Why Influencers Will Be Essential to Your Brand

08/03/2016 10:02 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

2016-07-29-1469803662-264181-PhilLaboon.pngBy Phil Laboon

The internet and social media have killed traditional advertising. Nobody watches television anymore, and hardly anyone listens to the radio. Billboards are ignored. Magazines and newspapers are shutting their doors. Even website ads are blocked.

If traditional, outbound marketing is becoming extinct, then how are you supposed to get your products and services out there to the masses?

Your brand needs help from social media influencers.

What Is a Social Media Influencer?

Influencers are people who have massive followings - and massive influence - online via platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram. Many influencers are celebrities, but most are regular people like you and me. They don't all have millions of followers. In fact, depending on your products and industry, some mid-level influencers could probably have more purchasing sway with their audiences (numbering in the thousands or tens of thousands) than many worldwide celebs have with their millions of fans.

Follower count doesn't always equate to sales. When researching potential influencers in your industry, be sure to look at engagement - "likes," comments and shares - to see a more accurate measure of their influence with their followers. True engagement is key.

Why Is Influencer Marketing So Powerful?

As mentioned, traditional marketing and traditional media are dying out. People today don't have to put up with the kind of intrusive marketing that was popular in years past: they don't just sit on their couches and passively take in all the marketing messages that advertisers send their way. That kind of intrusive, outbound marketing is now easily avoided.

The new wave of marketing is online, and influencers are on the frontlines. You're likely aware of the old adage that consumers buy from people they know, like and trust. Well, who do consumers know, like and trust these days? Not brands, not marketers, and certainly not salespeople.

People today, especially millennials and those who come from younger generations, tend to trust influencers on blogs and social media more than they trust brands and marketers because they feel like they know these people. In fact, thanks to commenting, messaging and notifications, some of them really do get to personally interact with influencers. That's the beauty of social media, and it's also the future of marketing.

How to Work With an Influencer

To get your products in front of people today, you need to get them into the hands of the influencers so they can share them with their audiences. But when working with an influencer, don't approach them with an employer-employee mindset: instead, think of an influencer as a partner. You're not buying a scripted commercial. You're partnering with influential people to get your brand inserted into images, videos and conversations. Let the influencer do it his or her way. It's authentic, and an influencer's authenticity is one of the main reasons why their audience trusts them and follows them in the first place.

Here's how to attract key influencers in your niche:

1. Find the Right Influencers

Influence is more than just numbers. Anyone can buy fake followers, but true influence is something rare and special. Research to find influencers who'd be a good fit with your brand. Think of their audience, too. Also, don't just blast out sponsorship opportunities to hundreds of bloggers and celebrities. Instead, focus on a few (perhaps five-to-10) who operate on different platforms. This will help get you started.

2. Make Contact

Many influencers include contact info in their profile, but don't expect all of them to respond personally since many have agents, managers or marketing firms running their social accounts. They have tons of people contacting them, and since a lot of them expect financial compensation and make a living doing this, be sure to ask for a quote when you reach out.

3. Provide Products, Services and Content as Applicable

Once you do make contact with an influencer who is a good fit for your brand and have worked out the details, follow up with some support on your end. If they're putting a link in their profile to a sales page, have individualized coupon codes for each influencer so you can accurately measure results.

4. Rinse and Repeat

Influencer marketing is not a one-and-done event. You'll need to work with multiple influencers on multiple platforms for the best effect. And if your first experience with an influencer was a positive one - for both sides - then reach out again to the same influencer and continue that mutually beneficial relationship.

With the rapidly evolving consumer landscape we are experiencing, the old ways are dying out, but those brands who can adapt and learn to embrace the new ways and the new technology will have a fighting chance to not only survive, but to flourish. Embrace the influencers, partner with the right ones, and watch your brand evolve to the next level.

Phil Laboon is a serial entrepreneur and investor. He is the founder of Eyeflow Internet Marketing, a full-service inbound marketing firm based in Pittsburgh's South Side. The company, which specializes in building a company's online brand authority, evolved out of Phil's own experience in online consulting.