How to Create an Influencer Program That Delivers Long-Term ROI

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By now, almost everyone in marketing knows the importance of influencers and developing an effective influencer marketing strategy. A recent take on the use of opinion leaders and celebrities to sell goods and services, a quality influencer program is a highly effective way to drive sales. Unfortunately, influencer marketing is full of complications and dangers that were uncommon in the days when traditional media had a near monopoly on marketing and sales. One reason for this is the high number of fakes and frauds out there. Fortunately, with proper planning and the use of best practices, you can reduce the risks while increasing the rewards. Let us look at how to set your influencer program up for success.

What are influencer programs?

what is a _____?

Like any other form of advertising, influencer marketing requires a strategy to be cost-effective. As the old saying goes, a failure to plan is a plan to fail. One of the challenges of influencer marketing is the large number of variables involved with planning and executing your strategy. It’s much more complicated than calling up an advertising sales line and placing an order. Furthermore, much of the content generated and used has been produced by outside parties. Each person must be compensated separately, and there frequently are wide variations in the rates charged, from a flat fee for a post to an influencer link that gradually adds commissions to the influencers’ pockets.

Fortunately, there are ways to keep everything organized while managing risk. A well-defined influencer program will help you stay organized while implementing the influencer strategy you have chosen. Everyone will understand their role and expectations much better, which can improve influencer retention. Better yet, you may decide to set your influencer program up in such a way that influencers will want to work with your company after reading about it. Quality programs have several things in common, which will be identified below along with additional influencer marketing tactics utilized by real companies and brands.

Defined ways of identifying influencers

Before anyone can launch an influencer marketing campaign, it is important to know who they can trust, whether they are a small oral health-care brand or a multi-million dollar company. Properly executed, an influencer program will have ways of identifying those people. For instance, Amazon has both affiliates and social media influencers working with them. In order to join either program, you need to fill out a form. Of course, Amazon is a well-known brand, so recruitment is relatively easy. They have a website where you can read about the program and apply. If your brand is big enough, this might be practical for you, or you may want to utilize campaign management tools geared toward larger companies. Other methods of finding influencers will be discussed later.

Predetermined methods of influencer compensation

Like anyone who runs a business, influencers have to be compensated. Some prefer cash, others product, and a third group will accept both or a type of compensation that involves using affiliate links and other e-commerce tools. Everyone has a minimum that they will accept, and everyone has a value to your company. To run an influencer program, you need to have a maximum price you can pay. This isn’t monolithic, however; some influencers are worth more to you than others. It could vary based on engagement rates on their preferred social media platform, follower counts (are they micro – influencers or mega influencers?), type of content, and more. No matter how you set price ranges, however, it is important to have some consistency across your social influencer program.

Besides consistency, there needs to be a defined way to get money or product to your influencer. With cash, this can be as simple as separate line items in accounting. Product can be a bit more complicated. While digital products are easy to deliver over the internet, tangible objects must be shipped. Make sure your team has access to the information they need to get the shipping done right. Failing to do so can negatively impact the number of potential customers who receive word of your brand or product.

Designated personnel

Notice I said designated, not dedicated. To efficiently run an influencer program, certain people need to be in charge. For smaller firms, this might be a senior marketing assistant. Larger firms might need a senior assistant and several juniors helping. No matter how much personnel you need, it is important to have consistency. If an influencer is working with someone different every time they need to touch base, it can get confusing very quickly and can send the influencer running for the hills in favor of a more consistent brand or company. Having influencers feel like just another faceless person is a great way to ensure they won’t keep working with your brand–and won’t deliver the information on your pet product or product line that you hope to see them deliver.

Compliance and brand management

Influencer marketing is no longer the “wild West” it used to be. While a few years ago, it was possible to throw sponsored content out there without a comment, nowadays that can get you in trouble. At least in the US, advertising is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, which has ruled that influencer marketing constitutes advertising. To underline their point, the FTC has released strict rules for both brands and influencers to follow. Few things could be worse for your influencer program than everyone getting in trouble for not adhering to appropriate guidelines and rules. Remember: if the government is involved, then your brand can face public humiliation in addition to fines.

Related to compliance is brand management. Here, you need to set the parameters within which influencers can create content. In other words, there needs to be some guidance as to what can or cannot be said. Your brand has a reputation to protect, and there have been unfortunate situations where an influencer campaign has backfired. By properly designing your influencer program, many of these issues can be avoided and you can ensure that your influencer, whether they be amazon influencers or a fashion influencer, will be happy in their position as an advertising professional for your brand.

How do I start an influencer program?

How do I start an influencer program?

Once your brand has decided to implement an influencer program, the system needs to be set up. Depending on the size of your brand, the program can be larger or smaller. Some very small brands might decide to outsource most of the work by using an influencer marketing agency. However, even in this situation, there needs to be a significant amount of planning done in-house.

Design the program in terms of your marketing goals, collaboration ideas, and how you are going to incentivize influencers.

Any influencer program must be carefully designed for maximum effectiveness. When you are just starting out, the program will probably be rudimentary. As the program grows, however, the complexity will increase. While designing the program, there are several considerations involved.

Marketing goals

No matter how you run your influencer program, it is critical to ensure that it meets your company’s marketing goals. Brands at all stages of their life cycle will want to increase brand awareness at some point. However, this is often more critical for brands that are recently launched, have smaller market share, or are breaking into a new market. Influencer marketing is a great way to achieve this goal because it lets someone introduce the brand to their followers. These types of campaigns may ship products more as part of their awareness campaigns, rather than spending money outright. They may also offer affiliate codes to help both the influencer and the consumer by allowing content creators to make money on sales, and target customers by offering discounts on products. 

Collaboration ideas

There are many ways to collaborate with an influencer. While having them post sponsored pictures or Stories is hot on Instagram, there are other options available across social channels and other marketing channels. Instagram TV allows users to post videos, and this is a great opportunity to have a sponsored video review or tutorial made. Beauty brands do a lot with YouTube tutorials, because makeup and skincare can be intimidating to beginners looking for some basic know-how. Bloggers can talk about their favorite products through sponsored reviews and similar content.

However, these aren’t the only kinds of collaborations available. Some brands will work with larger-scale influencers on product collaborations. In this case, the influencer helps design a product that is co-branded with the sponsor company. These are often very popular with the influencer’s fans. Best of all, they let these fans see the quality products that are available through this company. This type of collaboration is usually reserved for accounts with a higher follower count, rather than influencers who have just gotten started on their influencer journey. 

Incentives

For an influencer program to work, there needs to be an effective way of incentivizing influencers. Generally speaking, the type of incentive is related to the type of collaboration. Sponsored product reviews typically involve gifting product or service to your influencer. This allows him or her to try it out and make a better-informed review. On the other hand, product design collaborations will probably be commission-based and might involve a consulting fee, as well. No matter what options you choose, build them into your program from the beginning and identify what type of social posts will be used to promote your collaborative efforts.

Find your employees, partners, customers, and fans that are influencers

No influencer program can operate without influencers. And while advanced influencer discovery techniques are important down the road, you need a few people to start out with. The best way of doing this is by looking for influencers among those who already have brand affinity.

Generally speaking, these influencers with brand affinity already have some sort of business relationship with your company. They might be partners or employees, both of whom derive some or most of their income from your company. As a result, they have a significant interest in the success of your brand. Current customers have tried your products at some point already. Look for the ones who have bought your product more than once or who have made a significant purchase, because it is a predictor of satisfaction. Finally, fans of your brand might not have purchased your core products. This can be due to availability, price, or many other factors. Give them a chance to try your products in return for a collaboration, and there is a decent chance they will agree, even if that agreement involves a simple post to Instagram stories.

Do outreach and begin to have conversations to gauge interest in your influencer program

Once you have identified appropriate influencers, you need to reach out. With the exception of partners, most affinity influencers won’t know that you are planning an influencer program until you reach this stage.

Outreach can take several forms. In the case of employees, consider having a meeting about the launch of your program. Explain to them what your strategy is and why it is important to the welfare of your company. Then, ask them to participate in this important program. With employees, the incentives may be different than they are with outside influencers. Discuss with HR, legal, and your dedicated account manager what these should be.

Outsiders to the company can be reached a different way. Consider sending them messages on social media to let them know about the new influencer program your marketing team has developed. You might also post a link like Amazon does. Make sure that they know how this is beneficial, both to you and to them. If the potential influencer is a fan or customer, there’s a good chance that they already know. Who knows: they might’ve been waiting a long time for this opportunity on their social platforms.

Based on conversations with influencers, you may need to tweak the program features. For instance, you might find that the incentives are too small or the expectations too big. Keep working until you find a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Create a communication channel to stay in touch with them.

Finally, no influencer program can exist without a way to keep in touch with influencers. While social media messaging is useful initially, at some point this will become too cumbersome. A better approach for the long term is to have a dedicated channel of communication. For example, Slack is a great place for teams to hang out, and it has the added benefit of helping to build an influencer community. Likewise, a Facebook page could be a private place to both communicate with influencers and trade ideas. Email allows for privacy while sending personal information back and forth. Keep in mind, using more than one channel can also be beneficial.

Activate your influencers through one of these popular collaborations

Activate your influencers through one of these popular collaborations

Now that you have designed your influencer program, it is time to activate your influencers. There is a wide variety of possible collaborations. When starting out, it is probably best to start with simpler collaborations. You can always make things more complex later, especially if an influencer is highly successful.

Gift product for sponsored content or a product review

This kind of arrangement has been common from the beginning. It is simple to implement, and losing track of who gets how much money is unlikely. Best of all, it doesn’t cost much to start this way. However, there is an important drawback: it doesn’t work for all influencer types. Fans are likely to benefit, but an employee or partner probably won’t.

Have influencers create user-generated content for you to leverage internally

Here, you will typically pay cash for content. By letting an influencer generate content, you are giving the advertising staff a sort of break. When moving your influencer’s content to your website, you are generating links back to their social media sites and vice versa. This can increase traffic substantially.

Create coupons for influencers and even sign them up as affiliates if they are interested

There are ways to show influencers how much they are appreciated that reach beyond the paid collaboration. For instance, beauty brands often mail “public relations” packages to influencers in the hope that they’ll spontaneously do a review. However, this isn’t the only way to give influencers perks.

Creating coupons for influencers is a nice way to say “thank you.” Discounts are a common perk for employees, and influencers are just as valuable to your company in their own way. Coupons provide a middle ground between gifting product and expecting influencers to buy things at full price. Nano influencers can use these products to expand their network and earn the privilege of traditional paid promotions.

Adding interested influencers to your affiliate program is another way to grant perks. They can add the affiliate links to multiple pieces of content on their profiles or channels, even if it isn’t sponsored. This way, they can earn money for a larger percentage of their content. At the same time, your company can increase sales for a longer period of time.

Optimize your influencer program

After your influencer program has been running for a while, it may need some new features and faces. People come and go, especially in the influencer marketing world. Not only that, but audiences change over time. Therefore, a consistent system of evaluation is necessary.

Conduct performance reviews

Besides your internal analysis of influencer program features, it is critical to review influencers within your program. When new influencers are added to your program, be sure to agree on a performance review interval. Most programs designate annual reviews, although different time periods may be better for your brand or for a certain influencer. At each performance review, you should decide if the influencer is performing to a high enough standard to have the contract renewed. If your program has multiple tiers, you can also consider moving influencers into a different level based on performance.

Recruit new members

As influencers are removed from the program for performance issues, and as your brand grows, it is important to recruit new influencers. When choosing new people to approach, consider their following and engagement rates. Ideally, potential new influencers should be chosen for many of the same reasons as the original ones were. The only real difference is that you may have fewer joining with a high level of brand affinity.

Some influencer program examples to inspire you

Sometimes it helps to see specific examples of what other companies are doing with their influencer programs. Check out these examples for some inspiration for your own program:

SHEGLAM

SHEGLAM influencer program

SHEGLAM’s approach to influencer marketing programs focuses on the utilization of products to create new looks and demonstrate what makeup products are capable of. Although their program page does not offer a great deal of insight into the day-to-day inner workings of the company, the page does demonstrate what will be most important in becoming a SHEGLAM user: showing off your skills using SHEGLAM products. This particular influencer program is so valuable, because it allows influencers to take the blank slate of a product and create wholly original looks with those products. The value of influencers working with SHEGLAM is in the variety: people from a wide variety of backgrounds and within a wide range of ages can utilize the products in very different ways, effectively expanding the reach of SHEGLAM’s market and the reach of its influencer program. 

Rev

Rev influencer program

Rev is a transcription and  closed captioning service that is designed to be used on social media, in videos, and on virtually any platform used to deliver video or audio content. Rev’s influencer campaign is laid out in extremely clear, simple terms, with all of the incentives and perks for influencers delivered upfront. Rev influencers enjoy both affiliate marketing and referral income, by receiving an upfront $100 bonus when someone uses their referral link, as well as additional income opportunities using that same link. Rev’s affiliate marketing commission is delivered on a consistent schedule via Paypal, with once-monthly payments. Using this structure, Rev can easily and quickly track all of their influencer marketing spend, while influencers can easily track their income and upcoming earnings. Rev is clear about the number of followers required to become an influencer, encouraging influencers to apply to the program when they have reached a follower count of at least 25,000. Rev also provides access to tools that allow influencers to easily track referrals and other influencer data. 

Logitech

Logitech influencer program

Logitech’s structure is not quite as overt as Rev’s, but with good reason: Logitech is a parent company with numerous brands under its heading, and influencers are spread out across those brands and companies according to best fit and preference. While many affiliate marketing programs and influencer campaigns focus primarily on follower count as a core qualification, Logitech takes a different approach, and focuses more on what influencers can offer the brand in terms of passion, interest, and niche, rather than simple followings. This is likely due in part to the number of companies under the umbrella of Logitech, and the nature of target audiences for Logitech’s campaigns; unlike makeup, clothing, and entertainment categories, tech companies and brands often have narrower audiences who are looking at affordable price, specialized abilities, and more rather than large accounts or widespread followings. 

National Apartment Association

National Apartment Association influencer program

The National Apartment Association’s marketing & sales approach is another example of a different entrance into the influencer marketing arena, because of the way in which it is focused: rather than focusing on selling products, the NAA is focused on advocacy and getting the word out to elected officials and laymen alike. Influencers’ target audiences within this type of collaboration are those who are politically or socially active and those with a vested interest in the housing market. Although this particular campaign is more marketing and less sales (read: influencers are not directly compensated), awareness and improvement of housing concerns can positively impact existing stakes influencers have in this particular field. 

ArtsQuest

ArtsQuest influencer program

The ArtsQuest influencer program also does not offer the standard compensation expected of marketing & sales, but instead offers tickets, promotional items, promotional codes, and merchandise as compensation for sharing photos about certain events. The ArtsQuest program is fairly standard, in that they retain rights to all photos taken and shared at their events to share them across their own marketing channels. ArtsQuest is unique, however, in that they combine followings across several different platforms, and encourage influencers to apply if they have as little as 5,000 combined followers across all of their social media accounts. ArtsQuest is another example of a great influencer collaboration page, because they provide a clear, well-constructed list of the benefits of working with their company and the expectations placed by the company. It is also a great marketing model, as the budget on influencer marketing can be steep; by compensating influencers in tickets, merchandise, and other non-cash options, the company can maintain its cash flow while increasing awareness. 

Start your influencer program today

Designing and running an influencer program can be a challenge. With so many influencers and a myriad of ideas, your team needs significant direction to be successful at influencer marketing. Fortunately, with a well-defined program, this will be a much more organized and efficient process.

Hero photo: Tim Marshall / Unsplash

Influencer Program FAQs

What are influencer programs?

Influencer programs are designed and created to ensure the success of an influencer marketing strategy. Just like any other marketing strategy, it is crucial to have organized steps and actions to stick to. Influencer programs help brands find the right influencer for their campaign, determine the budget for the campaign, execute it properly, compensate the influencer, and achieve the highest ROI possible.

How do you create an influencer program?

In creating an influencer program, the most important thing to determine is your marketing goals. This is where you are going to create the program along with your collaboration ideas and how you are going to incentivize the influencers. Once you have them, you can start making a list of the possible influencers you can contact and where you can find them. You can then start reaching out to them and build relationships to get their interests in your program.

How many followers do you need to be an influencer?

Anyone can be an influencer with just a thousand followers! Users with follower count between 1,000-10,000 are referred to as Nano-influencers. They are the smallest category of influencer followed by Micro-influencers (10,000-100,000 followers); Macro-influencers (100,000-1,000,000 followers) and Mega-influencers (more than 1M followers).

How do influencers get paid?

Social media influencers get paid differently. The most common way influencers make money is through sponsorship and producing sponsored content. This is done by simply posting a picture/video or creating a blog that promotes a brand’s product/services. Through sponsored content, influencers can either earn a flat rate or get a free product from the brand. Another way is by doing affiliate marketing where influencers typically earn commissions.

How much does an influencer cost?

The cost of an influencer can vary depending on several factors. Rates are typically determined by the influencer’s number of followers, niche, social media platform, and engagement rate. According to recent reports released, influencers charge $25 per 1,000 followers on Facebook, $10 per thousand followers on Instagram, $10 per 1,000 followers on Snapchat, and $20 per 1,000 subscribers on YouTube.

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