­Spiegel magazine recently devoted its cover to “idols of consumption” (German) and described the growing number of YouTube, Facebook or Instagram stars, who are called influencers based on their popularity on the social web. As such, they are enriching the development of what has become the self-evident parallel world of the social web once started by bloggers. But what relevance do these influencers have for marketing, how do they differ, and what is the best way to approach these new opinion leaders?

Bloggers have shown how its done

The scene of bloggers and influencers has become as heterogeneous as the topics that they deal with. The majority of the over 200 million blogs in the world deals with the private interests of the respective bloggers, and are not commercially oriented. They are about hobbies, politics, music, health and much more.

At the same time, a community of professional bloggers has developed, who competently handle special topics. Well connected within the respective specialist domain or hobby scene and with a high level of media coverage on the web and in social networks, some bloggers have a huge voice with regard to issues and markets. Some of them live entirely from their blogs or write their blogs in a close connection with their jobs.

Journalists use blogs to position additional stories or background topics that don’t fit in traditional media formats. Experts document their competence with their own personal blogs and engage in an exchange of ideas with other professionals in their field. Celebrity chefs, musicians, etc., use their blogs and social media channels to market themselves. And in the lifestyle segment, a variety of blogs explain in an entertaining way all aspects of the good life for their readers and fans.

The diversity of the offering is most clearly seen in blog directories.  The “professional” part of the blogger scene was discovered several years ago by PR and marketing departments as important intermediaries and is usually addressed by corporate communications under the label of “blogger relations”.

Then the new influencers arrived – the stars and starlets of the social web

The underlying principle, on which this phenomenon is based, is nothing other than the familiar word-of-mouth recommendations. In the old days, if the wife of the mayor said that farmer Smith’s potatoes were the best in town, then many of the villagers followed this recommendation and bought Smith’s potatoes. The fact that the town’s first lady – and therefore a supposedly independent and neutral person – recommended Smith’s potatoes, gave the statement an air of authenticity and credibility.

Influencers on the internet work in precisely the same way. Celebrities or young starlets, fashion queens, amateur cooks or animal lovers, who gained fame due to the content they communicated in the social web, post text, photos or videos that include company brands, events or products, and therefore influence their often large networks of followers. Millions of followers are not uncommon and companies are willing to pay good money for this reach in many cases.

Influencer Marketing vs. Influencer Relations

A basic distinction is made between Influencer Marketing and Influencer Relations. Influencer Marketing is used to motivate usually young audiences to purchase a certain brand, often using bought posts because their idols can be seen with the brand on Instagram or Facebook. This practice is commonplace especially in the area of fashion and lifestyle.

In the past two or three years, a number of mostly young, female internet stars have distinguished themselves by posting high-gloss photos of themselves and their luxurious lifestyles, thus becoming fashion and style icons for tens of thousands of followers. Dresses, shoes, handbags, jewellery – everything that Instagram and YouTube stars like “Bibi” with her Beauty Palace or Leonie Hanne post, is revered and purchased by their fans.

Influencer Relations, on the other hand, are not just about quickly achieving reach, but even work with more complex products in B2B situations. Marketers find the right influencers for their subject area by reading for themselves and networking in the areas that they want to position their brand and products in. They look into which blogs, which communities, which Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat accounts are read or subscribed to by their target groups and are suitable for expansion of their own content strategy. Using hashtag searches on blog or Instagram charts, it is possible find influencers that are connected with the intended target group.

And then, as always, it is important to develop a trusting long-term relationship on equal footing and provide good content in an effort to have the influencer publish something about the company or product because they are impressed by it and want to provide their followers with interesting informative news. An article published by ThinkSearch explains in detail how to find the right bloggers, how to get in contact and deal with them, at which points money is paid, and how to measure the success of your Blogger Relations.

At home on all channels

The fact that the term Influencer Relations is slowly but surely replacing Blogger Relations indicates that marketers are no longer thinking in just one category of influencers. It is crucial to address each influencer individually with own events and content. There is a wide range of different activities, in the context of which influencers report about a company or product – from product tests and competitions to events, travel and awards that the companies can invite their influencers to. Audi, for example, invited parent bloggers to an event on the topic of safety and technology bloggers could test the new LED light first-hand in Norway.

Marketers are also realizing that it is increasingly difficult to find influencers for free. Good work and reach have to be paid for. This usually doesn’t entail lofty six-figure celebrity fees, but a few hundred dollars and, above all, clear agreements. It is also important to note that, as with conventional media, serious editorial bloggers don’t want to jeopardize their reputation and popularity by compromising their editorial integrity and independence.

How does Messe Frankfurt manages influencer relations? Read our Interview with Thimo Schwenzfeier.