By Ben Lloyd

March 14th, 2017

Social media has changed the way that businesses connect with their customers, but the impact on sales and profits may be even greater than many marketers imagined. In the age of content, getting your assets in front of potential customers (and cutting through the noise created by your competitors) is becoming increasingly difficult.

The decision by Facebook to limit the organic visibility of posts made by businesses has increased the complexity and cost of sharing content. In fact, organic reach for your posts may now be as low as 2%. But because social remains a valuable source of leads, marketers are forced to increase spend on Facebook ads and promoted posts to maintain their level of exposure.

More than simply throwing more money at the problem, marketers must finally master the true power of social by connecting with social influencers. Social influencer marketing may simply be an update on the classic concept of word-of-mouth recommendations, but it remains an incredibly powerful sales tool.

There are four key reasons your business needs to add influencer marketing to your content distribution strategy now.

1. Social media influencers build trust
Study after study has found that consumers’ trust in advertising is in free fall. One frequently quoted statistic from Satmetrix suggests that just 2% of consumers trust advertising more than personal recommendations. Americans are considerably more open – but 4% is still extremely low.

Personal recommendations are perhaps more powerful than many marketers realized. Word-of-mouth recommendations within off-line social networks have driven sales for centuries, being the motivating factor behind 20% to 50% of all purchasing decisions.

But new research suggests that this is changing. Another study found that 92% of people trust recommendations from individuals (even if they don’t know them) more than marketing from brands.

This means that connecting with social influencers can help to spread your content further than expected. More importantly, having social influencers sharing your message immediately increases the level of trust consumers place on it. It is important to note that your prospects are actively looking for input from social influencers. According to Twitter, nearly 40% of their users say they’ve made a purchase as a direct result of a Tweet from an influencer.

2. Social media influencers attract qualified leads
In the digital marketplace, generating leads is relatively easy – particularly with so many available channels to connect with customers on. And if all else fails, your marketing team can always buy a contact list to work from.

The reality is that there are levels of quality when it comes to leads. Obtaining a customer’s email address on its own is of far less value than gaining some insight into their purchasing intentions too. And again, social influencers can help.

The reach of the social media influencer means that their status updates are more visible to a wider audience. So as customers search for products and services, they are more likely to encounter your message. When they do get in contact, they will already have completed much of the pre-qualification process, making it easier for your sales team to close the deal.

And this is not mere speculation. A study by influence marketers Tomosone found that 51% of marketers believe they get better customers from influencer marketing. These customers are more prepared and more willing to make purchases.

3. Social influencer marketing is already working for your competitors
These Tomosone findings reveal an important truth – some marketers are already leveraging social influencers as part of their campaigns. Which means that at least some of your competitors are leveraging digital word-of-mouth to boost sales.

Your competitors are getting good results with it too. A May 2015 study found that 84% of global marketers expected to launch at least one influencer marketing campaign in the coming years, and 81% of those who had already done so reported they were happy with the results. If the only way to make a marketer happy by increasing sales, you can be sure that your competitors are seeing a good return from their social influencer marketing efforts.

Unconvinced? Consider L’Oréal’s “Beauty Ambassador” deal with Instagram influencer Kristina Bazan, worth more than $1 million. Sponsorship deals of this magnitude prove that there is power in social influencer marketing – and your competitors are taking advantage.

4. Social media influencer marketing increases ROI
How big is the return on social influencer marketing? One study published by Burst Media found that marketers realize an average return of $6.85 for every dollar invested in reaching social influencers.

Twitter’s results suggest that getting a branded tweet in front of influencers increases purchasing intent by 2.7x. Where your campaign can combine branded tweets with recommendations from an influencer, purchasing intent nearly doubles to 5.2x.

Clearly, a 685% ROI is significant, but for some sectors, the returns may be even greater. Businesses in the retail and apparel vertical see returns of $10.48, while the CPG food sector tops the list at $11.33 ROI per dollar. With significant returns like this on offer, it’s obvious why your competitors are on board.

It’s also obvious that your business needs to expand its digital campaigns to include social influencer marketing to increase revenue. It is also a logical solution to the challenge of reduced organic spread on social networks.

As Instagram talent agent Jennifer Powell said to CNBC News, “When you have a person with 2 million Instagram followers, that’s direct consumer advertising. It’s a no-brainer.”

Influencing the influencer
Landing an email in your prospect’s inbox is just the first stage in encouraging a customer to click through, becoming a lead in the process. And the same is true of social media marketing – getting your content into the stream of a social influencer is just the first step in the process.

In order to be effective, your messaging needs to be finely tuned and targeted to the influencer’s interests – and those of their followers. Without engaging the influencer’s passions, there’s no way they will share your content. In effect, you must influence the influencer, applying the same techniques used to keep your social audience engaged. Where your business already uses PR to help spread brand messages through third party channels, influencer marketing is another tool in the earned media mold.

It’s important to note that social influencers are not simply celebrities or social media stars – friends and family remain an important source of product recommendations. Twitter states that 56% of consumers seek guidance from friends first, with influencers in second place at 40%. Your social influencer marketing strategy should accommodate this factor, delivering an exceptional customer experience at every opportunity to convert every single one into becoming an influencer within their social network.

Influence marketing specialists Makerly uncovered the power of these “micro influencers”. Their analysis of Instagram influencers found that influencers with between 10,000 and 100,000 followers found that the number of “likes” and comments decreased as follower count rose. This means that marketers need not target the highest-profile users – indeed, directing content at mid-level social influencers will yield a better return on investment.

Social influencers: an integral part of your earned media strategy
The who and how of which influencers you target will vary based on your products and services, and the goals you have set for your campaign. In the battle for attention online however, your business must include social influencers as part of every campaign – or miss a valuable opportunity to increase the spread of your content, and the chance to capture new prospects who are waiting to be influenced.

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