This is the third blog in our series on Influencer Marketing. In our previous blog we discussed the value of influencer marketing and how it can be applied to your business. In today’s blog we will discuss the difference between paid and earned influencer marketing and how each can be utilized. Enjoy!

Influencer marketing is important, no matter your business or brand. While consumer confidence in brands is at an all time low (less than 47% of people trust companies), peer-to-peer recommendations have steadily increased as a source of information and guidance. Influencers undoubtedly impact consumer decisions, so using influencer marketing can be exceptionally beneficial for your organization.

There are two main kinds of influencers: paid and earned. While both ultimately help brands move towards the same marketing goals, each has its own set of benefits. Whether an earned influencer or a paid influencer will be beneficial to your company depends on your marketing strategy as well as your budget, objectives, and brand identity.

Paid Influencers

Paid influencers are sponsored or paid for their testimonials on behalf of another person or organization. In the same way a company might pay to put an ad online, they can pay an influencer to talk about their service or product to their existing audience.

If you’re going to use a paid influencer, you will need to make sure that the influencer discloses that he is being sponsored.Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has placed increased scrutiny on paid influencers to prevent misleading or deceptive endorsements. If an influencer endorses a product or service online—be it in a blog, a social media post, or a YouTube video—and has been compensated for it, the FTC wants the influencer to conspicuously disclose that information. Many consumers view these online endorsements as the views of an unbiased observer.If the influencer has in fact been compensated by the manufacturer of the product being endorsed, but fails to disclose that fact, the FTC would view the blog or social media post as deceptive.Compensation does not necessarily require a monetary transaction. Payment could also include getting something for free or being qualified to win something in exchange for a testimonial or review.

If utilizing paid influencers, always be sure to properly train them on what they can and cannot say about your product or service. Require clear disclosure statements and make sure influencers properly disclose their paid advertising status to the public.

Earned Influencers

Earned influencers are unpaid endorsers of your product.Sometimes an influencer is impressed enough by your product or service that they will provide an unsolicited endorsement without any prompting.An earned influencer may have a preexisting relationship with you or somebody in your company and an endorsement is motivated both by a feeling of goodwill as well as enthusiasm for your product.Most often, as we explained in the previous blog in this series, you will need to court earned influencers by interacting with them and attracting their attention.

More often than not, utilizing earned influencer marketing is better than using paid influencer marketing. Potential clients often view earned influencers as more trustworthy because they are not getting paid. Unlike paid influencers, you don’t have to worry about monitoring earned influencers to ensure that they are not promoting your product in a potentially deceptive way. And most importantly, the endorsements of earned influencers are free.

Using Paid vs. Earned Influencers

Appealing to earned influencers needs to be a part of your company’s marketing strategy. If you are promoting a new product or service, do so in a way that encourages influencers to weigh in.

  1. Let influencers know you’ve published something. Share content on appropriate social media platforms and online forums.Make sure that the information you provide is packaged to allow for easy sharing on social media.
  2. Contact influencers about guest blog opportunities, which not only promote your product but may provide SEO opportunities by permitting you to link back to your site.
  3. Add links to the work of influencers in the content you create. Influencers may appreciate the notice and reward you with a mention on social media.
  4. Make infographics and other visuals that can easily be shared or embedded. (Consider adding a “share now” button to your webpages.)

While attention from earned influencers is great, gaining traction with them can take time.If you’re a new startup or small business, it can be helpful to use paid influencers or to advertise with influencers. Two options are:

  1. Try distributing your product for free to influencers to see what they think about it. Keep in mind that if an influencer wants to give your product a positive review, you will need to take steps to ensure that they influencer discloses they received your product for free.That fact alone shouldn’t detract from the weight of the influencer’s opinion.
  2. You may want to think about advertising directly on an influencer’s website. Many influencers cater to a niche audience and advertising rates may be lower than on a site with more, but less targeted, traffic. While an advertisement on an influencer’s page may be a valuable association for your brand, you’ll want to make it sure it is obvious to users that it is a paid advertisement.

Whether you are seeking to establish credibility, extend your social reach, or increase consumer trust in your brand, knowing when to use earned influencers and when to use paid influencers can help you get the most out of your influencer marketing strategy.