4 Questions for a Winning 2021 Influencer Marketing Strategy
4 Questions for a Winning 2021 Influencer Marketing Strategy

4 Questions for a Winning 2021 Influencer Marketing Strategy

By Meredith Bodgas + Brandon Perlman

Q4 is our best quarter.

Why? Everyone and their mom want to test and learn so they can set the appropriate budgets and KPIs for the year ahead. As we set our sights on 2021, right on time, the Social Studies team is inundated with meeting requests, RFIs, RFPs, and ABRs from fast-growing DTC companies, legacy consumer brands, venture-backed startups, and virtually every type of business in between. Now is the moment when next year’s vital marketing strategies get set, budgets allocated and tests commence. 

But just because your business needs an influence strategy, working with a bunch of influencers because it’s “the thing to do” makes as much sense as putting on a jacket without looking at the weather outside. How do we know? Social Studies is a pioneer in the influence space, as a five-year-old agency dedicated to this emerging space. In fact, we’ve been around long enough to have learned that it’s influence marketing–not influencer marketing, which is merely a tactic, says Social Studies founder and CEO Brandon Perlman. “To do it well and long term, it has to be an always-on program,” not “oh, hey, a holiday’s coming up; let’s work with whoever to get influencer support.” Before you set off, you must ask yourself these four questions. 

QUESTION 1. What does influence mean to you? (Alternatively, “what influence do you want to have over your end-user or core consumer?”) 

This first one is qualitative in nature: How do you think of influencers and do you want to activate a few accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers (macro influencers) or many hyper-targeted content creators with just a few thousand (micro or nano influencers)? Brandon and his team ask would-be clients this first in order to learn how sophisticated their tactics and understanding are in this arena and what their perceived objectives are. Even five years into Social Studies, he admits that influence is still operating in the “Wild West.” Your answer here should also include companies whose influencer content and strategies you admire (these should be both competitive and like-minded brands alike). 

From here, your business is then likely to fall into one of three categories:

Launch Stage.

These are the startups or new business units within established companies that have NO idea what they want to use influencers for or what a positive outcome would look like, only the fact that they want to do “something.” These tend to need a careful discovery period full of strategic goal setting, budgetary analysis, ROI planning, testing and refinement. 

Growth Stage.

These businesses have done something with influencers that works, and just need more of it. This can be early relationships with talent (usually from the founders, staff or even celebrity investors/advisors). “Something is working to the point where you know there is positive ROI and all you need to do is pour fuel on the fire,” says Brandon. “You need more benchmarking, more talent, more testing and accelerated/scalable execution. This is where you’d want to start experimenting with connecting your organic influencer strategy to your content, CRM, email and most importantly your performance teams.”

Diversification Stage.

Usually, this is reserved for the big guys. “AKA dinosaurs of big business. This group has mapped nearly every inch of their marketing funnel and now they want to experiment with something new,” says Brandon. “They also need their hands held and (most importantly) have the dollars to support and prove out new strategies. This group tends to be a little late to the game but can invest accordingly to catch up. It often starts with an internal resource who wants to shake things up. Little separates a ‘Launch’ brand with a ‘Diversification’ brand other than the size of their pocket book.”

QUESTION 2. How many influencers have you worked with in the past year? 

Next comes the quantitative question. If the answer is 0, then obviously, you’re brand new to this and you’ll need top-to-bottom guidance. But if the answer is, say, 20, you’ve likely treated influence as a tactic rather than an overarching, always-on strategy that will radically impact your business. “The effort of working with 100 people is 10x the effort of working with 20,” explains Brandon. “Anybody can send their product to 20 people, but you have to have a function and related strategy to work with 100.” Activating dozens of influencers means you’ve had to identify the right people, communicate with them, manage them and administer an entire program. There is no doubt you still need specialists to get you to maximum efficiency and return.

QUESTION 3. Where does the function of INFLUENCE sit within your organization?  

There’s a hierarchy to the answers to this question. 

  • The best answer: There’s a dedicated staffer with “influence” or “influencer” in the title. That illustrates the organization has invested in and places value on this function. Still good, if influence is tied to or reports to the department responsible for social media; if that department exists, it’s probably evolved from “let’s have the intern handle it because they’re young and savvy” to a set of community managers, branding and/or content strategy positions. In that case, the company understands that influence, just as social media was in 2012, is essential yet nuanced and can’t just be phoned in.
  • The next-best answer: Influence rolls up to the marketing department. Brandon says this usually means the goals are clear and influence is intended to solve an organizational need.
  • The least-favorable answer: Influence falls under communications or PR. This is usually a function of convenience, but traditional PR/comms and influencer marketing are two very different tactics with very different skill sets and strategic goals. “For the first two years of our business, 50% of Social Studies’ clients were PR firms seeking help on super tactical influence needs that feel way outside of their wheelhouse. Now PR firms represent less than 5 percent of our business.”

QUESTION 4. What KPIs are you focusing on?

As with the previous questions, there’s a good answer and…a not-so-good answer: 

  • The ideal: Performance-oriented goals that can be properly measured as well as augment brand-building efforts are great. “Then we can provide a regular stable of influencers and a steady stream of content with individualized social media targets,” says Brandon. Without clear goals, there can be no clear strategy. A smart way to dip your toe into developing these KPIs is to look around you, look at your comps and decide if their strategy is even worth emulating.
  • Less-good: A less-good primary objective is social follower growth. While lots of followers are great, accounts are growing much more slowly than they were years ago; audience size is more of a vanity metric, and while semi-important to a brand’s legitimacy, ultimately it doesn’t move the needle early on. Audience growth can be a secondary goal, but it shouldn’t be the primary one. “If a brand tells me their primary objective is just about follower growth, then they likely don’t have a strategy or a content calendar to support these efforts; you just can’t know what success can look like,” says Brandon. The right strategy: Focus and invest in areas that will lead to audience growth organically, get your feet wet, learn what your audience wants and innovate from there. They will naturally be engaged instead of just being fairweather followers.

Once you begin to answer these four answers, the right partner can put you on a path toward wielding the kind of influence that achieves your KPIs. But any agency that accepts the poor answers without at least attempting to guide you toward the better ones isn’t going to help your business expand. 
It’s always worth taking the time (especially in Q4) to move your organization toward those better answers before diving into influencer marketing. Think about it, says Brandon: “You just enter the gates of Yellowstone National Park, the park ranger hands you a map, there are thousands of cars on the road ahead of you…sure, following the map can work, but wouldn’t you rather have a private guide and a chauffeur?”

If you’re interested in learning more, lets chat…

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