Influencers. We hear about them, we see them all over social media, and we’ve reached a point where we trust them with our buying decisions.
Simply put, influencers showcase products that they swear by, and they typically don’t hold back. They will tell you when something is good, and when something is lacking in various aspects.
But aside from reviewing these items, they tend to create a sense of community. They connect with their audience as both personas and fellow buyers, making them much more relatable than your average entrepreneur.
That means if you’re running a business you want to see grow in this day and age, it’s important to connect to a few popular influencers. Tapping into their following grants you product exposure, company exposure, and most importantly, valuable feedback.
Many times, you’ll find that influencers point out things they wish were improved upon. And even if they don’t, their followers will in the comments. On one hand, people can be pretty harsh, but you’re in business: you put yourself in the line of fire willingly anyway. You need thick skin to do what you do. On the other hand, if you take that criticism in stride and really listen to what it is they’re saying, you could have a successful version 2.0 on your hands.
The possibilities are seemingly never ending. But before we jump to it, let’s learn a bit about what influencer marketing truly entails, and how to best go about it.
Let’s get started.
Influencer Marketing Overview
You know the basics: influencers review products, showcasing them to their audience, and often offer promo codes if they choose to purchase anything. This grants businesses exposure, and insight on their products, while also helping to generate sales. Think of this as lead generation, if you will.
What you may not know is that an influencer’s reach will only go as far as the niche they choose to operate in. For instance, if an influencer settles on beauty, their following could be through the roof, because there’s no shortage of beauty brands and products out there. But on the other side of the spectrum, there’s going to be less followers for the influencer who chooses to talk about stationary.
What does this mean for you? Well, as a business, you have to ask yourself what niche you cater to, and what that means for follower counts. It may seem trivial, or even vain, but follower counts mean a lot these days. No business is really trusted unless they have social media accounts with at least a decent following.
That being said, you shouldn’t always aim for the most popular influencers anyway. There’s a time and a place. For example, if you’re running a massive business, or even one that’s gained plenty of popularity recently, then you should definitely opt for the influencer with the following to match.
If you’re smaller, you should aim for the influencers with smaller followings. Not only does it line up with your scale, it also reflects on your niche, which is likely a micro-niche. You will appeal to less people, but those people will be hyper-targeted, so you may get more conversions than if you opted for a larger, less interested audience.
Another pointer is to remember that most influencers started off with a blog on a specific niche. They obviously run their own channel, making videos on products and the like, but the chances are extremely high that they still manage that blog. And that presents you with an opportunity to not only provide all the relevant information so the influencer can create video content around it, but also, to write a blog post on it. If you’ve ever run your own blog (everyone has, right?), then you know that the possibility of winding up on a roundup post is pretty high. Maybe a “Top 10 Products of 2019” post, or a “5 Products I Swear By.” This grants you more exposure, in more than one avenue, and backlinks you can work with.
Influencer Marketing Vs… All Other Marketing
But… What about other types of marketing? Should you pursue influencer marketing, and let everything else fall by the wayside?
Not at all.
Think of marketing as a multifaceted strategy. A good marketing strategy will tap into many different channels and tools to accomplish a common goal. Influencer marketing is one of them, because you’re harnessing someone else’s audience to essentially increase your conversion rate, traffic, you name it.
Likewise, content marketing is another tool, another form of marketing that allows you to create content that your audience will love. It focuses on giving them what it is they want, whether it’s instructional material, entertainment, or both. This is how lead generation works, with content that draws in people, and keeps them interested in what you have to say and offer.
In other words, just because you want to dabble in influencer marketing, it doesn’t mean you should shuck all other forms of marketing aside. Each one serves a purpose. Influencer marketing is more about distribution, while content marketing is about creation. And brand ambassadors? Well, they’re affiliates, which means they get a percentage of every sale they send your way, thanks to a handy little sales code they give their audience through social media channels.
As with anything else in business, planning is the first step when deciding on influencer marketing. Knowing what your marketing campaign strategy is, what your goals are, and how influencer marketing fits into that is of the utmost importance.
For example, maybe your goal for this year is to gain more traffic, and therefore, more followers. You want visibility, that’s the theme for this year. Well, your marketing strategy would most likely consist of things that work toward that direction. Maybe increasing social media channels used, dabbling in PPC ads or Facebook ads to direct people to your product listings, or landing pages explaining more about your company as a whole (with a CTA to join a newsletter, of course).
Influencer marketing would fit in with this goal nicely, as it would increase awareness of your business and product lines. It would be a great addition to your overall marketing strategy, but only after you’ve set up landing pages, polished product listings, carefully designed your website with branding in mind, and set up social media accounts on a variety of platforms. You’d want to be as ready as possible, so that when these new people look your company up, they find plenty of information, sources, leads, products, etc.
That means your content itself, everything from your copy to your graphics and videos, needs to be accessible, actionable, and visually appealing. No error messages when clicking on links, no messy blog posts with no point to them, and certainly no content that puts people off, visually speaking. You want to be onbrand, but still relatable to the masses.
Note, if this is too confusing, consider hiring outside help. Freelancers can help with things like copywriting or graphic design, even admin work. But consultants can help manage things for you, and reorganize your business from the ground up, so you have an easier time running things moving forward.
Think of it as a vital sidenote, but part of the planning is to ensure you know who your target audience really is. Knowing what your goals are, and how influencer marketing fits into your marketing strategy is a huge part of the picture, but not the whole picture. Another aspect of your planning should be to look at your personas.
Personas are basically highly-detailed, fictional yet factual, representations of your average customers. For example, maybe you’re selling plants and gardening equipment. Your customers are people who love to garden, as well as those running their own landscaping business (they may purchase items from you wholesale). That’s a very generic statement though.
That’s where personas come in. Say one of those customers, a recurring customer no less, is named Michael. He gardens at home, maintaining 10 acres of pond, annuals, perennials, and bird baths. This guy comes in regularly, and purchases items like hoses, fertilizer, pots and plants. Essentials, as well as some spur of the moment purchases while waiting in line.
Well, Michael is 49 years old, he likes to read books, and listen to jazz and easy listening. He prefers to spend time alone, or with his wife, but he dislikes crowds. He also knows his neighbors, and often has them over for wine. He’s from New York, so his appreciation for nature runs deep. He didn’t get to enjoy it much growing up in a concrete jungle, after all. Hence, his need to garden now, in his middle-age.
This is Michael, a fictional representation of your target audience. You are catering to Michael, and others like him. You relate to him, and offer him the key items that he would need to complete his gardening dreams.
Consider this an exercise in fiction writing based on reality. Think about what it is you sell, and the type of people you see walking into your store. What do most of them look like, and how do they tend to act? What do you hear about most often?
Sometimes all it takes is a listening ear, and astute observation.
Once you’re set, it’s time to reach out to influencers. But you don’t have to settle for product reviews. You can, if that makes sense with what you’re selling, but there are many other ways you could work with influencers. Consider some of these ideas if you’re having a tough time brainstorming:
Getting influencers to name drop you in a post
Guest posting on influencer blogs
Receiving mentions on influencer blog posts
Sponsoring paid blog posts
Retweets or shares of your social media posts
How to Find Influencers
Influencers are all over social media, and of course they run their own blogs as well, which is likely how they started in the first place. But reaching out to them isn’t always so easy. Depending on their level of popularity, getting ahold of an influencer can either be a cake walk, or nearly impossible.
There are three main categories of contacting an influencer:
Organic - this is a slower process, but it’s shown to lead to better, higher-quality relationships with influencers. All because a middle-man isn’t involved. And the better you connect with these influencers, the more they will likely be willing to work with you, endorsing your products, for less than their going rate. As for the approach, you basically spend time browsing social media on a daily basis (you do that already), and you make a note of who’s made an impact on your target market (proven results). Then, you follow those people, see what they’re all about (study their posts and style), and eventually reach out. As a reminder, you should have defined campaign goals by this time, so you should know the exact type of influencers to look for. Avoid reaching out to anyone who doesn’t meet your criteria, as it’s just a waste of time and money.
Agencies - the agency does the bulk of the work, but you still need to define your goals, so they know what direction to go in. They’ll organize your campaign for you accordingly, and select the best influencer options for you based on all the details.
Platforms - there’s many platforms out there, and each one works a little differently. For instance, some allow influencers to apply to join their roster, hence making themselves more visible. Other platforms only work with influencers that they discover using strict algorithms that have been designed with specific criteria in mind. Either way, the goal is the same: to be selective of who they let onto the roster, so that anyone who pays for access to that roster has plenty of quality influencer options to sift through. As someone who is potentially hiring an influencer for a project, you’ll be asked questions about your campaign, and what you’re looking for in an influencer. Think of it like filtering. But again, not all platforms work the same way. Some treat you like an employer, allowing you to post details about the project, so that influencers appeal to you for the opportunity.
Think of organic as something you can do without the middleman. It’s you reaching out to the influencer directly, establishing a connection, forging a relationship, and eventually working together on something. It’s time-consuming, but it’s by far the cheapest way to go about influencer marketing. Plus, it guarantees a deeper connection with the influencer, meaning it’s great in terms of networking. The more people you know, the better.
On the other hand, agencies are more about paying a specialist influencer marketing agency. This agency finds an influencer that best suits your needs, and then assigns that person to work with you. They also aid in any management, and direction, essentially serving as the middleman. Unsurprisingly, it’s not cheap, but you do get what you pay for: a high-end experience with a top-tier influencer who can generate results.
Lastly, there’s platforms, which is the act of paying to use one of those online specialist platforms that lists hundreds, if not thousands, of influencers. They have filtering systems that allow you to basically shop for your ideal influencer, much like you would filter to find your ideal size and color t-shirt on a store’s website. In this case, the platform is the middleman, and will more often than not take a cut of any profits, or at the very least, have you pay an entrance fee to their database.
Finding the Right Influencer
Now that you know how to find influencers in general, it’s time to figure out the best type of influencer for your brand. This is where most entrepreneurs fail epically.
You see, influencers come in all shapes and sizes. Some cater to large audiences, while others are happy just connecting to a smaller, more engaged audience. But that’s not the only defining factor.
There’s other variables to consider, such as the type of influencer they actually are. Maybe one of them is a video game influencer, known for providing a mixture of gameplay, live streaming, and of course, reviews. But in that same niche, there could be another influencer known for simply dissecting character and story design. Both in the same niche, would be targeting entirely different audiences, with different scales no less.
That means your goal is to work with the influencer type that matches your target market. It goes deeper than just niche.
For reference, and clarify no less, here are the different types of influencers:
Celebrity - oldest type of influencer marketing for a reason. These are celebrities who get paid thousands of dollars to post one single image on their social media channels that promotes your product. More commonly known as endorsements, we see when all the time on Instagram with the controversial SugarBearHair. Note, many celebrities have gone under fire for promoting products that do not work, or that otherwise sell ideals of unattainable beauty to impressionable young girls, especially. If you do have the budget to hire a celebrity influencer, remember to keep things honest and genuine, unless you want to be subject to bad press, which is always a public relations no-go. This is why many celebrities act as brand ambassadors instead, where they get paid by a company to wear an item from their brand, and then sales for that item go through the roof. This has happened many times over, lately with the royal Meghan Markle.
Macro-influencers - these are people with huge followings, known to be experts in the field. Check their social media accounts across the board, and there’s going to be jaw-dropping follower counts. But see, this means that they are actually better than hiring the celebrity influencer, because they’re known for being experts. That’s how they got their recognition. Meanwhile, celebrities get famous for other things, and then promote products on the side. The catch is that macro-influencers aren’t famous, they’re just well-known within a niche. That means that for many brands, they’re not the first go-to choice, even though they’re probably the best choice. That being said, they’re established in their field, which means they only work with brands that provide them a huge incentive, or that they genuinely love and want to support. Still, doesn’t hurt to reach out.
Micro-influencers - scaled down versions of macro-influencers, they are not as established, and don’t have as big of followings. That being said, they’re much more willing to work with you for cheaper. And within their niche, they are still recognized as leaders, which means you’re appealing to many people who would find your products/services of interest. Plus, as a bonus, you don’t have to settle for one micro-influencer. You could technically work with a few of them, to get your brand name out there, and still wind up paying less than for macro-influencers or celebrity influencers.
Tools of the Trade
If you’re really thinking about going about things organically, then it’s time to get a list of tools to use. Luckily for you, there’s one right here:
LinkedIn: their search engine is immaculate for finding anything or anyone, including influencers in your niche/market. Make sure to select People, and then modify the options to filter according to your criteria.
Hey Press: if you’re in tech, this is the tool for you. It allows you to connect with tech journalists, which in turn gives you plenty of press opportunities.
BuzzSumo: the holy grail of marketing tools for a reason. This handy tool is great for finding influencers who have shared content on a particular topic. It’s essentially like spying on people’s content marketing, so you know what they’ve been up to lately. And if someone’s written on something in your niche, you can reach out to them. Maybe ask to be linked in their post, assuming it’s relevant.
Twitter: this platform lists influential people higher in search results, making your job that much easier. You won’t be followed back immediately though, you still need to forge a relationship. Maybe like their tweets, reply, ask valuable questions, share some good insight, and of course, follow them. In time, they’ll follow back.
MozBar: that’s right, from the well-known SEO company. MozBar is their Chrome plugin, which allows you to see stats under every Google search result. Of course, a lot of it is reserved for paying customers only, but if that doesn’t deter you, it’s something to consider. You can see Domain Authority, insight on blog popularity, Page Authority, and even the number of links.
If you use an agency, you can skip this part of the guide. The agency will not only select the right influencers for you, generally, but also reach out to them on your behalf, once you give them the green light.
Platform users will also be able to skip the majority of this part, since most platforms will handle this part for you as well. Keyword there: most. If your platform doesn’t, keep on reading.
And of course, anyone going at this organically will need to follow these steps in order, as effectively as possible. Remember, you’re riding alone, doing everything.
The steps are as follows:
Subscribe to influencer blogs and social media channels: this allows you to research them, figure out what they’re all about, and determine if you could fit within that picture. It also allows you to start a relationship, which means you should be interacting with their content, leaving comments, etc. Don’t try selling yourself too early though.
Reply to any intro emails they send: this lets them know that you’re listening, you’re there and aware of their content. You’re a significant part of the audience. It also helps to ask a question in your reply. This will make your name stand out.
Share influencer posts: everyone likes getting reshared. It means your content was worthy enough of being shared by other accounts. And that boosts your visibility, leading to a larger follower count, and therefore, network.
Respond to questions your influencers ask: you know the ones. It happens a lot, where influencers will list their favorite places to go eat, for example, and then ask their followers “What would make your top 3?” This is their attempt at getting more engagement, while simultaneously getting to know their audience. If you pipe up with an answer every time, they’ll know you’re around and listening.
Leave comments: that’s right, engage with the content. Liking an image on Instagram is easy, but it’s the comments that stand out. It puts you on the map, and gives them more engagement on their posts. Not to mention, it’s a great way to start off a mini conversation and build up that relationship. Just don’t settle for the “Cool!” or the “This is awesome!” comments. Try harder, with thoughtful, insightful commentary. Even thanking them for the informative/valuable material they’re sharing is a good idea.
Link to influencer posts: do this only when a) you’ve been a follower for about two months or more, and b) the influencer really does publish something that your audience would benefit from reading or watching, depending on if it’s a blog post or YouTube video. Just keep it natural. Don’t simply post a short little blurb to introduce it and then hand off a link. Instead, write a blog post of your own, with plenty of information on the subject at hand, and link to their content. This way, it becomes one of the many resources within your post. Once you do that, email the influencer to let them know you added the link in, but don’t ask for anything in return.
Once these six steps are completed, it’s time to reach out. By this point, you’ve been following several influencers, and establishing relationships. You’ve been commenting, sharing, liking, the works.
The critical thing is that you don’t reach out too soon. Don’t rush it, even though you’re dying to. Human connection is built on trust. Unless you have that, you’re asking for favors when they’re not even sure what they think about you. And that can ruin everything you’ve been working toward.
When it’s time, be polite, and keep it short. Don’t be pushy about working together, just keep it very simple and professional. You could ask to guest blog for them, for instance. It’s a great way to open the door, and offer your help in exchange for visibility.
Eventually, as time goes on, you two could even be ready for endorsements or brand ambassador status.
Here are three main criteria your outreach needs to cover:
Explain why they should do it (benefits)
Provide specific information (Is it a guest post, and if so, what is being pitched and what details need to be covered?)
Create deadlines, because otherwise they will push it to the side and maybe even forget about it altogether
Influencer marketing is all the rage for a reason: it works extremely well when done right. Sure, it takes time to figure out your market, and ensure that you got it right. And it certainly takes months of hard continuous effort in order to forge connections with influencers before you ask them to work with you. But the payoff can be anything from more traffic and visibility, to higher conversion rates, sales, and brand awareness.
But make no mistake. Influencer marketing is different from all other types of marketing, like social media, or content, but they all work together for a common goal: to achieve whatever you set out to do this year. Your annual business goal(s) is helped by influencer marketing, but that’s not the end-all tool to strive for.
While building relationships with potential influencers, keep posting on your blog. Make your newsletter come alive. And make sure to post relatable content on your social media channels. Work on your brand, your product launches, and your landing pages. Keep things running smoothly so influencers want to work with you when you finally ask.
And if all of this seems like too much work, never hesitate to hire a consultant to help plan out your goals, budgets, resources, and of course, influencer outreach steps. Freelancers can also help with content, if you’re falling behind.
By the way, which outreach tool do you think you’ll use and why?
Let me know in the comments section below, I love hearing from you!