These days, almost every time I open Instagram or peruse brands' content on Snapchat, I notice influencer marketing. Its prevalence has surged over 2016, and I think 2017 will be the year we see this tactic and term hit the mainstream.

Influencer marketing is when companies partner with digital influencers to reach a broader, more relevant audience. This is most common on social channels like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, as well as on influencers' personal websites and blogs.

When you consider the massive audiences some influencers have — for example, NikkieTutorials on YouTube, from which I captured this screenshot, has 5.6 million subscribers — it only makes sense that companies would want to get in on the traffic (and influencers would want to enjoy some free products and perks).

Different platforms and goals require different strategies. And what worked with one influencer won't necessarily work with another. So how do we harness the power of an influencer without compromising his or her voice and keeping our brand intact?

Brian Solis has spent a lot of time pondering these questions as principal analyst at Altimeter Group. Brian is also the award-winning author of books like X: The Experience When Business Meets Design and a popular keynote speaker.

Brian and Altimeter recently published The Influencer Marketing Manifesto: Why the Future of Influencer Marketing Starts with People and Relationships Not PopularityOn this week’s episode of the Marketing Cloudcast  —  the marketing podcast from Salesforce  —  Brian explains critical concepts about the future of influencer marketing from that report.

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You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are six important things to know about the future of influencer marketing from our conversation with Brian.

1. Influencer marketing is not old-school PR or celeb endorsements.

Brian enlightened us, “Unfortunately, [many marketers] think about influencer marketing the same way they think about old-school public relations.”

Influencer marketing and traditional PR are completely different beasts. The good news for brands is that you don't need to target expensive, high-profile A-list celebrities for your influencer marketing program. A YouTube or Instagram influencer with 20,000 subscribers can still generate great results for your brand without costing a fortune.

2. Reach, resonance, and relevance will be the three keys to success.

Brian shared that reach, resonance, and relevance are the three pillars of influencer marketing. The most common reason why marketers feel influencer marketing is important is more authentic storytelling for their brand. A combination of these three pillars will determine what type of influencer is a perfect fit for your brand.

For example, a new product launch may call for massive reach, while other times, a more targeted but more resonant and relevant audience is the goal. Reverse-engineering from the desired outcome will help you find the best match for your brand.

3. Distinguish your brand by actually researching the influencers' content.

For companies looking to get started with influencer marketing, Brian said it's critical to take the time to research these people. “Most marketers don’t take the actual time to go and look at these individuals," he lamented.

It's sales and marketing 101. If a top influencer has 10 content collaboration offers from companies in her inbox, which one is she going to choose: the nine brands who copy and pasted a mass call for content, or the one who specified why they love her photography style and personality so much?

Research will also help you avoid any embarrassment from getting some content out of the partnership that you weren't expecting.

4. Set workflow expectations up front.

Brian explains, “It’s not just about what you’re trying to do — it’s also about how they want to work.”

Influencer marketing is a partnership, and partnerships work better when they are mutually beneficial. In 2017 and beyond, as influencer marketing becomes more popular, influencers will become more selective about the companies they work with. Be transparent about your preferred workflow and stay flexible.

You'll want to make sure you and your chosen influencers understand:

  • How they're getting compensated (72% of influencers in Altimeter's study say brands aren't offering adequate compensation)
  • What form the final deliverable will take
  • The deadline
  • When/if any follow-up metrics are shared

5. Marketers say Facebook is top influencer marketing platform, while influencers say it's their blog.

According to marketers, the top five most important platforms for influencer marketing rank in this order:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Instagram
  • Personal blog

According to influencers, the top five are:

  • Personal blog
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest

Whether it's an established social network or a popular blog, work with influencers to determine where their broadest reach intersects with your desired audience. Brian suggests, “Step away from the world as you know it. There is much that we need to learn, and there’s also much that we need to unlearn. And that unlearning is, I think, where we can realize some of the greatest opportunities for innovation.”

You'll learn many more insights in our full conversation with Brian Solis (@briansolis). Learn the most important details about how to build impactful influence from a marketing research expert in this episode of the Marketing Cloudcast.

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