Balance One Supplements is a family owned business that specializes in the manufacture, supply and distribution of premium dietary supplements. James Wilkinson, CEO and co-founder, has found influencer marketing to be key to his growth.
“As a small business owner of a DTC brand, I’ve extensively relied on influencers to build a community around my brand and to attract and retain loyal customers,” he says.
You may have heard the term “influencer marketing” but aren’t sure exactly what it means. Or you may be considering influencer marketing as part of your marketing strategy, but you need a better understanding of how to make it work.
Here we asked small business owners and experts who have been involved in influencer marketing to share their best advice on how to use it successfully in your business.
What is Influencer Marketing?
With influencer marketing, a brand or business with something to sell partners with someone who has an audience they want to reach. Influencers can be bloggers, social media personalities, or others who have an online following. The influencer will share and recommend the brand’s product to her or his audience, in exchange for some type of payment.
“An influencer helps your company to gain the trust of their followers and opens the door for your product or company to be promoted naturally,” says Ellie Kay, CEO of Ellie Kay and Company LLC. Kay has been a spokesperson herself and she represents influencers who have made over 30 million dollars in the space in the last decade.
“It puts a face on your company and people would rather engage with a person rather than an institution,” she adds.
If done properly, influencer marketing offers the “possibility of creating lasting relationships with a much wider, relevant audience than would be possible with just direct or paid advertising,” says Adam Torkildson, a SCORE mentor based in American Fork, UT who has experience in influencer marketing strategy both as a mentor and investor.
Another important reason for considering influencer marketing is that it reaches customers where they are. “Many times that is on social media,” says Annette Malkin, founder and principal of Culturewise Collective, a purpose-driven strategic communications agency focused on lifestyle public relations and branding.
“People are looking for recommendations from real people that they trust and follow,” she advises. “Influencer marketing campaigns are a great way to raise brand awareness and build loyal brand ambassadors for your company and brand.”
Identifying the Right Influencers for Your Business
The key to creating a successful influencer marketing strategy begins with finding the best influencers for your brand and budget.
Start by understanding the social media platforms where your audience tends to hang out. Are they on Tiktok, Snapchat, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter or LinkedIn? You can then look for influencers on the most popular channels for your audience.
“To create an effective influencer campaign, make sure you are targeting the right type of influencer,” Wilkinson recommends. “Smaller influencers tend to drive more engagement than larger influencers because the former have built up a highly targeted audience. Hence, for best results, target a micro/nano influencer who has a similar niche audience to the one you’re targeting.”
But be careful, warns Jordan McAuley, founder of Contact Any Celebrity, an online database providing celebrity contact information for marketers, entrepreneurs, authors, and nonprofits. McAuley is also the author of Celebrity Leverage: Insider Secrets to Getting Celebrity Endorsements, Instant Credibility, and Star-Powered Publicity.
“Target influencers whose audience is the perfect target market for your product or service, not just who you are a fan of,” he says. “Many make this mistake!”
In other words, don’t choose an influencer just because you love them or love what they do. Make sure they—and their audience—are the right fit for your business.
Ask for metrics before you (work with) an influencer to better understand who makes up their community,” Malkin suggests. “If the demographics and geographies align with your target then you are on the right track.” She also recommends asking for metric and engagement reports for all branded posts to see how the engagement rate compares to other recent posts.
Engaging with Influencers
Once you’ve identified potential influencers, take some time to get to know them. “Follow them on social media and engage with their content, Torkildson recommends. “Like, comment, and share their posts.” Then you can reach out and introduce yourself, and let them know you are interested in potentially working with them.
An engagement with an influencer can take several different angles, says Kay. “You can form influencer partnerships where they will post about your product on social and these engagements can be in kind (where you send them the product and they post in exchange), pro bono (if you are a non-profit organization and the influencer believes in what you are doing) or for hire (where you enter into a contract and pay them a certain amount for an established scope of work or SOW.)”
We’ll talk more about how much you may need to pay influencers in a moment.
Popular influencers may be represented by an agency like Kay’s, while micro influencers may be thrilled to engage directly.
“Be patient.” Torkildson advises. “It may take some time to build a relationship with an influencer.”
Creating an Influencer Marketing Campaign
Creating an influencer marketing campaign can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re just getting started.
Here are some of the most popular types of influencer marketing campaigns:
- Product reviews. Here, you’ll supply the influencer with your product, and they will share their opinion of the product with their audience. This may be in the form of a blog post and/or a video post on social media channels. The influencer should always share an honest review or it can backfire on them and your brand.
- Sponsored content. With this type of content marketing campaign, the influencer may write a blog post reviewing the product, or create posts or videos about it.
- Contests or giveaways. This can be a fun way to generate buzz around your product. Here the influencer will review and/or recommend the product and will also get items to give to their audience or followers.
- Social media takeovers. Here an influencer takes over the social media account of the brand for a period of time to engage with the brand’s audience.
- Spokesperson. You can hire an influencer to speak at events or in the news media on behalf of your brand.
- Brand ambassador. You may choose to establish deeper relationships with some influencers, and that’s where brand ambassadors come in. They may represent the brand in various types of campaigns.
When deciding on the right type of campaign, don’t be afraid to ask the influencer to share their ideas.”They know their community best and what will drive the most engagement,” says Malkin.
Torkildson offers several suggestions for developing a successful influencer relationship:
- “Be authentic. Influencer marketing is all about authenticity. People can spot a fake from a mile away, so make sure that your partnerships are genuine.
- “Be creative. Don’t just ask influencers to post about your product or service. Get creative and come up with unique ways to work together.
- “Be responsive. When influencers reach out to you, be sure to respond promptly. This shows that you’re interested in working with them and that you value their time.
- “Be grateful. When an influencer partners with you, be sure to thank them for their time and effort. A simple ‘thank you’ can go a long way in building a positive relationship.”
Remember that the types of content mentioned above often must be labeled as “sponsored,” and/or the relationship must be disclosed, both for transparency and to comply with regulatory requirements.
Measuring the Success of Your Influencer Marketing Campaign
One of the biggest challenges for any type of marketing is to measure results. Small business owners want to get a positive return on investment for their digital marketing dollars, and this type of marketing is no different. That’s why it’s crucial to think about this question in advance.
“Set KPI’s and benchmarks at the onset of the program and evaluate along the way if it’s a long-term partnership so you can adjust as needed,” says Malkin.
First, though, you must know what success looks like for your business. Again you have several options here, says Kay:
“If you are eager to ‘get the word out’ then success is defined by how many people see your content. You can ask the influencer for the metrics on this kind of engagement.
“If you define success by click throughs, then you can provide a unique URL for the influencer to include in their content which will measure exactly how many people visit from the influencer’s sponsored content.
“If you define success by content that you can use on your website and in your own social media, then that success is defined by the quality of that content (such as a sponsored blog, video or graphic) and how much you can repurpose that content to get your money’s worth. For example, if you hire an influencer to create 8 to 10 minutes of raw footage in a video, then your team can cut down the video and use it in your own social media, in email messages from your list, on your website and in your internal sales events.”
Torkildson recommends building conversion tracking mechanisms like unique URLs, coupon codes, or affiliate links into your project. “Monitor the number of sales, sign-ups, or other desired actions directly attributable to the influencer campaign,” he advises.
Monitoring social media and online platforms for brand mentions and sentiment can also be useful. “Analyze the tone and sentiment of the conversations surrounding the influencer campaign to gauge overall brand perception,” says Torkildson.
Some brands have found success creating a unique hashtag for a social media campaign. This approach is also very trackable.
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Influencer Marketing Campaign
If you’re going to put time, effort and money into this type of marketing you want to do all you can to increase the likelihood of success.
Set clear objectives and goals, identify the right influencers, advises McAuley. “These should appeal to your target market and have high engagement, not just followers or who you are a fan of.”
Make sure you provide the influencer with clear guidelines and expectations, and then do your part to help amplify that content. (Consider adding “as used by” or “recommended by,” on your website or social media, for example.)
Torkildson agrees that defining specific goals and objectives is a must. “Whether you want to increase brand awareness, drive website traffic, or boost sales, having clear goals will guide your strategy and help measure success.”
Kay offers a thorough list of recommended steps to help ensure you leverage influencer marketing to your advantage:
- “Don’t overpay for your influencer–ask them for screenshots of previous engagements with paid content.
- “Give the influencer a briefing document so they will know exactly what they are promoting and what your primary messaging includes. They have to know what the target is. If you aim at nothing you hit it every time.
- “Know how you define success for the influencer partnership. Is it education? Is it conversions? Is it just getting eyeballs on the content? Is it click throughs that go to your website? Be sure you communicate this but you have to know it to communicate it.
- “Make sure your influencer abides by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations in all its forms (i.e. disclosing the partnership such as including #ad and other disclosures.) Otherwise, you could run afoul of FTC rules.
- “Do a deeper dive on the influencer to make sure they are who they say they are. It would be a waste of money to hire someone to promote the integrity of your new app only to discover that that influencer has a history of scandal that they’ve tried to bury.
- “Have realistic expectations for your influencer and don’t show your ignorance by asking for the impossible. For example, never ask an influencer, ‘how many conversions can you guarantee?’ You can’t guarantee anything in this business. Instead, ask to see screen shots for engagement and click through rates.”
For success, think long term, suggests Malkin. “Long-term partnerships yield the best results,” she insists. “Over time, working with the same influencer on different campaigns or promoting different causes or products will build a true brand ambassador. The most authentic partnerships are when you partner with someone that is already a fan of your product or service.”
Common Mistakes to Avoid in Influencer Marketing
Not every influencer marketing campaign is going to achieve your marketing goals. You’re bound to have some duds. But you can minimize the chances of that by preparing upfront. Common mistakes to avoid include:
Unrealistic expectations. Torkildson says that “overly high expectations and unrealistic goals for influencer campaigns can lead to disappointment. It’s important to set realistic goals based on your budget, resources, and the size of the influencer’s audience. Influencer marketing is a long-term strategy, and results may take time to materialize.”
Poor communication can lead to poor results. “Inadequate communication with influencers and lack of clear guidelines can result in misunderstandings and misaligned content. It’s crucial to establish open and effective communication channels, provide clear instructions, and set expectations for deliverables, messaging, and brand guidelines.”
Inexperience. “Being ignorant of the process is the main mistake small businesses make,” says Kay. “As an agent, it’s usually a pain to work with a small business who is using an influencer for the first time. Quite frankly, we don’t want to be the ones to break them in, nor do we want to be responsible for educating these small businesses on the process–it makes for a heavier lift for our agency and can even dig into our profit margins if we have to invest too much time on the education process.
“If you hire a PR firm to manage the influencer campaign, then they should have vast experience in this space,” Kay recommends. “Ask for examples of other campaigns they’ve done. The PR firm should also provide you with a brief on what they plan to do, how they plan to do it, what the benefits will be to your company and how much it will cost.”
“Another option is to hire someone (even a freelancer) who is very familiar with working with influencers and let them handle the details of finding out what you want, how you define success, what niche market you want to reach and what kind of budget you have to work with,” says Kay.
Malkin also warns that initial impressions can be deceiving and that just looking at the influencer’s follower numbers is a mistake. “At Culturewise Collective, we look at an influencer’s engagement (likes, shares) historically to determine if the influencer has a true following and engaged community that will drive ROI for our client.” Influencers may have an inflated number of followers because they bought followers at some point. “But you can’t buy engagement and reach,” she says.
“Another mistake is not looking to see if the influencer’s values align with the brand,” Malkin warns. “If the influencer posts about social issues, evaluate if it aligns with your company’s mission and values. As a small business, employees are key stakeholders, will the partnership excite your team who may be your biggest and most loyal brand ambassadors?”
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Conclusion: Influencer Marketing for Small Business
Influencer marketing can be a highly effective way to get your brand and its products in front of new audiences. Whether you work with experts to produce high-quality content that features your products, or you engage with social media influencers to create engaging posts or videos, influencer marketing can offer results other forms of digital advertising cannot.
But crafting and implementing an effective influencer marketing campaign takes work. You’ll want to make sure you invest both the time and budget to think through your objectives and how to best partner with influencers to achieve them.
FAQs on Influencer Marketing for Business
How Much Should I Pay Influencers for Collaborations?
Whether you’re a startup or an established business, figuring out how much to spend on influencer marketing can be challenging,
Kay says there are a couple of approaches that can work. “One way is to set a budget for a campaign and then ask the influencer, the PR firm, or the influencer agent what they can do for that amount. For example, ‘We have a budget of $25,000, what can you give us for that amount?’ Then ask the influencer for ROI or metrics on previous sponsored content and see what they can give you for that amount.
“Another more common practice is to decide on a SOW for your campaign, then have a PR firm or someone from your company’s team reach out to various influencers to get bids on the scope of work (SOW) as well as ROI examples from previous campaigns.”
Torkildson says influencer marketing platforms can provide insights into influencer rates and help match businesses with relevant influencers. “These platforms often provide data on average industry rates, which can serve as a reference point in determining compensation,” he notes.
He also recommends investigating alternative compensation structures such as “product gifting, affiliate partnerships, or revenue sharing.”
“Compensation is determined by the scope of work, category exclusivity, duration of partnership, use of influencer’s likeness, and ownership of content,” advises Malkin. She suggests the business put together a “wish lists of asks and be as detailed as possible in terms of onboarding meeting, in person commitments, number of social media posts by platform and types of posts (i.e. in feed, stories, reels, videos, carousel, etc.)” That wish list can then be a starting place for negotiations.
Another tip she suggests is to ask an influencer if they charge minimum fees for partnerships. “At Culturewise Collective, we explain to our clients that this is how many influencers earn their livelihood and if they want to review or have control over the content or guarantee posting/coverage, influencers need to be compensated.” While product samples or comped experiences have value, “they do not pay the bills,” she observes.
“Ultimately, (it will come down to) what you are willing to pay and what the influencer is willing to accept,” McAuley says.
Influence.com and Rakuten Advertising’s Influencer Marketing program can be helpful as you’re investigating industry rates.
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Can Micro-Influencers Be Effective for Small Businesses?
“Yes, micro-influencers with smaller but highly engaged audiences can often deliver excellent results,” says Torkildson. He notes these benefits of working with micro-influencers:
- “They are more affordable than macro-influencers. Micro-influencers typically charge less than macro-influencers, which makes them a more affordable option for small businesses.
- “They have a more engaged following. Micro-influencers often have a more engaged following than macro-influencers. This means that their followers are more likely to see and interact with your content.
- “They are more authentic. Micro-influencers are often seen as more authentic than macro-influencers. This is because they are more likely to share personal stories and experiences with their followers.”
Even with micro-influencers, you want to have a contract, Kay recommends. “Also, remember that even if no money that exchanges hands, the influencer is still required to abide by FTC regulations of disclosure or your company could get in trouble with the FTC. To avoid issues, ask the influencer to send you the copy of the content they intend to post and your team will approve it before it goes live,” she says.
How Can I Ensure That the Content Created by Influencers Aligns With My Brand’s Values?
Unlike a paid ad where you have full control over content creation, you must take extra steps to ensure the campaign reflects well on your brand. Just as your business credit can affect how lenders view your business, influencer campaigns can affect how current and prospective view your brand.
Here’s how each of these experts recommend you manage this.
“Have the influencer sign a ‘morals clause’ or similar agreement, stating that if they do X, Y, or Z, the deal is off and all payments will be forfeited,” says McAuley. Before you do that make sure you follow the influencer to get a sense of their social media marketing content.
Provide an onboarding brief, Kay recommends. “Include brand guidelines that present your values, objectives and the language you need them to avoid. For example, with some companies they could be in trouble with a regulating agency if the influencer says they are in a ‘partnership’ with the company. The use of the word ‘partnership’ for some industries could imply a different nature of relationship and so that word would be one to avoid.”
“Set expectations in the collaboration agreement,” suggests Torkildson. “Establish a collaboration agreement that clearly outlines the expectations and requirements for the influencer’s content. Include details about the brand’s values, key messaging, image usage rights, disclosure requirements, and any other important guidelines.”
Torkildson also recommends you provide a brand style guide that includes information about the brand’s visual identity, tone of voice, and content guidelines. “Share this guide with influencers to help them understand your brand’s aesthetic and messaging, ensuring they can align their content accordingly,” he advises.
Malkin recommends a brand meeting to cover “do’s and don’ts, watch outs or brand guidelines.” But then let the influencer do what they do best. “The small business should allow the influencer creative liberty to create the content they know will resonate best with their audience. Brand key messages should be shared as guidelines but brought to life by the influencer in their own voice and tone.”
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This article was originally written on July 18, 2023.
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