6 Steps for Building a Successful Influencer Program
Imagine a job where you have the opportunity to travel to Bar Harbor in August and visit the Wild Blueberry barrens of Maine while stopping for lobster and breathtaking hikes along the way. For the past three years, much of the PR and Social Team here at Ethos have done just that. And we haven’t done it alone. In fact our “job” is to host an impressive group of food and nutrition bloggers, media, and other influencers from around the country, all with the goal of turning them on to the wonders of Wild Blueberries.
You see, The Wild Blueberry Association of North America (WBANA) was an early adopter of content and influencer marketing because they have seen the value that attracting qualified influencers can bring – especially when those influencers can spread the health virtues of Wild Blueberry and help consumers and trade channels understand there is a big difference between Wild and Cultivated Blueberries.
Aside from eating handfuls of Wild Blueberries and exploring the origins of this 10,000 year old fruit, the goal of the experience is to build strong relationships with a small but powerful group of influencers (those we’ve defined as experts relevant to our overall brand strategy) and to inspire them to become Ambassadors of the Wild Blueberry. Our efforts start well before our week on the barrens and continue long after the harvest is done.
Ready to start your own influencer program? Here are 6 must-do steps to design an effective and long-lasting influencer strategy:
- Outline your goals. This sounds obvious, but it’s really important to make sure you have thought about why you need an influencer program and how it’s going to help your organization. Remember that this program can have significant budget needs – depending on the quality and experience of the influencers you end up working with. If you don’t have a budget that can accommodate ongoing relationships, events and perks for your influencers, then this strategy may not work for you.
- Find the right influencers. This goes hand in hand with #1. Make sure that your bloggers and media influencers are relevant to your brand and your messaging. If you’re marketing a specialty food product, you might consider reaching out to registered dieticians. If you’re marketing a clothing line, fashion bloggers are probably a better fit. Keep your budget in mind here as well – look for quality influencers that speak to people within your target audience. Create a list of preferred, nice-to-have, and must-have influencers and prioritize your outreach based on budget.
- Engage with your influencers. If you haven’t read the blogs or articles from the list you built in #2, you better get started. Find and follow their social media accounts. What are they talking about? Do they already have content that is shareable to your social circles? This is the perfect time to make yourself noticed and to start to build a relationship. This is an ongoing tactic and should never be a one and done – especially as relationships grow and strengthen over time. As those bonds form, this will become a natural activity. This is also a great way to refine your list from #2.
- Invite Influencers to engage. Not all influencers you are courting will be receptive to moving the relationship to the next level, but it never hurts to try. If this is a new program, most are happy and willing at least have a conversation. Remember, this is not all about you – influencers are going to want to get something out of the engagement for themselves. Engagement can come in several forms, depending on your budget – an educational trip, a Twitter chat, blog post, free product, etc., but should be some type of clearly defined event or experience.
- Be memorable. Chances are, you’re not the only one trying to get the attention of these influencers. Make sure that you are working to build a valuable relationship, that’s fun and beneficial for both parties. If you’re hosting an event, keep it simple and fun for them. If it’s a free product, do more than just get it in their hands – shape the experience by adding a challenge like a scavenger hunt, recipe prompt, or suggested activity. Treat the experience like a true relationship and be human – let them get to know you and why you value your brand or organization. Let them see your passion and excitement.
- Value the follow up. The follow-up is when you can really start to see the results of your hard work – but it doesn’t happen overnight! Send a “thank you” note (email, post or tweet) for interacting – ask for their feedback, and definitely keep up with step #3, engaging with them. If you have particular follow up goals, like a guest post on your blog, for example, ask them if they’d be interested in penning it, but make sure you set parameters that leave room for their voice and creative flair.
Many of these influencers are really busy and are taking time to soak in all of the information you’ve presented to them. You may find that one or two were only in it for the free stuff, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. If you take the time to build a real relationship, you should be able to count on future blogs, media hits, and other content considered gold for achieving your influencer program goals.
Keep in mind that influencer marketing is NOT a quick one-and-done tactic. Building honest, transparent relationships takes time. The most successful influencer marketing campaigns are conducted as part of a larger strategy designed to support your brand in multiple ways.
Ethos is a multiplatform branding agency that develops and executes integrated marketing campaigns across multiple channels for companies inside and outside Maine.
At Ethos, we believe that the most effective way to set a company’s marketing course is by finding its core truth – it’s ethos. We know that once we discover and communicate that core truth, we can truly make a difference to each client’s unique marketing and business objectives.
With Ethos, you get more than a Maine branding agency. You get a long-term partner whose goals are your goals.