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Why Brands Should Opt For Thought Leaders Over Influencers
As social media has become a part of our daily lives brands have taken it seriously as a means to reach customers and engage with their client base, brand pages were a hit before organic reach was limited through algorithms. The next phase was naturally to push brands into paying for the attention they were now used to and social media advertising become the next step in the evolution.
As more brands began to join the list of social media advertisers, the auction for user attention continues to become more competitive, and the same online real estate becomes costly over time and reduces the return on investment. To help bridge the gap between marginal organic reach for brands and the cost of spending on advertising were social media super users who created large audiences for themselves through their content and naturally social media preferences to user account reach over brand account reach.
These super users have been dubbed influencers and concept is pretty straight forward. It is an individual who can reach many people through various online communication channels, and it is assumed that they can potentially, influence their audience to like or dislike buying, products and services.
The problem with influencer marketing
As a digital marketer with expertise in various channels I've always been held to how well my efforts turn into traffic and eventually sales and since our efforts have an established method of tracking that we all agree on as an industry standard there no place to hide when you're campaign doesn't meet the desired ROI. However with influencer marketing brands often take a softer approach and lean towards possible branding building and outreach as an excuse for poor campaign performance or non-existent tracking.
Since many of the latest waves of influencers don't know a thing about tracking the brands that do insist on metrics often only have the vanity metrics of views and impressions to gauge on whether a campaign was a success or not. This is by no means the fault of the influencer that brands and marketers have become lazy or do not run the proper due diligence before moving into influencer marketing.
Brands are looking at these influencers as an easy out and are basing decisions on the sheer volume of inflated follower numbers and user interactions and mistaking this as a viable way to reach consumers.
Since the explosion of Instagram and Snapchat, more and more “web influencers” have surfed and they are heavily concentrated in the lifestyle (beauty, fashion, travel) niche and some in fitness and technology (consumer electronics). The reason for this is that they have been enjoying the gullibility of brands that think they can generate real business by working with them and brands are paying for overpriced obscure attention, rather than actual traffic or leads.
Influencer marketing has failed, and the only ones benefiting from it are the influencers themselves riding the wave of brands willing to spend advertising dollars on this latest marketing fad without a clue on how to use this new form of consumer interaction.
So if influencer marketing is broken, how do we look to fix it? Well, I'm glad you asked that question and allow me to welcome you to the conversation.
In my opinion, the term influencer has is tainted, and we are all starting to think of it as scantily dressed individuals or social media comedians who have gathered a following through their lowest common denominator content rather than someone with actual insight and expertise. For this reason, I would like to refer to the content creators brands should be focusing on, as "Thought Leaders".
The difference between an influencer and a thought leader
The concept of “thought leadership” differs from “influencing” because influencers are about mass reach and follower numbers, while thought leaders are about expertise and knowledge. Thought leaders are people who are passionate about their craft, care about their niche and are vocal both in both a negative and positive way about their industry.
Thought leaders have insights users value because they took the risk to invest time and money in becoming experts. They work in the industry; they learn all the time, they make it a point to generate quality and authentic content, not for their profit or someone else’s profit, but to educate others about something their passion.
Evaluating content creators as a thought leader
So how would a brand go about evaluating a content creator as an influencer versus one who is a thought leader? Well, the proof would come from three areas.
1. What do their followers consist of
Having thousands of followers should not be the metric that brands should be interested in; it is a broken vanity metric that offers zero insight into the person's real appeal. Some would argue that interaction is the key with likes and comments were the deciding factor, but naturally more followers mean more communication even if its still only 3-4% of your total audience and brands again get caught in that trap.
What I would encourage brands to do is evaluate the level of discussion fostered by the content creators posts. If its just a bunch of emoji's and or "great post" it shows that their followers didn't have an original thought, were not inspired or influenced in any way.
Instead look at the context of the comments like comment length, were their questions asked in the comments, was their discussions between fellow followers, does the content creator engage with users in the comments and is there a sense of real interest in the topic.
2. Opt for coverage opposed to reach
Many influencers are focusing solely on one or two platforms, primarily Instagram and YouTube and while the reach in numbers may be impressive at times, it does not provide many brands with lingering exposure. Those videos or posts are fleeting and will hit their peak the moment they are posted before tapering off and drowning into the sea of the influencers other content and never to noticed again.
A thought leader, however, doesn't just chase followers but creates valuable content across various mediums, their social media channels have grown organically simply because their blog where they are building their brand offers high-quality, authentic content. When working with thought leaders, you will be able to create various messaging suited to their different platforms and reach more users than the ones just logged into Instagram at the time of their post but users who visit their blog and leverage off future readership.
3. Level of insight and content
A thought leader is primarily judged on the level of their content, is it well researched, well written, does it show their expertise with the tools they speak about, do they have in-depth knowledge on how to get the most out of a product or service. Thought leaders are passionate about their craft and speak with conviction in person and their content because they are confident that they know what they are doing and are open to their audience when they are learning about something new.
Provide better measurement criteria
If you can't measure it how can you evaluate if the campaign was a success or a failure? So after assessing a though leaders reach and engagement metrics across all their platforms you can then compare this to what you're current direct channels cost for the same or similar reach and provide them with a reasonable quote for there reach as well as the time spent on campaign and content creation as you would any marketing freelancer.
Shift your thinking and your advertising budget
Brands better think long and hard about their marketing strategy going forward especially when it comes to collaborations, campaigns and paid promotions. You need to apply reasoning and critical thinking and spend more time identifying and working with real thought leaders rather than mass appeal.
You will not only benefit from interaction with an expert who is most likely a customer and superuser of your product or service you will also gain valuable insights on how to develop your brand authority and thought leadership. In other words, don’t think about numbers and individual sales you may or may not generate at a specific point in time. Instead, think of how you can develop genuine added value in the long term for you with your community.
Tell us your social media story
Have you ever used influencer marketing or are you an aspiring social media influencer? Share your experience with us in the comments
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Are you a social media influencer?
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If you have time to spare why not dive deeper down the rabbit hole and check out these posts for help on influencer marketing:
- How To Calculate The Cost Of A South African Social Media Influencer
- What Are Micro-Influencers and Why Businesses Should Care
- 10 Ways To Run An Instagram Giveaway