How To Avoid Common Influencer Marketing Pitfalls

92 percent of buyers trust an influencer more than they would an advertisement. Here's how marketers can start making the most of it.

With a study from MuseFind finding that 92 percent of buyers trust an influencer more than they would an advertisement, it’s no surprise that influencer marketing is a hot topic across verticals, from retail to restaurants.

But how should brands determine which influencers to work with — and how do they build a relationship that drives real ROI once they’ve found them? In a panel at Yext’s Hospitality Marketing Summit last week [full disclosure: Yext owns GeoMarketing. More details on that relationship here] moderated by GeoMarketing Associate Editor Lauryn Chamberlain, influencer marketing experts discussed how to avoid common pitfalls — and why it doesn’t pay to be known for one “Instagram famous” product or dish.

What follows is an edited and condensed version of the panel discussion.

GeoMarketing: The title of the session is “Influencer Marketing: You’re Doing It Wrong.” So, what have you seen done wrong in influencer marketing? What are some of the most common pitfalls for brands and agencies?

Jennifer Baum, president and founder, Bullfrog + Baum: I think one of the things a lot of people do incorrectly is they will bring a whole bunch of influencers into one place and they will serve them all the exact same things at the exact same time.

And to be honest, I open my Instagram feed, and I can tell exactly who was invited, by which PR firm, to which restaurant — because 27 people I follow are all photographing the same dish. I don’t want to say it’s “wrong,” but I don’t [think it is] very effective.

Matt Bruck, co-founder of EatersDrinkers, Thaimee partner: I echo that.

Also, here’s a story: We have a Thai restaurant that came out with some noodles that turn purple when you put them in acid. And then the message about us on social media was that we served purple noodles and nothing else. And it’s a gimmick item; it’s not the tastiest thing I’ve ever made. It’s fine, but I think that’s the same problem that lots of restaurants have: If the world thinks you’re a one-trick restaurant, they’ll come once, they’ll get your [Instagram] gimmick food, and they’ll never come back.

So from a restaurant perspective, it’s a disaster for people to think you’re one-dimensional. So not controlling [the posts and the messages] that get there, even if one thing happens to be a hit, is among the more common mistakes. For a while, we struggled to get past people thinking we just have gimmicky purple noodles.

Let’s talk about finding your influencers: How do you choose who it makes sense to work with?

Sharon Cooper, director of brand marketing, Bobby’s Burger Palace: It really depends on location, for us. So many people are in the same places going after, say, the New York City Instagramers that have hundreds of thousands of followers. So we’ve been looking at College Park, Maryland, other cities with a lot of college students [because] that makes sense for us — basically, finding influencers in smaller markets where our potential customers will be, and that can be more impactful than someone with a mass following.

Baum: I actually have some empirical evidence of clients with big budgets, where they sent a lot of funding on certain influencers, and the ROI is not what one would have expected.

So our strategy has really been to find influencers who are not necessarily asking for money in exchange — they tend to be micro influencers, even in bigger cities.

One big thing to think about in selecting influencers to work with is this:  If you have a million followers, but you only get one percent of your people to come [to an event], you’re better off using micro influencer who has 20,000 followers — but they all come.

Bruck: I agree 100 percent. For us, we have two locations in the East Village, I don’t necessarily care about influencers who have a big following in Queens or Brooklyn. And what that means for me is I want people who are going [to really be a part] of the neighborhood.

I find looking beyond just names on Instagram, to people who are literally our neighbors is quite helpful. So we get a lot of traffic from the woman who runs the jewelry store half a block away. Her customers are coming there, and she sends them to us. It’s an obvious point, but I do think that people are obsessed more with how many followers that [an influencer] has, than how relevant and engaged their followers are. This to me is obvious, but I think that people are forgetting that you want [influencers with followers] who are in your relevant domain. The local aspect is big.

Lastly, I think there are a lot of small influencers who seem to have an esoteric personal feed, and it doesn’t seem to be bought and paid for. I think folks are now aware that people with millions of followers just promote for the sake of promoting.

I remember way back when Tiger Woods had the famous incident with his wife, and people were shocked that he’s driving a Buick, because no one believed he would actually drive one. I think the same is true with large influencers in general: If [you’re a smaller restaurant or business] and they come through your venue, it’s going be because you paid them, and I think folks are aware of that.

Once you’ve found influencers that it makes sense to work with, how do you build a relationship? Essentially, how do you make influencer marketing more than a “one and done” promotion and turn it into a consistent, scalable effort?

Baum: I think it depends on what your goal is. If you’ve got a one-off event — and you want to sell tickets, or you want to get people involved — that’s good enough. But if you’re, say, launching a brand that’s going to be around for a really long time, I’m a big fan of creating [ongoing] programs. For example, let’s say it’s a hotel brand, and we bring 10 [influencers] together and we want them to be our team.  Then even if we’re not paying them in cash, but we can still give them a lot of great experiences, traveling, staying at the hotel, and that’s how you do it.

Bruck: I think I’d go further and say, we’re actually redoing [our] menus,  but with influencers too — asking them, “do you like this spicy dish, do you like the less spicy ones, do you like this one?”

And I think the feedback is actually helpful to us, and it also gives people the sense of ownership and creates a relationship between us and them.

Cooper: I think absolutely it’s about creating that relationship and keeping that relationship coming back for promotion after promotion. So we just did a promotion where we actually launched a secret menu item. When a [food influencer] ordered his “secret menu” burger when he goes into the restaurant, his followers discovered it — because we didn’t want it to come the brand, we wanted it to come from an influencer [we have a relationship with] because it was a secret menu item.

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.