For the first few years of its life, Instagram was an ad-free community. By 2017, however, it will produce nearly $3 billion in mobile ad revenue, and 34 percent of American agency professionals cite it as the social network of choice for client campaigns.
The opening of the advertising floodgates definitely has Instagram users on edge. They fear that the feed they tap into for inspiration and escape will be tainted by the presence of advertisers, who are simply in the business of paying for eyeballs. But for savvy marketers and advertisers, there’s a key tactic to turn to when approaching the platform: influencer activation.
Influencers may have fewer followers than mainstream celebrities, but they powerfully impact their fans, who take their advice seriously. Companies such as Burberry, American Apparel, Land Rover, TOMS and Johnnie Walker partner with Instagram celebrities to reach consumers and create positive buzz around their brands.
But massive multinational companies aren’t the only ones that can leverage the power of this growing trend. Brands of all sizes are already enjoying success from influencer-driven Instagram campaigns. It’s a different conversation than the one centered on traditional paid media, and it’s growing in importance as brands try to forge meaningful connections with their audiences.
Here are a few tips and trends marketers should consider when looking to add an influencer strategy to their plans:
1. Marketers are diving into their own data
Tech tools are enabling companies to analyze opportunities and target highly segmented user groups with relevant content. If Neiman Marcus wants to launch a last-call promotion in some of its markets, it can approach fashion personalities who have influence in those areas, narrowing the options based on their number of followers and potential reach. Neiman Marcus can sign a deal with an influencer—paying for the exposure he or she can deliver—and drive sales through his or her followers.
Marketers should be tracking customers’ data so they can identify the influencers among them. Pay attention to social media trends, and use metrics to effectively market through them. This tracking will require layering on a few data points, from first-party data to social monitoring tools. Brands can see real-time numbers on their followers, how followers interact with their accounts, and how active followers are with other accounts. They may be surprised by the amount of exposure a core base of fans can bring to a brand via social channels.
2. Scalable technology is breaking down barriers to activation
Until recently, only top influencers and brands had been involved in this space. However, new platforms not only take the legwork out of influencer activation, but they also let marketers activate more influencers for less money. It’s the rise of the mid-tier influencer—and “there’s an app for that.”
Apps like Popular Pays allow brands to not only identify a pool of potential influencers, but also submit creative briefs with pricing and restrictions to that pool. Influencers can choose whether to opt in. This is an excellent way for a brand to generate social-ready creative that aligns with its brand in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Platforms like these are eliminating the barriers to entry and decentralizing the market—much like what Uber and Airbnb have done for transportation and lodging.
3. A shift from aspirational to transactional posts is underway
Consumers often follow people for their inspirational or aspirational content—think Kirsten Alana’s luxury travel-themed Instagram. But 2016 will be the year of transactional posts, with influencers guiding followers toward specific purchases or providing product information.
Marketers must identify content creators who are popular among their target audience members and strategize which products or services they can promote through them. But don’t lose sight of why customers followed these people. Make sure promotions advance their goals and meet a specific need.
4. Influencer content will be run directly
Many companies are chomping on the influencer activation bit, but others—including brands like McDonald’s and Ben & Jerry’s— are starting to integrate this technique into their more traditional media buys. Despite consumer pushback, there’s something to be said for running ads directly through the platform.
Influencers can gain brands valuable word-of-mouth marketing, but when it comes to targeting, reach and frequency, buying platform direct is the better option. Going site direct guarantees marketers get their brands’ content in front of someone in their market—something that’s not possible with influencers because brands simply don’t have access to the full scope of their followers’ data. Activate the influencer, take the content and run it directly to amplify it beyond his or her individual stream.
It makes sense why marketers are waking up to the power of these savvy personalities on Instagram and other social channels. Word of mouth has always been the most powerful form of marketing, and we’re seeing that on a much larger scale with the ease of content creation. Essentially, anyone with access to a smartphone has the ability to become his or her own publishing company. As marketers continue to refine their messages for a specific audience, they need to work with influencers who can educate their followers about their brand and help them sell to the right people.
Aubry Parks-Fried is a senior manager of digital innovations, social, and native at Centro. Centro develops digital advertising and media management software to help advertisers streamline and scale digital campaigns.