Has 2015 been the year of influencer marketing or what? It seems that everywhere you looked, someone was preaching their influencer strategy du jour from the soapbox of efficiency. The data does bear out the popularity of the buzzword to a certain extent. A recent survey says that 75% of marketers used key online opinion leaders to drive their campaigns in 2015 and many also increased their budgets to pull this off.

Ok, so it was popular, but was it efficient? If the marketers’ own words are any criterion to go by, then, yes. Their self-reported quota of positive results in using this strategy increased from 79% in 2014 to 81% this year.

Challenges detected rolling influencer engagement

Image source: Adweek

Avoiding Influencer Marketing Fails

However, marketing brands with the input of actual online users, with their own brand and following is no easy game. The marketers will tell you this much themselves: 75% of those polled have a hard time finding the appropriate key figures, 69% say it’s tough to figure out what engagement metrics they need to keep an eye on, while 53% aren’t quite sure how to track the performance of their campaigns.

Since these concerns are not likely to magically vanish, come 2016, we took to some of the web’s most reputed and successful marketers. Our aim was to find out what makes (or breaks) an influencer campaign—and here’s what we found out.

#1 There’s no online PR without offline presence

So you want to be a big time online marketing and PR agency, huh? In that case, you likely already know that public relations online are about building links to authoritative domains, such as Forbes, Inc., The Guardian, and their ilk. But if you expect some dude on Fiver to get the job done for you, you’re dreaming, says Matei Gavril, CEO of PR Media Online. PR Media Online was built with an All-Star concept in mind, Matei adds. Their staff has been selected from the ranks of independent professionals with a verifiable track record and long-standing experience in the business.

To put in plain English, if you want to succeed at building a brand’s profile online, you need to hire star performers. Matei recommends professionals who have public speaking experience and a vast portfolio of connections and clients acquired in previous agency work. The model that PR Media Online implemented may not be groundbreaking, but the goal of a successful online marketing agency is not to reinvent the wheel. Rather, it is to use time-tested connections and emulate offline networking strategies on the web. And, with clients represented on The Huffington Post, CNN, and Examiner, Matei might just be onto something here…

#2 The pitch still matters most

Josh Steimle is a hard sell, when it comes to pitching content: he’s a writer, but also a webtrepreneur with a sizeable background in some of the fastest moving South-East Asian markets. Oh, and did we also mention he writes for Forbes? Since he’s a tough cookie, when it comes to pitching standards, it’s safe to say that if you play it by his rules, you can get that Mashable/Fortune/Fast Company link built for your client. Here’s some of his actionable insight on how to approach journalists:

  • Don’t pitch. Sound counterintuitive? Maybe—but maybe the fact that he suggests asking for advice instead of doing a hard-sell has some truth to it. And, indeed, psychologists explain that asking people for their expert input is one of the easiest way to getting them to like you.
  • Keep a list. Include publications, writers, relevant links, email addresses, Twitter handles, and published material. Profile each journalist you’re interested in working with. Not only will this make meeting them less awkward, but it will also help you identify the best journos for the job.
  • Take action. This includes asking for an in-person meeting with the journalist (if possible), but it also says: “Steer clear of profile pieces.” Today’s content savvy readers will sniff out the marketing a mile away. Instead, tell stories with clear, practical advice for the audience—and drop your client’s name in there, while you’re at it.

#3 Advocate, brand ambassador, influencer—What’s the difference?

Think all of the above terms can be used interchangeably? Think again—or, better yet, as  Collective Bias CEO Bill Sussman puts it on Entrepreneur, think of all the above roles as baseball team categories. He explains that bloggers are ‘farm teams’, i.e. players in it for the fun, but ultimately trying to make it to the pro league. Influencers are in there, earning some benefits out of it, but still not quite in the “All-Star team”.

The All-Stars are the brand ambassadors (as well as some celebrity influencers). They make money out of their promotional work and have an online following. And then, sitting in the bleachers, there are the fans and advocates, who simply support the team (read: brand) so much they don’t expect tangible benefits out of promoting it. In 2016, there’s no more making allowances for marketers who confuse them; and also, there’s no such thing as a full-throttle online PR campaign without targeting each tier of this championship.