Paid Versus Unpaid Influencer Campaigns

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For marketers that are new to influencer marketing, there’s an inevitable decision one has to make: should I be paying influencers to post about our brand, or should we be providing some other kind of perk? This decision can make-or-break your marketing budget and it’s imperative that several key moving parts are taken into consideration during the decision-making process.

The first question you should be asking yourself is whether the product/brand is new. Is this something that people already know about or do we need to educate the market about a new product? It can be significantly more difficult to get influencers to post for a lifetime supply of your fledgling product or service. In the case of new brands and products, it’s important to assess how aggressive you want to be, how competitive the space is, and how niche your target market is. It’s recommended to have a budget allocated to influencers that allows for enough share of voice (this is the percentage of people in your market that are exposed to your marketing) to where adequate data can be collected so that you’re able to determine your proverbial ‘next move.’ The worst-case scenario is when you’ve spent money on influencers but haven’t collected enough data to know what worked, what didn’t, and how you should allocate your additional marketing budget. Influencer marketing is more than just exposing eyeballs to your brand via social influencers. Influencer marketing provides marketers with a content-generation engine while also allowing them to test hypotheses related to product feedback, messaging, audience demographic, social platforms, and the types of influencers which resonate best with consumers.

When building a brand from scratch or launching a new product it becomes increasingly more important to build momentum, and that is why it’s sometimes a good idea–if the budget is available–to pay influencers to try out your product and have them promote on their social channels (if it’s a product that they think their followers would like). Keep in mind that authenticity should be upheld above all else. Customers can smell contrived content like a bloodhound. That is why it’s imperative that the influencers you’re hiring actually like the product that they’re promoting. If they don’t like the product, it gives the brand a unique opportunity to glean valuable product feedback before a wholesale launch. In some cases, when the product is high-value or is highly sought-after (think luxury items and gadgets), it may be possible to recruit influencers to your campaign in exchange for free product. This strategy requires a much more aggressive sales effort which ends up being a great segue to the next section of this post.

For brands that have an established presence with recognizable products, it’s much easier to convince influencers to accept free product (and/or brand perks) in exchange for social promotion. Keep in mind that the value of the product you’re providing to them should be proportional in monetary value to how much they would normally be paid to post on behalf of brands. You certainly won’t be able to get Justin Bieber to post on his Instagram for a free meal at McDonalds. However, he might accept a free ticket on Virgin Galactic. This is an extreme example only to accentuate the importance of properly matching the reward with the influencer’s value of social impact.

Another important factor to take into consideration is speed. How much time do you have to get the campaign live? Paying influencers is always going to be faster; however, you won’t have the luxury of exclusively working with people that are power users of your brand.

Often times, a blend of paying influencers and providing them with brand perks is the best strategy. Or you could pay them for their performance. CPA has been a common payment model since the inception of e-commerce. CPA networks have been around longer than modern social influencer marketing and, the cool part is, that with influencers you’re able to amplify the CPA model. This strategy allows easier access to large amounts of consumers with the added benefit of content creation by the influencers. This can be a huge revenue generator depending on the type of product. In order to properly manage a CPA program, there are several key things to keep in mind:

1. Have a payment model that is easy to understand
2. Make sure you have conversion tracking set up properly
3. Provide a way for affiliates to view how well they’re performing–and how much money they’ve made
4. Have clear cut terms that all affiliates must agree to in order to join

At the end of the day it’s up to you to decide on the best influencer strategy for your brand. Every company is different, with different goals, different products, and different budgets. These differences will dictate the best strategy for you.

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