The rise of social media influencers has given retailers a new way to reach untapped customers and promote their brands. In fact, Influencer Marketing Hub reports that 63 percent of businesses plan to increase their spending on influencer marketing in the next year.
But too often, retailers treat influencer programs like a check box. Instead of building authentic, long-term relationships and brand affinity with influencers, companies simply focus too much on the next Instagram post. It becomes a one-and-done transaction.
Brands can overcome this pitfall by thinking of influencers as ambassadors. As H&M USA’s head of marketing Mario Moreno explained at NRF NXT, an ambassador is an elevated influencer, someone who consistently promotes your brand’s image, products and services while embodying its values and mission.
Moreno shared how H&M built its influencer ambassador program, the H&M League, along with three tips for turning influencers into a network of loyal and diverse content creators.
Find the right people
The H&M League launched with 20 influencers contracted for a year-long partnership. Compared with the company’s previous practice of working with 25 to 50 influencers each month, this strategy gave H&M the opportunity to know each influencer better and inspire them to be part of something greater than a handful of paid posts.
Committing to a small, targeted group of influencers means doing the work to find the right people. H&M dug deep into the research process and considered several factors beyond common social media metrics like following and engagement rate. Diversity across the board, including ethnicity, sexual orientation, body positivity, family structure, abilities and disabilities, were taken into account to ensure the H&M League truly represents the brand and its customers.
H&M then conducted interviews with each candidate and treated them as they would any potential employee, asking about their work portfolio and what values are important to them. When the goal is to turn influencers into lifelong brand advocates, training and retention are just as important as it is for full-time employees.
Create a personalized activation plan
Think of it this way: You’re co-creating content with your influencers, not forcing them to create something for you.
Think of it this way: You’re co-creating content with your influencers, not forcing them to create something for you. When H&M debuted the H&M League, it was introduced as a fresh, unique and collaborative network, leading to greater buy-in and higher quality content.
That said, every influencer is different, from celebrities with millions of followers to micro-influencers with a couple thousand. It’s important to know the quirks, preferences and tendencies of each to maximize your relationship and the resulting content. For example, celebrities tend to post less often with a lower conversion rate than micro-influencers. Hold each influencer to the number of posts that makes sense for their audience and platform, and be sure to track how their content performs compared with branded content. H&M did this by asking for screenshots of influencers' insights dashboard on posts promoting the brand.
Treat your relationship with influencers as you would any friendship: Go the extra mile and do things to strengthen the long-term relationship. H&M has quarterly check-ins with each of its influencers to provide an opportunity for both sides to give feedback — what they liked, what’s working well and what could be improved.
It’s also important to foster an environment for influencers that’s conducive to content creation. When H&M invited the H&M League to Palm Springs for a weekend getaway in conjunction with Coachella, the brand introduced the influencers to one another and made them feel comfortable. It also hired a photographer and videographer to help capture content. The result was a weekend that generated more traffic and revenue on social media than H&M’s 2018 Black Friday weekend. A total of 68 posts were contracted with the H&M League, but influencers posted 554 posts; H&M created opportunities for influencers to create content, and they did.
When brands think about the long game and invest time developing authentic relationships, they’ll turn influencers into brand ambassadors. Read more takeaways from NRF NXT in the official recap.