For most people, June 24 was nothing more than another summer day. In the retail marketing world, it was the start of the five-month countdown to Black Friday.

Black Friday might seem like it's a long time away, but some of the most worthwhile holiday marketing activities require at least five months of planning. That's particularly true when marketers want to prepare for tactics that they haven't used before, but want to implement in Q4 2017.

Creating and implementing a micro-influencer marketing campaign is one such effort that requires prep work.

Micro-influencers are everyday consumers who have relevant influence within their social circles. They might not even know they have influence, but when they post about brands and products on social media, they drive their friends, family, and followers to action as a result.

Building and launching a micro-influencer campaign isn't as simple as your typical ad buy. Identifying influential customers, and discovering the most effective ways to encourage them to post about your brand, takes a lot of planning as well as a certain amount of trial and error.

If you're interested in building a micro-influencer program for the holiday season, here's a five-month plan to help you get started.

End of June: Define outcomes and content strategy

A good place to start is figuring out what you want to accomplish by using micro-influencers, and how you will measure performance.

Unlike search engine marketing, for example, there's not a direct value exchange with micro-influencer marketing, where $1 in equals $2 out. To measure the success of your micro-influencer campaigns, focus on a wider range of metrics:

  • Business metrics include purchases, sales lift, coupon code redemptions, or increase in category market share that come directly from a micro-influencer action.
  • Marketing metrics include purchase intent, app installs, coupon downloads, CTR, and rate of advancement of prospects to the next stage.
  • Content metrics include likes, comments, shares, and earned media value that can indicate that you're capturing the attention of your target audience.

Once you've decided on which metrics matter most to your company, it's time to focus on creating a content strategy. This process begins with identifying a high-volume touchpoint in your customer journey for using micro-influencers.

For instance, if your most popular touchpoint is Instagram, and you want to drive discovery, you may want to create content that encourages micro-influencers to post about your brand on Instagram.

After figuring out where you would like your micro-influencers to post content, decide on what type of content you'd like them to post. Specifically, consider whether you'd like to encourage your micro-influencers to create original branded content (such as social posts, product reviews, blogs, video), or simply share the branded content that your company is posting.

July: Build a test campaign, identify your first micro-influencers, and determine incentives

Now that you've defined your business goals and content strategy, it's time to develop a test campaign. There are plenty of potential themes for end-of-summer micro-influencer campaigns, including Labor Day, back-to-school, or getting ready for fall.

Next is identifying your first micro-influencers. Start with people in your own customer base who have 500-5,000 followers on the social network that you're targeting in your campaign. Prepare a list of email addresses for 25-50 of your customers, which you'll use for outreach when the time comes.

Finally, decide on your framework for motivating micro-influencers. Sweepstakes or instant-win incentives featuring gift cards, promo codes, or product samples will drive your micro-influencers to complete your desired campaign action. Ideally, the incentives are low-cost to your company while having a high perceived value to the micro-influencers.

August: Reach out to micro-influencers for your test campaign, and recruit more influencers for your holiday campaign

Once you've chosen a campaign theme, built a list of micro-influencers, and nailed down incentives, it's time to reach out to the micro-influencers via email. In these emails, give them a brief overview of what you would like them to post about, and the incentive they would receive for doing so. Make sure you provide the necessary requirements, such as tracking links and the disclosure hashtag, but allow for enough creative freedom to ensure authenticity.

Tracking key conversion events during your test campaign, such as links clicked and promo codes used, will certainly keep you busy in August. But it's also important to start recruiting even more micro-influencers for the holiday campaign.

Based on the data your gathering from your test campaign, analyze who your most effective micro-influencers are, and develop a micro-influencer persona that you can use to recruit the right types of micro-influencers for your holiday campaign.

For instance, if you've found in your test campaign that the people who are driving desired business results tend to be women age 20-35 who live in large cities and have 1,000-2,000 followers on Instagram, try to reach out to a similar demographic when recruiting additional micro-influencers.

September: Decide on technology for your holiday campaign

In September, you'll continue to build out your holiday micro-influencer list and develop the content for your micro-influencer holiday campaign. You'll also decide whether you want to manage your holiday micro-influencer program manually, using spreadsheets, or implement software that can help you automate the process.

If you're considering a technology solution, know that influencer marketing vendors are generally divided into two camps:

  1. Vendors that offer single point solutions, such as managing a specific influencer persona, social network, or an automated step among that workflow
  2. Vendors of a suite of social tools that provide a point solution

Navigating through the volume of available influencer marketing software can be difficult, to say the least. The variety of influencer marketing permutations, the lack of transparency around influencers' existing relationships, and compliance with ever-changing FTC guidelines can leave you with analysis paralysis when choosing a solution.

To make the best possible decision on influencer marketing software, here are seven questions that you can use to evaluate influencer marketing vendors:

  1. How do you define influence and ensure it is relevant to my brand?
  2. How do you recruit influencers and verify their data?
  3. How do you activate influencers?
  4. How is the content workflow managed?
  5. How do you handle FTC guidelines and disclosures?
  6. How do you measure performance?
  7. What other partners and technologies do you integrate with?

October and November: Launch and adjust your holiday micro-influencer campaign

Ideally, you'll launch your holiday influencer marketing campaign in October, which is when one-third of US shoppers begin to make decisions about their holiday purchases.

As you manage your pre-Black Friday campaign, be willing to make adjustments on the fly, particularly if you're not achieving desired business results. A couple of the most common challenges that come up are these:

Your influencers are not responding to your calls to action. In this case, consider adjusting your incentive structure. If you get a low response rate to an activation email that offers a small incentive, send a reminder email that offers an additional, or different incentive.

Your influencers are posting, but not driving the intended results. In this situation, it's time to reevaluate who your target influencer is. Take a close look at the micro-influencers who are driving the intended results, and check whether you can find commonalities in their influencer personas. From there, via email or direct social network outreach, recruit additional influencers that fit a similar profile.

* * *

Following the steps outlined in this article will start you well on your way to winning over more customers during the busiest shopping season of the year. Yes, it's work, but it will pay off!

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How to Build a Micro-Influencer Marketing Program in the Months Before Black Friday

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image of Lyle Stevens

Lyle Stevens is a co-founder and the CEO of Mavrck, an influencer activation platform. He is responsible for product operations and delivering value to Fortune 500 consumer brands.

LinkedIn: Lyle Stevens