The influencer market is predicted to balloon to $15 billion by the end of 2022. That means if influencer marketing is not already included within your brand’s strategy, you need to change that. Join us as we take a deeper look into what this means for small businesses.
Marketing a small business
If you’re interested in marketing your business, the chances are you’ve already tried, or at least looked into, the traditional routes. TV, digital, and print advertising have been around far longer than the more contemporary digital and pay-per-click ads favored by online brands. But now, with all consumers constantly bombarded with ads whenever they turn on the TV or their computer screens, it’s no surprise that they’re failing to have the same effect.
Statistics from the US show that the average American will see between 4,000—10,000 adverts every single day, and the chances that they’re interested, or even paying attention, are slim. In fact, 40% of US adults use ad blockers so they won’t even see your hard-working creative in the first place. But there are always new and innovative marketing methods emerging. And for contemporary brands that want to focus on the digital side of advertising their brand, influencer marketing could well be an effective route…
The secrets to influencer marketing for small businesses:
- What is influencer marketing?
- Why your brand needs influencer marketing
- How to find the right influencers
- What to look for in an influencer
- How to work with influencers
- How to measure success
What is influencer marketing?
If you think back to the ‘90s, you might remember a boom in celebrities advertising brands. Britney, Christina, and Mariah were the faces of Pepsi. The Spice Girls promoted Polaroid cameras to young new audiences, and David Beckham was synonymous with Calvin Klein. It’s a trend that continues, with Johnny Depp still advertising DIOR cologne and Snoop Dogg recently starring in a Just Eat ad.
These could all be considered examples of influencer marketing: they’re paid sponsorships and partnerships that encourage new customers to try a brand or product due to their affiliation with a well-known or well-liked celebrity.
But today’s online influencer marketing tends to happen on a more micro-scale, which is why it’s an effective route for smaller businesses.
Instagram influencers with just thousands of followers can be one of your most effective advertising sources: their untapped but loyal following are more likely to take the personal validation of their favourite influencer over that of a Hollywood celeb.
In fact, 70% of teens trust influencers more than celebrities, and 60% of consumers say they’ve been influenced by something they saw online when they’re shopping in a store.
As a small business, influencer marketing can be a tricky path to take. But if you know how to approach your campaign tactics with reasonable expectations, and have the right mindset around finding the best influencer for you, then it’s likely to pay off.
Understanding the need for influencer marketing
Before you pick an influencer to work with, you need a clear understanding of your brand and product, and the ways in which working with influencers can support your marketing goals.
If your brand is in the food and drink, wellness, or beauty spaces then finding an influencer won’t be too much trouble. If you’re in a more niche industry, it’s likely that you’ll need someone well renowned within your audience that will be better placed to market your product.
Start by considering the purpose of your campaign and what you want it to achieve. Is it a brand or product launch, a new offer, or an event? Whatever it is, you will need a specific marketing plan laid out for that campaign before you start getting influencers involved. A great marketing plan should include your sales goals, content strategy, and audience personas, as well as your influencer marketing strategy.
Once your overall marketing plan is in place, you’ll need to start thinking about the right influencer for your campaign. In many ways, this is the hardest step of the journey: you whittle down the most appropriate names in your industry, and then you need to make the decision about who will become the face of your brand.
But before you set to work with a famous (read: expensive) influencer, take a look at the conversations that are already happening about your brand online. Where are they taking place, and what kind of people are talking about you? These organic conversations could be a brilliant place to find an influencer who truly backs your brand without even being asked.
If you think a big-name celebrity holds the key to a successful campaign, then you probably already have a good idea of the kind of names that will work for your brand. But many small businesses find that micro-influencers can be more effective when it comes to direct engagement.
You might find inspirational influencers by reviewing the people that your known fans already follow and engage with. You might come across your own micro-influencer within your fan base. Or you might even decide to turn your most loyal and authentic fans into influencers themselves, offering them benefits to promote your brand.
By reviewing the potential reach of different kinds of influencers across the platforms you’re most interested in, you can get to the bottom of whether a small, medium, or high-level influencer will be the most cost-effective and wide-reaching for your campaign.
In general, a micro-influencer would be considered as having 10,000—50,000 followers, but many small brands find that working with influencers who have 3,000—10,000 followers can produce just as good results. This is because a niche influencer with a dedicated following will have more impact among their audience than a broader-scale influencer with less-engaged followers.
Engage with those who already have a positive opinion of your brand and it’s likely that their opinion will remain positive. Then, when the time comes to launch your influencer marketing campaign, you’ll have a bank of authentic fans already willing and able to work with you.
What to look for in an influencer
We usually think of influencers as being celebrities or people who are famous on social media. But in niche markets, the spec for what creates an influencer is more defined, and actually more reliant on real influence.
For example, if you’re an independent brand that sells cycling gear, someone who posts a lot about cycling and has gained followers for that niche could be more effective for your brand than splashing out millions on a partnership with Chris Froome.
You can often find these people yourself by doing some research on your favored social channels and reaching out via their agents or, for smaller influencers, directly to their mailbox. There are also influencer agencies popping up more and more frequently who are dedicated to setting up small brands with the perfect influencers for their campaign needs. It costs extra money but saves you time and effort in research as they’ll already know all the details.
Firstly, you will want to eliminate anyone whose values aren’t entirely aligned with your own. Back in 2020, HelloFresh dropped Glee star Lea Michelle after stories of her racist microaggressions on set came to light.
The most important thing for your image is to choose a well-respected partner who you’re happy to have as an extension of your brand. Consider whether you’re looking for a cool influencer who has clout, a taste-maker, an expert in a specific field, or a well-known name with a big reputation. Then, focus on finding someone who fits that bill, and is also well aligned with your brand’s values and ethos. If they fit one of your marketing strategy’s brand personas, then you’re probably on to a winner.
If this leaves you with only a small list of micro-influencers to choose from, don’t sweat. For small businesses, working with influencers with lower follower counts is no bad thing. According to econsultancy, 72% of brands that successfully use influencer marketing strategies say that the relevancy of an influencer is far more important than their reach. Working with a person who has direct influence and engagement with their own audience will be more likely to get your brand seen.
As well as their reach and engagement credentials, an influencer’s own social media presence is an important element of your potential partnership. If they’re popular on Instagram, that will be the best place to promote your brand in this partnership. If they’re big on Facebook, stick to that audience: it’s unlikely to translate as well in a different space like TikTok.
How to work with influencers
Once you’ve got an influencer lined up, the timing of your campaign becomes important. Working with influencers isn’t a quick process. In fact, you’ll want to have your plan lined up and ready months in advance of the launch date. Your influencer will need to be well informed about your product and brand and exactly what you expect from them–and bearing in mind that they don’t work for you full-time, it might take them a moment to get up to speed.
Aim to be sending your materials, like videos or a script, over to them around four weeks ahead of the campaign launch. This should include all the important information about the brand or product the influencer will be promoting, such as:
- your brand style guide highlighting the language you do and don’t use when communicating with your audience
- inspirational and guidance documents like previous successful campaigns
- Non-Disclosure Agreements and other contracts your company draws up when working with third parties.
As much as you may have planned the creative output of your influencer campaign, you need to remember that this is a jointly beneficial partnership and your influencer is likely going to want some element of their own creative freedom. After all, if your campaign doesn’t align with their brand values or image they’re not going to want to work with you.
It isn’t easy to hand over control of your brand communications, but when working with influencers it’s important to allow them creative freedom: after all they’re as much of a creator as you are and that’s why you’ve chosen to partner with them. So rather than micromanaging the design of the campaign, think about the key messages and trust that your influencer knows how to best communicate those messages with their audience. Your influencer will be sharing the content in their own spaces, as well as appearing on your social pages, so you’ll need to connect with their followers to spread the message further using hashtags and other social tactics they are likely to engage with, for example Instagram filters or TikTok challenges.
The whole purpose of an influencer partnership campaign is to reach their audience. By overly-controlling the creative output of your influencer, the content may come across as unnatural and their followers might find it harder to connect with the campaign and your brand. Allowing your influencer to have some control over the way they share the campaign will be the easiest way to resonate with their existing fan base.
Finally, don’t rely on one influencer to carry your whole campaign. As a small business, you can benefit from using a range of micro-influencers rather than one huge name. Whether you use them simultaneously, running as a series, or choose to keep some as back up in case your front runner pulls out is up to you: just don’t put all your eggs in one influential basket.
How to measure success
Though some metrics—like sales, clicks, and post shares—are easier and more tangible to track than others, without keeping tabs on the results of the campaign you can never really know if it’s a success.
For example, if your agreement with the influencer is that they will share a series of posts about your product you would want to review the platform’s analytics reports to gauge engagement with the relevant posts and potential sales conversion within 24 hours of the post going live. If the influencer is sharing a discount code for one of your products, you should have targets to reach throughout a set period. Base the measurement of metrics on the statistics and results that are important to your campaign and agreed with your influencer.
By staying on top of the metrics, you’ll be better placed to make changes and adjustments to your campaign based on what is and isn’t working well. Understanding where the traffic is coming from and the gaps you’re still missing will help you guide your influencer in the right direction throughout the campaign. You can even set agreed times, for example 24 hours, 48 hours, and one week after your live date to share and review the results with your influencer.
Setting goals is important, but influencers, and their audiences, are only human and things don’t always go exactly as you planned. For example ‘going viral’ is not a reasonable goal to set for anyone. You, your influencer, and your combined followers are not responsible for the organic movements that make a post or a campaign go viral. So if it doesn’t happen, your influencer isn’t to blame. It might seem like posts are going viral all the time – and technically they are – but out of the millions of content pieces that are produced every day, finding the key to a viral post is like gold dust.
Furthermore, a viral post doesn’t necessarily convert to sales or followers. It’s a zeitgeist within a blip in time when your real goal should be more long-term. Connecting on a smaller level with people who are interested in what you do is guaranteed to lead to far more tangible successes.
When you consider successful viral campaigns, like the ice bucket challenge for ALS, you’ll notice a theme: active audience participation in something that feels novelty and somehow outrageous is more likely to take off than a safe but attractive campaign with your chosen influencer. And that’s fine—it’s far more effective to work within the confines and metrics that work for your brand and your influencer than to try to force a viral campaign that might fall flat. Let the internet do its own thing, and see what happens organically.
Set targets that are easy to measure, like link clicks, website visits, new followers, or even direct sales. These metrics are easier to track, and are far more relevant to your overall success than one highly-viewed Instagram Reel. Understand your baseline for these metrics when you don’t have a campaign running, then once your influencer starts sharing posts, links, or discount codes you can track their success in comparison to your normal rate.
Ready to get your influencer campaign started?
Working with influencers is a proven effective marketing strategy for small brands. And with 48% of consumers looking to influencers for purchasing recommendations, it’s definitely worth a shot. How you work with your influencers is up to you: you decide the level of involvement.
You might want to collaborate on one campaign; you might want an influencer to become the face of your brand; you might want them to write for your website or ‘takeover’ your Instagram page; you might want them to share affiliate marketing links for an agreed commission. Whatever route you take, just be sure to choose the creative collaboration that is best for your brand image—not the one that has the biggest reach.