Last Updated: November 20, 2020

Many people have grown cynical toward advertising. The say it shows up in every conceivable place, makes ridiculous claims, plays to our most base instincts, and crowds out things that are more interesting and essential. In a world that is saturated by advertising, it is hard for them to trust any of the claims that marketers make.

This cynicism is often eroded when recommendations for products come from friends or family members. A trusted recommendation comes with more credibility than an advertisement. That is why, according to Netpop research, 79% of social media users use these sites to find information and recommendations about products.

Advertisers realize that they can use the power of social media and other Internet tools to market to their customers indirectly. When they can encourage people to talk about and recommend their products online, these advertisers gain a unique advantage over their competition.

What is influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing involves marketing products and services to those who have a sway over the things other people buy. This market influence typically stems from an individual’s expertise, popularity, or reputation. Marketing to an audience of influencers is similar to word of mouth marketing, but it doesn’t rely strictly on explicit recommendations (See also Word-of-Mouth Marketing).

Influence can come from a wide range of places. Any person, group, brand, or place could potentially be an influencer. For example, celebrities are often used to market products because they are highly respected and highly visible. When a celebrity uses a product, the maker of that product gets exposure and the respect that comes from a celebrity endorsement (See also Marketing with Celebrities).

Bloggers have become important influencers because they are seen as authentic and have loyal followings. When a blogger recommends a product it seems more trustworthy than traditional advertising. By using influencers, companies can avoid much of the cynicism and skepticism that is directed at straight forward marketing messages.

This form of marketing is unique because it appeals to the needs of the influencer rather than the customer. Companies must give influencers respect and form open and organic relationships for the influencer to endorse a product. This might include giving the influencer access to a soon-to-be released product, or inviting the influencer to visit the company in person.

The only major drawback of influencer marketing is that it isn’t as controllable as traditional marketing. While some influencers only add to the positive image of a product, influencers who encounter legal trouble or fall out of the public light might negatively impact a product’s chance of success. Marketers must prepare to deal with negative fallout if the influencers they use misrepresent or reject their products.

Examples of influencer marketing

  • Redwood Creek Wine – The winemaker created a social platform called Blaze the Trail that helped to position the brand as one committed to sustainability and natural living. The platform features in-depth information about wine making and included Q&A sessions with wine makers. By providing a wealth of information about the wine in the context of the brand’s desired image, Redwood Creek was able to control the message that influential wine drinkers would spread.
  • La Cense Beef – In order to educate consumers about the benefits of grass fed beef, the meat producer set up a website with information about the movement and sustainable agriculture in general. They also reached out to foodie bloggers that have sway amongst gourmet meat buyers. By making it easy for bloggers to research and write about the benefits of La Cense Beef, they were able to spread the message about their brand.
  • Barilla Pasta – The company sent out “Test Kitchen” packages that contained pastas, sauces, and any other Barilla products recipients would need to host a dinner party. Those same recipients then cooked the food, served it to their friends, and uploaded real photos of the gathering to a website. This was a way to organically spread the word about Barilla pasta. The photos that were submitted were used to create authentic looking advertising that featured real Barilla customers.
  • General Motors – The car maker set up an exclusive web site whose access was limited to “GM Insiders.” These were customers that had a deep knowledge, history, and affinity for GM’s many iconic brands. The website featured exclusive news, offers, and sneak peeks. By catering to this passionate segment of their customer base, GM was able to encourage them to talk up their cars to friends and family.

Who implements influencer marketing?

According to the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (, brands are mentioned 3.3 billion times every day in America. People talk about everything from snack foods to industrial machinery. Any business, regardless of the industry they are in, can benefit from creating a conversation around their products. (See also Buzz Marketing)

Small businesses might use inexpensive online strategies to connect with influencers. A new restaurant can encourage patrons to write reviews online. A landscaping company could set up a helpful gardening blog. Influence is just as powerful at the local level as it is on the national level.

Larger companies develop comprehensive influencer marketing strategies that stretch across platforms. They could form expensive partnerships with celebrities or other brands to help position their products (See also Celebrity Marketing). Consider an energy drink company that wants to market to a younger audience. They could sponsor a snowboarder and hand out free drinks at competitions. This is a way of appealing to a young audience that has influence over their friends and classmates. For larger companies, influencer marketing should be an exhaustive and ongoing effort as they maintain existing influencer relationships.

Effective Strategies of Influencer Marketing

  • Identify the Most Relevant Influencers – Digital tools like SocMetrics and Appinions make it easy for companies to analyze the social media landscape for the most influential profiles based on geography, category, or other demographic data.
  • Form a Relationship with Influencers – Try to develop a relationship with an influencer before asking them to advocate for a product or company. A simple message on Facebook or Twitter can help ingratiate a possible new influencer to the company.
  • Find Your Influencers Preferences – Deliver content and advertising material to influencers in the format that is more convenient for them whether that be print, video, audio, or some other format.
  • Abide By Regulations – The FTC requires that any and all material connections be disclosed. Simple online tools make the disclosure process simple and seamless.
  • Make it Easy to Access Content – Influencers are more likely to share content with their followers if it is easy for them to integrate into their blogs, Facebook pages, and other portals. Online tools like SocialChorus make it easy for companies to distribute content.
  • Don’t Neglect Minor Social Networking Sites – There is the tendency to think only of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter when thinking about social media. But Instagram has 30 million users and growing. Minor social networking sites can expect significant influence as well.

How is an influencer marketing plan developed?

The first step an an influencer marketing plan is to set goals for the campaign. Typically, goals for influencer marketing are often less about increasing sales and more about increasing buzz and public awareness. Before any influencer is contacted, a company must define their goals in measurable terms, spelling out exactly what they hope to accomplish.

After establishing goals, the company will then need to identify the influencers they want to contact by researching demographics and target markets. Simple searches of Google and Facebook can reveal who has influence over consumers. For example, a search for cars would return results for car blogs, automotive reviews, and enthusiast websites. Market research firms offer services that help marketers determine who their customers are most influenced by. The company will need to decide how many influencers they want to target and then select those that best meet the goals of the campaign.

Companies will then start analyzing where their influencers gather, who their audience is, and what kind of message they are spreading. Carefully studying the influencer’s preference makes them easier to reach out to later. When the company is ready to contact the influencer, they will communicate through social media or some other informal means. The goal is to form an organic relationship that is not based entirely on endorsing and selling. Influencers who are treated with respect become genuine advocates for the companies they write about.

Marketers should revisit goals every few months to track the success or failure of the influencer program. If a plan is not having the desired effect, companies must reach out to new influencers in different ways. The influencers who remain effective will need to be courted so that they continue to support the company on their blogs and websites.

Careers in influencer marketing

Social Media Marketing Manager

What do they do?

Average Salaries of Influencer Marketers

  • Social Media Marketing Manager
    entry level – $50,000-$70,000
    after 10 years – $80,000-$120,000
  • Brand Manager
    entry level – $35,000-$65,000
    after 10 years – $70,000-$140,000
  • Interactive Designer
    entry level – $40,000-$60,000
    after 10 years – $80,000-$120,000


Social media marketing managers use tools like Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter to market a company’s products and services. It will be their responsibility to utilize social media to connect with customers, push advertising, and establish brand images. Larger companies have entire teams of marketers working with social media.

Education and Skills

It will be necessary for any marketing manager to have a bachelor’s degree in marketing. A focus on digital or new media marketing is helpful. All successful social media marketing managers have extensive personal experience with social media. They maintain LinkedIn profiles, update WordPress blogs and upload Vimeo videos in order to stay familiar with the social media landscape.

Brand Manager

What do they do?

Brand managers direct and supervise all of the advertising around a single brand. It is their job to create an identity for a brand and then to reinforce that identity through advertising and new product offerings. Influencer marketing is often used as part of branding because the image of the influencer gets transferred to the products they endorse.

Education and Skills

A degree in marketing will be required for almost all brand managers. Managers of major brands usually have advanced degrees in marketing and business administration. Additional education in public relations or communications can also be helpful. Brand manager is a senior position that is reached after years of experience marketing or developing a brand.

Interactive Designer

What do they do?

Interactive designers create the interfaces that are used on websites, mobile apps, and computer programs. Any time a customer interacts with a company through technology their experience will be guided by an interactive designer.

Education and Skills

It is not necessary to have a degree in marketing to be an interactive designer but it is helpful. It is important to know how to connect with customers and present messages in the clearest, most direct way possible. Most interactive designers have degrees in computer science or programming.

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Influencer marketing is a classic marketing concept that is now used in entirely new ways. Businesses have always relied on the power of influencers, but digital tools make it easier than ever for them to connect. Working with these tools is not easy though. Internet marketing presents as many challenges as opportunities. The best way to get all the skills necessary to carry out successful influencer marketing campaigns is to get a bachelor’s degree in marketing.

Influencer marketing requires a deep understanding of many different marketing techniques. In order to connect with influencers, marketers have to analyze their needs, develop attention grabbing ad messages, and deliver them in innovative ways. This sort of multifaceted marketing takes training and study. It is only after getting hands on experience from an accredited institution that new marketers will be prepared to start reaching out to real influencers.

Where the Influencers Are

In order to maximize the effectiveness of an influencer marketing campaign it is important to know where influencers gather and what kind of message makes the most impact. The chart below is based on data from a 2010 Forrester Research survey of over 10,000 adults. The numbers represent the percentage of the total number of adults polled. It illustrates where influence gets shared and what kind of influence makes the most impact on customers. Companies use data like this to help them target the influencers that have the biggest impact.