Can you think of the last time one of your patrons visited your bowling center based on someone’s recommendation? Chances are, it was recent. A stunning 92 percent of people trust recommendations from people — even people they don’t know — over recommendations from brands.
Of course, bowling centers will continue to try to tap into the power of personal recommendations. Influencer marketing isn’t going anywhere. What initially began in the blogging world, with brands throwing heaps of samples and discounts at parenting bloggers, has become more structured. But it hasn’t gotten any easier to find the right path toward effective influencer marketing.
As you plan your marketing strategies for 2017, make your tactics include influencer marketing.
Measure influencer marketing success
Throughout 2017, look for a continued emphasis on ROI. Sending a blogger to a conference wearing a branded tee shirt or paying a group of leaguers to tweet while sitting at one of your lanes is fine, but what’s the return? What are you measuring? What are you hoping to achieve? These questions will be at the forefront as influencer marketing continues to boom. Don’t jump onto a trend because it’s popular. Engage because you have a specific goal.
Some goals are harder to measure than others. Tapping into an active network of influencers can certainly get conversations going. But even then, make sure you’re tracking the activity. Don’t rely on your gut when you have the ability to see social reach metrics. A hashtag specific to your campaign and bowling center will help you follow conversations closely.
Know your audience.
Want to waste money in 2017? Throw your brand at anyone with a social media account and hope it’ll spark conversations. If that sounds ridiculous, you may be surprised at how often entertainment centers don’t engage in thoughtful market research.
Consider creating or refreshing your buyer personas before you start an influencer marketing campaign. Interview your existing bowlers. Brainstorm on where you want to be at the end of 2017. You may find that you have new personas to market to, aspirational personas that can help you grow your bowling center.
Inbound marketing methodology involves using those personas’ pain points to deliver content that solves their problems and helps them make a decision. Influencer marketing works in tandem. Look into where those personas get recommendations and inspiration online. Where they have fun. What they consider before they visit different locations. What they find distasteful. What they laugh at and share.
Now go after that audience.
Go where your followers are.
If you’re obsessed with Twitter and you haven’t moved into other social media platforms, you’re already way behind the curve. Don’t chase trends, instead stay on top of which platforms are right for your brand. Video remains huge, especially with the growing popularity of Live Video. Leverage it.
Denise Mestanza-Taylor, the founder of Tampa Bay Bloggers, hasn’t seen much brand interest in Snapchat or Instagram yet, despite the huge user bases and video-friendliness of these platforms. “I always encourage our bloggers to live broadcast because I know it’s a matter of time before brands request it,” she says. Don’t be the last one on board. Both Instagram and Snapchat are seeing 50+ percent annual growth. Get there.
Make sure you’re not bending or breaking the rules.
Paid influencer marketing is advertising. There are rules. If you’re working with a network, make sure that network has a working understanding of disclaimers that need to be in place when money or special promotions have exchanged hands.
“I request that the bloggers add a disclaimer and ask that they let it be known that they received the opportunity through Tampa Bay Bloggers,” says Mestanza-Taylor. “I offer an example so they can understand the format and I request that a formal one appears at the top or naturally within the body of their post.”
If you’re handling this on your own, you still have to abide by the rules. Being a small business or single location center does not mean you’re flying under the radar.
Authenticity is key, but it’s hard to pull off.
As a culture, we’re becoming increasingly sensitive to bullshit. We’re becoming more aware of advertisements sneaking into journalism and online media. Native advertising is everywhere. On Facebook, we’re tired of our friends recommending multi-level-marketing products just to make a buck off friendships. Many of us are blocking ads.
During a cynical phase in our social culture, how do brands leverage influencer marketing? The key is authenticity, but that’s a tough place for brands to break into.
True authenticity is a dad on Facebook telling his friends he just found an amazing diaper cream that really works. It’s a business owner recommending a grocery delivery service to her friends at a networking event. Those interactions happened without a brand stepping in and fostering them.
Organic influencers are your best friends.
Transactions between you and your influencers may create a sense of obligation that could lead to lukewarm conversations and posts. “If you really don’t like a product but you ‘fake it,’ it will come across to your audience,” says Mestanza-Taylor. You can get around this by carefully vetting your influencers or by asking for unique partnerships. Ask them to visit one of your locations, plan an event, simply allow them to highlight their personal experience with your bowling center.
Of course, the easiest path to authenticity is staying out of it. As a brand, you naturally want to direct the conversations around what you’re putting out in the world. It’s scary to step back and let people talk. Some of them are going to be negative. (And negative reviews aren’t inherently bad.) Genuine conversations around your brand have tremendous value in terms of visibility and social proof.
You have to be worth talking about.
Fostering organic influencers starts by having an event or campaign worth talking about. (If you’re not there yet, are you really ready to dive into influencer marketing?) If you’re confident in your brand and its value to your consumers, give them a little nudge to talk. Make it easy to review and recommend your bowling centers. Distribute shareable photos and videos. Engage with your customers via email and on social media. Offer remarkable customer service. Don’t half-ass anything.
Even when you’re engaging in a more structured influencer campaign via a network or outreach, you have to start out by being shareable and fantastic. Otherwise, your influencers’ friends will call them out for watered down social posts and blogging, and you could damage your brand. Paying influencers or offering free product does not absolve you of the responsibility to be amazing.
Let the experts handle it for you.
Not every brand has a built-in marketing department with the power to execute digital strategies like inbound marketing and influencer marketing. Before you hit the ground running, do some soul searching about your staff’s capabilities and bandwidth.
Oftentimes moving the needle means engaging with a marketing agency with a full team capable of strategizing and leveraging a whole team of creative professionals. Many digital marketing agencies are developing influencer marketing skills.
In the words of the hopefully immortal queen Bonnie Raitt, give them something to talk about. Nothing else you can do will matter if you’re not putting something into the world that people will want to share with their friends and family. Good luck!