metrics to see how an influencer has converted for similar brands to gauge how they might perform in this campaign. Influencers should be prepared to share this data with brands. If the influencer has worked with the brand in question before, the brand will be able to benchmark its own data against previous campaign results.
- Look for above average engagement rates. Engagement rate is an important metric for gauging how an influencer’s content will perform across different platforms, and it can help a brand to decide whether an influencer is likely to deliver a good return on investment. An influencer’s engagement rate can also be used to set a benchmark against which campaign results can be measured.
- Request data on audience and past partnerships. It is important to ask for an influencer’s previous endorsement history and results. “Brands shouldn’t be afraid of asking influencers for detailed stats, since it can be easy to make wrong assumptions about an influencer,” says Lucy Loveridge, MD, Social at YMU.
- Carry out a risk assessment. Influencer marketing always contains an element of risk. To minimise this risk, it is important brands investigate whether there have been any past controversies or criticisms involving the influencer, or any rulings relating to lack of disclosures. Look back into an influencer’s history as far as possible. Some paid-for platforms have the ability to search through content reaching as far back as an influencer’s very first post.
- Partnerships need a trial period. Brands should invest a significant amount of time in the research phase and carry out as much due diligence as possible before engaging an influencer. However, it is not until after the first few collaborations that a brand will get a true sense of how the relationship will play out. This should be built into the plan and the partnership agreement.
This article is an edited excerpt from Econsultancy’s Influencer Marketing Best Practice Guide, available to subscribers now and including the following chapters:
- The business case for influencer marketing
- Building a programme (objectives, content plan, data plan)
- Identifying influencers
- Managing influencer relationships
- Legal and regulatory compliance