As a small business, influencer marketing relies on your brand to form strong partnerships with experienced tastemakers or experts that share your same values and priorities. This will help your brand to gain exposure, authority, higher traffic, and hopefully new customers. And although it takes some serious planning and strategizing, it’s one of the most effective ways to market your brand today.
It’s a fairly slow process, as you’ll need to plan out your marketing strategy before selecting the right influencer for you, coming to an agreement that works for both parties, and then running a campaign that delivers the results you’ve planned for. But it doesn’t need to be complicated.
In this piece, we’ll explore the process of working with influencers, from coming up with your campaign idea, to choosing, approaching, working with the perfect influencer to get the results you crave:
- Understanding influencer marketing
- Creating your strategy
- Coming up with campaign ideas
- Selecting and approaching your influencers
- How to collaborate with influencers
- Tacking and assessing the results
What is influencer marketing
Influencer marketing is a form of branded content that refers to brands working with third-party creators to market their products and services to new audiences. Now, it generally focuses on social media campaigns, although branded content using celebrity endorsements in more traditional forms of marketing, like TV adverts, billboards, and product packaging, has been around for much longer.
Because of the wide range of influencers out there, almost all brands can benefit from this kind of collaboration. An influencer doesn’t need to be a household name—it just needs to be someone that holds influence over your particular audience and sector, and has an engaged audience online.
This year, 72.5% of marketers in the USA are expected to run some form of influencer marketing campaign to promote their brands, so it’s not a fleeting trend. It’s a legitimate strategy that’s proven to deliver results for even small, independent brands. In fact, 11% of Millennials have been influenced to buy something by an influencer in the past six months alone.
As well as influencing purchasing decisions, working with your chosen collaborator can also reap more subtle results. For example, spreading your name to a wider audience will boost your brand recognition, putting you front of mind for those who don’t currently need your product or service, but may do in the future. And when that time comes, they’ll remember that an influencer they trust endorsed you.
Creating your strategy
Before you choose your influencer, or even the exact campaign you want to run, you’ll need an influencer marketing strategy. First, you need to define the goals of your campaign, understand who it is you’re trying to influence and where you need to reach them, and—most importantly—you need to understand how this whole thing works. Reaching out to an influencer with no idea what you’re doing will only lead to embarrassment.
1. What are your goals?
Think of your influencer marketing strategy as an extension of your general brand marketing strategy, and begin by setting the intentions of your campaign. Understanding your goals first and foremost will help you understand the end results, so there will be no confusion as to whether or not it has delivered on your targets.
These goals could include increased brand awareness, gaining new customers, highlighting your brand’s identity or values, sales around the launch of a new product, or more engagement on your content. Reaching new audiences, rather than gaining sales, is the most common reason for running a brand campaign. The influencer should attract attention to your brand and product, but the chances of that exposure leading to conversion every time is almost impossible. So manage your expectations.
2. Who are you talking to?
Like with any form of marketing, your influencer campaign needs to reach the right people. There’s no point running a campaign aimed at a specific demographic and then spending money promoting it in all the wrong places. Defining your audience will also help when it comes to defining your influencer, as the people you’re selling to should have an interest in the person you choose to communicate with them.
If you’ve already developed your audience personas as part of your brand strategy, this will be useful. Or, you might be trying to reach a whole new group if you’re launching a brand new product or have made a shift in your brand’s values. Eventually, you can create a matching list of influencer profiles to help you connect your desired audience with the right personality.
As well as understanding who you’re talking to, you need to know where to find them. Currently, Instagram is the most influential platform with 93% of marketers running their influencer campaigns there, followed by 68% planning to use TikTok. But, depending on your brand, you might not want to follow the crowd. For example, a gaming company might have better luck on Twitch or Youtube, and a B2B service provider may have higher success rates on LinkedIn.
3. How does it all work?
In the most basic terms, an influencer marketing strategy informs the ways in which a brand intends to partner with an influencer, who will in turn expose that brand and its products or content to their audience. This exposure should feel natural and positive to those who view and engage with it. It takes meticulous planning, but the final product should never feel that way.
Your influencer marketing strategy should answer:
- What demographic do you want to target? Think about age, gender, location, income, interests, etc.
- What is the end goal of your strategy? Is it to sell, promote awareness, gain new followers?
- What kind of influencer is best suited to your brand?
- How can your chosen influencer speak to their audience about your brand without appearing too salesy?
- How will you track the success of your campaign?
- What numbers are you looking to hit, in terms of reach, sales, or follows?
- What exactly are you expecting your influencer to do? They’ll need a full pack of guidelines and instructions
- How closely do you intend to work with your influencer?
Getting technical, you should always look into your country’s laws and regulations around this kind of marketing, including disclosure agreements and guidelines. For example, most countries require paid sponsorships to be made transparent so audiences know the influencer is not promoting a brand or product of their own volition. This is often as simple as tagging posts with #ad or #sponsored and tagging partnered posts.
Choosing your campaign
When you’ve got your strategy sorted, it’s time to dive into the specifics of your influencer campaign. This means thinking about whether you want to pay your influencer for their involvement, inspire them to promote your brand by gifting them products, or maybe a mix of both. You’ll probably already know roughly what kind of campaign you want to run before you decide on an influencer. But once you’ve whittled down a list of potential names to work with, your campaign plan should be flexible enough to adapt to the person you’re working with. An influencer marketing campaign should feel natural and authentic, so making your influencer fit into a pre-written marketing plan can be counter-productive.
The most common kinds of influencer campaigns involve gifting products as well as paying the influencer to promote them. If you send an influencer your products for free, with no real agreement but the hope that they’ll be inspired to post about you, you have no power to enforce a promotion. However, paying for sponsored content means the influencer will appear to have been organically inspired to post about you, but will have agreed that they will post (while mentioning that the ad is sponsored, of course). Most small brands can’t afford to send out products on the off chance that an influencer may post about them, so having an agreement set in stone is best for both parties.
If your campaign is more content-focused, you might want to consider guest posting or co-creating content that will appear on one of both of your websites. This should include contributions from both parties to ensure the content is optimized to appeal to the influencer’s core audience—the same people that you want to convert.
Bear in mind that not all influencers are trying to carve a career out of their reputation or social presence. Some are experts in their field, some are respected for their opinions or achievements in a certain sector, and some are even other businesses that complement your brand.
For example, Panasonic shares co-promotional posts about its 4K TVs in partnership with Netflix. Both are big names, but their products complement one another and work with one another, so they aren’t in competition for the same audience. This is mutually beneficial for both names, and seems like a natural collaboration.
Social-based campaigns include competitions and giveaways, influencer takeovers, and engagement campaigns.
An influencer might be the face of your competition and share it with their followers, for example posting an image of the products on offer, the terms of the competition, and how their followers can get involved.
They could ‘take over’ your social for the day – or you theirs – to promote your collaboration, sharing posts from their own point of view and in their established tone of voice across your pages for an agreed time. Or they could simply mention your brand in their posts to increase engagement with your content, sharing posts of them using the product, linking to where it can be bought, or explaining its benefits. You could also make your chosen influencer a brand ambassador, who consistently promotes your brand if your original campaign works well.
The above campaigns tend to come with an upfront agreement of a payment, discount, or product that the influencer will receive in exchange for their campaign. But if you don’t want to commit to an agreed amount or would prefer to compensate your influencer based on the performance of the campaign, you could arrange an affiliation.
Affiliate partnerships are usually based on unique discount codes that the influencer promotes to their audience. Then, with every sale made from that code, you can compensate your influencer with an agreed cut or percentage. It’s a good way to incentivize your influencer to engage with the collaboration, as the more referrals they generate, the more they get paid.
Selecting your influencers
Now your audience and campaign type are decided, you can start looking for the best influencer for your brand. Depending on the size of your company and the audience you’re hoping to reach, there are various types of influencers to choose from.
The main influencer niches are:
- Social media influencers: those who have gained a large following on their preferred platforms
- Bloggers: those who create written or video content with a large following
- Industry leaders: experts who are well respected in their field
- Loyal customers: people who will authentically promote your brand and its benefits
- Other brands: companies that align with your projects, complementing them but not competing with them
- Celebrities: big names that will attract attention to your brand, whether or not they have an obvious connection to what you do
Consider your audience
No matter what kind of influencer you choose, the most important thing to consider is your shared audience. There’s no point in selecting a social media star whose followers have no crossover with your brand. Research into popular influencers that align with your brand’s values, loyal customers, or industry leaders who you know are well-liked among your audience. These are the best options for highly engaged audience connection. Celebrities make a splash, but they can be divisive – and very expensive.
Do your research
If you’re doing your own research to set you up with an influencer, take into account which other brands the influencers you’re interested in are sponsored by. If they have a lot of paid content, their audience’s engagement with the brands they post might not be that high – customers can see through influencers that take on any and all paid opportunities, compared to those who truly love the brands they endorse.
If you have a bigger budget, you might choose to hire an agency that can do the work for you. This takes the weight of research off your shoulders, but comes with its own issues. For example, an agency won’t know your brand in the same amount of depth as your team does. So while they might know all the best influencers around, they might not fully understand what it is you need from that influencer. Agencies also tend to work with people looking to make a career from being an influencer so if you’d prefer to work with someone smaller or more low-key this might not be the right approach for you.
Understanding the influencer’s personal interests—even those that aren’t directly aligned with your brand—is an important factor to consider. There might be unexpected ways in which you can connect your campaign to even broader audiences based on these interests, or you might find that they’re not matched with your values (or support your competition) and actually make this influencer a bad fit.
For example, if you’re a fashion brand looking to advertise or raise awareness of your sustainability values or a new sustainable range, you might want to work with somebody who is a known activist against fast fashion. This will support your claims of sustainability, as those viewing the campaign would understand that your known activist influencer wouldn’t have worked with you if you weren’t as eco as you say you are. This adds to the authenticity of your campaign and will make your whole campaign feel more natural and believable.
Can you use a specific example here? For instance, are you talking about activists who are also into fashion (seeing your Jameela e.g. below)? I would push that image to be just below this paragraph and then explain that specifically why this collab works. Give the audience specific things they can take away from this and encourage them to value authenticity in doing so.
Also, make sure you aren’t contacting influencers who already promote one of your competitors or brands that are too similar to your own. This could cause contractual issues, and it’s unlikely that influencers promoting too many similar brands will generate the results you’re after. Ideally, you want to be the first brand of your kind that your influencer endorses.
Considering these elements will pay off for you, but also for your influencer. This collaborative way of working should yield results for both parties, and they don’t want their followers and engagements to drop off because they’ve picked the wrong partnerships.
To help you consider the right level of influencer for your campaign, it’s worth bearing in mind the different influencer audience sizes:
- Nano-influencers – generally considered to have 10,000 followers or fewer like food and lifestyle blogger Alexis Baker
- Micro-influencers – with 10,000 – 100,000 followers, this group hits the highest engagement rates at around 7%. Examples include parenting and clean lifestyle blogger Jade Phoenix
- Macro-influencers – with up to 1 million followers, they veer close to the celebrity group but tend to be leaders in their field rather than ‘famous’ names. Like Matt Haig, an author and respected mental health advocate
- Mega-influencers – not all accounts with over 1 million followers are celebrities, for example makeup and beauty blogger Lenkalul
Unless you’re a large corporation with surplus funds to spend on your marketing campaigns, it’s likely that a smaller influencer will work better for your campaign. Though the Kardashian’s multi-million follower base might seem highly engaged, most brands will find that their money is better spent on small, niche influencers whose followers truly believe their authoritative voice – especially when it’s specific to one industry.
So, for example, if your brand sells wellbeing supplements aimed at women in their 30s, a female fitness influencer or personal trainer with 1,5000 followers would be a far more effective promoter than a less relevant celebrity with 2 million followers. And it will cost you less.
Don’t forget the three Rs
Relevance, reach, and resonance are the three Rs of influence.
The relevance of your influencer refers to the industry, content, and audience that you share. If you’re not aligned, they’re not relevant to your needs. A good example of relevant influencer partnerships in action is one of the original endorsement campaigns: Nike and Michael Jordan. Working with leading sports personalities, Nike has consistently maintained its name as the best and biggest sportswear brand in the world.
The reach of your campaign is defined by the number of people who will see your brand or product through this partnership with your influencer. A target number for your reach should be laid out in your campaign strategy, and should be agreed upon with your influencer as a reasonable amount in comparison to their influence. So if you want millions of hits, you might not want to work with just one influencer.
If you can’t afford a bigger name, but want to reach just as many people as they can, then working with a few nano-influencers could help you create a bigger campaign on a lower budget. For example, offering smaller influencers products to unbox or promote can be a low-cost way to reach high numbers of followers.
How you resonate with the audience of your influencer campaign depends on the level of engagement your influencer can achieve. Those you reach with the partnership should feel that it is aligned with their interest, and will be more likely to interact with the post. This is a good example of when bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Having a fashion influencer with 500,000 followers promoting your bespoke kitchen company might not resonate with their audience.
So once your strategy and campaign are both in place, how can you whittle down the thousands of social influencers to find the right one for you?
Collaborating with influencers
You’ve chosen your influencer, now you need to get familiar with how to work with them.
How to approach your influencers
When reaching out to influencers for the first time, aim to do so in a private and personal way.
You could begin by interacting with their content so they organically understand that your brand is aligned with their interests, before you contact them directly. Appreciate their content with relevant comments and likes, so the sales pitch doesn’t come out of the blue.
Contacting them through a larger business or agency, or using a template email that doesn’t feel specific to them is less likely to succeed. Think about how you would want to be approached about your own work, and deliver your email or phone call in the same way. If you’re messaging them through a social platform, be even more careful to word your message as though it’s coming from another human and not a faceless business that they might ignore.
How to get your influencer on board
Provide detailed information about your brand, your goals, and the campaign you’re hoping to run with them. Let them know exactly why you’ve chosen them, how they will benefit – in terms of engagement and new followers, as well as free products and a paycheck – and you’re more likely to come to an agreement. Flattery can go a long way!
Just remember that this process should always feel organic and authentic. It’s not something that will happen overnight, but if you know your chosen influencer is the right person for you then it’s worth the effort to make them feel specially selected.
Working with your influencer
If you want your influencer to create the right kind of content for your brand, you should be prepared to work closely with them in the production process. As a content creator in their own right, it’s likely that your influencer will have their own ideas about how your campaign should look. It requires some give and take, as you know your brand the best, but they know the crowd you’re trying to appeal to. Just make sure that everyone involved in the campaign has access to high quality assets from the get-go, so there can be no confusion about what to post and when.
With that said, it’s still worth doing your own research into their audiences. Most influencers will have media packs that explain their followers’ behaviours. So, for example, learning when the influencer’s audience is most active can influence when you post about the specific campaign on your feeds.
Remember this is a partnership, so you should avoid micromanaging but guide the specifics while acknowledging their expertise. Your brand and your influencer will need to be prepared to meet in the middle when it comes to the way your campaign looks, because you’re putting both your brand names to this. In theory, they should compliment each other perfectly and neither side should feel that the design doesn’t line up with the brand image.
Have one dedicated team member who is the point of contact for communicating with your influencer, so they’re never confused about who they’re dealing with. Internally, you should keep track of these communications and the terms of agreement you come to regarding the desired outcomes of the campaigns. This way, both your marketing team and your influencer can be held accountable for the delivery.
The only way to really know if your influencer campaign has been successful is by tracking the results carefully. Google Analytics and Sprout Social are two popular reporting programmes, and most social channels have their insights tools built in.
During your strategy development you decided on the targets you wanted to work towards, so by tracking analytics you can see how close or far you are from achieving that goal, and consider whether you need to tweak your campaign for better performance. You should involve your influencer in this process and have regular catch-ups about how the campaign is performing, how it’s working for them, and how it could be improved.
This benefits both parties, as you can keep your campaign in line with its original targets, and you’ll develop a reputation as being a professional and well-organised business for influencers to work with.
How you track your results depends on what type of campaign you’re running. If your goal is brand awareness, you’ll want to look at website traffic, page views, mentions on social media, the time spent on your site, and the number of new users. If you’re looking to increase your audience you’ll want to look at social follows, newsletter subscribers, and possibly sales. If your campaign focused on your brand’s identity then press coverage, shares, and social mentions will be important. And if you wanted to drive sales you should look at revenue, purchases, and the links new customers followed to reach your brand via your influencer.
This data is valuable in confirming whether or not your campaign has been a success. But you can also use it to inform your future campaigns and what does and does not work for your brand. For example, you might learn that likes and comments on your posts make your campaign look successful, but don’t actually convert to the sales you were aiming for.
Bear in mind that a ‘good’ conversion rate is considered to fall somewhere between 2-5% depending on your industry. So while conversions may look low they might actually be relatively healthy in terms of industry averages. On the other hand, if your conversions are falling below 2% (or whatever your agreed target is), you should work with your influencer to consider new approaches to attract conversion.
Now it’s time to run your campaign
So, you’ve got to grips with influencer marketing. You know how to develop your strategy, dream up campaign ideas, choose and approach your influencer, collaborate with them in a mutually beneficial way, and track and assess the results. When it comes to running an influencer marketing campaign, you’re armed with all the tools you need.
You don’t need to master the mechanics of social media or shell out for the biggest influencer name you can think of. Just follow these (mostly) simple steps, and you’ll be well on track to a successful influencer collaboration.