Influencer marketing has changed the way businesses and consumers look at advertising. The advent and exponential rise of social media over the past two decades has created new opportunities and completely reshaped the landscape of direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing.
While mass advertising is still an option, social media and, in particular, influencer marketing allows you to hone in on your audience to reach people most likely to convert to customers.
You’ve seen influencer marketing before, and in some cases, it’s possible you didn’t realize the content you were consuming was sponsored. (This has changed in recent years, with new advertising regulations requiring influencers to clearly state that they’re promoting a product as part of a business agreement.)
With the visibility of social media platforms, influencer marketing can be an innovative and cost-effective way for you to grow your business. This article will cover what influencer marketing is exactly, how to choose the right influencers to align with your brand, and how to create an influencer marketing strategy.
Influencer marketing 101
Influencer marketing encompasses much more than simply sponsoring a video, and what constitutes an influencer can be difficult to define. Let’s break it down.
What is an influencer?
An influencer is a personality or brand with a social media following and network who uses their platform to share information and influence their followers’ thoughts and actions. Influencers can be celebrities or they can become celebrities through social media. Their content affects their audience’s buying decisions; when celebrities or big influencers mention a product or wear a brand in a TikTok or Instagram video, that brand or product tends to see a spike in sales.
Of course, not all influencers are the same; they fall into various categories. Commonly, influencers are separated or ranked by their number of followers, their content type (blogger versus vlogger versus visual artist), and their level of influence. If you analyze influencers based on followers, you’ll find the following.
These influencers have a huge number of followers on their social media networks, usually in the millions on a single platform. Many mega influencers previously gained their fame offline as movie stars, professional athletes, politicians, or reality TV personalities. However, some mega influencers grew their followings exclusively through their online and social media activities.
Example: Hyram Yarbro, with 4.5M followers on YouTube and 1M on Instagram.
Mega influencers are best suited for major brands, as their services can cost well into the hundreds of thousands or even millions per post, and their partnership requirements are stringently aligned to their personal brand.
It’s worth noting that there is a subcategory in mega influencers that goes to extreme numbers. These are the top of the pack in follower numbers, such as Charli D’Amelio with almost 130M followers on TikTok and 50M on Instagram.
Smaller than the mega crowd, macro influencers are more accessible as influencer marketers. These folks tend to have roughly a million followers on a single social media platform, but they may also have more. Often, this group is composed of online experts who’ve amassed a following by sharing content that resonates with a wide audience. They generally have a high profile and are great at raising awareness. Because the pool of macro influencers is larger than that of mega influencers, it’s usually easier to find a partner.
Example: Ginny Di, with 300K followers on YouTube and 130K on Instagram.
However, macro influencers tend to have the highest instances of influencer fraud. This means some influencers in this category only reached their position by paying for followers, including bots and inactive accounts. Be sure to keep an eye on the engagement on their posts to work out whether they have a truly active following or not.
Micro influencers are everyday people who became known for their knowledge and personality in a certain niche. They’ve usually gained a sizable following from either devotees in their niche or a group of followers in a particular region. An important thing to note about micro influencers is that, while their numbers might not be astronomical, they often have strong relationships and higher engagement with their followers.
Example: Ann Handley with 50K followers on Twitter.
The jury is out on the number of followers micro influencers have; it’s usually under 50,000 on a single social media platform, but more than 1,000. Micro influencers are a fantastic option for eCommerce brands given their accessibility and their close relationships with their audiences. They’re less expensive to work with and are often regarded as more trustworthy than celebrity endorsements.
The newest type of influencer to gain recognition is the nano influencer. These people have small followings, often under 10,000 per social media platform, but they’re regarded as experts in their highly specialized fields or niches.
Example: May Zune Win with 13K followers on Instagram.
Nano influencers are sometimes more inexperienced, and have a considerably shorter reach than their other influencer counterparts. However, that doesn’t mean this group should be overlooked. Perhaps you sell or want to start selling a tailored niche product, and would be the perfect fit for their audience.
What is influencer marketing?
At the most basic level, influencer marketing is a form of social marketing that uses endorsements and/or product mentions from influencers. The reason influencer marketing works and continues to grow is the high level of trust an influencer develops with his or her following. Recommendations from them serve as social proof for your potential customers.
Influencer marketing features several content types and activities including, but not limited to the below list (either separate or as part of a combined package).
Blogs are everywhere and cover just about every topic imaginable, but social media bloggers and influencers — especially in the micro group — have the most authentic and active relationships with their fans and the most targeted audiences.
Successful blogs have a large and, more importantly, active readership, meaning fans hit the blog every time a new post lands.
In a blogging agreement, the influencer could mention your store or products and link to them in a blog post. Or, you might be able to guest post on the blog, which allows you to share your store or products in both the copy and your author bio.
This group of influencers relies heavily on video (think YouTubers, Instagrammers, and TikTokers).
Although it’s still true that “content is king,” video content specifically has taken the throne. YouTube is a longtime player in the game, and the addition of Instagram video content (stories, reels, etc.) with the overwhelming growth of TikTok proves consumers are watching more videos.
Previously, brands aligned with YouTubers, but as audiences move to shorter-form video content as offered by TikTok and Instagram, it’s time for brands and product managers to shift gears and meet consumers where they’re at.
Many video creators have loyal followers — fans who tune in to every video as they’re posted. Depending on their audience size and type of channel, a short video could have hundreds or even thousands of potential buyers’ attention.
Podcasts have become increasingly popular over the last few years. Audio content is attractive to audiences due to the ease and convenience of listening, as opposed to watching or reading information.
With podcasts, you have the option to sponsor or advertise on a particular podcast, or you can work with the podcast host to create unique content to promote your business. Bonus: many podcasts are filmed concurrently with the audio recording, meaning you get two pieces of content for the price of one.
Social media influencers
Social media influencers come in many shapes and sizes, from differing niches to audience sizes and even preferred platforms. One of the most common influencer platforms today is Instagram. It turns out a picture really is worth a thousand words.
Photo content is an awesome fit for most eCommerce professionals because it presents the products in an aesthetically pleasing way (and we know aesthetics sell).
A social media influencer can provide multiple posts on Instagram at a price per post or per story, or they could share plugs on their Facebook page or Twitter feed. The opportunities are vast, and your influencers may cross-promote even non-sponsored content, earning you even more exposure.
Choosing the right influencers for your business
Now that you know the types of influencers and the activities you could engage in, the next step is to choose the right influencer for your business. Finding an influencer who aligns with your brand is imperative to a successful influencer marketing strategy.
Selecting the right influencer to partner with requires careful consideration. You need to think about your budget, your goals, and your existing audience before you write up the partnership agreement. So, where to start?
Where to find influencers
Unsurprisingly, the best place to find influencers is in their domain — online. When seeking out an influencer for marketing campaigns, you have two options: take the search into your own hands, or approach an agency to assist you.
Doing your own research
Depending on the scale of your business and how much time you have, you can look for influencers on your own through a broad internet search or by digging through a particular social media platform.
Start with a quick search of influencers in your industry with a tool like SparkToro. If you sell camping supplies, look for outdoor enthusiasts who share their adventures online and cross-reference those results against your business needs.
To take the solo route, you’ll need a deep understanding of influencer marketing or be prepared to let the influencer take the reins (a risky choice) and handle all onboarding and campaign tracking alongside them.
Leveraging an agency
An influencer marketing agency is a great option for busy eCommerce professionals. Agencies like Viral Nation, Clutch, and INF Influencer Agency are experts in this type of marketing and have wide-reaching networks of influencers to draw from.
An agency will not only match you with the influencers best-suited to your business, but they can also act as a liaison throughout the campaign and help you develop KPIs and other metrics to measure.
How to approach potential influencers
The best way to approach any new relationship is to reach out in an authentic manner. If you work with an agency, they’ll handle outreach and introductions, but if you operate solo, you’ll want to make sure you’ve done your homework first.
Begin by familiarizing yourself with your potential influencer’s content. Clearly define what you like about their content and determine whether or not they’re already working with your competitors.
Then, reach out via their preferred channel. Influencers who regularly partner with brands or companies usually have contact information for business inquiries in their bios or somewhere on their websites.
Creating a tailored influencer marketing strategy
Like any strategy, there’s no “one size fits all” solution for influencer marketing. Your business has its own unique challenges and opportunities, so it’s important to consider those needs and then craft your strategy around them.
Start by establishing goals. Are you trying to increase traffic to your site? Boost brand shares? Sell more of a particular item or category of products? Once you’ve set your goals, it’s much easier to understand the steps you need to take to achieve them.
Establish a cadence of marketing collateral
Once you’ve aligned with an influencer or influencers, you need to determine the appropriate cadence of posts (this should be ironed out before your campaign kicks off).
If you have a longer campaign, say six months, to promote a particular product, you may set a biweekly schedule of posts to go live. If your campaign is shorter, you might have two posts in a single week.
Sometimes your campaign will involve influencers engaging in activities on multiple platforms, so you could have multiple posts each week across two or more channels. Consider what cadence fits your needs and confirm a schedule with your influencer
Payment agreements can vary widely based on the influencer you work with and the strategy you create, but it’s common to have one of the following payment agreements in place.
Packaged campaign pricing
A packaged pricing agreement means you pay one lump sum for an agreed-upon deliverable from your partnered influencer. Often, the package includes a free product plus a fee in exchange for the deliverables laid out in your agreement.
So, over the course of a month, you might pay your influencer a total of $X for six Instagram posts, one story two minutes in length, and one blog post as part of your campaign.
Some influencers and eCommerce professionals prefer to work per post or ad hoc. In these cases, each post will have a unique fee and may not be a part of a larger campaign. Per-post payments are common when working with multiple influencers, especially as you test out different audiences or platforms to find the right fit.
Payment through tracking
Ever see an Instagram post where the influencer tells you to “use coupon code MYNAME20 to save 20% off your order”? That coupon code is trackable and demonstrates the customer who used that code was directed to your store by the influencer. In these scenarios, the influencer often receives a portion of the sale as payment for their post or mention.
Affiliate links are another common tracking method to capture the sales an influencer drives. With affiliate links, you can track customers and understand their behavior. You can customize them to an individual post or larger campaign to track performance. Tracked payments on referred sales are often paid out once a particular threshold is hit.
Product or service as payment
Product or service as payment is a common agreement between eCommerce professionals and influencers, though the product or service may not hold enough value to influencers to be a viable plan on its own.
Common elements of an influencer marketing strategy
Several common elements pop up in most (if not all) influencer marketing strategies. These best practices will help ensure your campaigns are measurable, successful, and that all parties are held accountable for their respective duties.
Affiliate links are unique links created for influencers to share when promoting your brand or products. They can be tracked to measure campaign success, from understanding how traffic increases during a campaign to capturing conversions and recording payments (when applicable).
Affiliate links are used in blog posts, author bios, social captions, and video descriptions to push potential buyers to your site.
Agreements + activations
Agreements and activations are the two most important documents you’ll share with an influencer when kicking off your campaign.
The agreement is your legal document outlining the contract between you and the influencer with whom you’ve partnered. It includes all relevant information about pricing, payment, campaign deliverables, timelines, and any other important details such as targeting and more.
An activation is a document that details everything your selected influencer requires to do their job. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Links (including affiliate links)
- Business name or product name
- List of items to promote
- Visuals such as logos or photos you want them to use
Social media guidelines
Clearly outline social media guidelines for your influencers to adhere to during the campaign. For example, if you prefer to keep it PG, your guidelines may include no usage of profanity, nudity, or instances of violence.
These guidelines can also include the type of language and even art direction for the style of photography or videography you’d like to see, or platforms you’d like to use (or avoid).
Product as payment
As previously mentioned, product as payment is commonplace in influencer marketing. While it may not replace a monetary fee, a free product in exchange for deliverables is the bare-minimum requirement for an influencer to use, review, and share your product with their followers. If you opt for this route, you could send the product to several influencers to test for free as part of your initial ask.
Campaign tracking and measurement
A campaign won’t bring a full return on investment if you don’t track and measure its success. You can manage your campaign tracking in a dashboard through your influencer marketing agency, if you use one, or by having the influencer share his or her analytics with you on a regular basis. If you have special KPIs you’re trying to meet, the influencer should work with you to make sure you hit those targets.
Wrapping up — Use and scale influencer marketing alongside your brand
Influencer marketing is a great way to increase your brand visibility and reach new, targeted audiences through compelling content. With thousands of influencers now impacting buying decisions en masse, it’s a perfect time to leverage the power of social proof.
Select an influencer who fits your brand to promote and elevate your image, increase sales, and expand your customer base onto new platforms.