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Influencer marketing. Wait… what? Are we marketing to influencers? Are we the influencers… where did this come from?

Influencer marketing is when you engage with influencers across marketing channels. Working with the people shouting the loudest and brightest, leveraging the relationship you have with them to get them sharing your message. A great example is Nigella Lawson sharing her love of a particular brand of frying pan… and everyone going out to buy one, as a result. Sometimes as a ‘sponsored post’ and sometimes just a comment, whether we’re talking about celebrities, CEOs, bloggers, vloggers or instagrammers, on digital channels or mainstream press, influencer marketing burst onto the PR scene in 2016 and has been growing in popularity ever since. In fact, in 2017 it was reported that, for each dollar spent on influencer marketing, marketers see an average of $7.65 in earned media value returned.

Ok, so we understand how it can work for business to consumer marketing. But how can this work in professional services?

At its core, influencer marketing uses key leaders, within a certain market, to drive your brand message to their audience. It’s a really focused and targeted way of marketing. Importantly, it leverages the power of peer-to-peer marketing, helping to build brand association and perception, as well as making whatever you have to say feel relevant to that audience. By working with key individuals – rather than just ‘chucking a marketing message out into the world generically’ – you’re able to tell your story in a far more authentic way. And believe it or not, Nielsen studies in 2016 showed that consumers trust digital influencers nearly as much as friends and family (70% and 92% respectively).

Ok, you’re sold. But we still can’t see how this works for professional services…

Let’s think of an example. BigFirm LLP wants to get more first time buyers to realise the importance of having a Will. The message is that you’ve just invested in the most valuable thing you probably will (ever)… and you need to make sure that, should the worst happen, it’ll benefit the people most important to you. But the challenge is that when you’re 20 or 30-something… the thought of preparing for your death… and certainly writing a Will… well… it’s just not cool. So, the clever bods in BigFirm LLP’s marketing team approached global fashion and beauty vlogger, YouTuber and author, Oezlla for help. With almost 11m followers on Instagram, and more than 12m on YouTube Oezlla is doing pretty well for a 20-something that is currently doing up her first home with her boyfriend. Every day followers watch her picking out paint, planning renovations and even doing the washing up. Franky, it’s amazing how many people live her life through the power of social media channels. Oezlla’s multi-million GBP income comes, largely, through sponsored posts, promoting her love and approval of a wide range of products and services. BigFirm LLP worked with Oezlla to arrange a series of posts where she talked about how she, and her boyfriend, were taking their new home move really seriously, and putting in place Wills. BigFirm LLP got a nice big mention, as well as a collection of selfies taken in their offices and shared on Oezlla’s social media profiles. Most importantly, all of this was done through HER words, not BigFirm LLP’s, meaning that she was talking directly to her audience, sharing her views and message on what a great idea it was to got to BigFirm LLP for her Will. That, ladies and gentlemen, is influencer marketing.

Why does this work?

Because studies have shown that influence depends on the perception of trustworthiness, expertise, attractiveness, and similarity. In Oezlla’s case, she has a loyal following that trust her to be open and honest about her life… she’s been living it publically, sharing the highs and lows for years. Second, expertise and similarity – she’s currently going through the process of moving into her first home… she’s right there, experiencing what BigLaw LLP’s target audience is. And finally, attractiveness… she has millions of followers that experience her lifestyle vicariously… through her posts. It’s the age old thing of some wanting to be her and some wanting to be with her.

Of course, the best form of influencer marketing is the type you don’t have to pay for. It’s much harder, now there is a legal requirement for any posts for which the ‘influencer’ is receiving payment, to state that it’s a sponsored post. And whilst it might be realistic enough that a celebrity will share an instagram post of their new favourite book, just as a generic post… or that they’ll be snapped by the press wearing a fantastic new designer and repost the photo… it is, admittedly, a stretch to conceive of this happening in relation to a visit to their accountant or lawyer.

So, if we accept that influencer marketing is here to stay. How might we find the right influencers and how might we get around the fairly hefty price-tags associated with sponsored posts/endorsements?

Let’s tackle the first question. How do you identify your influencer?

  • First, remember. Influence doesn’t mean quantity. It means quality. Have a clear idea of the target audience you have and then seek out people that have a strong following in that very specific area. For this to work it isn’t about chucking muck at the wall.
  • Linked to this, you’re not necessarily looking for someone with the largest audience. There can be enormous value in working with someone with a small or medium sized audience, if their ‘message’ aligns with what you want to say.
  • You’re looking for someone that has the ability to cause an effect. You want an influencer that is causing a stir and that people are really listening to. It’s about making a calculated guess that, should that influencer say something, a significant proportion of their audience will be speaking the same language and will be attentive… heck… that they’ll take action. That’s why it might be better to find someone that’s growing in popularity, and still has time (and a desire) to really engage with their audiences, rather than splashing out on working with the most famous, right away.
  • It stands to reason that this person needs to have a good social media following. In its truest sense influencer marketing is social media based. But it isn’t only that. Don’t forget that there are different target audiences on different platforms and even in different forms of media. Think about where your audience is and then seek out an influencer that’s right for that audience, within that media channel.

But what about the ‘paying for influence’ elephant in the room? It’s certainly fair to say that the minute you pay an influencer to share your message you run the risk of devaluing the level of influence they have over that message. You make it a commercial thing.  And research from Twitter suggests that the minute you include #ad or #spon on a post, it reduces the effectiveness by a quarter.

But how can you get influencers to share your story in a non-sponsored way?

Ironically, this is actually easier for the professional services than it is for those trying to sell kitchen equipment and cars to consumers. The easiest way is to think about it in terms of how we’ve all been managing PR for decades. You come up with something meaningful to say, with a clear story… that’s really interesting and that journalists want to report. Digital influencers (in terms of professional services, more likely to be on LinkedIn than Instagram… although this is changing… watch this space because we’re about to launch a ranking for law firms on Instagram…) are no different. At their heart they’re journalists. If you give them something that catches their attention and has integrity, they’ll like as not want to share that message with their followers. And if you invest in that relationships – keeping on supplying them with interesting and valuable content – the chances are they’ll invest in building the relationship back again… because you give them the tools they need to keep their audience interested… and that gives you the audience you want. Win, win.

You see, in most cases, the best influencers only want to work with brands they genuinely approve of. If they compromise on this they run the risk of haemorrhaging followers and losing their influencer status.

The final point to make is not to forget the power of peer influencers. It isn’t all about celebrities. The other day we were collating coverage for a law firm client on a community health project they’d supported. We were really interested by what we saw, when we ended up in Pinterest. We were taken there because some of the coverage (which was about outdoor play and getting children active) had ended up being ‘pinned’. But then we spotted something else… At first it seemed odd… why would a global car brand be sharing tips for building ‘mini beast’ houses in playgrounds. But then we thought about it… you see this car brand had had some big negative press problems surrounding diesel emissions… and they’d just launched a new ‘big hatch’ targeting ‘young mums’. By posting content that demonstrated an environmental message, in a social media platform known for being populated by their target audiences (and primary school teachers – many of whom are influencers in this target audience) they were able to leverage the power of peer influence. Their posts were pinned all over the virtual place. Clever.

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