In the age of sponsored content, audiences have grown bored with paid endorsements and canned captions. From celebrities to social media stars, social supporters have become savvy to the mechanisms that drive their favorite Instagram or Snapchat influencers to post a picture or video that doesn’t ring true to their personal brand. So what do you do if you’re one of the nearly half of U.S. marketers who are upping their influencer marketing budgets this year?
Step 1: Curate a Moment
Don’t write off the value influencers place on exclusive access to the events and experiences they love. For Russian-born tastemaker Sonya Esman, who has 1.9 million Instagram followers, that’s music and life experiences. The same can be said for Eleanor Calder, Betty Autier, Sandra Lambeck, and Monica Geuze, who joined Esman at last year’s MTV EMAs (European Music Awards). These “It Girls” were offered a dream trip to a once-a-year, globally celebrated music event including airfare to the Dutch city of Rotterdam, luxury lodging, a glam squad, dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant and exclusive access to the red carpet and beyond.
The larger incentive for the “It Girls” was the chance to meet celebrities on the red carpet, sit alongside artists on stage during the show and be featured on-air announcing the Best Look award to winner, Lady Gaga. All of these factors add up to one thing – extreme accessibility that allowed each girl to curate a moment for her fans that was both unique and authentic to her brand.
As Viacom International Communications Manager Christina Ringstrom explains, “We’ve hosted influencers at the EMAs before, but this time we reimagined our strategy to bring them inside the show. We provided them a unique experience that not many get the opportunity to have. Instead of viewing this as a transaction, we brought them into every detail of the global celebration of music, before and after the actual show.”
Step 2: Don’t Control the Social Flow
What might initially seem counterintuitive has the potential to increase your reach in spades. Viacom’s idea to use an unscripted group of influencers originally started with its Australia team, which follows bloggers on its hit show “MTV It Girls.” Because the EMA influencers didn’t have a script or an agreement to a certain number of posts at certain times, each one found her own discoveries that she wanted to share throughout the trip, making it feel more natural and authentic to fans following their adventures online.
For Autier, that was posing with Joe Jonas. For Esman, it was exclusive pics backstage. For Geuze, it was glamming it up on the step-and-repeat. This helped their fans trust their word-of-mouth message that the EMAs was on the pulse, fashionable and entirely share-worthy.
Step 3: Encourage Cross Pollination
It’s important to remember that while each influencer’s fanbase is large, there’s exponential power to the network effect when they interact together. And with follower counts that can each run in the millions, the more time the girls spent together and tagged each other in their content, the more eyes were trained on the EMA talent and events that were happening in real-time. In comparison, an advertising or marketing campaign of this magnitude would cost thousands of dollars in paid social support and require hours of planning and monitoring to ensure an optimum effect. But in this instance, the girls were able to create an authentic amplification that not only exposed more people to the awards show, but also resulted in growth across their own social networks as new fans met and engaged with all five of the girls across their platforms.
Step 4: Experiment Selectively and Then Scale
By piloting this next-gen influencer experience at the MTV EMAs, MTV noticed a clear uptick in social reach. In addition to the It Girls, MTV International recruited Brazilian pop culture personality and co-host of MTV Brazil’s Ridículos Hugo Gloss (13.7M + collective followers) to host the night’s @MTVEMA Instagram Story, while pop-rap duo Jack & Jack (26M+ collective followers) hosted the EMA Snapchat account. As a result, the It Girls, Hugo and Jack & Jack’s engagement tied to the EMAs brought in collectively over 400 organic posts and ended up being #1 trending topic globally on Twitter. Seeing the success of this innovative influencer program, the team quickly applied the same formula to another of their major events: The 2017 Kids Choice Awards.
As Ringstrom elaborates, “It made sense to sign-off on a new experience-based influencer campaign again after seeing the success of the EMA influencer program. That’s what sparked the Kids Choice Award Social Squad, which boasts a collective following of over 45 million.”Dedicating resources to a future-forward influencer experience is the kind of passion play that actually gives credit to the fans, who know their influencers well enough to discern what they really care about. By allowing influencers to operate holistically without specific direction or dictates, brands have the opportunity to create a stronger affinity not only with today’s top bloggers, but also their vast network of followers who are eager to follow in their footsteps – literally and figuratively speaking.