In an increasingly digital world, more brands are turning to influencers to build an online presence and connect with consumers. But gauging the impact of your efforts can prove challenging. Did that hashtag campaign actually win you fans? Will the beauty gurus testing your new face serum really make it a mainstay in their skincare routines? To help you better understand the mechanics of a successful influencer marketing strategy—and how to expand your brand’s digital footprint—we identified the key elements of an impactful influencer community along with tips for getting the most value from your online fans. Here’s the bottom line: sustained, authentic relationships are the foundation of a strong influencer network. To forge these connections, top-performing brands regularly identify influencers who are already passionate about them and work with them in a mutually beneficial capacity that boosts these bloggers’ careers while driving exposure for the brand. The most successful brand-influencer relationships aren’t transactional, but genuinely empower content creators by furnishing them with opportunities to hone their craft and grow their audience, which in turn benefit the brand. 

How to measure a brand’s success?

Before you can level up your influencer strategy, you have to understand what’s working—and what isn’t. You can measure influencer marketing performance using Earned Media Value (EMV), a metric that uses engagement data including likes, shares, and comments to estimate the value of earned social content. Note that EMV isn’t a black box figure: other metrics, like community size (the total number of influencers talking about you), post volume (the number of posts created about your brand), and ambassador potency (how much EMV each influencer is generating for you, on average) can also help you understand where your brand’s total EMV is coming from. Additionally, you can track the EMV generated by individual content creators, campaigns, and other activations to understand the most (and least) effective aspects of your outreach. While EMV is helpful for benchmarking success in a given time period, brands seeking to thrive long-term should also focus on influencer retention: that is, the percentage of bloggers in your community that either maintain or increase, their EMV contributions month-after-month. Because lasting relationships are essential to staying relevant over time—and tried-and-true brand champions tend to be the most impactful advocates—high retention is correlated with sustained EMV growth. You can also evaluate the health of your community through a “stay/drop/new” model: how many influencers, in a given month, also posted about your brand the previous month (“stayed”)? How many “new” bloggers joined your community this month? And how many of the content creators that mentioned you last month “dropped,” or failed to post this month? Ideally, the majority of your community should consist of “stay” and “new” bloggers, although identifying and re-engaging specific influencers who “dropped” can help re-ignite past interest and spur more consistent posting in months to come. 

Does success look different for different kinds of brands?

The short answer is, yes. While EMV growth, strong retention, and a high proportion of both consistent and new advocates are good indicators of success for any influencer-savvy brand, these figures tend to look different across verticals. Apparel brands, for example, generally see higher retention rates than luxury brands, which often rely heavily on one-off celebrity endorsements. Of course, this doesn’t mean luxury brands can’t form impactful relationships with bloggers: when Louis Vuitton brought Gen Z YouTube sensation Emma Chamberlain to Paris Fashion Week in March 2019, for example, the influencer prolifically chronicled the experience, contributing $1.2M EMV of the brand’s $26.7M EMV total that month. Similarly, cosmetics brands tend to see higher retention rates (and higher EMV totals) than skincare brands, simply because they tend to be larger—and it’s easier for bigger brands to maintain relationships with more influencers. In benchmarking your brand’s success, then, it’s important to read these metrics in the context of overall trends within your vertical. When brands track their performance, they should be encouraged to interpret it relative to competitor brands with similar attributes. 

How can I drive success for my brand?

Here are some strategies for building genuine, lasting influencer relationships, and improving the overall impact of your influencer community. 
  • Approach influencers with an open mind: Many brands seek to tightly control the messaging surrounding their brand, which can result in canned, advertorial influencer posts. Instead, brands should embrace the positive stories that bloggers are already telling about them: Gucci, for example, benefited greatly from encouraging the surge of influencer content tagged #GucciGang following the release of the song by rapper Lil’ Pump in 2017. Granting influencers freedom over the type of content they share demonstrates that a brand respects its advocates as creative agents in their own right, and results in more interesting and impactful storytelling. 
  • Tailor your outreach based on brand loyalty: Not all influencer relationships are created equal. To optimise retention, save your most resource-intensive activations for time-honored advocates—but don’t neglect to pique the interest of newcomers, or reach out to past fans. With a little nurturing, these bloggers could become some of your biggest champions. 
  • Listen to your community: Actively follow and engage with content created about your brand, and adjust your strategy accordingly. Are bloggers asking for broader foundation shade ranges? More inclusive clothing sizes? More sustainable options? Adapting your products and messaging to meet the needs of your community lets influencers know you’re listening, and increases the likelihood they’ll continue to talk about you down the line. E.L.F exemplified this best practice earlier this year by launching a new, hydrating version of its 16H Camo Concealer based on feedback from beauty gurus, demonstrating that the brand hears and values content creators’ opinions and is committed to meeting their needs.  
Ultimately, effective influencer marketing relies on supportive—not just sponsored—relationships. By consistently making influencers feel heard and appreciated, and knowing how to effectively measure their efforts, you can set your brand up for lasting success. 
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