Every time I have a conversation with Tom Augenthaler of The Influence Marketer, I come away with a new insight or idea about influencer marketing. Credibility, scale, SEO, conversion and trust are some of the many topics we touch on when we talk, and I always want to bottle those discussions with Tom and share them with our team, clients and influencers.

With that in mind, today I asked Tom a few questions to share with you. As we enter the fourth quarter of 2017, where we’ve been in influencer marketing, and where we are going, has very much been on my mind, and I was curious about Tom’s impressions. Below, you can read Tom’s opinions and thoughts on influencer marketing in this super interesting transcript of our exchange.

A Conversation with The Influence Marketer

Cooper Munroe: Tom, you and I were providing influencer marketing (IM) services to clients before there was even a term for it. Is there anything from those early days that you feel could benefit IM in its current form?

Tom Augenthaler: Yes, relationships! Back before software platforms enabled quick and easy searches for influencers, I had to manually search up blogs. Once I found a good candidate, I’d take a look at their blog roll (remember those?). As a result, I had to closely look at who the influencers were and the content they created. By scouring their blogs, I got a grasp on their content, their interests, and in many cases, their career path.

When I emailed them, I could reference all of these things, which meant I could make a meaningful connection. Often, it opened an email dialogue, and I got to know the influencers more personally. In many cases we became friends. As a result, I have a personal “brain trust” I can leverage anytime I want. Every influencer marketer should have that.

CM: Coming from traditional, global PR, how do you see influencer marketing evolving – will it stay a PR strategy, or do you see it moving into digital advertising or elsewhere? What does the future hold?

TA: Right now, public relations firms can do influencer marketing because of the new software platforms. These make the identification of influencers faster, simpler and scale. Where PR goes wrong is that they treat influencers as promotions (digital advertising) rather than relationships.

PR people only reach out to you when they want something – which is not how productive relationships are built. I know this because I hear it from influencers all the time.

The real benefits of influencer marketing come from the relationships because you can then leverage the influencers as a brain trust, targeted focus group and a listening device to know what your ideal customers want and need.

As to the future, that’s hard to tell. The FTC is watching the influencer marketing space more closely as a result of some blow-ups (example: Fyre Festival), but until the consumers shift their attention elsewhere, it will likely stay on the same course for now.

CM: What’s your advice for the business with a small budget but big goals for IM? How can IM be a success for a smaller business, while keeping the budget in check?

TA: Know what you want to achieve and know why you want to use influencers. Don’t jump into using influencers because it seems like the hot, new marketing tactic. Ideally, your influencer strategy should be aligned with other marketing initiatives you’re doing. This can include Facebook ads, promotions and tactics to get more reviews on Yelp, Facebook and Google. This is something most small businesses don’t know: Your best influencers are your happy customers! You should ask every customer to post a review on Yelp or Facebook. It’s so simple and can do so much for your business.

To get started, you don’t need to pay for an expensive software platform. Use Google to find some [influencers]. Once you do, be sure to look closely at their content so it’s congruent with your business.

Then reach out and ask them if they’d be interested in sampling your product or service in exchange for a review. Be sure to include a tracking/discount code for them to include in the link to your business. This way you can track the followers who come to you through the review. You must keep track of your metrics – it’s the only way you can tell if the strategy is successful or not.

I have some free resources to help you get started: A free 5 day email course and a free Facebook group for anyone wanting to learn about IM.

CM: One word – automation. Any predictions or trend-spotting insights on the future of IM automation?

TA: Ah, automation! It seems like marketing people want to automate everything. In some ways, it’s really helpful. Chat bots are a great example of that. I know some people online who are doing some amazing things with chat bots, even selling online products and courses.

But for influencers, let me ask you this … do you automate your friendships? Of course not. As I said earlier, relationships are at the heart of IM and the crux of deriving the benefits. Selling stuff via promotions is great, but it’s only scratching the surface.

I do think identifying influencers and tracking metrics will become increasingly easier – even automated – which is good.

CM: No follow links, search terms, key words and links back – what are brands and influencers to do when it comes to search? There are myths, facts and everything in between on the SEO / influencer content subject. Can you help share some clarity there?

TA: I encourage brands and influencers to link to each other in all of the campaigns I run.  Quality contextual backlinks (text and images) benefit both sides. The brands can always use the “trust boost” as I call it and the influencers benefit because they get some SEO juice. This helps them to grow their audiences and attract those ideal consumers the brands covet.  It’s a win-win. The trick is to make sure the backlinks are naturally woven into the content and not forced. Inserting keywords and no follow links are also beneficial, just make sure they are incorporated into the content naturally and not force fitted.

CM: There have been a number of online discussions lately about IM and some of the hot button issues there. One issue I’ve seen come up a lot lately is commentary on how overrun many influencers’ blogs and social platforms are with “sponsored” content, without other, non-sponsored content to balance it out. Do you think that’s an issue, and if so, what is your recommendation to influencers, and why?

TA: Yes, it’s a big issue. Influencers who do this are greedy and not serving their audiences well. They have to be careful because once they lose the trust of their audiences, they’re finished. They lose their influence. A balance of content is key and more productive. Also, businesses will choose not to work with them once their influence drops. My recommendation to influencers is to put your audience first! Treat them like gold.

CM: Your site offers really smart, useful resources based on years of experience and expertise; there are a lot of new businesses popping up every day that are offering IM tools and services. How can businesses, organizations and influencers cut through the noise, figure out the best approach and what tools they should use, if any?

TA: The influencer marketing space can be confusing. I recommend you reach out to a professional and ask questions before you jump in. It’s a strategy that is extremely effective, but it must be approached with focus and purpose. It really pays to talk to someone who’s done it and can help you avoid the pitfalls.

Thank you to Tom for a great, thought-provoking conversation.

We’d love to hear thoughts and feedback on my conversation with The Influence Marketer and invite you to join the conversation in the comments section below!

Be sure to read up on how to take your influencer marketing efforts from tactic to brand strategy!