Influencer Marketing for Associations: How to Build Relationships with Social Media Influencers

Influencer marketing, the strategy employed by organizations to cultivate relationships with key leaders among unique communities in order to access/influence these audiences, is proving to be a potent marketing tool. Recent research conducted by Twitter confirms this: Brands using influencers on Twitter have been able to enhance user engagement (in terms of shares, comments and recommendations) by almost five times!

Thought Leadership.jpegLittle wonder, since one-third of the American population (the millennials who are shaping the economy and are the prime spenders) are discerning “digital natives” who are making 49% of their purchase/investment decisions solely guided by third-party recommendations from influencers they trust/value according to the Twitter report. Clearly, audiences today are less swayed by consumer brands promoting themselves and the same holds true for associations’ brands.  So, one way associations can cut through the digital noise to connect with their target audiences is by cultivating mutually beneficial relationships with influencers.

Consider the example of National Pork Board that powered a record-setting Twitter campaign (#sabrososmomentos) by aligning with a prominent Latino social media influencer who made videos urging Hispanic families to serve more pork at family get-togethers. The campaign was successful because influencer marketing is engaging, social and a great community builder. It can help you to humanize your  association and endear it  to audience segments you may not have been able to access through your own channels. In addition to supporting market initiatives, the right influencer partners can also help you recruit new members; improve attendance at your events; encourage compliance within your industry; support advocacy positions; and even attract corporate sponsors

Evaluating Potential Influencers

Needless to say, your influencers’ persona should resonate with your association’s ideology. An Agricultural Association having Vidya Vox rapping about organic farming compliance may not expect to see its social score soaring. Relevance, reach and approachability are factors that can help you in shortlisting influencers who may be an ideal fit for you:

  • Deploy Social Listening tools such as HootsuiteKloutTraackerPixelFollowerwonkRight Relevance Pro for drilling down on influencers holding clout in your industry.
  • You can identify the channels where your prospective influencer is most active through social monitoring tools such as TrendSpottrwhich notifies you whenever your influencer engages.
  • Keep in mind the demographics of your target audiences. Millennials favor digital content creators, whereas Gen X and Baby Boomers prefer traditional celebrities. Demographics Pro is a great tool for filtering influencers per your specific audience criteria.
  • Set Google alerts for your prospective influencers. BuzzSumoEpicBeat are tools that can be used to set alerts around keywords to identify the most popular content and its top sharers.
  • Look beyond large follower communities as deciding factors. Hootsuite claims “micro-influencers” render higher ROI since their niche areas are limited and they can yield authority more effectively. Look for influencers who are the most engaged in their community.

Collaborating with Selected Influencers

The key to establishing relationships with influencers is to reach out slowly and to create mutual value.  Give before you receive: you can  initiate engagement by posting comments or compliments on their posts, by sharing their posts and by recommending them in your posts, and by posting relevant questions on their blogs or digital accounts. Content offerings, interviews with key association staff/members and advance information (“scoops”) are other forms of social currency you may exchange with target  influencers to encourage them to cross-promote.

A more transactional  method is to compensate them. Underwriting or sponsorship may be the best way to foster relationships with some influencers. Or offering  them an honorarium for speaking at a conference or webinar or providing free registration to attend your annual  convention. If compensating them financially, it’s advisable for both parties to agree on public disclosure measures.

Only when influencers are convinced that the collaboration is mutually satisfyin will they promote your content or POV.  But a quick word of warning: before investing too heavily in a particular influencer, you may want to do a trial run by involving them in a minor or limited campaign in order to analyze the return.

Influencer marketing might seem challenging at first, but its handsome returns can extend your association’s advocacy, recruitment and retention efforts in a big and long-lasting way.