Influencer marketing is having its moment right now. The term and its practice are getting the kind of buzz that content marketing was getting several years ago.

Why is that?

As marketers, we are constantly on the lookout for the next big thing, the next exciting and effective way of reaching our audience. The old way of doing things is boring, plus it’s gotten more competitive, more expensive, and less effective now that it’s old and boring.

What is influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing is really nothing new. The best way to understand it is to recognize that it’s a new take on something brands have been doing for decades – that is, getting people outside the company who are recognizable and have the attention of their own audience to speak on the company’s behalf.

Influencer marketing is a combination of the celebrity spokesperson model and the product placement model, taking advantage of the popular social media outlets of the day.

For example, Red Bull will pay popular alternative sports athletes to post photos of themselves with Red Bull branded products on Instagram or Facebook. The practice is already popular with many beverage companies, supplement brands, and fashion houses. And its use is growing and expanding into new industries daily.

Does influencer marketing work?

This is the ultimate question. And the truth is, the jury is still out. There are some brands that are investing a significant amount of money in influencer marketing right now, and one assumes that they are measuring its effectiveness. But we know that – especially when it comes to newer initiatives – actual return on investment is difficult to gauge, and sometimes ignored completely.

If you and your company are wondering whether or not to invest in influencer marketing, there are a few things you should know. First is, no one can guarantee success. Anyone who tries to is lying, and you should run away from them.

Second, success in this field is going to depend on the influencers you work with and the kind of people that follow and engage with them. Audience is key.

And third, you should always put in place a way to measure effectiveness. Using unique web links or promotional codes give you a way to track return on investment and determine how to allocate future marketing dollars.

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Influencer marketing is not new. It’s been around for many years. Lately it’s become a hot topic for marketers — probably because we are realizing how powerful it is, especially as an alternative to traditional advertising that can be expensive and inefficient. More importantly, consumers don’t like to be advertised to and marketing messages have less credibility every day.

What is an influencer?

One of the biggest misconceptions about influencers is that they are someone with a large social media following. This thinking confuses influence with popularity. The act of influencing requires a specific result: a change in thinking or behavior. An influencer, therefore, is someone who has the power to influence the perception of others or gets them to do something different.

When applying this definition to marketers, an influencer is someone who helps other people buy from you. How do they do this? Influencers must have a combination of three key factors: reach, contextual credibility and salesmanship. The higher these three factors, the higher the influence potential of an individual.

• Reach: their ability to deliver a message to a large number of people. This can be the readership of a publication, the audience of a TV host or the number of social followers someone has. Reach is important but insufficient. Those with small reach but high credibility and salesmanship are called micro-influencers.

• Contextual credibility: the level of trust and authority given by the audience based on the influencer’s perceived knowledge and expertise on a specific topic. A celebrity chef will have high credibility in recommending meals but low credibility in politics, for example.

• Salesmanship: the presence and communications style that gives the influencer the ability to understand and embrace a particular point of view. There are some people who seem to have an extraordinary power to convince people of their point of view. They have an ability to explain things in convincing ways, are clear with their messages and deliver their points of view with confidence.

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