SaaS influencer marketing is an art form. It’s a creative exercise in aligning the interests of a SaaS company with individuals and/or complementary brands that are influential in the industry. In theory, aligning these interests may seem simple. However, getting a “yes” requires a bit of creativity, a bit of luck, and a lot of alignment.
To get started, let’s talk about how influencer marketing began, how it’s evolved, and where it is now. This background sets the stage and allows us to open the door to discuss what’s next for influencers and how SaaS companies can leverage influencer marketing to generate leads and accelerate industry shifts.
What is influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing is creating a marketing program that aligns common interests of brands, individual bloggers, and thought leaders to create mutually beneficial outcomes. These campaigns often include the sharing of co-created content on blogs, social channels, and through email subscriber lists. Influencer campaigns can focus on many goals. However, the primary ones are increasing brand awareness, generating purchases, or generating new leads.
The evolution of influencer marketing for SaaS
The advent of social media led to the invention of the social media influencer. As Twitter started to hit the mainstream in 2009, an interesting thing happened. Several “techies” who were early adopters found themselves amassing large followings almost overnight. Around the same time, brands in the SaaS space like Dell, IBM, Adobe, and others started paying attention and creating partnerships with these influencers who had attracted large niche followings that aligned with their target customer bases.
Suddenly, many of these techies became insta-social media celebrities. A simple Foursquare check in from one or two influencers like Chris Brogan, Scott Stratten, or Peter Shankman could create crowds outside of bars and restaurants at events like South by Southwest back in 2009-2012. It also came as a shock for many of these influencers who are known introverts, more comfortable behind a keyboard than trapped in a bar behind a line of fans desperately trying to get their attention as they walk by. Bloggers became influencers, content became a business, and influence became a key performance indicator (KPI). These followings also came with a high demand for content and an unspoken responsibility for ethical disclosure as more brands began to compensate bloggers for their mentions.
An entire industry popped up around measuring influence, including Alexa’s Alexa Rank which published a list of top blogs to Klout who published lists of influencers with the largest followings. Influencer lists started popping up everywhere with no true basis for how to measure influence. The industry quickly recognized that the size of an influencer’s following and/or being on an influencer list doesn’t necessarily equate to having actual influence over the actions that following takes. As such, most of these services have died off or have been replaced with new companies trying to do the same thing in a different package. The largest challenge still remains; how do you measure influence?
Paid Influencer Marketing forces FTC disclosure regulations
The combination of revenue and influence started getting the stink eye from the FTC as social media influencers around the world start getting hit hard for non-disclosure of paid relationships. Suddenly, influencer marketing is noticeably big business as paid relationships become transparent. Influencer followings take notice as some influencers use their audiences to pump revenue while others follow an internal standard of ethos for protecting their audience from “paid” influence. The line between ethics and ROI gets blurred for a bit and eventually shakes itself out.
Campaigns get broken into two types: earned and paid. An earned campaign involves getting organic mentions from influencers because your content and/or initiative is appealing. Typically earned mentions are “earned” through an alignment of content, mission, audience, and objectives. In these campaigns influencers are not paid for their participation.
It’s important to note that these campaigns are increasingly rare and require extensive levels of alignment and coordination between parties. At this stage of the game, most influencers are working with limited time for these engagements and focus their efforts on paid opportunities. However, with the right strategy, it is still possible to create earned mentions without influencer compensation.
Paid campaigns involve initiatives where influencers are paid for their participation either through complementary gifts, products, and/or direct revenue. These relationships fall under the FTC’s Endorsement Guidelines, and disclosure is required by the Influencer and the Brand. These kind of relationships have been extremely successful in SaaS programs, as it allows companies to partner with Influencers in meaningful ways and have a positive exchange for their time in consulting with the brand. This value exchange is a great example of creating a win-win for the Influencer and the Brand.
What we’ve learned
At this point, what we now call influencer marketing for software has been around for almost a decade, and we’ve learned a few things worth sharing.
Some Influencers drive awareness and some Influencers drive action
This is where content marketing and influencer marketing meet lead generation. Or as some would say, the rubber hits the road. Do these influencer campaigns actually work? That largely depends on the strategy used and whether or not proper tracking was set up from the beginning.
Influencer campaigns can deliver on the following objectives fairly reliably:
- Objective | Awareness – Brand awareness is probably the easiest objective to deliver on with influencer marketing. These influencers have great success in generating awareness through multiple mentions and reposts from their followings. This impact is short-lived and limited to the life of the campaign. Without a specific engagement strategy, awareness campaigns tend to generate small levels of actual engagement and purchases. However, over time when executed properly they lead to long-term brand awareness which can be critical for staying top of mind when your buyer is ready to make a purchase. In the SaaS market, this can be the difference between getting the sale and not, especially in B2B sales cycles of 9+ months. However, it isn’t for the sale right now. It’s future-proofing to get the sale tomorrow.
- Key Results – Reach of mentions, referral traffic to include unique visitors and page views
- Objective | Engagement – Engagement is the second easiest objective that influencer marketing can deliver on. When you can combine a great topic with a thought provoking question or creative engagement opportunity it is possible to drive high levels of engagement within an influencer’s audience. This started as campaigns with contests and giveaways and has evolved to campaigns with high value conversations in the industry.
- Key results – Any action on a social post, meaningful comments, referral traffic to include unique visitors, page views and high-funnel conversion opportunities like email subscribers
- Objective | Consideration – As we move down the marketing funnel, success requires greater and greater levels of integrated strategy to deliver results. Driving an influencer’s audience to consider your product requires a highly targeted following of potential buyers and is more about audience alignment to your offering than “follower counts” of the influencer. For this level of audience understanding, we look for influencers who have highly engaged email lists, affiliate programs, or relevant, large social media followings. Our content strategy will likely focus on offers of decision-making content through downloads, demos, and webinars combined with a special offer for the influencer’s following.
- Objective | Intent – To be honest, most influencer campaigns can fail here. However, creating a compelling offering that drives purchase intent isn’t impossible. To find targeted buyers with purchase intent, it means we have to find influencers who have clearly engaged, relevant audiences. We typically see this alignment through brand partnerships, rather than a traditional influencer marketing model. Brand partnerships allow us to find non-competitive companies who wouldn’t normally play together and create an exciting opportunity for cross-marketing and cross-promotion. Brand partnerships are an incredibly effective way to deliver leads with purchase intent. It’s important to note that most individual influencers simply don’t engage their audience this far down the funnel in your buying cycle. There are rare exceptions in the example of review sites, however, it’s one to approach with scrutiny unless prior performance can be demonstrated. What works well is to do a combination of an influencer campaign with interesting content that is publishing in conjunction with a brand partnership. This step is where we can hit the sweet spot for quality lead conversions that go from Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) to Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) in a predictable and reliable way.
How to select influencers
Selecting influencers is one of the most challenging tasks within an influencer campaign, especially when you are looking for high-quality influencer relationships. There simply isn’t a Google search that will return a list that is vetted and unbiased that I’ve found.
Influencer marketing platforms claim to be able to do this for you, however when you dig into the algorithms and search database, most rely heavily on audience size for ranking which hasn’t correlated to actual influence. Selecting influencers is a manual process that requires significant research into thought leaders who are embedded inside of industries and influencers who create highly engaging content.
Further, it requires an analysis of market opportunities that can be used to align with influencers who have aligned interests. While everyone wants a silver bullet here, the truth is that selecting influencers to reach out to is the most important part of the entire process, and it isn’t a project for the summer intern.
Here are 4 keys to selecting the right influencers for your campaign
Brand recognition matters – aligning a small brand with a large brand can create a huge credibility boost and social proof that improves lead conversion.
Industry credibility matters – aligning non-competitive brands to a common purpose that is designed to push a massive industry shift forward at an accelerated rate.
Individual credibility matters – aligning brands with influencers who drive the right mix of engagement can lead to low cost brand awareness that delivers long-term search engine optimization (SEO) value.
Engagement matters most – regardless of who gets aligned with who the ability to provide value to the influencer, the brand and the audience are the keys to success. What percentage of their followers are leaving real, thorough comments on the influencer’s content?
How to Select the Right Kind of Influencer Campaign
You can divide influencer campaigns into two categories based upon the type of impact you’re trying to create.
Content Partnership Campaign – An influencer campaign is using a combination of paid and earned approach to engage individual and brand influencers in content creation programs that generate audience interest, engagement, and long-term SEO value.
MQL Lead Sharing Campaign – An influencer campaign designed to align influencers with followings who we inspire to take actions that create marketing qualified leads. These partnerships focus on arrangements with lead sharing.
Program of Influence – A program of influence is designing a collaborative effort in a targeted industry between brands of influence and individual influencers for the purpose of accelerating a positive industry shift. These programs require high levels of industry knowledge, influence, and wisdom to execute successfully.
How to start an influencer marketing campaign in 5 easy steps
WebMechanix has good experience in designing influencer programs that deliver a return on investment and return on impact. Here’s how we can help you with your next SaaS influencer marketing campaign.
- Decide which type of influencer program is best for short-term and long-term performance in your software-as-a-service industry
- Creating a strategic plan for your influencer program that includes the target objectives, key results and action plan for achieving them
- Developing and executing a Content Partnership Campaign as part of an overall SEO program and audit to find high-value backlinks and content sharing opportunities
- Developing and executing an MQL Lead Sharing Campaign as part of an overall lead generation strategy to increase high-quality leads and sales enablement programs
- Developing and executing a Program of Influence that aligns your company as a key mover and shaker in a positive industry shift alongside other like-minded and like-purposed influencers and brands
Need some help? If you’re ready to learn how a SaaS Influencer Campaign can help your SaaS organization, please contact us for a free assessment today.