I hear a lot of buzz about influencer marketing — how it has evolved, how it comes in different flavors and how brands are using it — but I never hear anyone talk about Google’s plans to change it… dramatically!

An Emerging Channel

When brands first began to capitalize on the power of influencer marketing, they tried to do so with casual and subtle efforts that often included complimentary products or other perks. Moreover, they usually kept their efforts “under the radar.” Traditional blogger outreach programs are a good example of this, where brands would give product samples to bloggers in exchange for a blog post or two.

But traditional blogger outreach has changed considerably. Large blogger communities like TriberrSverve and TapInfluence have evolved into transparent marketplaces where influencers and brands can collaborate to develop content and get the word out. Such marketplaces allow influencers to post their offerings, audiences and pricing so that brands can select the profiles that best align with their needs.

(Full disclosure: Seeing the early shift from blogger outreach to influencer marketing a few years ago, I helped Triberr migrate the platform in that direction.)

$285 Bid

Despite the evolution of influencer marketing thus far, it’s still an emerging channel. We’re just starting to recognize its full potential impact. Today, many brands use it for micro-campaigns here and there; but, I believe influencer marketing will evolve into a core digital marketing channel for content creation and distribution. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see its evolution follow the same trajectory that search marketing did.

Why will this happen? Two reasons:

Reason #1: The Playing Field Is Ready

Influencer marketing will evolve into a core marketing channel in part because of existing market conditions.

First off, the social web is on fire! Millions of people participate in online communities, and their numbers continue to grow. As members of different online communities, many individuals cultivate a personal following online. Today, someone could easily have 100,000 followers on Twitter, or receive 200,000 views a month on their food blog. These are the new celebrities that brands want to work with. This massive and rapidly growing talent pool will help fuel the growth of influencer marketing.

At the same time, we live in a world where influence is constantly being measured online. In fact, at this very moment, companies like Klout, Kred and PeerIndex are sorting through millions of social actions, scoring people on how influential they are. These scores will help influencer marketing evolve by making the channel more scalable. In some ways, influencer marketing is really the next phase of social.

Granted, most people don’t care what their influence score is, but brands do — or at least they should, as consumers are losing trust in brands. According to a study done by Nielsen that measures consumer trust by marketing channel53% of all consumers do not trust TV advertisements.

Yet, as you can see in the Nielsen Global Trust Survey below, 70% of consumers trust other consumer opinions posted online, and 92% trust recommendations from people they know. These friends and fellow consumers are influencers who are changing purchase behavior.

Given that, every brand manager reading this article should be asking themselves, “How do I get these influencers to talk about my product more online?”

Clearly, the lack of consumer trust in brands is another market condition that will help drive the growth of influencer marketing into a core channel.


Reason #2: Google’s Debut Of A New Player — Influencer Ads

The growth and adoption of influencer marketing will also be driven by Google and their plans toroll out advertising based on Google+. I think this could dramatically escalate the evolution of this channel into a core discipline.

In a patent entitled, “AdHeat Advertisement Model for Social Network,” Google reveals that their new advertising model won’t be based on keywords and the same old sidebar ads we’ve grown to hate on sites like Facebook, etc. Instead, the new model will capitalize on influencers.

Filed in 2009, and updated in 2012, the patent indicates that the new model will enable brands to target influential people on Google+, offering them a revenue share in return for advertising/pushing content to their followers on behalf of a brand.

In other words, while Facebook continues to display ads onto smaller screens, Google is connecting brands with influencers who will be paid to distribute brand content. This is the very heart of influencer marketing, and is probably the biggest marketing opportunity of this decade.

On the organic side, influence has already begun to erode long-standing SEO practices. Today, there is a growing importance on “who” is sharing you content, while on-page keyword optimization and in-bound links take a back seat to social sharing.

What’s old is new, as SEOs will need to dust off their old relationship management skills to find and work with these social influencers at scale.

Are You Ready?

Trust me, influencer marketing will continue to evolve into a core marketing channel — and sooner than you think. But you don’t have to wait for it to arrive; you can start preparing for it today. Below are a few tips to help you get ready:

1. Build Your Foundation With Customer Profiles

Remember, influence is relative — Oprah may be highly influential to middle-aged women, but not so much to young men. To understand the type of influencers you need to rank for your desired keyword or to make your content go viral, you first need to know your customer — what they like, who they know and where they spend time online.

Fortunately, the social networks and data aggregators have already compiled this type of information for you. All you need to do is give consumers a reason to log in to your site with their Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn profile, and you’ll have access to much of their profile information. Once you start building customer profiles, you can begin to mine them for common interests, likes, and behaviors. Your findings will help you identify the attributes of those who are most relevant and influential to your target demographic.

2. Strengthen Your Content Marketing Team

While it is essential to target the right influencers for your campaign, your effort won’t get very far without great content. Keep in mind that your targeted influencers are people who make a living off their reputation and earned trust.

They won’t endorse content that is low budget, low quality or churned out by an intern or meme-generator. Given that, you should work to improve your content marketing program now. This will help you produce great material your influencers will want to share with their following. Alternatively, you can have the influencer create the content. But either way, you need a solid content strategy. Below is the framework I use:

  • Ideation: research, planning and storytelling
  • Development: brand created- or influencer-created content
  • Optimization: ensure content sees maximum reach and engagement
  • Distribution: share and syndicate
  • Reporting: track engagement and performance

The sooner you have the tools and processes in place to execute a successful content marketing campaign, the better positioned you’ll be when you start to integrate influencer support into each step of your effort.

3. Don’t Be Shallow — Pick Quality Talent

The deepest relationships are often the best, and this holds true for influencer marketing. Strive to foster a deeper level of engagement with your influencers. The best type of influencer is the brand ambassador — someone who fully represents your brand to their audience. Think of howRackspace partnered with Robert Scoble to be their Startup Liaison Officer. You will gain a lot more value from having a team of bloggers, YouTubers or G+ers who are proud to represent your brand to their audience than you would from buying a few likes on Fiverr.

Influencer marketing is more than a hot topic — it’s is an important and emerging channel. And now that Google is getting into the game, you can bet it will evolve rapidly. Soon, it will touch everything! But are you ready to talk to influencers? More importantly, are you ready for influencers to talk about you? Follow the above tips and start getting ready today.

How are you using influencer marketing today? Have any influencer marketing tips? Share them here!

This post was originally featured on MarketingLand.Com and can be found here. It has been republished here with express permission from the Author.