Should You Do Local Influencer Marketing?

Influencer marketing is a technique used within digital marketing to drive awareness of a brand. So, if you’re a global marketer, should you leverage influencer marketing in order to target local audiences? One of my readers sent in this great question recently. Quick answer: I think most marketers can achieve greater long-term results by investing the same energy elsewhere. Growing your own communities often helps your brand more than seeking influence through audiences others have built. However, if you’re going to attempt local influencer marketing, here are some things you should know.

Influencer Marketing Then and Now

The concept of influencer marketing has been around for a while. On the red carpet at the Oscars, actresses routinely help hype a brand in exchange for being dressed by them for the event. Both the celebs and their stylists usually receive a hefty payment too. This longstanding tactic results in near-guaranteed publicity for the designers. Their brand gets mentioned in answer to the classic, “Who are you wearing?” question.

Today, the same concept of creating brand buzz by leveraging influence has evolved. The notion has moved from older and offline channels to newer and more complex digital channels. The rise of social media and reality television has created more celebrities, but with shorter shelf lives than in the past. So, influencer marketing extends into far more places.

Today, nearly anyone with limited reach is someone marketers consider valuable, even those with just a few thousand followers. Eager to reach more people, marketers today approach folks with smaller scales of influence who cover fairly narrow topics. Their hope is that many of these “micro-influencers” will do sponsored posts for their followers and niche audiences. Marketers will usually offer some benefit (free products, access, cross-promotion) or monetary payment in order for them to do so.

Who can blame those marketers? Check out the numbers. They can really add up!

As influencer marketing has become more popular, tools now enable marketers to quickly search social media for people with large numbers of followers. Combine these with tags, topics, and sentiment analysis tools and voila! You can create a list of the top influencers in nearly any category whose followers you can “target” with your content. Sounds so easy and convenient, right? Why not do it on a global scale?

The Problem with Influencer Marketing

It’s concerning to me when brands rely too heavily on influencer marketing, seeking quantity without carefully considering quality. The reason I think marketers need to engage in influencer marketing with care is that often, it can seem like an easy and convenient way to grow followers, traffic, or push a product via someone else’s community and followers. But every time you focus your attention on someone else’s community, there’s an opportunity cost. And the opportunity you’re missing out on is the chance to grow your own community for the long term. That typically yields more dividends than temporarily tapping into someone else’s, even if it may take a bit longer.

I have recently noticed a trend in marketers seeking to learn how to create content that influencers and their followers will love. My only caution is that you not lose focus on creating content that your company and everyone who is a part of it in some way — your employees, your partners, your community — will love instead. Marketers might see a quick fix to hit their targets with influencer marketing. But, they might do so at the expense of growing their own community for the long term.

In other words, influencer marketing works when done right, but it can be a slippery slope.

Local Markets Make Things Even Trickier

Now that I’ve explained why I don’t like influencer marketing getting in the way of a brand building out its own community, let me explain why local influencer marketing is even harder to get right:

  • Global marketing is already a balancing act. Let’s say you’re in charge of a worldwide marketing team. You’re trying to balance two things globally. First, you can’t over-tax your centralized resources, which probably serve your domestic market primarily. Second, you want to enable your in-region teams to grow your business locally. But, you only have so many resources to distribute globally in terms of people and budget. You’ll need to be careful about where to add influencer marketing into your marketing mix, not just globally, but locally too.
  • Regional teams have enough on their plates. Chances are that regional teams are already stretched pretty thin. It’s a really hard job to be a local marketer helping a brand overseas scale up in region. Often, local marketers are asked to do the same things that HQ teams are, but with a fraction of the staff and budget.
  • Local influencer marketing requires local knowledge. Influencers vary tremendously from one market to another. You might invest a lot of money in bringing in the latest author or celebrity in your home country, only to find they are unknown in other countries you were hoping to leverage these campaigns for. You can’t really do high-quality influencer marketing campaigns without truly understanding the local market. So, even if you wanted to take your HQ teams and have them focus on this for local markets, at best you would only get minimal impact. But, your local teams are too busy with other initiatives.

In my experience, this is where local influencer marketing initiatives often get stuck. They move to the “maybe someday when we have more time” list for the local marketing teams. That list is already incredibly long.

Tips for Doing It Right

If you’re truly committed to local influencer marketing, here are some things you can do to begin to incorporate it into your mix:

  • Make sure your own community gets served first. As mentioned above, I suggest you focus on your own content, whether you’re using localization marketing or native content, and growing your own social media channels first. Make sure you’re getting those right before venturing into local influencer marketing. If you have your in-region marketing fundamentals in good shape for local content and local social media, then you might be in a good place to start testing.
  • Leverage community influence. Don’t underestimate the power of your very own community. What if you gave them a specific “influencer” goal, a target, a mission? I’ve seen community managers give communities a stated target goal, like a certain number of “likes” and “shares” and “follows” only for these members to self-activate and help brands achieve it! Often, this doesn’t have to be self-serving; it can be tied to a charitable initiative too. You might not need local influencers if you already have some committed micro-influencers.
  • Do a variation on what your community already loves. Remember, your goal shouldn’t be to create content that will only or even primarily resonate with the influencer’s audience. Rather, you ideally want to pull the people out of that audience toward your brand who already have an affinity with your core target audience so they can join your community. So, rather than think, “What kind of content should we create for this influencer’s audience?” ask yourself, “Where is the overlap, and how could we take a topic that we know our community loves, and enhance or adapt it specifically for this audience?”
  • Set super clear goals. What is your specific goal with local influencer marketing? Is it to gain a certain number of followers for a local or global social media identity? Or do you want to hit a certain traffic goal? To which landing page or sign-up page? What is the minimum target you need to hit for the campaign to be a success? What is the maximum you think you can hit? Within which time range? Sometimes, answering these questions will help you determine if it’s really worth it, or if you could create similar impact some other way.
  • Make room for it. People have limited room for new initiatives, especially in high-growth companies. So, before you go too far down the local influencer marketing path, you’ll need to ask, “Can my team actually make the room for it?” If not, they will need to sacrifice some other initiative of less potential. You will need to create the space for them to work on this at the expense of other things.
  • Start small. Influencer marketing can be many things. When done at scale, it can evolve into a full-time undertaking. My suggestion is to smart small, keep it nimble, and iterate and improve from there. Don’t devote weeks of your time to a YouTube blogger outreach campaign if you’ve never done influencer marketing before. Start with something simple, like a roll-up blog post in which you feature local brands and/or individuals aligned with your mission, and reflecting causes and principles you truly admire. Measure the impact, rinse, repeat. Keep your eye on improving the metrics.
  • Seek aligned (not identical) local audiences. I’ve been surprised many times in my career by how some creative research can uncover audiences that actually have a ton in common with a brand’s target niche, even if its members do not specifically self-identify as being part of your typical cohort. For example, let’s say you’re a B2C brand selling fitness clothing. You could reach out to an influencer who routinely promotes and reviews fitness clothing. But, her followers might be tired of this type of content, and maybe she is a bit “off-brand” for your values. But perhaps a local blogger who covers goal-setting has a large email database of people who not only create fitness goals but stick to them for the long haul. This might be a wiser influencer to partner with, and a relationship you could leverage more than once.
  • Pay really, really close attention to local backlink sources. Who is already linking to you, promoting you, and mentioning you without you even asking them to? Sometimes, looking at your backlink profile for trends can be a great way to get ideas for influencer marketing content. Too often, people skip the qualitative research and just jump only to the domain authority and traffic of the site providing the inbound link. Hey, marketers, we’re not machines, we’re humans! 🙂 While all the metrics matter (and are fun to look at), don’t skip the step of thinking about the human behind each backlink more deeply. Who is the person behind the post? Who is she writing for? Why do they like her site? Why does she like your brand enough to link to you? What motivates her? What else does she write about and link to? Really study these folks! This will help you find more of them. At the very least, reach out to thank them for the relationship they started by linking to you. Then explore other possibilities.
  • Remember influencer marketing is both art and science. One common theme I keep noticing with marketers today is that, with more data available to us than ever before, we increasingly get seduced by it. Yes, all the new digital and AI tools we get to play with are cool, but we can’t forget about the humans who are at the heart of why we even do marketing to begin with. My favorite marketing moments these days are marked by serendipity, those unexpected times when you learn something new, make a new discovery about an audience, a niche, or a behavior that you can leverage further to unlock more growth. Often, these surprises will show up in the data. Digging into why it’s happening is the important part. Use the science to inform the art, not to dictate it, so you can more easily reach the heart of your local customers in each market.

I hope these tips will help you on your way, but more importantly, I hope they will encourage you to listen closely to your customers to uncover gems of influence and brand awareness potential within your own community.

Nataly Kelly

Nataly leads localization at HubSpot and has previously held diverse roles in marketing, international operations and strategy, research, and product development. She writes for Harvard Business Review on topics of international marketing and business. Nataly works remotely from Donegal, Ireland, by way of New England, Ecuador, and rural Illinois where she grew up.

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