As in-person events continue to rebound, social media stars—big and small—are proving to still be a valuable asset on an invite list.
In terms of overall marketing strategy, not much has changed though: Find influencers that fit the brand image and that can reach the right audience, keeping in mind that it’s not about the likes but rather the engagement. (It’s been projected that spend on influencer marketing will grow 23.4% in 2023 to reach $6.16 billion.)
Of course, who’s considered an influencer has expanded considerably, with hyper-local and micro influencers now holding as much power as big-name celebs.
“As influencing evolves, I think it's really important to redefine what it means to be an ‘influencer,’” said Michelle Kafka, COO and account director of integrated marketing firm Kafka Media Group (KMG). “Traditional measures like follower counts aren’t all that matter depending on what the goal of your event is and what audience you are trying to reach.”
Enter: the hyper-local influencer. Kafka explained that this type of influencer is someone that is “deeply connected to a specific audience—that can mean a geographically-specific audience, and it can mean a deep connection with an audience of a very specific niche or community” and who is “well respected and ingrained within the local community.” She added that hyper-local influencers are often a good fit for events like fundraisers and festivals.
For example, KMG client Victory Productions recently put on a production of Rock of Ages in the Orlando area. New to the city’s theater scene, the entertainment company wanted to engage with the local theater community and create buzz among the public for the production.
To do this, Victory Productions targeted influencers who lived in Orlando and who posted Orlando-specific lifestyle content, such as things to do and places to eat, as well as those whose content centered around theater and other local attractions. “These influencers were pivotal for engaging both local audiences interested in performance arts and a more general Orlando audience interested in new and exciting things to do around town,” Kafka explained.
“While not having Kardashian-level follower counts or very widespread name recognition, a hyper-local influencer is very impactful and accessible within a niche community, and in turn, is great at engaging and motivating that group of people,” she added. “I think sometimes organizations are skeptical about partnering with hyper-local influencers because on paper they don’t seem to have the same reach as a more popular social media personality, but they are the ones interacting every day with the people in your community, and they can still have tangible influence.”
Nicole Falco, partner at experiential and digital marketing agency TH Experiential, explained that a brand’s KPIs typically determine the types of influencers that are invited. “For example, if an influencer is contracted at a brand event to drive awareness and foot traffic, we recommend influencers with large followings and high engagement,” she said. “However, if the brand is looking for influencers to come and create content around new product launches, we would look for UGC creators.” Ultimately, though, she said the top goal, especially in the age of TikTok, is to create a viral moment.
TH Experiential recently developed a virtual masterclass series for beauty brand KISS aimed at Gen Z audiences. The first influencer-led class was simulcast on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube “to really drive reach and engagement,” Falco said. Over the course of 30 minutes, the brand attracted 18,400 people with a reach of 2.5 million. During the event, KISS also supported a live ongoing conversation where 576 messages were exchanged and 16,000 “like” reactions were garnered.
But influencer marketing isn’t just for consumer brands. B2B event organizers are also enlisting niche industry influencers to draw attention to trade shows and conferences to encourage registration and attendance. After all, not all influencer events require floral walls and selfie stations. But it helps.
“Everyone loves a photo op, but influencers are always about grabbing the most inspired content,” explained Kerilyn Sato, corporate event manager of Innovate Marketing Group, about designing for influencers. “While we create memorable moments for all our events, when producing events for influencers you need to have content-worthy food, beverages, venue spaces, and backdrops. Sometimes all it takes is creating a unique environment for the influencers to just do their thing.”
For a recent TIkTok influencer event series called “Women Who Will,” Sato said that each location—Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York City, and Austin—featured special elements such as pops of pink to complement the cherry blossoms in D.C., and floor-to-ceiling windows in New York to showcase the skyline.
“It is important to us to design an event that speaks to the content and the desired audience—whether there are influencers or not,” said Amy Wigler, vice president of multi-platform marketing and content for PBS. The network recently partnered with full-service marketing and PR agency MAP360 Collective to celebrate the release of the period drama series Marie Antoinette, with a mobile pop-up in Los Angeles that included show-inspired “glow ups,” themed photo opportunities, and giveaways inside a branded Airstream trailer, plus ornate floral arrangements.
Jessica Fitzsimons, director of PR and influencer marketing for Credo, a clean beauty retailer, explained that the company is now “gearing events specifically for influencers,” and oftentimes hosts two sessions—one dedicated to media and the other for influencers. ”With that comes a different experience than an editor would come to expect, including location, type of activations offered, and even what IG-worthy elements you’re including.” Popular activities include ear piercing, acupuncture, and bracelet-making.
“We are mindful that these unique experiences keep influencers engaged and excited for the next event,” Fitzsimons said. “But what’s most important to us is spreading the word of clean beauty, and hosting events in person or online is the best way for us to authentically build these relationships.”
For the launch of its Exa lip oils, Credo invited influencers and their BFFs in both Brooklyn and Chicago for a Galentine’s Day-themed staycation. During the event, attendees created beaded bracelets and were invited to a private shopping experience at a Credo store. Fitzsimons said that the “primary goal is always to get people into our Credo stores,” so the majority of the company’s events are held in stores or have an in-store element.
In terms of invitees, Fitzsimons said that Credo taps into the “relationships that we’ve been building through emails, product seeding, and paid content [in a specific market]...With each event, we look to incorporate new creators so that we’re constantly building our network. We want the influencers we work with to be an extension of our company values.”
At the PBS event, Wigler explained that the influencers in attendance “simply allowed us to amplify our reach.” Notable attendees included Chloé Lukasiak, who boasts close to eight million followers on Instagram, and Caitlin Bea, who has 126,000 followers on the platform.
“For us, reach is nice, engagement is key, and authenticity is paramount,” Wigler said about PBS’ strategy when inviting influencers. “We want them to champion our show because they are as invested in it.”
So will the impact of influencers on events continue at this pace? The experts are optimistic.
“People want to hear from other people, and influencers are our most marketable ‘word of mouth,’” Falco said. “If they are supported, nurtured, and engaged, they can be empowered as the new brand advertisers, delivering not just content but experiences that feel authentic.”
Pete Rosenblum, president of MAP360 Collective, echoed that sentiment, saying that “we see influencers’ participation in our planned events and experiences as vital to the success of a particular project. Every event or piece of media placed needs amplification, but the right amplification—and the right influencers—can really help us attain our ROI and reach.”