e-commerce-influencers
7 min read

E-commerce influencer marketing: how to build your brand with VIPs

Tom Baragwanath

The growing role of social media has made it lucrative for online businesses to deal with influencers in promoting products and services. This is particularly the case for growing e-commerce businesses looking to boost their customer base.

However, the emergence of influencer marketing has not been without its downsides. Given this is still largely new ground, the rules and expectations around how to deal with influencers are largely unspoken and constantly evolving, and can be hard to understand.

Many e-commerce companies have no idea what to expect in engaging influencers to promote their products, and no sense of how to get what they want. This can lead to confusion and unmet expectations, not to mention wasted time and money.

In this post, we’ll cover some of the basics for e-commerce businesses in dealing with social media influencers. With our help, you’ll be able to define what you want and know how to get it, all while avoiding some classic mistakes.

Where on earth have all these people come from?

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These days, scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram feed can be a truly surreal experience. Between the photos of travel and babies, weddings and beaches, and, let’s be honest, cats, you’ve probably noticed how much paid or promotional content there is out there, much of it masquerading as legitimate experience.

After all, there are only so many pearly-toothed nineteen year-olds you can see brandishing colourful drinks and hashtagging resorts before you have to stop and think: where have all these people come from? Who anointed them the collective arbiters of taste? And hold up, is that kid even old enough to drive that Benz?

If this confusion sounds familiar, don’t worry: we understand. We really do.

As surreal as the whole ecosystem might seem, social media influencers can mean massive dollars for online retailers. Some studies have shown a return of up to $6.50 in sales for every dollar spent on influencer exposure, making influencer marketing one of the most effective advertising tools available for the e-commerce industry.

And this is one e-commerce trend that doesn't look like changing any time soon.

Despite cynicism from some quarters and concerns about the transparency of the influencer industry, it’s undeniable that influencers can significantly boost the visibility of your product or website. And as long as there are people working to build a dedicated and engaged audience and promote products and services on their channels, influencer marketing is here to stay.

With that in mind, let’s turn to the key question at hand: knowing how to get the exposure you want for your e-commerce website through influencer advertising.

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Know what you want (and what you’ll pay for it)

The social media advertising landscape is so new, many companies (including e-commerce companies) don’t know how to go about getting the exposure they want. This ambiguity can play into the hands of influencers, who can make demands some might view as being unrealistic.

Before you consider approaching a particular influencer (or influencer marketing agency), make sure you have a clear idea of the content you want to be reflected in the post(s):

  • Are you looking for prescribed language or images to be included? Or would you prefer organic engagement, with content to be produced by the influencer? Are there any particular products you would like promoted, or do you want your website promoted more generally?
  • Which channels and formats would you like the influencer to use? Would you like the content to take the form of a post, a video, or a tweet? How many posts are you after, and over what time period? Are there any platforms you don’t want used?

Now, brass tacks. Are you offering payment, or free goods and services? Remember that while many influencers are happy to promote products in exchange for freebies, for others their online presence is their primary source of income.

One you have all of this clear, be sure to negotiate. Remember, just like you, influencers are in business - chances are high they’re looking to set up a long-term relationship. You’ll never know what kind of deal might be on the table if you don’t ask.

Five basic things to consider

Now that you know what you’re after and what you’re willing to offer to get it, think about the kind of influencer you’re looking for. Remember, not all influencers are the same, and not all will offer the same kind of product engagement.

When considering a particular influencer, think about the following five criteria:

  1. Product fit: Is there a natural fit between your product/s and the person? Will an audience view it as a real relationship, or will it smack of advertising?
    For example: if you are selling custom kitchen accessories, having someone with no visible or credible interest in cooking will risk looking unnatural and forced.
  2. Following: How many views or followers do they have? What’s their audience demographic? Is there a coherent match between their following and your product/s?
    For example: if you’re selling a product targeted to a younger market (e.g. clubbing holiday packages), it might not make sense for you to partner with an influencer with a more mature audience.
    Note: you may have seen talk recently of lots of influencers having fake followers. It pays to check out their average engagements per post, to make sure their followers are truly paying attention. 
  3. Platform: Which platform/s are they using? Do these suit your target market? Are they open to multi-platform marketing?
    For example: if you’re selling something targeted to a more mature market (e.g. home security products), you may want to avoid concentrating on platforms with a younger user base (e.g. Snapchat).
  4. Quality and frequency of engagement: How frequently do they engage with their audience, and what form do these engagements take? Are people commenting and sharing as a result of these engagements?
    For example: if you’ve noticed their posts seldom lead to further audience engagement, your content may be less likely to get any meaningful exposure.
  5. One-off or campaign: Are they open to campaigns, or are they focused on one-off posts? If they’ve engaged in campaigns before, how well did they perform? Do they work with other brands?
    For example: if you find that they are already working with a direct competitor of yours, you may wish to find someone else.

Each of these factors will all play in to whether you should engage a particular influencer, and if so, the nature of this engagement. A lot of this boils down to an influencer’s key engagement metrics, so take a good look at these first.

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A few things to avoid

Now that we’ve looked at some of the key criteria for effective influencer engagement, here are a few key things you’ll want to avoid:

  1. A lack of clarity: The novelty of influencer marketing can lead some companies to be vague with the details. However, you need to let the influencer know exactly what you’re after, what you expect them to do, and when. If there’s any fuzziness with the basics, the influencer won’t know how to go about promoting your product/s, and you could end up feeling like you’re not getting value for money.
  2. Unspecified advertising objectives: You need to know what you expect in terms of the number of expected engagements following influencer advertising, and the expected increase in web traffic. Set a bar for success, and track it once the campaign or post goes live. Fail to do this, and you won’t know whether the marketing has met your expectations or not.
  3. Being unaware of your platform options: Choosing your platform is, in many ways, just as important as choosing your influencer. Platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter all have their own particular strengths and weaknesses, offer different forms of engagement, and attract different users. Take a look at what’s out there, think about some of the more successful campaigns you’ve seen, and consider what they did well on their particular platform/s.

Legitimacy: A big deal

As you know, authenticity and legitimacy are valuable currencies for any individual or product. In fact, legitimacy - or at least the appearance of legitimacy - is one of the main things driving the rise in social media advertising.

As opposed to engagement with traditional advertising platforms, social media users expect to see real people engaging with products. If an influencer can organically incorporate a brand or service into their content, the advertisement will be more convincing.

However, this expectation of legitimacy also means influencers and companies need to carefully consider audience perception. An influencer’s popularity is predicated on the audience feeling like they truly know them, and any advertising which is inconsistent with their online personality can feel jarring, and can result in audience backlash.

As an example, consider the prospect of Guy Fieri promoting a range of custom deep fryers on Instagram. His proven track record of promoting classic American diner cuisine would make the partnership seem legit, right?

Now, how about Guy Fieri promoting a line of kale smoothies? Something just wouldn’t feel right, and the audience would definitely notice.

guy-fieri-kale-ecommerce-influencer

Conclusion: Tricky, but profitable

As we’ve covered in this post, influencer marketing is still an emerging industry, and the broader debate regarding transparency in social media advertising remains ongoing.

As a result, promoting your e-commerce business through online influencers can carry more potential for misunderstanding and confusion than traditional forms of advertising. Not only that, but the lack of clarity can lead to unmet expectations.

However, the rewards in terms of boosting your brand exposure and customer base more than justify grappling with these risks. When done well, influencer marketing can seamlessly and organically incorporate a product or service into an online presence, and can lead to huge increases in brand exposure.

With that in mind, be sure to be clear on what you want, and remember to get the basics right when engaging an influencer. Get this right, and you can increase your exposure and grow your sales figures.

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Tom Baragwanath

Tom Baragwanath is an author and freelance content marketer.