This Sunday is the live telecast of the 91st Academy Awards, otherwise known as The Oscars, the “Super Bowl” of celebrity worship. Millions of people around the world will be glued to their sets to see who wears what, who says what, and who wins the top prizes. (This year, we’ll also find out who will host, but that’s another story.)

Why do celebrities captivate us so? Psychologists say it’s because humans are social creatures, and it benefits us to pay attention to the dominant members of our society. If we know what’s going on with people of top status, we’re going to know better how to acclimate socially ourselves.

This is nothing new. The traditional white wedding dress comes from Queen Victoria, who wore a white dress for her marriage ceremony in 1840. Now it’s a rare bride who doesn’t wear some shade of white. Who knows? We may get our next fashion cue or hairstyle from our favorite actor this Sunday.

This is the power of influencer marketing, which is a whole different animal than traditional celebrity endorsement advertising.

But first, just the stats, ma’am. Influencer marketing is reported to be effective by 94 percent of marketers across a broad swath of industries. Second, “influence marketing” as a Google search key phrase is up over 400% in the past three years.

How is Influencer Marketing Different from Traditional Celebrity Endorsement?

  • We trust influencers more. Unlike movie stars or athletes who are told verbatim what to say by the brands that hire and pay them exorbitantly, influencers are those who would willingly vouch for a brand, whether they are paid to do so or not. (Note: most influencers are paid, but a product or service is already aligned with their beliefs and expertise, so the value for them is intrinsic and significantly more trustworthy.)
  • We’re already engaged. Most of us will focus more on one famous person when watching the Oscars than another. That’s because we’re already interested in them, we already follow them (often literally on social media), and they have some sway that comes from inside of us, not the “push” form of celebrity endorsement. In short, influencers tap into an existing community of already engaged audiences.
  • They’re not always super-famous. The big trend today is “micro-influencers,” according to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). This is someone less like Kim Kardashian (a macro-influencer) and more like “the girl next door” who’s carved out her own nook of authority and built an organic following.
  • They speak in their own words. Editorial freedom is paramount to influencers. They want to advocate for your brand in their own words and personal style of communication. They care about content authenticity, as do consumers, and their own voice is far more compelling than a canned script written in the board room.
  • They are more selective. Because their own reputation and following is on the line, influencers are more personally invested in the brands they endorse. Their sign of approval carries far more weight than a signed contract between a business and a high-powered celebrity – with both themselves and their audiences.
  • They empower us. In today’s world where everyone can weigh in on everything and, in the case of Twitter, even communicate directly with influential people, the command lies with consumers. Influencer marketing thrives on social media, where audience participation is the driving force. Long gone are the “Mad Men” days of suits in skyscrapers creating campaigns designed to sell and self-serve. Genuine, consumer-focused content rules the modern-day roost.
  • They are FTC-monitored. Influencer campaigns are required by the Federal Trade Commission to state up-front, before the first word or image, that content is sponsored.

How to Launch an Influencer Campaign

Regardless of your company’s size or budget, it’s likely that you can employ some degree of influencer marketing, particularly with the micro- and nano-influencers that are gaining steam on social media. Whomever you tap to support your brand, whether LeBron James or the mommy blogger in town with the great parenting advice, you can leverage these strategies to your customers’ benefit (and yours, too, but that must be secondary in today’s world of content marketing):

First, keep in mind these qualities of a potential influencer:

Demographic: Are the people following the influencer similar to your brand’s buyer persona?
Expertise: Does it make sense that the content of your campaign would come from this influencer?
Reach: Is the influencer on the same social media channels as your audiences?
Notoriety: Is the influencer universally well-liked, or is there something attached to him/her that would negatively impact their mass appeal?

Next, consider these tactics with influencers, which take time and careful cultivation:

  • Offer them a valuable experience. If you’re thinking free products, forget it. This is not the way to attract sought-after influencers, who seek to expand their base by gaining exposure with new audiences and other influencers. Build a relationship with them by making them aware of the value of your product or service and aligning with their genuine interest in it. Invite them to a well-attended event at which they might speak; interview them about a topic in their wheelhouse that is relevant to your brand and air it across your digital platforms. Ask them to be a guest blogger on your site.
  • Solicit their advice. Ask an influencer if they would be willing to act as an advisor or “resident guru” to your company. Stress the value of their savyy. Influencers are naturally inclined to share their ideas and knowhow, or they wouldn’t have a following in the first place.
  • Pay them for their own words. Wait, what? Didn’t we say that influencers are not the paid celebrities of mega-ad campaigns? Yes, we did. But here’s the twist: you can allow the influencer to create the content and compensate them for it. Whether it’s a product review, testimonial, or blog that supports your brand’s values and goals…whatever medium you and your influencer agree suits your mutual benefit, let them create it, and keep your red pen out of it. It’s their influence you’ve chosen (considering the influencer qualities noted above), so why would you dictate what and how it’s said?

Where to Find Influencers

PRSA advises that influencers can be found through Google search, hashtags, marketing networks, and subscription platforms.

But our team would add that you can also find influencers “hiding in plain sight.” Ask yourself who the ideal person to endorse your brand would be. Is it the vigilant and research-intelligent adult child of a senior in need of care? The administrator of a hospital specializing in cancer treatment? A millennial with a YouTube following of their self-assigned product tests? A writer with a hometown publication or a local TV anchor?

Whoever that “perfect person” is, go out and find them. Check their social media platforms. Do they have large followings with lots of commentary? Have they spoken before large audiences? Are they a respected authority in their niche? Are they at a nearby event that you can attend?

Guided by the tactics noted above, brainstorm whom to tap, and get on your way to building real relationships with your intended influencers. They may be just around the corner.

IVY MARKETING GROUP. COME GROW WITH US.