Ready to delve into influencer marketing for your small business? Read this first.
For small-business owners, the prospect of an influencer marketing campaign can be daunting. Not only is finding the right person and then negotiating their rates enormously time-consuming, engaging in this kind of advertising doesn't guarantee a set return on investment [ROI].
Yet Sara McCorquodale, CEO and founder of British influencer service Corq Studio, says that – when done correctly – this kind of social media marketing can be game-changing for small businesses and brands.
McCorquodale recalls a fast-fashion brand she worked with that nervously took a chance on a relatively unknown niche YouTube influencer for a social media campaign in the hopes of reaching a new target audience.
“They paid that one YouTuber $USD8000 and the return was $USD1.8 million in sales,” says McCorquodale. In other words, an ROI of more than twentyfold.
And while not all brand influencer partnerships will be this successful, it’s clear that more and more small businesses view social media stars as an increasingly important – and efficient – element of their marketing strategy. Overall, the influencer market has grown from US$1.7 billion to $9.7 billion in 2020.
The secret to a small business succeeding with influencer marketing is a combination of research, savvy and serendipity, says McCorquodale, who notes that the fast-fashion brand in question already had extensive experience with this kind of marketing by the time they partnered with the YouTuber, and, “there was a lot of learning, experience and data informing their decision.”
Here’s what you should know before hiring a social media influencer:
Reaching out to the right influencers - those who already use, love and post about your product/s is the easiest way to tap into a community that’s most likely to respond well to your brand. Influencer campaigns for small businesses work when there is authenticity behind the partnership.
"Influencers prefer to work with the brands they are already authentic about."
Plus, says Anthony Svirskis, CEO of global influencer marketing platform Tribe, most “influencers prefer to work with the brands they are already authentic about, rather than just being given free things in exchange for a post."
To find the content creators who are already engaged with your small business, start by researching who’s tagged you or look at relevant hashtags. (For example, an organic baby food brand could search hashtags around motherhood, babies or baby food). You could also try using a platform like Corq or Tribe, which provide insights into influencers: who and what is trending, data analysis, due diligence, and brand-ambassador management. There are a growing number of digital tools that can help small businesses identify the right social media influencers for their brand, so use them!
Always ensure that the creator you work with shares your brand’s values – there’s little chance that a sustainable-fashion advocate will be interested in working with a fast-fashion brand or that a wellness influencer will have success promoting an alcohol brand to their followers, for example.
New York digital creator and social media influencer Joel Moore-Hagan, who has worked with brands like Chloe, Dior and L’Occitane, only works on influencer campaigns that fit with his lifestyle and aesthetic, and he particularly values diversity.
“If I go to the brand's website or socials and don't see anyone who looks like me, then I won't participate in the campaign,” he explains.
“Sometimes, it seems as if the company just looks at the number of followers and engagement rather than if the creator is the right fit. There's been countless times where brands have reached out to [me] and my content creator friends for something that doesn’t match our personal beliefs or brand at all,” says Moore-Hagan.
Before signing off on an influencer marketing strategy, it's wise to do your social media research and ensure a creator's historic content doesn't raise any red flags.
“Can you find evidence of racism on their Twitter feed? Or historic bigotry? Or any views that you as a brand might find unpalatable or controversial?” asks McCorquodale. “You need to know who you’re working with as you don’t want any surprises after the campaign goes live.”
"Know who you’re working with. You don’t want any surprises after the campaign goes live.”
“Be sure to look across platforms, too, as we’re finding that the sentiment towards an Instagram influencer isn’t always reflected on TikTok [for example]. Also be aware that some influencers delete negative comments,” says McCorquodale.
Quick tip: A simple Google search of the creator's full name and/or social media user names plus a topic or issue you’re concerned about could reveal any need-to-know information. It's an easy way to ensure you're using the right influencers for your brand and that your marketing strategy doesn't turn into a PR disaster.
Follower count is one thing, but engagement (the percentage of an influencer’s followers connecting with their posts through likes and comments) is arguably a more important metric when it comes to your influencer marketing strategy. After all, if an influencer’s followers aren’t engaging, it's unlikely the creator will be able to meet key target audience deliverables.
Another important tip is to read the comments that followers leave on social media posts and blog posts.
Mehak Saini, influencer marketer at Australian shapewear and maternity activewear brand emamaco, says, “The actual conversation that happens between the influencers and the followers is very important. Are they asking questions of their audience? Do they write thoughtful replies or just reply with emojis?”
Saini has found that influencers who engage with their followers and build rapport often generate higher conversions when it comes to an influencer marketing campaign. She believes that this is because there is a higher level of trust, with followers viewing recommendations as more like a suggestion from a friend rather than a sales pitch.
If you are a small business paying for influencer marketing, it’s important to have a contract, but McCorquodale advises that “the smaller the influencer, the more boilerplate you want to make the contract – you can’t be paying someone $250 and have a nine-page contract,” she says. “The bigger the influencer, the more detail you can go into.”
Your contract should include factors such as content deliverables, caption requirements, date and timing of posts, usage and approvals.
Find out more about how to negotiate influencer rates and contracts here.
Many brands ask influencers to submit their creative concept or even the finished post and caption before it goes live.
However, it’s worth remembering that when it comes to influencer marketing, most influencers prefer some creative freedom and that, ultimately, they will know what content resonates best with their audience.
To this end, don’t expect influencers to stick to word-for-word marketing messages. The most successful influencers often have their own style and a unique voice. Some influencers even have a format that they use for every post.
“Keep your umbrella marketing thought the same, but how the influencer speaks to that umbrella thought needs to be genuine and authentic to them – it can't be forced,” advises Saini. “A collaboration is a careful balance of what the brand needs and what works for the influencer’s community.”
If you decide to ask for approvals over captions or creative, ensure the influencer understands that creative approval is required before posting. And remember: you can also ask for proof of results, such as screenshots of insights, at the end of the campaign.
Reposting influencer marketing content is a great way to demonstrate social proof – and using influencer-generated content (IGC) in paid advertising can be an effective way to amplify the message, reach, and – hopefully – conversions.
Don’t forget you can also turn an IGC Instagram post into a display ad, repurpose a reel across TikTok or Facebook, or simply promote the original post itself.
You may also want to consider using IGC in your email marketing or on your website. However, before you can do any of that you need to ensure that your agreement with the influencer allows those usage rights.
Rather than taking a blanket approach for all influencer partnerships, consider a tiered strategy, which targets different types of influencers (from micro to macro) in a variety of ways.
“Think about some kind of tiered influencer marketing strategy,” recommends McCorquodale. “Every marketing strategy should have a gifting layer so that you can push what you have out there in a way that doesn’t require you to have a six-figure budget.”
Example of a tiered strategy:
gifting products and potentially paying $250 per post to influencers with smaller followings
includes influencers with 100,000-400,000 followers with a more open-minded case-by-case budget
bigger promotions and campaigns with ambassadors
The benefit of a tiered strategy is that each layer can inform the next. “You want to set yourself up so that by the time you reach a point where you have budget for big-name ambassadors who will get you mainstream coverage, you have so much information about what your core audience like and don’t like that you’re able to make your investment wisely,” explains McCorquodale.
The result of a collaboration all depends on what kind of influencer you’re working with, as well as your reasons for partnering with them, and what you hope to achieve. Some influencers drive sales; some drive brand awareness; and others make beautiful content for you to repost on your own channels.
“Certain influencers will give you a very direct ROI [return on investment], which was definitely the case in 2015 or 2016,” says Justin Gaggino, the general manager of teeth-whitening brand Hismile, which runs an extensive influencer program.
“But influencer marketing has become a more saturated market,” he warns, adding that conversions are increasingly difficult to achieve. In many instances, he explains, the biggest benefit will be brand awareness.
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