Remember the days before influencer marketing? No? Neither do I.
It’s hard to imagine a time before the search results or social feeds was dominated by the fashionably fabulous brand partnerships or the self-made chefs launching their own product lines, from Lauren Conrad to Ree Drummond. But it’s the one-two punch of Dunkin Donut Instagram campaign with Logan Paul and Chloe’s sponsored blog posts campaign that have really shed light on the awesome sauce of influencer marketing.
Outside of the examples above, you only hear about influencer marketing campaigns that make it — the Snapchat “Pretty Little Liars” that got ABC Family over 800,000 new followers in just three months and the Lord & Taylor Instagram campaign that helped sell out a dress in less than a week. The so-called “unicorns” of mom bloggers and fashionistas that turned from bloggers to billionaires. It can start to feel like these influencer moments are only for big brands, and that falling flat on your influencer campaign is an everyday occurrence.
But 50% of marketing campaigns fail.
As a marketer working away on influencer campaigns in many different niches, not only is failure entirely normal, it’s a rite of passage. When things don’t go the way you planned, you get to learn…a lot. Mark Zuckerburg told us, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
Failure can give you an unexpected second chance. It teaches you and can change your perspective. And, most importantly, it’s not the end of the world if your campaign doesn’t hit ALL the metrics.
I’ve learned from my failures. They taught me some of the toughest lessons. In working with 100+ client sites and managing millions of unique visits in diverse niches, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to drive website traffic with influencer marketing.
And, with influencer marketing converting the average browsers to new customers, I’ve learned oodles about converting content into traffic, too.
I’ve done some awesome stuff, and I’ve also done some not-so-awesome stuff. Some of my big mistakes have cost me a lot of time and money. Had I avoided them, I may have at least quadrupled the traffic my website received, and maybe I would have resulted in more goal conversions improving my bottom line.
By sharing my biggest failures, I hope I can help you avoid my mistakes and, of course, make some of your own along the way.
Lesson #1: Humanize the Brand
My outreach emails aren’t sales pitches. And, that’s a good thing because your outreach email is your first impression. This is your one chance to connect with your influencer in a genuine, authentic way. You are the person behind the brand. How do you want them to perceive you?
But, as with any partnership, you need to get them to hit reply. And, if you’re not leveraging your first outreach email, then you’re not an asset to your campaign.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to write all the nitty-gritty details of your personal life in your first outreach email just to humanize it. No one wants to hear about what Uncle Jerry did last weekend. But, until the past two years, I put forth minimal effort to turning my first outreach email into a winning strategy.
And, that was a mistake. How do I know?
Because as soon as I started to deliberately customize each email and tailored it to that specific partnerships did I start to see massive growth in response rates.
Here’s an at my email template two years ago:
My name is Anna and I recently began working with an online pet retailer who is looking to grow their audience.
I came across your site and think it would be a great fit for us.
We are interested in sponsored posts, but would love to hear what else you might have in mind. Please let me know if you have any information on your rates.
Thanks so much!
Here’s a look at my email template today:
In the past, when a potential influencer or blogger would sign-up for my email newsletter or follow me on Instagram, they wouldn’t get any extra special treatment. No follow-up. No personalized welcome email. No pitch.
Now when an influencer follows me on Instagram or signs up for my newsletter, I send them a personalized message with a custom landing page that I created just for influencers:
It’s a highly personalized email: it thanks the influencer for engaging with me, shares similar content (if they liked a certain tweet), and explains what I do, and I offer them a special option to collaborate with me.
Of the traffic that reached that page, more than 20% of them agreed to work with me in some form within the first month.
Of the users I reached out to for a client, I converted 1 in 8 users.
Still want some inspiration? Check out how Ramón Bilbao Wine reached out to one of the top UK mommy bloggers.
@AMummyToo Hi Emily. We just had a go at making your filo quiches! Perfect with our Rioja. What do you think? https://t.co/HA5pX0NAAx
— Ramón Bilbao Wine (@RamonBilbaoWine) December 9, 2014
Takeaway: Humanizing your brand isn’t just a marketing tactic; it’s a happiness tactic that can help you create meaningful relationships and therefore, more value.
Lesson #2: Find the Right Influencers
When I first started outreaching to bloggers — well before I started writing for SEJ — I targeted only the top bloggers.
I sent email after email, and kept getting frustrated that I wasn’t seeing a high response rate and got pretty much zero clicks on my links in the email. Needless to say, my emails were useless.
90% of my time was spent emailing as many influencers as I could find. The other 10% was spent on finding their email addresses.
I soon learned, this was a big mistake.
When I finally got my first big e-commerce client, I did a lot of research on influencer marketing and how other brands were leveraging influencers for reach and traffic.
One of the most surprising discoveries was just how much more successful their influencer marketing campaigns were then, well, mine.
I decided to revamp my outreach strategy. To learn different ways I outreached to influencers, check out the details that I published in this link building article.
In short, I spent hours stalking and building lists of influencers in certain niches that I thought our target audience would be interested in. Then I took a lot of time to build relationships with these influencers: adding value and displaying genuine interest in their blog posts through blog comments and sending them shout outs on social whenever I found appropriate.
The interaction I got was incredible and helped me restructure my total outreach strategy. And, more importantly, the influencers were happy to work with my client and me.
Before I dive into the outcome of my remodeled strategy, a few notes on how to identify influencers in your niche that will want to work with you:
- Customer Testimonials: Customers who are already recommending your product and sharing positive feedback are most likely willing to collaborate with you, so this should be easy.
- Social Media Following: Customers who are actively participating on your social channels by sharing your content or commenting on a post gives you a great opportunity to reach out to them.
- Competitors: If someone is talking about your competitors’ products, they’re already more likely to be within your niche. This is a perfect time to capitalize on the idea of collaborating.
My revised influencer outreach strategy ended up leading my first e-commerce clients website to get more than 200 email subscribers within one month, and more than $10,000 in revenue; a huge improvement from earlier duds.
Take a look at Madewell. They partnered with only five influencers, including Stephanie Sterjovski and Bethany Marie, to share their #TOTEWELL campaign. Madewell reached over 1 million targeted consumers with high-quality content from these five influencers.
Or, consider what Arby’s did when partnering with Pharrell.
Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs
— Arby's (@Arbys) January 27, 2014
This one Tweet by Arby’s engaged over 118K people got over 180K RTs, Favorites, and related organic mentions, and nearly 170M potential impressions.
Or, when Ryan Clark-Neal, former X-factor contestant, got 1,306,596 impressions for his #CadburyCraveyard tweet.
Marble! And for the love of chocolate bring back Spira and Astros!!!!! @CadburyUK #cadburycraveyard https://t.co/w2k2RGn2ki
— Rylan Clark-Neal (@Rylan) October 28, 2015
Takeaway: Don’t let failure deter you. Just because you haven’t figured out the solution yet, doesn’t mean you should stop trying. You can create a profitable influencer campaign by partnering with influencers in your niche.
Lesson #3: Get Organized
I knew my outreach strategy was wrong when I got this email:
I realized that I wasn’t making easy for influencers to work with me, I was cheating myself out of a potential long-term, revenue-driving partnership.
Soon after I got this email, I put together an influencer playbook to help guide my process. I created a Slack community, set-up a calendar of due dates in Trello, and developed an influencer agreement to make it clear why the influencers should work with me and what they should expect.
This all replaced a constant, boring, back and forth emails.
The result? Increased positive responses that nearly doubled my engagement rate with influencers overnight. Sponsored posts or tweets were posted much faster. And, everyone was happy. Florida Marriott’s collection of hotels shows us the benefits of staying organized. I mean, 39 blog posts in one month?! This OCD girl’s dream. 🙌
And, unfortunately, Lord & Taylor show us the consequences of what happens when you’re not organized — this letter from the FTC.
Takeaway: Influencer marketing doesn’t have to happen all at once. Decide how you can best leverage one influencer then grow from there.
Lesson #4: Measure the Right Metrics
Do you measure the right metrics when it comes to influencers?
If not, there’s a good chance you’re missing out on an opportunity.
Here’s why this is bad:
A year ago, when I collaborated with an influencer that posted about our brand once every month, my referral traffic was low (averaging less than 3% of total traffic), social buzz was non-existent, and zero new email subscribers and zero new sales.
When I asked her to start posting and talking about us once a week, all stats improved significantly: referral traffic more than doubled and email subscriptions and new sales went up too!
Having our brand become a weekly presence for her readers’ lives kept them engaged and wanting to share our content. Maintaining constant communication and giving the influencers inspiration in their inboxes weekly makes us less of an annoyance, and more of her team member. Just be careful when communicating to not have a Scott Disick moment:
In which Scott Disick copied and pasted the email from the skinny tea marketing team onto his Instagram caption pic.twitter.com/ocVdxi4jaZ
— frankie. (@frankiegreek) May 19, 2016
How much is too much when it comes to sharing?
Unfortunately, there is no best answer for this, at least none that I can find. I’ve opted to pay influencers per quarter versus per engagement. Meaning, based on the goals we define together, I’ll measure these every quarter and send the payment. It’s more performance based.
After testing a few times, you’ll find a flow that works best for you. Just make sure you’re consistent in your communication. Influencers should look forward to your emails and weekly brand inspiration, and you’ll get the benefit of a growing audience with their help.
Just have a look at the results from Leesa. Their influencer marketing campaign generated drove 100,000 new clicks and over 400 sales. But, without proper tracking and measurements in place, they would have known how successful their campaign was.
Or, check out how Bugaboo increased referral traffic by 33% with influencer marketing.
Takeaway: There’s more to influencer marketing than getting one sponsored post. Too many brands see one post as a win. Nurturing your brand influencer relationships will help grow your business not only for the short-term, but for the future.
Why Hire an Influencer for Marketing, and How to Use These Lessons
Emma Johnson, one of the top influencers in the world who launched WealthySingleMommy.com, was asked what the best part of her job was.
The best part of my job is, 1,000 percent, it’s the beautiful emails and social-media messages I get every single day from women who say that my message changed their life, showed them that they can build amazing lives as single moms, that their pain and struggles are universal, and that my example of living a full life gives them permission to shut out negative messages and do the same.
The two benefits I considered when I decided to hire an influencer—and the two reasons that big brands do the same—are:
- Authenticity: An influencer is an expert at cutting through the white noise. Most brands aren’t. You might be good at writing content on social or for your blog, but that’s not enough to build trust. Research shows that 92% of consumers take buying recommendations from friends, relatives, and people they trust. While brands can continue to establish trust, influencers give brands an opportunity to channel another target market to help scale the business in a real, authentic way.
- ROI: Businesses can generate $6.50 in revenue for each $1 invested in influencer marketing. As I started working with influencers, I was able to build trust and awareness with a new audience in a faster, more credible way. Take Supply.com, for example. They received 5x more leads in 75% less time! Not only does influencer marketing increase your ROI, but it helps with SEO too! The Social Media Revolution stated user-generated social posts account for 25% of search results for the world’s top 20 brands.
So, that’s why I partner with influencers.
The key is using these two benefits and making them visible in your company.
What does that mean?
Establish realistic goals. Approach influencers with a personalized strategy that fits their needs. Create a plan so that every step of the process is available for your team to see. Measure your goals. And, after each influencer campaign, discuss the pros and cons to learn about what you could do better for the next campaign.
How to Apply Influencer Marketing to Your Company
Just like anything when building a brand, it takes a little finesse.
Even “successful” influencer campaign will have mistakes. After two years of doing this, I still mess up, and not every campaign hits it out of the park.
But I learn from my mistakes, and I think about how I can restructure it so the same mistake doesn’t happen again.
Influencer marketing takes a lot of time, effort, and planning to turn an influencer’s following into a traffic driving, consumer converting engine. My hope is that some of you read this and learn from misfortunes to save you time and money.
Now to You: What are Your Influencer Marketing Tips?
Thanks for reading my post! I hope you won’t make the same mistakes I did and maybe learned a new trick or two. Now, I’d love to hear about your favorite influencer marketing hacks.
What’s the secret sauce to your email outreach? How regularly do your influencers post? Any metrics you’ve seen increase or decrease? Feel free to leave a comment below. I’m excited to learn from you too.
Featured Image: Image by Anna Crowe
All screenshots by Anna Crowe. Taken July 2016.