It doesn’t matter if Bradley Cooper hasn’t used a stapler in his life; if he endorses your stapler on social media, you’ll likely see a spike in your website traffic and sales. Case in point: after Lincoln enlisted Matthew McConaughey’s star power to advertise their MKX crossover SUV, sales for the brand increased 25% a month after the first ads debuted, according to Bloomberg Technology. This tactic is known as influencer marketing. Of course, it might not be that easy or cheap (or relevant) to get Matthew McConaughey on board with your brand. On the other hand, it will probably be easier to get an existing customer (perhaps one that’s not a celebrity) to put in a good word for your brand, but their endorsement is less likely to have a big impact on your bottom line.
Influencer marketing uses key individuals in a network to drive brand awareness and affinity. This can include everything from Beyonce’s reference of Red Lobster in her song “Formation” (which spiked a 33% increase in sales and helped the brand to trend on Twitter for the first time in history) to Ann Handley sharing your blog post on social media. Influencer marketing is a powerful tactic, but figuring out which influencers to target, and how, can be difficult. You have to factor in the time and effort you spend trying to get an influencer’s attention, the influencer’s relevance to your target market, and your ultimate payoff.
Earlier this year, a team of researchers at University of Southern California (USC) discovered a social media phenomenon called the majority illusion, which happens when well-placed members of a social network create the illusion that items on social media are more popular than they actually are. Understanding the majority illusion can help marketers better understand which large influencers and niche influencers to target.
What Exactly Is the Majority Illusion and How Does It Work?
Imagine a community. Everyone in this community loves hosting and attending dinner parties, some more than others. There are also several people in this community who are big advocates of using hybrid vehicles. In the figure below, every hybrid advocate is represented by a red circle. Each person in the circle hosts a dinner party, and their guests are represented by the lines that radiate out from each circle.
Hybrid advocates represent only about one-fifth of this community, but they have an oversized influence. Why? They attend more dinner parties than anyone else. If you attend a five-person dinner party where three people there are hybrid advocates, then you might assume that everyone is a fan of this new technology. But if your friend goes to a dinner party and only one out of ten people is an advocate, she might think the opposite.
Social media is essentially a series of dinner parties. Every person’s social media feed is a dinner party that they host. By having a large network, influencers are appearing in more feeds than anyone else (attending more dinner parties than the average user). Just like in our dinner party example, if a handful of influencers in the same vertical or niche talk about a particular company or issue, they can create the illusion that it is more popular than it actually is–in other words, a majority illusion.
Within the social media realm, there are both large and niche influencers who can make an impact for your brand. Who you should reach out to ultimately depends on your goals, which may be to:
Increase awareness: If your goal is to build awareness about your brand or product/service, it makes sense to go after large influencers. Large influencers bring star power to the table with very large followings who will perceive their endorsement of you positively. And as we saw with the Lincoln and Matthew McConaughey, for larger influencers, your brands do not have to be an exact match in order to be successful. Nonetheless, it’s important to keep both your company’s brand and the influencer’s brand in mind as you identify relevant influencers. It’s crucial that you reach out to influencers whose personal brand does not contradict your own. For instance, a luxury clothing company should not reach out to a fashionista who blogs about and advocates buying second-hand.
Drive sales: If your product already has some buzz or perhaps you’re trying to target a few distinct markets, you can consider reaching out to niche influencers. Niche influencers operate within semi-isolated sections of a larger vertical (e.g. running enthusiasts within the larger athletics vertical). The researchers at USC found that the majority illusion occurs most frequently in environments where influencers have sizable followings, but where their followers have a low number of followers themselves. This is because followers with a low number of connections have less noise in their feed and are more likely to notice the influencer’s posts.
Whatever your objectives are: there are tools out there like BuzzSumo and Followerwonk that can help you find and identify the best individuals to target for different topics, keywords, and industries.
Once you’ve developed your list, here are some tips for engaging with influencers:
- Identify mutual connections. It’s helpful (but not necessary) to get a personal introduction to a large influencer. A mutual connection with a large influencer decreases the friction of your initial contact and increases the likelihood that the influencer will earnestly consider your request.
- Be authentic. Keep things real. Do your research and take the time to understand who an influencer is and what they’re passionate about. Connect with them outside of asking them for something. This not only builds a more personal relationship, but it also helps you build a relationship—one that’s beneficial for both sides. Also, be sure to show your appreciation for their efforts with a thank you note and creative gift.
- Provide incentives. Don’t expect the influencer to share your content from the goodness of their hearts. Your incentive doesn’t have to be monetary, but it’s important to have one. Let’s say you’re targeting a tech influencer. Something as simple as providing that influencer with exclusive information about your product can be a win-win. While you reap the benefits of their impact, the influencer reinforces their position as a tech expert with exclusive information. So, consider all of your company’s offerings and determine whether any of them be beneficial to your target influencers. Here are some other incentives you could potentially offer:
-Collaboration on content creation
-Promoting the influencer’s content
-Access to data or information
-Free products (and the first rights to review those products)
Whether you’re working with niche influencers, large influencers, or a combination of the two, remember that your strategy is key. Build relationships with the right influencers and time it so that influencers are sharing with their networks around the same time so you can maximize your impact.
What other tips do you have for identifying and building relationships with influencers? Share them in the comments below!