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The age of influencer marketing – the rise of a new breed of content-savvy creators

There's little doubt that in 2015 influencer marketing is having its moment in the digital space. According to this year's Tomoson poll of marketing professionals, influencer marketing is leading the way in customer acquisition by miles, with 22% of professionals polled naming it as their fastest-growing channel – ahead of both email marketing (15%) and organic search (17%).

A new era beckons – and it's becoming ever more clear that one of the most effective and efficient ways to engage audiences is to pinpoint knowledgeable influencers within a niche. It may seem counterintuitive, but when it comes to influencer marketing, businesses should be zooming in to see the bigger picture.

At a time when up to 92% of consumers are looking to others (from friends to strangers) for brand referrals, influencers are in a position of great power. They're highly individual creators producing original content on their own terms; trend-setters who have sway over the consumer habits of their followers – many are brands in their own right. So, how can brands take advantage of this valuable new engagement tool?

Influencers exist in many forms; most operate on social media, with Facebook, Instagram and YouTube the most effective platforms, and don't necessarily have to be A-list brand ambassadors in order to generate huge reach and engagement. In fact, when it comes to influencer strategy, marketers should consider a "glocal" approach, working with mid-tier influencers in local markets to create the most authentic and long-lasting relationships. These individuals are more likely to have cultivated a strong niche following and are less likely to represent multiple businesses than top influencers, thus reducing the risk of diluting a brand's message.

It really is about quality, not quantity; analyzing an influencer's level of authority and amplification (do their followers typically repost and share their content?) is more valuable than forging a partnership based solely on the number of followers or fans they may have. Google can be your first port of call to identify the influencers most relevant to your target audience and industry in any language, with AdWords particularly useful for scrutinizing an influencer's ubiquity and industry relevance.

Another recommended practice is to allow influencers creative license – thrusting "salesy" content on them is often noted by consumers (to the brand and influencer's detriment), especially now that influencers are expected to be transparent about their promotional partnerships. Immersing your influencers in your brand, by offering them early launch insights or product reviews for example, ensures they are in a position to produce original content that is authentic and personalized to their following. The pay-off is significant. The Tomoson poll reveals marketers are not only using influencer marketing to successfully up sales figures, but that 51% say they're also acquiring better (higher-spending) customers from the strategy.

Developing transparent relationships with relevant key influencers in local markets puts brands at the forefront of consumers' field of vision. With mutually beneficial and authentic partnerships with thought-leaders on social media, brands can tap into the cachet and trust that comes from peer-to-peer recommendation. To find out how censhare helped Endress+Hauser to implement its own "glocal" communications strategy, take a look at our case study video.