Is Influencer Marketing a Trendy or Smart Strategy?

Influencer Marketing

Around 2003, many businesses were built by buying pay-per-click (PPC) ads on the cheap.

A similar opportunity exists today, but this time around, social media influencer marketing is the trendy strategy. It’s a strategy to which advertisers — including small businesses — are paying close attention.

If the history of PPC is any indication, influencer marketing ad budgets — and prices — will continue to rise as more businesses pile on to what works. So it makes sense to get onto this trend early for your own advertising needs.

In an introduction to the 2014 Influencer Marketing Benchmarks Report from Burst Media, the company explains:

“On average marketers who implemented an Influencer Marketing program last year received $6.85 in earned media value for every $1 of paid media.”

Facebook is an obvious channel for some of this influencer marketing. Facebook advertising has been considered a game-changer. But concern exists that Facebook ad prices have risen to levels which might limit the potential for large returns.

And so the hand-wringing continues over which mix of channels and content-type can deliver the best ROI for influencer marketing.

Sponsored Selfie Added to Influence Marketing Mix

Influencer marketplace Tomoson is adding a new option to that mix in the form of so-called sponsored selfies.

As the name implies, influencers creating sponsored selfies just post a photo of themselves using, wearing, or posing with an advertiser’s products.

There’s an attempt to avoid the inconsistency in disclosure problematic in some influencer marketing campaigns too. Tomoson sponsored selfies are always marked with the #ad hashtag, along with #TomosonSelfie.

Businesses have paid Tomoson members to create sponsored tweets, blog posts and videos. So selfies are merely the latest option being offered to the company’s advertisers.

Why selfies?

Selfies are arguably the fastest to create and they’re a normal part of life for millennials and Generation Z.

In an email interview with Small Business Trends, Tomoson CEO Jeff Foster says simple product pics fall flat on Instagram. And when that happens, there’s abysmal social engagement — or none at all.

Selfies, on the other hand, have a record of promoting engagement on the photo sharing platform.

“We have influencers of all sizes, which is perfect for small businesses. Selfies drive real engagement and provide an excellent ROI.  If you have a budget of $500 to $1,000, that can go very far,” says Foster.

His company expects to roll out sponsored selfies to other platforms, including Facebook and Twitter too.

Not a Guarantee of Success

A few caveats must be mentioned, of course.

The success of an influencer marketing campaign will depend on the creativity of the influencers with whom you choose to work. For example, their ability to create engaging content is important.

Images, ideally, should be strong enough to convey a message with one glance, in contrast to a blog post which has the advantage of many paragraphs to make a point.

And even Tomoson admits the selfie method will work better for some products than for others. (It’s probably easier to promote a pair of sunglasses or a line of handbags than a new social network or CRM software.)

Instagram selfies are also not a magic bullet for boosting sales. Like any other marketing effort, you’ll need to use analytics to determine effectiveness.

But it is also a marketing strategy that must be committed to over time in order to see results.

“Influencer marketing is not something you can just buy, like at the grocery store,” says Dennis Yu, CTO of BlitzMetrics. “It’s something you embrace fully,” Yu says in an email interview with Small Business Trends.

Yu adds that marketing messages will still depend upon proper optimization and upon being targeted for an audience likely to convert.

Selfie Image via Shutterstock

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Alex Yong Alex Yong is a staff writer and host of the Small Business Trends Livestreamed Livelihoods interview series featuring sessions with today's movers and shakers in the livestreaming world. Alex was named a must-follow PR resource in Cision North America’s list of the top 50 Twitter influencers utilizing rich media tweets, alongside Guy Kawasaki and Lee Odden.

30 Reactions
  1. Alex– thanks for the insights. Ethical issues aside, how do brands and advertisers measure the value of these influencers?

    • For vetting, I have anecdotal evidence to strongly believe brands for the most part trust in agencies who in turn trust unqualified interns. Scary. All this = mess = increases the frustration brands have with agencies. For measurements after the fact, Lord only knows. Probably willy nilly too. Just because you’re 22 years old with a Facebook acct does not mean you understand digital PR or digital marketing. of course I’m preaching to the choir. Thank you for being a great journo’s Dennis

      • Alex– I wish you were wrong here, but it’s completely true.

      • I realize I’m a bit late to the game, but not very firm is like that. My firm handles influencer marketing campaigns, and I assure you that we do not leave anything in the hands of interns.

        Influencer marketing has to be done better than sites like Tomoson, which takes an almost completely hands-off approach. Sellers shouldn’t be expected to know everything about every aspect of marketing to be successful, but I believe there should be marketing firms that people can trust.

        We build each campaign strategically, in an effort to ensure our clients’ success. We carefully select influencers who have a solid website, a strong level of engagement with their audience, and a proven track record of developing high quality content. We have specific strategies that allow us to amplify the content further than one influencer acting alone could do.

        After each campaign, we provide our clients with amplification reports and in turn, our clients often provide us with their numbers, so we can compare notes and ensure future successes as well. If we find that one influencer’s content didn’t perform well, we want to know why and it may even result in that influencer being struck from our database.

        The reason we do things differently from most agencies is that, as an influencer myself, I wanted to treat the client’s investment with respect and ensure they get the most bang for their buck, AND I wanted to honor the time and energy most *true* influencers have expended to build an engaged audience. Our methodologies have paid off: our campaigns typically exceed our clients’ goals by 2 to 2.5 times.

        Having watched other agencies work on these projects and seeing how they handle things, I knew that, with 15 years’ experience in digital marketing and on the other side as an influencer as well, I could do it far better. My firm’s been around for a long time, and I suspect we’ll continue to be around a lot longer than many of the companies pretending to be influencer marketing companies today.

        It’s not all bad seeds out there. The bad ones make the rest of us look bad. But I assure you that there are some of us out there who understand the complexities of influencer marketing and who understand that it CAN be done well.

  2. Right on, Alex! This is not a just a new trend, it’s the popularization of an old trend that was once available only to the really, really big boys. They would round up the Gold Medalists and triple Platinum artists and fork over wheelbarrows of gold to have them endorse their products.

    Now smaller companies with smaller wheelbarrows of copper (still quite valuable, mind you) can round up lesser influencers. Thanks to the Internet, lesser influencers actually exist. And thanks to the Internet, you don’t need a huge media buy to do promotions.

    • Yes! Hi David. and this will help ad spend match up to the actual social engagement of the person. Right now things are willy nilly (see my comment to Dennis) so the more stringent AND SMART agencies become the better. this isn’t done through gut instinct which leads to willy nilly -smart happens because of measurements

    • This is still happening in Television, Movies and Radio. This is not a dead practice but is now trending higher than ever due to social media. Thanks to social media, the smaller fish now have the ability to use this very powerful and ever popular way of advertising. Social media has definitely evened the playing field, and it’s about damn time.

  3. As marketers find ways to measure results they will more fully embrace influencer marketing. Complex tools like Oktopost will allow them to know exactly what social shares generate leads.

    Easier to use, simpler solutions like MavSocial will allow anyone to measure what social shares are getting the most interactions, allowing them to determine which influencers are most appropriate for their outreach.

    For brands spending large amounts on influencers, measurement is essential. Small businesses can apply common sense to choose wisely and get results.

    • Yes, something as simple as a twitter eyeball test can show if an account is all push messages or if people are actually talking to the account and if the account is talking back. why agencies don’t bother with an action so simple a 9 year old could do it is atrocious/ inexcusable

  4. Thanks for the reminder, Alex. You don’t have to hit all the pins when bowling… the kingpin will do.

  5. Thanks for the interesting article Alex! Influencer marketing is quite prevalent at the moment, many bloggers and social influencers are paid big dollars to promote companies. It seems as though consumers are responding well to this strategy.

    • Thanks for your comment. One important thing Tomoson told me is that they don’t believe in making brands overpay for social media users who aren’t big influencers. What a breath of fresh air. I say this because I see tons of agencies making clients overpay for “any old person regardless of engagement or audience size” and hello that’s not leadership. Pay should be congruent with engagement and reach!! Brands are also to blame for misunderstanding social, and for trusting agencies who ALSO misunderstand social. I call it the blind leading the blind

      • Tomoson bases influence pricing entirely on the numbers (so only reach), not on engagement.

        Our system is based on both reach and engagement. To be successful in influcencer marketing, you do have to understand digital marketing and it can’t be just about numbers of followers, which are far too easy to fake.

        There’s also an art to influencer marketing – it’s not always about finding the biggest fish in the pond. Sometimes a small influencer can really surprise you and out-perform someone with a much larger audience.

  6. Is this an example of the Long Tail?

    • What? For a good summary of why it’s bad/stupid for brands to seek instant unrealistic short term gratification, they should listen to the latest podcast by Pam Moore, “the marketing nut” (@PamMktgNut on Twitter)

  7. Alex, great post buddy! This is an excellent topic that enjoy a lot. Thanks to social media, the playing field of influencer marketing has been leveled out. Before now only the big dawgs could afford to use such an efficient technique. For decades now, big brands such as Wheaties have been putting superstars like Michael Jordan on the cover of their cereal boxes and in their commercials to sell more product. Organizations use it to spread awareness, politicians use it to win elections, and music promoters use it to sell tickets. Let’s face it, it works.

    • Yeah just today I said something semi negative about Postachio on Slack and someone, to my surprise said, something like, “thanks I’ll scratch it off my list” or something. I was like, whoa. Who knew my opinion would be so … influential. I wasn’t aware he had Postachio on a shortlist