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Under The Influence: 5 Key Questions to Ask Before Diving into Influencer Marketing

Influencer talking to the camera

A lot of credit unions seem to be thinking about influencer marketing, but very few are actually doing it. Why? Well, the notion of paying someone outside your credit union to talk off-script about your brand is a little intimidating, to say the least. And that’s not to mention the potential “icky” factor—like product placement, influencer marketing can come off as a wee bit disingenuous.

But in an era where consumers tend to be turned off by overt marketing pitches and put growing stock in the opinions of their favorite celebrities—whether that’s a supernova like Kim Kardashian, whose 364 million Instagram followers can buy out a product in minutes, or a niche player like Ryan King whose Making Money Simple has 63,000 followers—it’s at least worth considering whether your credit union’s marketing efforts could benefit from a relationship with an influencer.

“Influencers,” which Oxford Languages currently defines as “a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media,” may seem like a new phenomenon, but the earliest examples (minus the social media) go back at least a few hundred years. Josiah Wedgwood, an 18th-century British potter, leveraged endorsements from Queen Charlotte and other members of the royal family to promote his business, including permission to refer to himself as “Potter to Her Majesty.”

Still, the explosion of social media channels over the last decade has created new opportunities for people to develop a sense of relationship with their followers, who often perceive the influencer as little short of a trusted friend. According to research from Matter Communications, the majority of consumers (61%) put influencers in the same category as friends and family members in terms of how much they trust their recommendations, vs. 38% trusting recommendations from brands on social media.

Marketers have taken notice and are increasingly likely to partner with influencers. According to the 2024 State of Social Media Report from Meltwater, nearly 40% of marketers said they used influencer marketing or planned to do so in 2024.

Perhaps surprisingly, quite a few people even rely on social media influencers for financial recommendations. According to research by TIAA, a third of all new investors trust social media content to help make financial decisions, and 32% reported trusting social media influencers and celebrities for financial advice.

Influencer marketing can be expensive, but it depends on your approach. At the recent America’s Credit Unions’ Marketing & Business Development Council Conference in Las Vegas, credit unions with assets ranging from $100 million to $6.8 billion shared their experiences with this marketing strategy.

If you think now might be the right time for your credit union to partner with an influencer, we’ve got five essential questions we recommend you ask before going all in.

1. Who are you trying to reach?

Not everyone will be receptive to an influencer pitch, and you don’t want to waste your marketing dollars chasing after a target group that is less engaged on social media.

According to a 2022 study from Oracle and CRM Essentials, Gen Z and Millennials were likelier to trust influencers than Baby Boomers. But that doesn’t mean Boomers and influencers don’t mix. The pandemic was a tipping point for many older consumers when it came to relying on online channels and recommendations. And there’s a growing segment of “granfluencers”—though, admittedly, their followers are often much younger than they are!

What platform is your audience most likely to be active on? As you address this question, it’s important to determine whether you’re looking to target a specific segment, like business owners or first-time homebuyers, or whether you have a broader audience in mind.

2. What area(s) of expertise align most closely with your target market?

Once you’ve defined your target market(s), it’s time to consider the types of influencers they’re most likely to respond to. A financial expert might seem like an obvious choice, but does that align with your target’s goals and whom they’re most likely to follow and respond positively to?

If you’re targeting small business owners, they might connect best with a successful local entrepreneur. Would-be first-time home buyers might rely on influencers who know the ins and outs of life in your community or are well-versed in real estate. Young parents might connect with people they perceive as childcare or parenting experts. You could also look for influencers that align for credit unions’ community-first people-helping-people ethos—for instance, someone who focuses on social impact and community-minded activism.

3. How will you find potential candidates?

There are millions of influencers out there (according to this research from Influencity, 3% of the U.S. population could be considered an influencer). So, how can you find one that’s a good fit for your credit union?

One way is to use a platform that connects businesses with potential influencers. This could save your credit union time, help you find strong influencer partners, and make it easier to navigate the negotiation process. The downside is that there’s no guarantee their picks will be a good fit and the cost could be prohibitive.

You can also go the DIY route. To uncover options, ask fellow team members whom they follow. Would any of these influencers be a good fit with your target audiences? Do any of your members have strong social media followings—especially in an area your targets are likely to be interested in? This partnership has built-in authenticity as this person has already chosen your credit union as their financial services partner.

The fees an influencer charges typically align with the number of followers they have. For budgetary reasons, you’ll likely need to work with a nano-influencer (1,000-10,000 followers), or a micro-influencer (10,000-100,000 followers) vs. a macro-influencer (100,000-1 million followers) or mega-influencers (1 million +).

Influencers at the nano or micro level might be regional or align closely with one of your target markets. They’ll also be more affordable—this article from The Financial Brand puts the average cost for an Instagram post from a micro-influencer at $354. (Just for perspective, Kim Kardashian reportedly charges $300,000-$500,000 for a post. Hey, she has overhead!). That’s not to mention that micro-influencers are reported to have a 60% higher engagement rate than macro-influencers.

4. How will you vet candidates and ensure an influencer’s values align with yours?

While the number of followers an influencer has is important, what’s even more important is to find an influencer who aligns with your brand. Unlike an ad campaign, this person will likely be talking off-script about your credit union, and you can’t risk choosing someone who’s seen as inauthentic or whose style and values don’t mesh with yours.

Be sure to do your homework on any potential influencers. The Financial Brand’s article suggests reviewing past posts in the influencer’s accounts, meeting them in person (or at least via Zoom), and building an “out” into your contract with them.

As this recent CUInsight article highlights, before your credit union can find the right influencer, you’ll need to do some soul-searching. What does your brand stand for? How does your credit union give back to the community? Does the influencer you’re considering align with your credit union’s mission and vision?

The credit unions who addressed these issues at the America’s Credit Union’s conference also recommended working closely with your risk and compliance teams to ensure you’ve considered the reputation risk of working with this influencer.

For a (hopefully!) positive example of a recent values-aligned pick, consider this influencer partnership from the city of Superior, Wis. Superior recently hired Wisconsin-based comedian and influencer Charlie Berens to promote their northern Wisconsin city and attract tourists for the summer of 2024. Berens is widely known throughout the state for his irreverent style and Wisconsin-centric authenticity. We’ll see if this proves to be a good fit!

5. How will you measure ROI?

It can be challenging to measure ROI for influencer spends, and it’s important to note that the relationship is different than a relationship with a brand ambassador. As Katie Rammer, marketing coordinator at Kohler Credit Union stressed at the America’s Credit Union’s conference, it’s not so much about finding a spokesperson for your brand; rather, “it’s a joining of two brands.”

Given these realities, it’s important to manage expectations with your senior leadership and set your goals and metrics in advance. One of the most critical issues to address ahead of time is the goal of your influencer relationship. Are you trying to promote a specific product or service or boost general brand awareness?

If you’re looking to promote a specific product or service, are engagement metrics on social media enough to prove ROI, or are there measures you can take to trace page visits and applications back to the specific influencer campaign? Are you trying to capture data from those who engage with your influencer, like contact information, and how will you do that? How many posts does an influencer or set of influencers need to generate for you to be able to deem a campaign successful?

Just keep in mind that specific metrics can be hard to predict — as a case in point, Kinecta Credit Union works with many influencers of varying audience sizes, but even videos posted by the same influencer can vary dramatically when it comes to views and engagement. One video by ecommjess, for example, received just over 4,000 views while another racked up 11,500.

Influencer marketing might strike some as inauthentic and underhanded, but it’s all in the execution. As these cautionary tales of epic influencer marketing fails demonstrate, many of the big brands have already made the big mistakes so you don’t have to.

If you can find an influencer who is already a credit union advocate, regardless of their specific area of expertise, there is nothing ethically ambiguous about compensating them to share their credit union love with their audience. Influencer marketing might not be the right avenue for all credit unions, but if approached with a values-first mindset, realistic expectations, and a willingness to experiment, it could be a great way to join the larger conversation around financial well-being in your community.

This article originally appeared on CUInsight.