Influencer marketing, already one of the most cost-effective ways to engage digital audiences, is about to enter a new era of efficiency and impact.

First, consider the numbers: 79% of UK and US marketers plan to use influencer marketing this year. 43% of those will be increasing their investment from last year (eMarketer, Global Influencer Marketing). But this new era is about more than campaign volume. As social marketing channels become ever more sophisticated in how they can target ads and measure performance, brands are gaining new tools to supercharge the impact of every influencer campaign. And it’s all about paid media.

Reality Check

For a few years in the early 2010s, brands got access to something they were rather unaccustomed to: free marketing channels. Fast-growing social media platforms allowed for direct communication to consumers through branded posts, and all brands had to shell out for was content creation. (This was the first era in which media reporters could question whether an Oreo tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl was more impactful than the brand’s TV commercial.)

Those days of free impressions and engagement are largely over. With organic reach diminishing due to overcrowding and algorithms, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and others have become pay-to-play channels just like TV and out-of-home. That said, smart digital influencer campaigns can still be vastly more cost-efficient and impactful than traditional advertising options (and marketers know it).

What Can Paid Media Do For You?

Ask a brand manager what her favorite thing about social media marketing is, and she’ll likely mention two features: measurement and hyper-targeting. In these two areas, digital platforms are unmatched in the world of advertising—and paid media enhances both.

First, measurement. When running promoted content, advertisers gain access to even more specific and meaningful data than they get for organic posts. Plus, paid media is a guaranteed amplifier of any metric that the brand cares most about; even a moderate social spend in support of influencer content will increase consumption metrics (impressions, engagements), drop CPMs, and showcase more downstream conversion (like e-commerce sales).

Hand-in-hand with measurement, digital media’s other major differentiator—super-specific targeting—also becomes even more powerful when paid media is involved. 

Brands and agencies turn to a particular influencer because he or she over-indexes with consumers within a target demographic, whether that demo is defined by age, location, interest area, or another factor. With a paid media spend behind it, that influencer’s highly relevant and engaging content will see increased penetration of the audience that the brand most wants to talk to (whether those users already follow the influencer or not). Plus, on a platform like Instagram or Facebook, advertisers can target with almost 100% accuracy when using parameters like age, location, or interest. 

With the addition of paid media, social campaigns provide advertisers with a level of confidence that few if any other channels can provide.

How to Create an Influencer & Paid Media Juggernaut

If this all sounds too good to be true, fear not: it’s real. But executing a successful influencer campaign with paid media support requires careful preparation and some steps that organic influencer campaigns do not. Let’s break them down.

First, when selling in a campaign, agencies should always account for media dollars upfront. In initial planning and in the earliest dollar estimates provided to clients, the budget for paid content support must be included; it’s a much harder sell at the 11th hour. The easiest way to present and discuss a media spend is to allocate separate line items for compensating the influencer(s) and for the content support budget. 

Next, the legal stuff. It’s of the utmost importance when planning to use paid media with influencer content to obtain usage rights for that content. In this context, usage rights are required for the brand to promote posts shared by the influencer. The safest bet is to specify that the brand will be doing paid media promotion in the campaign contract, as there can be some gray area when it comes to blanket “digital media usage rights.” It’s possible that influencers will ask for more money to agree to such rights, but unless the demands are totally unreasonable, it’s absolutely worth it for flexibility and peace of mind.

Last but certainly not least, executing a successful paid media campaign requires working with an experienced paid media manager. Influencer strategists are increasingly proficient with media planning and execution, but even the most expert single strategist cannot manage influencers and oversee a media spend at the same time. As such, brands looking to run an influencer campaign with paid media support should absolutely hire a media buyer, or work with a media agency familiar with influencer campaigns. Spending a little bit more to bring on specialized resources will all be worth it when the activation comes to life.

The Bottom Line

We are not far away from a world where influencer activations will _always_include paid media supplementation. The rewards of a media spend done well—increased market penetration, enhanced analytics, boosted metrics, and more—far outweigh the cost of promoting influencer content. Advertisers, whether at agencies or in-house, would do well to start brainstorming campaigns with paid media in mind, because with a well-executed spend behind talented influencers, the sky is the limit.

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