Would you trust a complete stranger to tell you what to buy? In the new world of digital relationships, word of mouth marketing now extends well beyond friends and family to the realm of bloggers, vloggers and Twitter power users.

In fact, social media influencers now rival friends when it comes to product recommendations, reports HootSuite:

  • 49% of consumers seek purchase guidance from social media
  • 20% of Twitter users have been inspired by a tweet to make their own product recommendation

Exposure to brand and influencer marketing has a compounding impact on purchasing intention:

  • 2.7x increase in purchasing intent when ONLY exposed to brand tweets
  • 5.2x increase in purchasing intent when exposed to brand AND influencer tweets

For companies that are eager to build brand recognition and drive purchasing decisions, working with a social media influencer may seem like a natural choice. But it’s not quite that simple. Influencers can play a critical role in a successful social media outreach campaign. However, like any marketing tactic, your business needs to first understand how social media influencers work, what motivates them, and how they fit into your larger strategic plan.

Social Media Influencers vs. Brand Advocates: What’s the Difference?

Last month, we talked about the importance of brand evangelists for promoting your business. Brand evangelists (also called “brand advocates”) are the loyal customers who rave about your business online and recommend your products without hesitation to friends and family. They’re the organic drivers behind your word-of-mouth marketing– and harnessing their enthusiasm is a must for a successful earned media campaign. Advocates are also easily confused with social media influencers. Both advocates and influencers can generate buzz, leads and sales. So what’s the difference?

It all comes down to motivation. Advocates are loyal because they are highly satisfied customers who love your brand and freely recommend it to others. They have genuine passion for your brand, their advocacy and loyalty are long lasting, and they rarely need incentives to share a recommendation.

Influencers are different. These are bloggers or local celebrities who have a huge audience and loyal following. Unlike advocates who are motivated to help friends, influencers are motivated to grow their audience. Their advocacy and loyalty is short-term and they may (or may not) have a genuine passion for your company. Typically, you’ll need to share an incentive like free products, a trial subscription or sponsor a giveaway for the influencer’s blog.

Working with Influencers: Are Influencers Overrated?

Influencers aren’t overrated, but they may not be right for your marketing strategy. You need to carefully consider what motivates influencers, what benefits influencers offer your brand, and whether these motivations and benefits align with your brand’s current marketing needs. Keep the following in mind:

  1. Audience size does not guarantee sales.
    We tend to confuse audience size with the power to drive action. Sure, a blogger may have a huge Instagram following, but this doesn’t mean that her following will immediately turn around and buy whatever product she shares. Influencers are great for raising brand awareness, but not always driving action.
  2. Influencers have their own agenda.
    Influencers aren’t just concerned about acquiring more followers; they’re also concerned about keeping the followers they currently have. And with hundreds of companies contacting top influencers, they can afford to be picky about which products or companies they endorse or promote. Most influencers have created their own guidelines for governing these partnerships.
  3. Know your partnership limits.
    Brand advocates are invaluable social media allies because they are passionate about your company or product. Maybe your mission statement resonates with their personal values. Maybe your product is the best thing they’ve ever used and now they can’t imagine life without it. Influencers don’t feel this same passion for your company. Their relationship with your business is transactional, not personal. That doesn’t mean influencers can’t try your product as part of their review or giveaway, fall in love with it, and turn into brand advocates. But don’t assume that influencers will have the same level of passion for your business that advocates feel: keep your expectations in check.

Ready to add influencers into your social media marketing mix? Next week we’ll touch on how to identify the right influencers for your brand.

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