You've heard of influencer marketing and you know about user-generated content. But what you probably haven't heard of-or at least haven't named-is someone who falls in between: a professional content creator who is also a member of your brand's audience. These "everyday influencers" bring both authenticity and authority because they belong to the community they write for.
The Influencers in Our Lives
We all have influencers in our daily lives. Our friends recommend local businesses to us based on their experiences. We buy the same products celebrities claim to use. Take me, for example: Last year I bought a home, which, unfortunately for us, came with a ton (yes, that is an actual measurement) of issues. I could have turned to my trusty friend Google with my questions about demo or decorating, but instead, my first stop was Young House Love to see if Sherry and John Petersik had any advice. See, this married couple had been blogging about life-most often home ownership-for over a decade, and I had been reading since back when they were writing about their very first home. (They're on number three now, plus a rental!)
Their authenticity, vulnerability, and regular-ol'-people charm drew me in. It built trust, and because of that it also built loyalty.
Image attribution: Eye for Ebony
And this example isn't specific to me. How many times have you YouTubed the answer to something and watched a series of videos on a similar topic by the same person? And what about social media? Following people you don't know but share similar interests with on Twitter falls under the same umbrella.
Smart big brands realize that advertisements aren't the way to build trust with their readers: authenticity is. Which is why brands like Tom's of Maine and Western Governors University (WGU) decided to embrace an everyday influencer marketing strategy by inviting real-life humans who were already living the lifestyle of their audience to write for them. Is it working for them? I reached out to two writers from Tom's of Maine's Good Matters and WGU's Hey Teach! blogs to see how they felt about being called an "influencer" and whether or not they think their content makes for a successful everyday influencer marketing strategy.
Are Writers Influencers?
I'll admit-I've always been a bit uncomfortable with the term influencer. Why? Well, the marketing world has used it to describe many different roles, so there's no easily identifiable type that springs to mind when it's mentioned. First, I think of celebrities. I mean, they're always influencing their followers, right? Or, what about the people you see on social media sharing their feelings on a product with the hashtag "#ad"? Are they influencers?
To understand why this type of brand content works so well, it's important to be clear on what kind of influencer I'm talking about-the everyday person. I am in no way suggesting these writers are ordinary in any way. To be a good influencer, you need to be an expert in your topic. However, you also have to be vulnerable, approachable, and realistic. Influencers need to be able to tell a story and share personal details from their own lives. This is how the Know, Like, and Trust factor is built.
But do the writers see themselves as influencers, or is that just a title that is given to them?
Angela Tague, who writes for Good Matters says, "I never really thought of myself as an influencer until a colleague in marketing gave me that label. I feel like I'm simply writing about my daily lifestyle and it just happens to align with the audience Tom's of Maine attracts. If sharing my ideas and day-to-day lifestyle influences others to make healthier decisions, that's fabulous!"
Nancy Barile, a National Board Certified Teacher who writes for Hey Teach!, says, "I have to say I never saw myself as an 'influencer'-that word isn't really part of my daily lexicon-but I am delighted to know that I'm considered to be one (and you can bet I'll be using it now). It's a cool, edgy title, and if it means I am positively impacting someone's life by helping them to enter the teaching profession or by assisting current teachers with issues they face in the classroom, I'm thrilled. I've always been inspired by books and movies about teachers, so having the opportunity to help prospective and current teachers through stories, research, and insight now is a true realization of a life goal. Having a platform like Hey Teach! to share my stories is powerful, and, again, not something I take lightly."
How Story Ideas Are Formed
As a content consumer, I want to know that the people I consider influencers are actually interested in what they're writing. So I asked both Tague and Barile whether they have a voice in what type of content the brand shares with their audience.
Barile says, "Sometimes I am assigned topics, and sometimes I pitch them. I try to think like a prospective or current teacher, and I ask myself: What did I need to know when I first started teaching? What would have helped me as a teacher? What current issues are affecting teachers today? Sometimes I ask my friends and relatives for ideas. My sixteen-year-old nephew has given me some great ideas ('Should You Let Students Listen to Music in the Classroom?’), and my sister gave me the idea for a post entitled '5 Student Skills Parents Want Their Children to Learn.' Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a great idea or I read something in the newspaper that I think is timely and important. I'm happy to say that many of my pitches were turned into articles. I think that's because I try to think like a prospective or current teacher. Because I'm in the trenches every day, that's easy to do."
However, her enthusiasm for pitching doesn't mean she isn't getting assignments as well. While the readers might be gaining knowledge from the influencers, Barile also learns a lot herself when writing for Hey Teach!. She continues, "There haven't really been any articles that didn't ring true for me, but there have been articles on topics that I didn't know much about, and I've really loved exploring the subject, interviewing people, and doing the research. One such topic was on the Kagan method of cooperative learning. Another was on restorative justice. After I interviewed an expert on restorative justice, I went to my school and said, We have to do this!”
Tague also oscillates between receiving assignments and pitching content, and like Barile, the topics she's written about have also been transformational in her own life. She says, "Last fall I suggested writing an article about the importance of self-care because I was (and still am) working through the grieving process. The assignment blossomed into a three-part series focused on acceptance, mindfulness, and finding balance. Many of my readers have thanked me for bringing this sensitive, personal topic to light. We all have heavy moments in our lives, so why not talk about them and offer suggestions to help one another?"
And similar to Barile, she embraces the opportunity to write about something outside her expertise, although she doesn't find it happens often. Tague says, "I'm pretty lucky that everything assigned to me has either been in my wheelhouse or based on a topic I've wanted to explore more but just hadn't found the time to do so. If I write about a topic I don't know much about or haven't had a personal interaction with, I share my initial opinion on the topic, then use resources and quotes from experts to round out the content."
Everyday Influencers Are Not Celebrity Influencers
So, we've talked about what influencers are. Now let's talk about what they are (thankfully) not. Brands who are looking to initiate an influencer marketing strategy where their spokespeople write from a first-person perspective need to understand that these writers are not celebrities. They may not come with massive social media followings or dedicated audiences that will drop and buy anything they mention. In fact, they should embrace storytelling and not selling, which is why Hey Teach! and Good Matters thrive as content hubs. The content they produce isn't created to increase admissions or sell products. It simply gives their audience a place to call home, a place they can learn from and relate to the people writing to them.
Tague agrees. "There are huge differences between celebrity and everyday influencers both in the creation and the reception of their posts online. Celebrities have huge audiences that have developed expectations (that if not met will move onto the next big star), partnerships that hinge on their next movie or TV deal, and often the influencer position is a big part of their paycheck. Are they going to turn down thousands of dollars to post a snapshot of themselves with a mildly-interesting-to-them product on Instagram? I doubt it."
Image attribution: Charisse Kenion
She continues, "Everyday influencers seem to be driven more by passion because they don't have huge audiences to appease, big paychecks or partnerships that hinge on other aspects of their careers. I think brands see everyday influencers as regular people who are open to sharing a public peek inside their lives, which is more realistic to the average person than a celebrity flaunting a lifestyle that many of us don't relate to personally."
Barile continues by talking about how an everyday influencer can make a deeper impact than a celebrity could. She says, "Well, I suppose I don't have quite the impact of Kim Kardashian, but I know from the emails and comments I've received that I have positively impacted some readers' lives. That is a wonderful feeling . . . I'm proud of the fact that my experience is authentic because I think that matters. I have a great love of teaching, and I think that comes across in my stories. There's nothing phony or fake in my writing. It's the real deal, and I think that comes across loud and clear to the reader."
After reading both Tague and Barile's work, I'd have to agree. They are authentic and relatable, and while I may not need to know about the connection between exercise and learning, or fermented foods, I certainly enjoyed reading their perspectives.
Do Influencers Think Their Content Is Working?
Do everyday influencer marketing strategies work? Angela Tague thinks so.
"When brands can find and work with influencers who reflect the company's core values and ideal customer," says Tague, "they've struck gold. There's nothing more organic and authentic than reading something that reflects your own ideals and beliefs. It's comforting, relatable, and empathetic, much like chatting with your best friend."
Barile agrees and says, "Brands who use influencers in the profession or life they're writing about are able to convey an authentic experience. Because I'm a teacher, I've experienced many of the same situations other teachers have. I am uniquely aware of the issues, problems, and challenges teachers face every single day. I'm the real deal-a teacher with over twenty-three years in the classroom, and access to new teachers, veteran teachers, career changers, administrators, and students. My content rings true to those who teach because it is grounded in real-world experience."
What about you? How do you feel about creating or consuming content by everyday influencers? Let me know in the comments.
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Featured image attribution: Brooke Cagle