Social media's evolution as a pillar of marketing strategy requires social influencers to produce compelling content. Here are ways to design a dynamic social influencer campaign.

With social influencers creating loads of industry buzz and brands busily working to connect with persuasive consumers, it seems the time is right to ask: what makes a great social influencer campaign?

It's a tough question to answer. Social influencers can have tremendous value to brands in helping them disseminate their marketing message. However, play a partnership wrong and it can backfire spectacularly. If an endorsement from a prominent social media user comes off as forced, it puts brands at risk of being perceived as inauthentic and weakens the company-customer bond. It isn't easy to recover from something like that.

Still, brands continue to thrill to the idea of being talked up by an Internet celeb. In 2014, content and influencer marketing firm IZEA found that 52 percent of digital marketers were investing in paid social influencer endorsements, compared with 58 percent that spent their budgets on display ads. The gap between the two is ever more narrow.

Meanwhile, the potential for engagement is high. According to The New York Times, under the tutelage of photographer Dave Krugman, who joined BBDO as its social editor last year, AT&T has increased engagement on its Instagram posts by 250 percent.

There's no time-honored technique for social influencer campaign success. In its current form, the marketing tactic is still too young. That said, brands can look to industry insiders and their peers for guidance. Here are three chief strategies for producing content in collaboration with social influencers online.

Give Consumers a Reason to Engage

When consumers interact with brand content, it's usually for one of two reasons: to be informed or to be entertained. An effective content marketing (Read more...) requires a purpose and if content doesn't have one, it's woefully clear. One way that top brands are making social influencer marketing work is by rewarding consumers for viewing their posts.

This approach is centered on an online contest. If consumers stand the chance of winning a prize, brands can increase the odds that their target audience will view their content. Dell and Intel's "Jack and Jack's Awesome Contest," launched last month, is a great example of this. Musicians and Vine success story Jack & Jack are "really into technology," so they invited fans to share their own ideas for how technology can be used to create weird and wonderful music-related experiences. The consumer with the best idea - shared online, and tagged with both the Dell hashtag #learnitshareit and #contest - will win a Dell laptop and other prizes.

Prioritize Authenticity

With 84 percent of Millennials distrustful of traditional advertising, influencer content can't come off as forced. In the case of Dell and Intel, the message - that technology is critical to the creative process, and every person has big ideas worthy of making a reality - along with the brands' involvement and the singers' call-to-action appear very sincere. In addition to a YouTube video, the campaign includes Instagram content sourced from Jack & Jack's appearance at Chicago pop-up event #DellLounge, where consumers could experience Dell and Intel technology first-hand through interactive stations, demos and learning labs, and get to know the newly-launched Windows 10. This behind-the-scenes content is equally candid. Everything about the campaign is designed to feel like a simple personal challenge: a wily move for a savvy content marketer and sophisticated product.

Create Influencers of Your Own

We know that when it comes to producing social influencer content, authenticity is key. Content must ring true to viewers; that's why brands choose to go the endorsement route, rather than craft a standard banner ad. However, brands aren't shackled to paying for praise. If their own content reads as genuine, it will resonate with social media users and incite them to share the message of their own accord. Oftentimes, it isn't about how many consumers you connect with, but connecting with the few that count.

Bryan Segal, chief executive (CEO) of Toronto-based social strategy, creative, and community management company Engagement Labs, advises his clients to leverage influencers and affiliate bloggers to build brand awareness and create brand ambassadors. "Influencers can support a number of goals related to a brand's campaign. They can be trendsetters, provide access to a specific community, and make an impact in their respective circles," Segal says. Among Engagement Labs' clients are, for which it developed sharable content, like photo filters that "made ordinary stock travel photos feel human" and a series of recurring social media posts using the hashtags #wouldyourather and #traveldare to encourage user engagement. The effort, which featured the brand's Roaming Gnome mascot, succeeded in inspiring consumers to join the conversation in droves and share the brand content with friends.

In Nielsen's recent report on consumer behavior related to new products, senior vice president and managing director of Nielsen Innovation, Rob Wengel says, "Traditionally, word-of-mouth communications relied on the opinions of friends and family, but social media is expanding consumers' networks and amplifying their circle of influence."

Brands that infiltrate this circle can really ingratiate themselves with their core customers. After all, it's those customers, not the social influencers du jour, for whom the content has to count.

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