Jessica Ek is director of digital communications at the American Cleaning Institute in Washington, DC.
While the digital influencer space is huge, many associations haven’t added influencers to their marketing and communications strategy yet. For those wondering how it could work for their group, the American Cleaning Institute shares takeaways from their experience.
The digital influencer space is quickly evolving and continuing to grow. It’s anticipated to be a $16.4 billion industry this year, and 75 percent of brands said they intend to dedicate budget to influencer marketing. Yet, when polling association professionals at this year’s ASAE Marketing, Membership, and Communications Conference, 81 percent reported that they hadn’t worked with a digital influencer. It’s time for associations to get involved.
The American Cleaning Institute, with the help of BRG Communications, has developed, activated, and tracked the success of its digital influencer program over the last four years. Here are some of the top lessons we’ve learned along the way.
When thinking of influencer activations, you may think of product endorsements. As a trade association, our members have products to sell, but we don’t. We’re trying to raise awareness about using cleaning products safely and effectively and promoting related resources.
We started by asking influencers to help us raise awareness about storing liquid laundry packets up and out of reach of children, as part of our #PacketsUp campaign. We found that while a shoutout from an influencer can get impressions, consumers quickly adapt and many scroll right past ads. The posts with the best performance were ones where the influencers connected with the content. The key was to find where our values aligned and explore how they related to the message.
Each activation looks different because each influencer is different, so work with your influencers to understand their greatest differentiation and strongest attributes in influencing their audience.
If you just look for influencers with the biggest reach, you will run through even a healthy budget quickly. Worse, you may not even achieve your objectives. Influencers with a smaller audience often have a stronger connection with their followers and higher engagement rates. In addition, pricing for these influencer activations may be a better fit for your budget.
When we look for new influencers, of course we look at their stats. But we also go to their platforms and scroll through the posts to get a sense of what they’re all about. Look closely to see who is in their tribe. Review previous content labeled as an #ad or #partnership to see what you can expect in terms of engagement.
We started by casting a wide net and working with dozens of influencers. Over the years, that number has gone down. We looked at who stood out in terms of bringing their own voice to the messaging in a way that resonated. Many of those influencers are the ones we still work with today. Those ongoing partnerships pay dividends, especially since repeat activations can build upon each other.
Ongoing influencer relationships became extremely helpful when COVID-19 hit. When we created new resources to meet changing consumer needs, we pivoted our influencer strategy too. We tapped our partners to spread timely information and were able to do so quickly because they were already familiar with us and our mission.
Go in with a game plan and know what you want to achieve but stay flexible on how. You are the expert on your message, but the influencers are the experts on their audiences. They can be the best source of ideas on how to get your message across. If you just dictate what you want and don’t ask what they can do, you’ll never know. We started by asking influencers for a blog post. But when we instead shared our goals and asked for recommendations, we got more real, authentic engagement in the form of Twitter parties, Instagram Reels, TikTok videos, Facebook Live events, and more.
We were trying to measure behavior change, which can be very tricky. Therefore, we focused on engagement, figuring that if you connect with a message, it’s more likely to stick. It’s a proxy measurement, but one we can reliably get. What gets measured gets improved, especially if you’re willing to experiment and adjust to see what moves that lever.
Your key metrics may be different. The important part is to identify the metrics that will help achieve your objectives. Follow up to get reporting after each activation; that data can inform future efforts. And make sure to measure, compare, and contrast what is working over time to capture the larger, strategic picture and the success of your investment.
Interested in getting started? Your target audience and objectives will help you determine your metrics. Then do a little research on the influencers in your space. Have several options in case your first picks don’t work for budgeting, timing, or other reasons. Reach out to set up an introductory call and take it from there. Start small, build over time, and good luck.