My Experience with Influencer Marketing
A few years ago, I presented a marketing plan for a new lease up apartment community in Atlanta, which was situated in a competitive market. My property management family knows this story well... We always ask the same question: What all can we throw at it and what's the newest, latest, and greatest marketing trend or idea that will make us stand out in the marketplace?
For those of you who don't know, allow me to provide a bit of background and context. A lease up is an apartment building that is currently under construction or recently completed construction and has 0% occupancy (i.e., 0 people living there or planning to live there). As you can imagine, that is an initial problem for all new businesses in the beginning. In property management, we deal with this all of the time (imagine all of the residential construction you see driving through the city!). Well, given that virtually no one knows this brand new apartment community exists, it is usually the job of the Management Company to effectively market and promote the lease up, and it was my job to write out our plan.
My marketing plan included all of the standard marketing tactics like a plan for curb and signage appeal, purchase of a popular billboard, and a mix of trendy promotional items that needed to be considered worthy keepsakes to make the investment of $5000+ worth it.
My plan also included a recommendation to try influencer marketing. That is, I made a case that to stand out we should try to partner with someone who already stood out in that community and in turn leverage their social media influence to help get the word out to their fans about our new apartment community. Our hope was that this strategic partnership would increase brand awareness, establish trust, and also reach a new segment of potential customers.
At the time, Influencer Marketing was just a new trend. We didn't understand the value of it. Our Management Company and Clients were open to trying it out, but we didn't have any previous policies or procedures for how to set up the campaign. Nonetheless, I was tasked with proposing possible opportunities for partnership.
First, I had to find an Influencer.
I searched high and low on Instagram, but only came back with 3 feasible leads. One was a sports broadcaster, helpful because we knew our customer base was heavy into baseball and local sports. The second was a track athlete and fitness trainer with a history of medical conditions that should have stopped her from being successful with physical activity, but didn't and she could show that off in our state-of-the-art fitness center. The third was a famous local pup that could possibly appeal to our avid pet lovers while making use of our on-site dog park.
After reviewing the analytics and appeal of each influencer, our team selected the track athlete with the powerful backstory.
Next, I put together a plan for how the partnership would work.
I needed to outline what the partnership was and what we were going to offer in exchange for her time and leveraging her brand. My plan initially entailed hiring her to host events at our community. We would be able to quantify how many people she helped bring to an event and then, for any who leased because of her, we could pay out a referral fee. Feeling good, I proposed my recommendations confidently. And surprisingly, the owners wanted a deeper commitment from our Influencer! They wanted her to sign a lease at the community! My question to them was: What are we going to give in exchange for that? They offered a hefty concession (which is a deep discount off of the rent).
I thought to myself: A concession is nice, but it kind of sounds like
we want her to pay for what she is doing for us...
Despite my hesitations, I acted on behalf of our Clients to set up a meeting with the Influencer and her Momager (aka, her mom + manager, a formidable woman who formerly worked in media and marketing and was now turning her daughter into a social media superstar!). I showed them the community, emphasized the incredible gym, and told them the plan we had for a partnership. They had questions and a few concerns, but in the end, I convinced them to partner with us in exchange for a high percentage off of her lease. (She was looking to move, so literally the timing was perfect!)
Hey, it wasn't my plan, but I was ecstatic!
In those days, Influencer Marketing was still so new that it was at best a trend and at worse a fad that could flop, Reading up on it now, however, statistics affirm that Influencer Marketing actually works.
In 2018, Influencer Marketing Hub reported that every dollar spent on influencer marketing resulted in an average return of $18.
Don't believe it? Well, in 2019, Rakuten Marketing reported that 8 out of 10 customers had purchased something after seeing it recommended by an influencer. Those stats alone are enough to justify a marketing budget with a line item for Influencer Marketing, but in case you need more, there are great stats here.
To me, it's no surprise - People like People., People Trust People. People Buy from People.
However, a few years ago, my experience didn't quite end as favorably as those stats.
With the consent of the Influencer and her Momager, I went back to our clients to let them know our plan was officially a-go. We just needed to make it official. (And well, now that I think about it, I guess commitment is scary when you don't know what you're getting yourself into.)
Just as I thought I had the whole plan together...
And a Win under my belt, someone pulled a wild card and the whole house of cards came cascading down poetically.
Remember my hesitancy at having the influencer actually lease at the community? Well, it seems our Clients were starting to question that decision as well.
They researched more of her Instagram and began to question if she was a good fit. What they were really asking was: Is this a responsible use of our marketing dollars?
Knowing what I know these days, I might have suggested a local survey or poll to get better insight to see if she was in fact an ideal candidate. I might also be sure to show both the good and bad of potential influencers as marketing candidates. People like People, so humanity and realness are typically required in order to achieve success as a social media influencer. Yet, with that, they will also be strongly opinionated and thus imperfect and unpredictable, which is something else customers love! Think about the current President of the United States, or Kanye West, or even his wife Kim Kardashian. These individuals are perfectly imperfect, highly opinionated, and extremely unpredictable, Yet, most people in the World know who they are. Customers love that! Businesses... not so much.
In the end, our Clients rescinded their offer and I had to tell the Influencer that we were not going to partner with her after all. That was... pretty lame and I felt like a failure. However, what I see now is that I was ahead of my time. And because of that, I know the ins and outs of pitching influencer marketing, Moreover, I gained insight on how to pick the right Influencer.
If you want to test out Influencer Marketing for your business, here are a couple of tips on what to look for when choosing your ideal influencer.
How To Choose The Right Influencer
Look for people who mirror or reinforce your brand sentiment.
Your brand or business has a distinct personality and position. Look for an influencer that compliments the personality and position you've worked hard to develop.
As you consider different influencers, imagine how your customers will see them. How do they currently add value to the lives of your future customers? Can you easily integrate your brand into that message while creating MORE value for your customers?
Look for Influencers who engage authentically.
Look for influencers who ask questions and get real comments.
Look for influencers with a reasonable ratio of engagement on posts, at least 8%-10% of their follower count, giving credence to their followers being real and engaged.
Look for influencers who seem to understand the needs of the community they serve.
Look at what they post.
What are they showing about their character, their beliefs, their passions, their concerns, etc?
What are the consistent themes in their social media history?
What is their presence and personality like on other platforms?
Look at what others post about them
Research their name and branded terms as hashtags and general searches. Are you happy with what comes up?
What do customers or fans say about them in reviews?
Ask yourself, would your customers share this content with others and enjoy doing so?
Finally, research their analytics.
While you can only see their analytics if they provide access to them, you can still scroll through their feed and get a sense for which types of posts get the most engagement and which get the least.
What types of posts resonate with their audience?
Have they ever posted about a brand or business before? How did that post perform?
Once you've narrowed down your list,
Reach out to them and be friendly, yet professional. (Remember, these are real people, so address them like a real person.) Let them know what made you reach out to them.
Find out their rates. Each influencer has their own rates that they charge for a promotion. See if their prices justify the anticipated impact of your campaign.
Rule of thumb: They know their prices and they have worked hard to be able to set them. Do not negotiate unless you have a truly compelling counter offer.
Once the price is set and accepted, see if they are interested in setting up an appointment in person or over the phone to discuss potential partnership opportunities.
Clearly explain what you want out of the partnership and ask them to clearly explain what they want.
Tell them at this time, you are still speaking with other influencers and considering who will be right for the opportunity. (Make no promises to commit until your decision is final and irrefutable.)
Ask them to share what they know about their demographic. See if they understand their core audience. Ask them to send a breakdown in writing so that you can review in depth later.
Choose your Influencer wisely.
After your meeting, spend some time doing final research on the Influencer you are thinking of partnering with. Review their reach and their impact. Review their prices. Review their demographics and how well past brand partnerships have done. If all of this checks out and they still reinforce your brand sentiment, know how to engage with their audience authentically, post valuable and strategic content, have good reviews and good analytics, then extend a clearly defined offer. If they accept the terms of the partnership, then create a legal agreement and sign off the terms. Once the agreement is signed, begin your partnership with your Influencer and strive to maintain a positive relationship. Remember: Their endorsement could mean millions for your company!