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How to Build and Nurture Your Influencer Community

Last Thursday, Tribe Dynamics co-founder Conor Begley and senior content editor Cat Kulke hosted a webinar discussing how brands can better build and nurture their influencer communities—especially during this unprecedented COVID-19 era. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the most important topics that were covered in the webinar, but be sure to check out the full video recording for more detailed analyses and real brand examples. 

 

How Should Your Brand Stratify Its Influencer Community? 

When activating your influencer community, it’s important to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. Before you can impactfully engage your influencer network, you must first understand its dynamics. This means breaking out your community of content creators into different groups based on their affinity to your brand (not their follower count).

In order to effectively tailor your influencer outreach strategies to each influencer’s level of connection to your brand, we recommend organizing your community into three buckets: Loyal Fans, Recent Fans, and Past Fans. To help explain the three buckets, here is a categorized overview of E.L.F.’s influencer community from 2018 to 2019:

E.L.F.’s Community From 2018 to 2019

A chart showing E.L.F.’s influencer community from 2018-2019, broken into loyal, past, and recent fans.

  • “Loyal” fans are influencers who mentioned E.L.F. in both 2018 and 2019. 
  • “Recent” fans are influencers who mentioned E.L.F. in 2019, but not 2018. 
  • “Past” fans are influencers who mentioned the brand in 2018, but not 2019. 

As you can see, E.L.F.’s Loyal fans not only generated significantly more Earned Media Value (EMV) than the other community groups across both 2018 and 2019, they also increased their contribution by nearly $50M EMV year-over-year. This demonstrates a continued and growing enthusiasm for E.L.F. among the brand’s loyal squad of influencers. Notably, E.L.F’s Recent fans collectively powered nearly four times the EMV in 2019 than their Past fan counterparts had in 2018. 

These groups are not static—brands should work to constantly engage influencers in order to move them along from one group to the next, i.e. from Past fans to Recent fans, and from Recent fans to Loyal fans. So what’s the best way to do this? Customize your outreach to meet the needs of each community group. Your Loyal cohort is likely producing the majority of your content, so reserve your most resource-intensive activations (especially in these uncertain times) for this group. But, be sure not to neglect your Recent and Past fans, as this is how your Loyal group will grow.

What is Retention, and Why is it So Important?

While many brands focus their efforts on EMV growth and community expansion, the most important sign of a healthy influencer community is retention. Retention is the proportion of a brand’s EMV each month generated by content creators who match, or exceed, their EMV totals from the previous month. (A retention rate of 100% indicates that all ambassadors posted the same amount month-over-month.) There is a very strong correlation between Retention and EMV performance.

In our webinar, we showcased this correlation using several brand examples across different verticals, including Alo Yoga, Too Faced, Gucci, and Speedo. Here is Alo Yoga’s Retention and EMV performance throughout 2019: 

Alo Yoga’s EMV and Retention in 2019

A graph showing Alo Yoga’s EMV, relative to its retention rate, throughout 2019.

As you can see, the EMV and Retention trajectories are remarkably similar, and when the brand’s Retention increases, so does its EMV. 

Brands that listen and respond to the needs of their influencer community groups—the foundation of genuine relationship building—are much more likely to see higher retention rates. For example, after hearing the cries of influencers (and their consumer audiences) for more inclusive shade ranges, Fenty Beauty made its mission to fill these gaps and promote inclusivity in the beauty world. In 2019, Fenty Beauty experienced an average 75% monthly retention rate, which led to a 41% year-over-year EMV growth. By thoughtfully engaging with their influencer communities, brands can promote long-term retention by converting more content creators into Loyal fans.

What Other Metrics Should You Use to Gauge the Health of Your Influencer Community?

When evaluating your online community, your brand should also make sure your influencers are a good “fit.” Now, we don’t mean surface-level aesthetics. Fit indicates whether or not an influencer’s content is consistent with your brand’s messaging, and more importantly, whether an influencer’s content about your brand resonates with their audience—which is, afterall, the whole point of influencer marketing. We gauge “fit” by tracking the engagement of influencers’ branded content relative to their other posts, with a score of 100 indicating equal engagement.

Top-performing brands retain influencers who are a good fit. In the webinar, we grouped a selection of beauty and fashion brands into four categories based on their community retention, relative to their community fit: 

Four Categories of Influencer Communities Based on Retention and Fit

A graph categorizing brands’ influencer communities based on fit and retention.

Brands in the “Genuine Affinity” zone, like Fenty Beauty and Fashion Nova, have high retention and strong fit. This indicates that their communities comprise influencers with a deep connection to and preference for their brand, who consistently and organically feature them in content. Meanwhile, the “Interested, but not Engaged” brands with strong fit, but poor retention, have a community of influencers who are aligned with the brand’s image, but do not yet post consistently. With a little more engagement and thoughtful outreach from the brand, it’s likely these influencers will convert to the “Genuine Affinity” category. 

On the other hand, brands with poor fit, but high retention, are in what we like to call the “Pay to Play” zone. These brand-influencer relationships are often transactional in nature, so although influencers may not have an authentic affinity for the brand, they will post about it when paid to do so. While this strategy may drive EMV in the short-term, it is very likely that the posting will stop as soon as the payment does. And finally, we have the “Red Zone,” made up of brands with poor retention and poor fit. We recommend these brands refocus their influencer strategy and find a new group of people who are better equipped to champion the brand’s story online. 

Action Items for Growing Your Brand’s Digital Impact

So, keeping all of these community breakdowns and metrics in mind, here are the key next steps for brands looking to grow the impact of their influencer marketing programs by fostering long-term influencer relationships:  

1) Tailor your influencer outreach strategies based on brand affinity. 

2) Work to build that genuine brand affinity across your entire community by cultivating supportive, not sponsored, relationships. 

3) Listen—and respond—to your community’s needs. 

How Has Influencer Content Changed in Response to the Coronavirus? 

Finally, given the current unprecedented and rapid shift to a stay-at-home economy, we covered how brands’ influencer marketing strategies must shift as well. Some promising news for influencer marketers: in our preliminary data analysis over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen engagement with influencer content increase

It is important to recognize that many influencers are pivoting the focus of their content to better connect with their audiences at home. Fashion blogger and jet-setter Caroline Daur (@carodaur on Instagram), for instance, has started creating more at-home fitness and baking recipe content. As brands navigate these changes in influencer content, it’s important they continue to support and engage with their communities through this time. In-person events and brand trips are obviously off the table, but there are still several ways brands can—and should—meaningfully connect with and strengthen their digital communities. Tatcha, for example, shared a subscription to the meditation app, Calm, with influencers to support their well-being in this stressful climate. New partnership opportunities for brands can also emerge from these influencer content shifts, if, say, a fashion blogger begins participating more in the self-care space online. The bottom line is, influencer outreach right now is likely more meaningful–and impactful—than ever before. 

Be sure to check out the full webinar, including the insightful audience Q&A session at the end. 

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