The holiday shopping has quickly descended upon us and Cyber Monday, arguably the biggest online shopping day of the year, is today. Last year, Cyber Monday accounted for more than $3.39 billion in sales, and this year, analysts estimate sales to increase by 13.8%. Brands everywhere will be scrambling to capitalize on the consumer frenzy and ensure that they capture those consumer dollars. One tactic that most brands should be utilizing as part of their marketing mix is digital influencer engagement.

Digital influencers are the triple threat of the marketing world; they are talent, production, and media all rolled into one. Not to mention the fact that their credibility drives real results: 49% of people rely on influencer recommendations when making a purchase. So how can brands use digital influencers successfully? An influencer activation isn’t a success unless three things happen:

  1. The audience is happy and gets the type of content it knows and loves.
  2. The influencer has a great experience.
  3. The brand gets its message out to the world and sees the results it wants.

The best way to accomplish this is to keep three things in mind: relevancy is more important than reach; collaborate with influencers and don’t dictate the creative; and lastly, amplify influencer content and make it part of the integrated campaign.

Relevancy Over Reach

I’ve seen it time and time again. An influencer gets some sort of industry recognition (i.e., they grace the covers of trade publications and get a lot of mainstream press) and then every single marketer who works on a brand even remotely relevant to that influencer wants to work with him or her.

It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to work with top-tier digital influencers, but just because someone is famous and has a massive following doesn’t mean that he or she is the ideal fit for your brand. Instead, it is far more important to focus on influencers who have rabid fanbases most relevant to your target market and your brand category. So, to avoid having your biases impact your decision making, develop influencer criteria before you even begin flagging any influencer names. Ask yourself “What demographic am I trying to reach?”, “What platforms matter most to me?”, “How important is engagement vs scale?”, “What aesthetic should the influencer(s) I want to work with have?”

Once you’ve done that, then begin your research and think about who you’d want to work with. This ensures that you’re not getting caught up in the hype.

Collaborate Don’t Dictate

Influencers have built their audiences by developing a very specific style, tone, and format that their audiences have grown to love. As marketers, we’re often used to any production being dictated by us.

Unlike traditional video productions, you should never go into working with an influencer expect to write a script for him or her, and then have it read and produced verbatim. Instead, distill the message you want your brand to get out there and work with the creators to have it fit within their existing content formats. That way they aren’t disrupting what their audiences have come to appreciate from them.

The relationship that creators have with their audiences is akin to friendship. Creators interact with their fans via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube comments. If the way they speak changes, their fans will know and feel alienated. As a result, it is critical to embrace the influencer’s style, while making sure he or she understands and is interpreting your brand message properly.

Amplify & Integrate

Most influencer campaigns tend to be siloed and independent from the larger brand ad campaigns. A typical influencer deal isn’t supported with paid media, nor does it live anywhere beyond the influencer’s owned channels. This is a huge missed opportunity. Organic reach on social platforms generally results in only a small fraction of the overall subscribers, followers, and fans seeing the brand content.

In my own experience, campaigns that have incorporated influencers and then amplified content with paid media have seen more than two times the returns on performance over traditional campaigns. This is because influencer audiences tend to trust their endorsements, and paid media ensures that you reach fans who would otherwise be missed if the content was only distributed organically. On YouTube alone there are more than 4,000 creators with at least one million subscribers. There’s an abundance of creators to work with regardless of your product, category, or consumer.

As competition ramps up this holiday season, brands would be wise to go the extra mile and invest in collaborating with influencers. However, in doing any influencer activation (holiday or otherwise), it’s again important to ask oneself the right questions: “Am I working with influencers most relevant to my audience?”, “Am I allowing them to bring the brand to life in their own voice?”, “Is there more I could do to integrate them into the campaign instead of keeping them siloed?”

If you invest the time and money to make sure you’re working with the right influencers and integrating them into an overarching campaign, you’re far more likely to generate strong returns and come out ahead of the pack.

Brendan Gahan is Founder of EpicSignal, a social media agency which works with Fortune 500 brands with their YouTube influencer and community building campaigns. You can read more of his thoughts on his blog.

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