Product in the Age of Instagram – an Influencer Marketing Guide "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs January 01 2020 True influencer, influencer marketing, referral programs, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 1574 Product Management 6.296

Product in the Age of Instagram – an Influencer Marketing Guide

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Influencer marketing is big business and inevitably affects the way consumer products are developed. As a result, product managers have to carefully consider how to support every step of a product’s sharing journey.

What do the Fyre Festival, Facebook Dating, and Kombucha all have in common? These recent hot topics of conversation wouldn’t have meant anything to you without an organic word-of-mouth campaign. But the reality is that organic content is no longer organic, especially for consumer products.

People love stories and stories have heroes. Influencers have been around for a long time. The difference now, however, is that influencers have become a brand in themselves. Now the influencer sells. Thanks to social media, the influencer might be your neighbor, but more importantly, they seem like they could be your neighbor. They’re someone you’ve formed a relationship with without ever meeting them. They’ve let you into the world they want you to believe is theirs. They’re someone you trust.

Influencer Marketing is big Business

According to Business Insider, influencer marketing is now an $8 billion industry, and on track to be a $15 billion industry by 2022. There’s some debate over whether the influencer market is in a bubble, but for the short term, there could be an opportunity cost to not riding this wave. Needless to say, the way we test, build, market, and iterate on our products is different in an influencer-driven world.

33% of millennials trust a blog review for their purchases. (Image: Shutterstock)

So how does influencer marketing shape consumer product decisions? Only about 1% of millennials trust adverts, yet 33% of them are willing to trust a blog review for their purchases, according to Big Commerce. Big Commerce also reports that 40% of people said they purchased a product online after seeing it used by an influencer on YouTube, Instagram, or Twitter. Influencers in turn repeatedly emphasize that an authentic voice is what keeps their fans loyal.

What’s being created here is a habit loop: The influencer posts a video or blog about their favorite products, their fans see the post and decide to purchase. The influencer gets a kickback, they post again, and so on.

But isn’t this just marketing? Where does the product manager come in?

Closing Gaps in the Habit Loop

Product is what closes the gaps in the loop. It’s a product manager’s job to figure out how influencer marketing has changed the user experience — the look and feel of our products, and the user journeys themselves. The way our products are consumed and achieve virality now depends very much on how they can be shared. In order for the product to be shared, it has to be shareable. But what does that mean for the way we build our product and its underlying technology?

We now have to pay a lot more attention to how the product has to support each step of the sharing journey:

1) How the Product is Shared

This step is all about the platform we want the sharing to occur on, and the hurdles that come with that platform. For example, on Instagram the ability to share a link is limited:  influencers aren’t able to have links as captions that open up on mobile browsers or the app store. On YouTube, links can live forever in videos and the danger is that links become outdated as watchers continue to watch videos for years to come. Facebook has proprietary attribution qualities that make it difficult to track where users come from organic sharing.

The most common way for consumer products to leverage influencer marketing is through referral programs that use affiliate links to track the end user back to the influencer. The influencer gets credit for converting a potential user, and the link is usually a customized link with the influencer’s name or special code. Deep linking, the ability to link directly into a specific page in the app is also an effective way to design user journeys that can take followers directly to the pages referenced by influencers.

Deep linking is already present in virtually all the apps we use. It can be a powerful tool for growth when combined with the attribution power of an affiliate link in influencer marketing. Building deep links across multiple social media platforms can be challenging, so it may be worth considering outsourcing this to a specialist company.

2) Why the Receiver Should Action the Share

Enticing the recipient of the share to take action is no less important. As an example, the thumbnail image has become the single greatest selling point for many consumer products, since these have to be high-resolution images that tempt users to click on links. This is especially important as iMessage and WhatsApp allow you to preview links in chat.

A great product example is Tinder’s “Recommend to a friend” feature. Here users can click the “Recommend to a friend” option on a potential match’s profile and text the link to a friend. The friend receiving the message sees a thumbnail image of the match. Clicking on the image opens up the match’s profile in the Tinder app on the receiver’s phone. If the message recipient does not have the Tinder app installed on their mobile device, they are directed to the app store. This is a great way to get people to install the app. Installing, or even clicking on the potential match would be less interesting if the picture was absent or blurred – emphasizing the need for high-quality images and great product messaging.

Tinder’s ‘Recommend a friend’ feature is a great way to get people to install the app (Image: Shutterstock/ Alex Ruhl)

BBC news articles provide another great example of how a company can layer messaging into its product to entice users to click on it. Sharing a BBC news article on the BBC website or app will often layer in the copy “I saw this on the BBC and thought you should see it:” before the article’s text. This makes it seem more personally curated by the link’s recipient. This is an especially powerful technique when the article is shared through personal and organic means like email, iMessage, or WhatsApp.

3) What the User Does When They Action a Link

What happens when the user finally clicks on the link? Does it take them to the app store? To a page in the app? If it’s an article, is there an easy sign-up process for your product? If the product is being shared through influencer marketing, there are two users who need to benefit – the influencer and the end user. While the influencer aids in the discovery process for the end user, the end user needs to have a seamless landing experience. In turn, the influencer needs to get credit for their work in referring the end user.

Imagine an influencer posts a link to an item they bought on your app. The deep link would link their followers to the specific item in your app, on that specific page. However, if not built carefully, this link might just open in the mobile browser of the follower’s phone – providing a sub-par experience compared to opening in app.

But what if the follower does not have the app? Deferred deep links – a way of deep linking into an app that isn’t yet installed – help to solve this problem. Without deferred deep linking, a user might see a post for an influencer, and independently download the app. So while you would get a conversion, you wouldn’t be able to track where the referral came from.

Referrals should be tracked to the influencer (Image: Shutterstock)

Take the scenario when an influencer posts a link to their favorite sneakers off an app in their YouTube videos. A follower, looking to buy these sneakers, clicks on the link using their mobile phone. With deferred deep linking, the follower is taken directly to the app store, where they click on the app. The referral is tracked as being attributed to the influencer, and the app opens directly to the page where the follower can see the influencer’s fresh kicks. This is a far superior experience to opening a mobile web browser and trying to find the shoes from there. If, however, you are unable to link directly into the app store (as can be a platform limitation with Facebook or Instagram sometimes), you can leverage a banner to appear on the mobile browser page, and once installed, the app will still open to the page the follower wants to see. While not as seamless, this can at least prompt the user to install the app and serve as the next best thing.

Making Products More Shareable

Is influencer marketing around to stay? As with any business, the bubble may one day burst and influencers may not make as much money as they do now by promoting products. However, it’s safe to assume that even if influencer marketing is a bubble that bursts soon, strategies to make consumer products more shareable will be around for some time. And with peer-to-peer referrals and organic sharing, it’s important to think carefully about referral programs not just for influencers, but for users as well.