Digital marketing in the age of

the social media influencer

Rising influencers
What social media marketers can learn from athlete sponsorship at Under Armour

Selin Varol Research Manager Social Insights By Selin Varol,
Research Manager Social Insights

I ran across an article recently in Marketing Week that caught my eye for its potential social media application. The story was about Under Armour’s work with not-yet-famous athletes who it believes will make it big. I began to wonder if rising social media influencers can also be targeted early and cultivated before they hit their prime?

The story, “How Under Armour plans to become the world’s biggest sports brand,” made me think of a FMCG company in the UK that is collaborating with a lot influencers but not yet going as far as Under Armour. The sporting apparel company does its own analyses to measure the odds that athletes will become stars and then takes a risk to bet on that person early, signing them as a brand partner before the athlete starts winning big. A top executive at Under Armour described it as a “more patient” approach.

Apparently, Under Armour has a whole team devoted to the selection process and does scientific research to narrow its picks. It signed golfer Jordan Spieth in 2013 and he won the Masters Tournament in 2015. Under Armour also got Stephen Curry from the NBA after Nike passed him over, according to the Marketing Week article.

measure the odds that athletes will become stars and then takes a risk to bet on

I began to ask myself how companies could do something similar with rising social media stars and have three points of advice:

1 Map out your influencers

Map out your influencers

My first suggestion is to get an overview of the influencer landscape. This can be a difficult task compared to what has to be done in the sports world, given the scale and diversity of social media. However, segmenting your influencers based on interests is an ideal way to narrow down to a more focused sub-set of potential collaborators. For instance, we recently collaborated with a Fortune 500 company to identify the right social media influencers to promote its brand to millennials. You can find all insights on this here. The top-level take-aways are that:

  • Influencers with a moderate number of followers are perceived to be more credible and authentic.
  • The visually-rich, yet simple content they posted is more effective at engaging millennials.
  • The overall performance of the brand itself can impact the success of working with key influencers

Segmenting your influencers based on interests is an ideal way to narrow down to a more focused sub-set of potential collaborators

Micro or macro influencers?

Be clear whether you’re looking for micro influencers or macro influencers who already have a larger following.

  • Micro influencers are “support” influencers, for instance, a blogger who has a reach of 10,000 and can become bigger (a bit like Under Armour for their sponsoring strategy);
  • I would describe a macro influencer as one who has a bigger and more international following who has had brand collaborations in the past. Macro influencers can present a bigger risk to companies because often brands put all their investment in to one person.

So, what would work better for your area? Micro influencers or macro influencers, or a combination?

L’Oréal is collaborating with influencers in addition to celebrities and actresses

A good example for a combination of influencers can be found in the beauty industry. As you can see here L’Oréal is collaborating with influencers in addition to celebrities and actresses. Their choice of influencers is based on how much they can engage the person in the process of bringing new ideas to life, as they are the voice of consumers. The brand has a variety of backgrounds, such as beauty bloggers, vloggers, and social media influencers, as part of their beauty squad.

L’Oréal tiers the influencers that it works with according to gold, silver and bronze categories. The gold group represents the bloggers with the biggest online followings and the people that L’Oréal plans to spend the most money with.

The bronze group are those influencers with fewer followers or those who are in the early days of growing their beauty blog. L’Oréal seeks to build relationships with these people in anticipation that they may wield more influence in future. This may simply involve sending these people free product samples or engaging them in conversations on social media. L’Oréal uses the influencer marketing tool Traackr to organize these different tiers and identify the influencers it feels best fit with its brands and campaigns.

Of course, successfully applying Under Armour’s strategy to social media rising stars completely depends on your company and your product. In the case of the FMCG company producing soft drinks in the UK, micro influencers already have the lifestyle and followers the company wants to reach. By working together with micro influencers, the company can be more “authentic” and avoid shouting out “Buy my products!”

2 Build separate storylines around micro influencers and hero influencers

Build honest and coherent storylines

Another reason you need to know who you’re after is to build separate stories for micro influencers and macro influencers. Identifying your campaign’s message, activations, and goal will allow you to build the correct influencer marketing strategy.

It’s critical to hone your messages and make sure your storyline follows brand identity. If, as a FMCG company, you’re embracing the spirit of summer festivals, and your product is part of that experience, then stick to this message and do it authentically. Coca-Cola’s storyline has been the same over the years. It’s all about having fun, being together and sharing a moment.

Identifying your campaign’s message, activations, and goal will allow you to build the correct influencer marketing strategy

Loyalty to your core storyline will help you build better stories with micro and macro influencer collaborations.

As more companies understand the importance and impact of influencers for the effectiveness of their marketing efforts, we have experienced an 86% increase in our influencer analysis studies. However, I think it’s crucial in social media that people do not start to dread that their favorite influencers have, “oh my gosh,” once again got paid to support a product. The influencer should be transparent about all collaborations. He or she should say, “I teamed up with Brand X to collaborate on Y because of Z.” This will help the audience understand the influencer’s motivation and will not send bad vibes toward your brand.

3 Monitor your collaborators

Monitor your collaborators

Total exposure 80 influencers infographics

My third idea is to review and analyze your social media influencers. You can keep collaborating, but if you don’t know how people react to your influencer(s), then you take extra risk. You need to know what the comments were about, what the sentiment was, how many people were reached, and how many views were generated. This allows you to see the results associated with a collaboration and know how your investments are playing out.

Consider what we did for a confectionary company to understand the impact of its social media influencer campaign. The results have shown that influencers were able to add both reach and impact to TV campaigns. Having an influencer strategy increased reach by 3% to an audience you wouldn’t normally reach through other channels. Impressions increased to 80% with a leverage of 19%, supporting both touchpoints.

The above-mentioned steps are essential for a solid influencer marketing campaign. In my opinion, influencer marketing in the digital world revolutionized marketing and established a strong future-proof position. Do not miss out on understanding the potential of this approach for your brand. And last, but certainly not least:

How can you measure the success of an influencer campaign?

As a marketer, it is about impression, sentiment and reach. You also want your influencer to mention your brand and see the comments and likes. Overall: 1) analytics 2) social resonance and 3) ROI are important. Having an influencer strategy gives an authentic voice to your brand. While you reach many new people, it also gives additional opportunity to engage with your content.

Measure the influence of your campaign infographic


84% of marketers plan on executing at least one influencer marketing campaign during the next 12 months

Source of statistics: Forbes

47% of online consumers use ad blockers, giving brands and businesses even more reason to put their dollars behind influencers instead. Influencers are the ones holding everyone’s attention.

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