Article written by Becky Doles.

Every year, it seems like a new kind of influencer is having a moment. Celebrities, bloggers, vloggers, micro-influencers, nano-influencers; they’ve all had their time in the spotlight. But this year is different. With COVID-19 forcing us to move our social circles online, digital communities are becoming more important than ever. Could this year be the year of the community influencer? 

For businesses trying to navigate the economic impact of coronavirus, community influencer marketing may be the answer. Here’s a quick rundown of the basics, from who community influencers are to how to work with them. 

What is a community influencer? 

Community influencers are members of self-selected social groups who have the trust and respect of their peers. They come from all walks of life, and build their followings through shared passions and authentic connections. They are not celebrities — at least, not in the traditional sense. Often, they’re not even professional marketers. 

Instead, community influencers are brand super fans, product power users, and role models within niche communities across social media. Most importantly, community influencers are powerful advocates for the brands and products they love. 

Scott Ginsberg, vice president of client development at BrandCycle, a community influencer affiliate network, explains: 

“Community influencers use short-form content and strategic deals to offer benefits to their social communities. Their consumers value their recommendations and often engage multiple times per day. Because community influencers enjoy niche followings across a wide range of verticals, they are perfect for brands looking to attract a new, diverse group of consumers.” 

In community influencer marketing, authenticity is paramount. It is the social capital that builds and maintains the bond community influencers have with their followers, and it can’t be faked. This is especially important to remember in the era of COVID-19 and social distancing. In 2020, more people than ever before will be searching for authentic digital connections to replace the everyday human contact they miss. 

Brands may find community influencers to be a windfall in the current economy, but only if brands put in the work to drive organic growth. Above all, brands have to allow these influencers to stay true to themselves and their followers. 

Where community influencers shine 

What kinds of brand verticals and product categories are community influencers good for? 

It sounds like a cop-out, but almost all of them. Any direct-to-consumer brand that has an online presence and an engaged customer base should be able to find community influencers to fit their marketing needs. 

Take financial services company Topstep, for example. Topstep provides an online platform for training and trading in the forex and futures markets. They target a very specific audience in a very narrow field. So, Topstep turned to the futures and forex trading education community. There, the company enlisted the help of educators to introduce new traders to the Topstep platform. 

The world is full of diverse, passionate people who advocate on behalf of brands for free every day. For marketers, it’s solely a question of finding them. 

What are the platforms that community influencers use? 

Again, almost all of them. Instagram and Facebook remain the top platforms of choice for influencers. Yet different communities use different channels. It really depends on where your customers are. 

  • Instagram 
  • Facebook 
  • Twitch 
  • YouTube 
  • Snapchat 
  • TikTok 

What marketing goals can community influencers help to achieve? 

Today’s consumers don’t want to be sold to; they want to be engaged with. Community influencers excel at engagement. They build organic relationships with their followers by replying to comments, participating in discussions, and sharing user-generated-content — interactions outside of the sales funnel. When the conversation turns to a brand or a product, consumers feel less like they’re being sold to, and more like they’re getting a recommendation from a friend. 

  • Sales 
  • Lead generation 
  • Cross-sells 

Working with Community Influencers 

It can be easy to forget that behind all the images and posts, influencers are just regular people. Influencer marketing is often a part-time job or a side gig for them; they may be juggling multiple jobs and projects at any given time. Understanding their struggles and motivations, especially in these unprecedented times, will help you work more effectively with them. 

Some of the most common hurdles for community influencers: 

1. Getting started and building scale

2. Finding enough time to create quality content and manage administrative tasks

3. Maintaining work/life balance and splitting focus between engaging with their communities and being with their families

4. Communicating their unique value proposition to brands, and avoiding being lumped into a generic “promotional category”

Tips for marketers working with community influencers:

1. Allow freedom of expression in influencer promotions and user-generated content (UGC)

2. Be open to creative payment models (such as a free product in lieu of commission)

3. Consider shorter pay windows or higher commission rates to help minimize the upfront risks for
new partners

4. Communicate often — too much communication is always preferable to too little

5. Use an unbiased tracking platform to track conversions when possible, and use promo codes
(clickless tracking) for everything else

6. Scale your program by using a network, such as BrandCycle or CLOUTA

Learn more about community influencers 

What type of influencer is going to be declared the breakout star of 2020? No one can know for sure, but we’re willing to make an educated guess. 

If you’re ready to add community influencers to your marketing mix, watch our new webinar, “When Good Advice Pays: Community Influencer Marketing.” Featuring experts from TUNE and BrandCycle, this webinar covers everything you need to get started, including best practices, information about influencer networks, and tips for planning and optimizing campaigns. Watch the full webinar here.

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