Whether it's mommy bloggers, online tech gurus, Instagram fashion icons, or foodies on Facebook, social influencers are on the rise, and brands are responding in kind. A November 2016 survey by Linqia, a San Francisco-based provider of content marketing solutions, found that nearly half of marketers polled planned to increase their influencer marketing budget this year.
In many ways, social influencers are taking over a role once considered the domain of lifestyle magazines. "It used to be magazine editors [making all the style choices and product recommendations], but now it's the Instagram influencers and bloggers," says Erin Dress, head of shopper marketing at Linqia.
Because of the growing importance of influencers in driving consumer choice, brands are figuring out new ways to tap into them, not just to drive awareness and score likes but to migrate shoppers along the path to purchase. "Marketers who just want an influencer to give a shout out to their brand won't really be effective," says Dean Forbes, CEO of the Minneapolis, Minn.-based shopper marketing firm Curb Crowser. "But if an influencer touts a product that fits well with their lifestyle and then goes on to explain how they use it, it becomes a lot more believable, and people will search that product out."
Influencer marketing can be especially effective for mid-tier and challenger brands because it's cost-effective and provides content that can be repurposed for digital and social programs. "What we're amplifying through social media is our influencer marketing that's our primary mode of marketing," says Andrew Reichgut, EVP at Garden Lites, which makes healthy versions of frozen waffles, muffins, and other foods, using vegetables as the first ingredient.
Garden Lites works with Linqia to ensure its influencer partners share the same values as its target customers. "Linqia will then tie in the whole story the influencer is creating for us and, depending on their networks, let the consumer know where to buy the product and any promotions that are available," Reichgut says. "It becomes this great concentric circle of the consumer with the influencer that they trust and the retailer who is handling the distribution of our product."
Taking an Omnichannel Approach In its recent report, The State of Influencer Marketing 2017, Linqia surveyed 170 marketers and their agencies from a variety of industries, including CPG, food and beverage, media, and retail, and found respondents overwhelmingly cite Facebook (87 percent) and Instagram (87 percent) as the most important influencer channels. Those were followed by blogs, with 48 percent of respondents leveraging them as a tool for increasing discovery and improving SEO.
Influencer programs that use a combination of blog stories, photos, videos, and social posts work best, according to Linqia. "Blogs are an especially interesting component in that they offer the ability to tell a story," the report notes. "Social channels are especially effective when they are used to reach new audiences and drive traffic to long-form content, such as a blog post or video, that has been proven to convert."
Brands are also getting more responsible in letting consumers know when influencers are being compensated. The Linqia survey found that 88 percent of marketers require influencers to disclose sponsored content to comply with Federal Trade Commission regulations, but only 55 percent understand the most current guidelines.
Social influencers, too, who receive compensation from a brand must be transparent and accountable, says Rich Butwinick, CEO of MarketingLab, a shopper marketing agency in Minneapolis, Minn. "The influencer has to let the audience know when they're speaking on behalf of the brand or if there's been an exchange of services, products, or monies," he notes.
Emily Stickler, director of strategy at Curb Crowser and who handles PR for the healthy-living blog Fit Foodie Finds, agrees.