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It’s Not About Influencers, It’s About Partnerships

Does the word “influencer” leave the same confusing taste in your mouth as the word “TikTok”? A taste reminiscent of getting older and not understanding the youths.

old 30 rock GIF

But we’re here to help you figure it out.

Here goes: Influencer marketing is just a bedazzled, cold-brewed substitute term for “Strategic Business Partnerships.”

I know all of you pro-marketers know that a Strategic Business Partnership is one of the most OVERLOOKED and UNDERUSED growth levers in business.

I just piqued your interest, didn’t I? The words “overlooked” and “underused” are like marketing candy. And we at DigitalMarketer believe it: Influencer marketing can be a huge win for your business.

But. In order to get any real, long-term value out of your influencer marketing, you need to change the way you think about influencers.

And that starts with understanding what exactly an influencer is.

What is an Influencer

An influencer is someone who has their own following—usually on a social platform—that companies will pay to promote their product.

But the most important thing to remember about influencers (at least in the traditional sense) is that they are a brand. For many of them, there is no separation between their work and their life. Essentially, their life is their product.

The most common (although not necessarily most valuable) way that influencers are used in marketing is that companies pay an influencer to rep their brand or product, ideally creating an opening to make their audience part of that company’s audience.

Effectively: You as the marketer pays for ad placement in a movie, except the movie is that person’s life, and the movie goers are a massive following of people who LOVE that “movie star.”

Let’s be clear: No one watching that “movie” is really there to see your product. They are there to see their person, the one who makes them laugh, makes them cry, who “gets” them. But there’s more to it than just the movie, because if you can get your product-audience match right, then the audience who loves your influencer will buy into the products that that influencer loves. It’s a great opportunity to see the impact your product has on someone they trust.

Influencer marketing is a word-of-mouth recommendation, a friend telling a friend about something they love, just with some money changing hands.

This is where the “partnership” element comes in.

What is a Strategic Business Partnership?

We have a whole training on Strategic Business Partnerships (you can find out more here), but here are the basics:

You find a company or individual who fits without your (and their) needs, who you work with to achieve any/all the following goals:

– Enter new markets
– Reach new audiences
– Generate more revenue
– And spread the word about your product or service

It’s really simple.

Trading a guest blog post with another company? That’s a partnership.

Doing an Instagram Story takeover with another entrepreneur? Partnership.

Paying someone to rep your project?

You guessed it. Partnership.

The trick that makes it strategic is that you aren’t just picking any old Instagrammer or TikTok-er, but instead you are doing your research to partner with the right person or company.

At DM, we take our partnerships seriously. Not only because we want to reach the right potential audience, and because we want to make sure our current customers would find value in what we produce, but also because we want to be good citizens in the business world. We want to help our friends in the same way that they help us.

Some of our influencers (er… strategic partners) create trainings for us, like Billy Gene Shaw and his video ad workshop:

Workshop with Billy Gene Shaw

Others work with us on social media, like Sunny Lenarduzzi and Sue B. Zimmerman:

Social Takeover with Other social Media influencers

Whoever we pick, we make sure that it’s a mutually beneficial partnership, one that will help our audience first and foremost, but one that will also help our partners and us.

Picking the Right Influencer for You

There is such an emphasis on follower count and engagement rate when it comes to influencer marketing.

How many times have you heard someone on Instagram, on Facebook, on your favorite marketing podcast, tell you that they have 10k, 40k, 50 million followers? That’s great, but we want to know more.

The right influencer for your business may not be Insta-famous, and they definitely don’t need a private yacht (unless of course you are in the business of private yachts). They just need to be someone in your niche with their own engaged audience, who is willing to rep your brand to their followers (after all, influencers influence people) and who is someone who your audience trusts and likes.

Whether you use an influencer finding tool/service, or you just search tags on Instagram, you want to make sure the partnership won’t be jarring to either audience. The more seamless it feels, the more successful it will be.

That means if you’re selling cheese, you probably shouldn’t pick an instagrammer who is dairy-free, and if you’re selling high-end shoes, you don’t want to pick an influencer who lives barefoot off the land raising goats and wild honey.

Take Brad Leone, a test kitchen chef for Bon Appétit and an internet sensation. He worked with Flint and Tinder on an apron and flannel shirt.

I know what you’re thinking…

The apron, sure. He’s a chef, his followers like food, that makes sense. But the flannel?

But when you look closer, you notice that partnership merges well with Brad Leone’s personal brand: he’s in flannels frequently on his show. And the partnership benefitted both parties, because a smaller company gained the exposure of a highly engaged, enthusiastic audience.

Brad Leone in flannels in his show

Another BA test kitchen chef, Molly Baz did her own partnership with a clothing company, and again, it worked well because the company fit with her personal brand.

In fact, she can be seen wearing the jumpsuit in question on the cover of the magazine.

And again, the brand gained a new audience and a long-term partner.

While you do want to work with someone with some amount of following, the quantity is much less important than the quality. It’s always going to be better to have 100 followers, 50 of which buy, than 10,000 followers, 15 of which buy.

So when you are diving into the glamorous pool that is influencer marketing, just remember to be strategic about who you partner with.

Personally, I will be pursuing a strategic partnership with DavidsTea, one of my all-time favorite brands. It could be a great trade: DavidsTea gets my undying support and representation, and I get more tea for my in-office tea corner (you think I’m joking, ask any of my coworkers).

Sounds like a win-win to me.

P.S. If anyone has any contacts at DavidsTea, let me know.

Becky Zieber

Becky Zieber

Becky Zieber is the Content Strategist at DigitalMarketer and is in charge of managing and building strategies for all DM content. In 2018, a year after graduating from California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, Becky traded out her job in education publishing to move to Austin, Texas and join the DM team. She has since made it her mission to ruthlessly hound her coworkers about commas and dashes. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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