A/B testing makes perfect sense for plenty of marketing initiatives. It’s easy enough to send emails to different sets of subscribers, target different groups in your Facebook ads, or test different CTAs on your website. No one’s the wiser, and your company discovers the optimal way to reach your target audience. But what about influencer marketing?
With influencer marketing, you can’t ask someone to post multiple posts to their social media profile, all with a slight variation. It looks unprofessional, embarrassing, and above all, inauthentic.
So how are you supposed to effectively A/B test influencer marketing campaigns?
What is A/B testing?
As a reminder, A/B testing (or split testing) is a conversion rate optimization (CRO) strategy where you split your audience into two groups and present them with two versions of a marketing asset that are exactly the same except for a variation in one particular aspect. A/B testing is heavily used by the most successful online retailers and can have a big effect on sales when done right.
For example, let’s say you have an email marketing newsletter you send to your blog subscribers. You want to test different factors to boost your CRO — like subject lines, layouts, and send times — to find the sweet spot that resonates with the maximum amount of subscribers. In A/B testing, you only change one aspect, like the subject line, as opposed to multivariate testing where you change more than one aspect at a time. To test more than the subject line using the A/B approach, you need to perform multiple tests, where you test variations on each aspect one at a time (e.g. first subject lines, then layouts, then send times).
A/B testing allows you to confirm your assumptions based on your experience as a marketer, your knowledge of your brand audience, and your awareness of marketing best practices. Then, it helps you adjust your assumptions (whether they were spot on or completely off) to deliver the best message, in the best format, at the best time for your unique goals.
How to set up your influencer marketing A/B test
The main thing to keep in mind when A/B testing with influencers is to avoid any situation where the same customer will see similar, but slightly different messages from the same influencer. This is easy enough to do, as long as you do a bit of pre-work with Facebook ads.
Facebook ads let you do some initial testing to hone the copy, image, or idea before handing it off to the influencer. Run multiple ads with your A and B versions. Pay close attention to the demographics, engagement numbers, and sentiment as you analyze the results. The answers may help you decide that you want to find a different influencer to run this campaign (the demographics line up better with another niche audience), that you want to pass on it altogether (the sentiment is overwhelmingly negative), or that this campaign would drive better results for a different goal (conversions vs. engagement).
Of course, instead of Facebook, you can run pre-tests using your email marketing provider or CRO software on your website. The nice thing Facebook offers over these alternatives, however, is the ability to target demographics similar to your influencer’s fanbase through a lookalike audience. Facebook knows how useful split testing is, which is why they offer it as an option with their advertising platform:
Here are the steps to take when setting up your A/B test:
- Decide on the element you’re going to test. Gather information on best practices and what has already worked for your brand in the past.
- Know why and for what reason you’re testing these variations. In other words, what’s your goal? Brand awareness, traffic, conversions, or something else? Figure out how you can measure the results.
- Create the A and B test version. Launch the test using Facebook ads or your CRO software.
- Track the results and claim a winner.
- Iterate and repeat.
What if you’re working with an Instagram influencer?
Because Facebook shares ecosystems with Instagram, many of the learnings you take away from your Facebook ad experiment will apply to Instagram. You can even use the same audience targets from your Facebook ad test.
However, if you’re planning an Instagram-specific campaign, you’ll want to do some ad testing on Instagram first. Because visual imagery dominates the platform, people expect more from the images and videos they see there. Your casual live video might bring in out-of-this-world engagement numbers using Facebook Live, but feel out of character for a highly stylized fashion-focused Instagrammer. Or, it might work. The only way to know is with some testing!
Need ideas for your Instagram test? Try the following:
- Test the efficacy of a multiple-image post with a Carousel ad.
- Your image will grab people’s attention but the copy will compel them to action, so always test your captions. Remember that Instagram tends to truncate captions longer than 125 characters. Does a longer caption spark intrigue, or does it flop?
- Test different filters. Mayfair tends to perform better at engagement, while #nofilter is the most popular.
- Brainstorm with your influencer to determine the hashtags most likely to perform best, ideally based on what’s worked for them in the past. Test the number of hashtags you include.
- Test times. Review your influencer’s and your own analytics to find the two best day/time combinations for your post to publish.
How can you apply A/B testing to your influencer marketing efforts?
Now that you know how to set up your test, what are some of the things you can A/B test with your influencer marketing campaigns? All the same things you test in your other channels…
The type of content
Some influencers specialize in certain types of content, such as vloggers or Instagrammers. However, many are Jacks or Jills of all trades and are happy to provide various types of content as part of their influencer campaigns.
If this describes your influencer, experiment with different types of content and track which resonates best with their audience for your goal. For example, images may drive better social engagement, while videos are better for leads and signups. Alternately, you may find certain content performs better on some channels over others.
Don’t forget all the types of content you have at your disposal – podcasts, live stream videos, tweets, Instagram Stories, webinars, long-form blog posts, short-form blog posts, and much, much more.
Ideally, your influencer will write the social post or their blog in their own voice. Nothing turns a fan off more than something clearly written by a brand and copied and pasted by an influencer. Just ask Scott Disick.
However, you can provide the influencer with some pointers. Would you prefer they include keywords in the title of their product review blog to boost your SEO? How many hashtags do you want them to use, and are fans likelier to adopt shorter ones over longer ones? Should they use emojis? (The answer is almost always yes.) Which CTA performs better, “Save 15% off now with my promo code” or “Use my promo code now”?
Speaking of promo codes, what learnings can you apply from sales you’ve run in the past? Does a percentage or dollar off amount drive more conversions? Does what works for sales on your own website work just as well in the context of an influencer promotion?
Perhaps influencers’ fans are more excited about getting a free sample or trial instead of a discount. In this scenario, try testing free sample promotions with some influencers against discount offers with other influencers. Just be sure to choose influencers with similar audiences, industries, and/or locations to keep the other variables as similar as possible.
The landing page
Where are your influencers sending traffic to? Just like you do with all the other sales pages on your website, A/B test the heck out of your influencer landing pages. Try different CTA button placements and colors, test removing the navigation, and see how personalizing the page for the influencer’s audience affects conversions.
MeUndies found a formula that worked, and then they stuck with it. All of their podcast sponsorship landing pages follow the same format and offer the same promotional discount. Yet, they’re personalized with a hero banner, a headline, and a welcome message that all speak to the podcast the listener came from.
The influencers themselves
Not all influencers are created equal, especially when it comes to choosing the right fit for your brand. As you run campaigns among different sets of influencers, you may find that certain niches drive better results. Then you can choose to partner with more influencers from those industries.
For their Styld.by campaign, Gap worked with influencers around the world in different industries, from outdoor photography to style and fashion.
Sometimes it’s not a problem of the influencer, but the platform they’re using. Certain platforms come with different audience demographics. Test the same influencer marketing campaign across an influencer’s channels to see which ones you want to keep investing in.
If your influencers are creating content that mentions you on other websites (think product reviews, guest blogs, and YouTube videos), don’t forget about SEO. Do some influencers seem to be boosting your rankings more than others? Is it just a matter of higher traffic numbers, or are they doing something different that you can suggest to help the underperformers, such as keyword-rich anchor text or link placement higher up within the content?
Not all your influencer marketing content is published by the influencer. Sometimes, as with the landing pages, you are using the influencers in your own content. A/B test the items under your branded control, too.
For example, if you feature an influencer in an email newsletter, is it best to call that out in the subject line, via the sender name, through a hero image at the top, or some combination of the above? Should you target different subscriber lists for different featured influencers?
Do you publish testimonials from influencers on your website or on your product pages? Test testimonials from different influencers, with different placements, for different products, and including a headshot along with their testimonial.
Do you use influencers in your advertising? In the below A/B test example, the image on the right won. No surprise there – people like images of other people. But imagine how much more it would outperform the original if influencers were wearing the shirts instead of models.
Sometimes A/B tests reveal surprises. Other times they confirm your suspicion that you’re a marketing genius. Either way, just like influencers, they help you do your job better.
Incorporate A/B testing into your influencer marketing campaigns, and you’ll enjoy even better results.