Beyond the Follower Count: How to Choose a Credible Influencer to Promote Your Product

Influencer marketing has taken over the realm of online advertising. Even if you believe that good old fashioned word-of-mouth advertising is the best route for your product, there's no way to deny the massive influence that social media success stories have over the world of digital marketing. Influencer marketing involves sponsoring a prominent social media user (usually those with thousands of followers on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook) to promote a product in a casual setting. Influencer marketing has gained notoriety over the previous years thanks to its effectiveness in capitalizing on the traditional effects of word-of-mouth advertising. Unfortunately, effective influencer  advertising isn't as simple as choosing a social media user with the largest following and paying them to promote your product. The following are three ways to ensure that you'll be choosing an influencer that will effectively connect with potential customers and increase your company's reach. 

Know that you get what you pay for. The world of unpaid internships and contributions is quickly coming to an end. Just this week, news and thought outlet The Huffington Post announced that they would be ending their unpaid blogging program and begin focusing on narrowing their content by paying for better and more developed contributions. A spokesperson for the platform stated that one of the biggest problems with accepting content from relatively unknown bloggers and writers was the flood of false information and low-quality work. "One of the biggest challenges we all face, in an era where everyone has a platform, is figuring out whom to listen to."

In the same way, businesses and marketers need to understand that large social media influencers charge a hefty price for an endorsement on their channel, page, or account. One of the biggest reasons why brands need to be particularly careful about making the right choice in influencers is because social media users who have learned to effectively monetize their posts charge large sums of money for a single shout out. According to research from Sprout Social, the average price per post for a social media user with over 100,000 fans or followers was a whopping $793 per post. Research also suggests that this number continues to climb as the influencer's follower count does, with some of the top-paid celebrity influencers charging upwards of $5,000 per post. 

As a digital marketer, you should be very wary of working with influencers that are willing to promote your products for no charge. while all you will lose is free product, you'll waste more time and money working out which influencers have loyal enough fanbases to be worth sponsoring with product in the first place. You will also have no control over the final message that the influencer will put out to their followers, and you will very rarely receive any form of metrics and data to help your team evaluate the effectiveness of your influencer marketing. Working with "micro-influencers" (social media users with less than 1,000 followers) is also a huge gamble because these users very rarely have any data on who their audience is readily available. In the end, the old fashioned saying is true- you really do "get only what you pay for." 

Choose an influencer with a congruent following. Sure, Kim Kardashian has millions of followers on Instagram and Twitter, but is she right to promote your brand? The risk and reward of effective influencer marketing comes from a carefully crafted balance between paying influencers with larger followings and the higher fees that come along with these contracts. Though an influencer's follower count may be high, a sponsored post featuring your product is worthless if it doesn't result in the influencer's followers going out and purchasing your product. Influencer marketing comes along with no guarantees of future sales; you won't get your money back if the influencer's post does not result in your business making its money back. If done correctly, this is not necessarily a bad thing; when compared to traditional avenues of advertising, influencer marketing is a much more genuine way of promoting a product, business, or service. However, if done incorrectly, advertisers are essentially wasting their money.

If you are considering promoting your product through influencer marketing, you should be ready to invest a significant percentage of your time into researching influencer's whose message, product specialization, and whose overall mood and feel of his or her feed fits with the aesthetic of the brand. One of the biggest mistakes that marketers make when entering the world of influencer marketing is judging how effective an influencer's post will be solely by the follower count and engagement rates that the user boasts. While high follower counts are important when it comes to making your money count and increasing your brand's awareness, a mismatch between the influencer and the brand will come off as inauthentic and destroy the illusion of word-of-mouth advertising that makes sponsored posts so effective. 

Before you invest in an influencer to promote your product, check out their previous sponsored posts and see if his or her standard promotions fit with your brand. The best influencer matches are those users who frequently promote products, brands, or services that are related to (but not an exact match of) the product that you wish to promote. These types of influencer posts are most likely to be effective because they will seamlessly fit in with the influencer's other sponsored promotions. You should avoid the temptation to sponsor a post with an influencer who is particularly well-known for a sponsorship with an established product that's an exact match with yours. Even if you are able to financially beat out the competing brand, these types of loyalty switch-ups make consumers suspicious and can cause your advertisements to be less effective. For example, if a beauty blogger has been sponsored by a foundation company for over two years and suddenly switches to a different brand for a few sponsored post, this will destroy the credibility of the influencer advertising. On the other hand, products that compliment foundation (blush, mascara, application sponges, etc.) will be an increased level of effectiveness because they work in conjunction with the influencer's established brand instead of working against it. 

Think about your platform. When it comes to influencer marketing, compare your target market and the average user base of the social media platform that they operate on. Across social media outlets, there is a very large and divisive gender divide in particular that should be noted by advertisers. For example, on Instagram, a whopping 68% of users are female; advertisers that are looking to target a female audience will do much better on Instagram than on Reddit for example, which boasts a 70% male audience. 

Effective influencer advertising lives and dies on the authenticity of the advertisement. Social media has become such an important tool for advertising because it allows brands to directly connect with their consumers and spur potential new customers to step outside of their comfort zones and spend money on a new product or brand. Influencers are the gatekeepers between brands and their audiences; they are the average Joe or Jane that the customer feels a connection with, and they treat sponsored posts as personal recommendations with their favorite internet personalities. The most important thing that advertisers must remember is that they cannot fight against the aesthetic of the influencer, as the sponsored post will come off as inauthentic and a blatant attempt to sell a product. Instead of twisting an influencer to fit your message, put out a call for influencers that fit your brand's message, or change up the platform you're looking to advertise in. No matter if you are targeting teen girls or men in their early 30's, there are influencers with massive followings that can help promote your product- you just need to find them. 

Arnt Eriksen