Why influencer marketing is not that complicated

Your email signature says you’re a Community Marketing Manager, but deep down you don’t know what the hell that is or what you’re doing. You’re terrified of being found out so you stupefy people with big words to deter real questions about what you do and why you do it.

In this article I’ll help you answer these two questions, so that you can live your life like a fearless adult human. As the founder of GrowSumo, an influencer marketing platform, I’m sharing some things my team and I have learned from years of spilling tears and coffee so that you don’t have to.

Many people, especially those working in Software as a Service (SaaS), find themselves in unfamiliar territory when it comes to influencer marketing. But there are really only three core actions involved.

Rinse and repeat

First you identify people who can persuade others to buy your product. After identifying these people, you need to give them tools to promote your products, like digital brand assets and solid product information. Finally, you reward them for bringing in sales.

Influencer marketing goes by many names. You may have run into terms like affiliate marketing, advocate marketing, performance marketing, or channel marketing. I use the term influencer marketing because it captures the biggest, friendliest tent. For example, you may have fans of your company who would shudder at being called an “affiliate.” In their minds, they’re just your fans.

You don’t need Kim K

You probably already know that companies build communities of influencers to drive sales. What you may not know is that influence isn’t some scarce resource that only famous people and social media darlings have. We all have it and can be empowered to use it.

The notion that you need a celebrity like Kim Kardashian to be your shill is completely outdated.

An influencer is anyone who can, well, influence the buying decision of someone else. They’re normal folks with normal lives who say to their people, “This company is great. Give them a try.”

They almost always include your customers (more on this later). They can also be people in industries related to yours. For example, if you’re a web hosting company, a web designer would be a great influencer for you. She or he can recommend your services to their clients, who in turn will become your clients.

Why build a community of influencers when you can just invest in direct sales channels? After all, influencers aren’t answerable to you and can’t guarantee returns. The answer is that ROI in influencer community building can make it dollar-for-dollar the most effective marketing strategy imaginable.

There are compelling reasons why this is, but the TL;DR version is that people trust their friends and experts way more than they’ll ever trust your company’s sales team, no matter how awesome they are. Word of mouth—and today’s digital equivalent—still reigns supreme. The results are more leads, more sales, and more awareness of your brand and products.

Influencer marketing accounts for 40% of sales at Hubspot, a popular CRM software company. Shopify, an online commerce platform, lists their partner program as key to their growth when they filed for IPO. Even an early stage company like Soundstripe, a music licensing service, can generate $20,000 in new monthly revenue within three months of starting their community programs.* These are just three examples.

Companies, especially smaller ones, often believe that they don’t have potential influencers. If you’re in this boat, take a moment now to give yourself some credit. You don’t peddle widgets! You’re an awesome company doing awesome things for awesome people!

So it should be obvious that the people that love you are your customers. They like your product enough to pay for it, they understand its value, they know other people (i.e. potential customers), and they have a stake in your success. Some influencers are motivated by earning additional income, while others by aligning themselves more visibly with your brand. Why not track and reward them for helping you grow your company?

At this stage you need to think about how to set up your influencer marketing program.

Some assembly required, or not

Every smart company has a community management program. These are the processes, resources, and people in place to grow and manage your influencers. The question for you is, how do you want yours to take shape when time and resources are at a premium?

The path of least resistance might be to open up Excel, enter the names and emails of your customers and send them email messages offering them a commission for sales they bring to your company. Then you provide the people who say “yes” with a unique affiliate link that associates a new customer or sale with an influencer. Once conversions and referrals happen, you write cheques.

If this sounds a bit early-2000s you’re right. It’s not a scalable solution. Eventually you’ll want to hire engineers to build a proper influencer marketing program for you and then hire people to run it. You’ll need folks to field influencer questions or concerns, hold community events, run promotional campaigns, analyze the wealth of data you’ll inevitably be sitting on, and so on. Many companies build in-house programs. But this isn’t the only route.

There are purpose-built SaaS solutions out there that are better suited to the job if you run anything more complicated than a lemonade stand. Some include RewardStream, Ambassador, Influitive, Extole, and our own GrowSumo. These platforms typically let you assess your influencers’ social reach, track referrals, and manage rewards or commissions. They have their differences beyond just price points, so take the time to assess which platform best meets your needs. It’s also worth asking for a demo!

You can expect two to six percent of your customer base to join your influencer program at launch. Over time, you’ll be able to identify different types of influencers you have and adjust your engagement strategies for each.

For example, it makes a lot of sense for you to give the VIP treatment to your top 50 influencers by referral dollars. Maybe you’d like to fly them to your head office and give them the inside scoop on your upcoming products. For those who haven’t yet made conversions, you may want to provide extra incentives to get them going, such as a limited time boost to their commission rate.

Once you’ve identified influencer segments, you can use inbound and outbound strategies to recruit more of them into your program.

I touched on what influencer marketing is, why companies do it, and some ways to get started. The point of this article is to reassure you that you got this. When you’re ready to learn more, check out resources from the former VP of Sales at Hubspot Peter Caputa or guides from groups like OpenView Labs.

The last point I’ll make is that you don’t need a big marketing team or a big budget to start, but you do need to commit, because the last thing you want is to build a community of influencers and then abandon them. No one likes to be left hanging high and dry for being loyal.

What’s next?

Now we want to hear from you. My team and I started GrowSumo because we believe in influencer marketing. We want to make it incredibly easy and rewarding for both companies and influencers to get started, and we believe we’ve got a solid product you will love in GrowSumo. If you’re a Marketing or Community Manager, please get in touch and help us understand the challenges you face in launching your dream influencer program, or success stories you want to share. Espresso’s on us.

*Soundstripe uses GrowSumo to manage their influencer programs, and we’re beyond proud of what they’ve achieved!