Influencer marketing has become an important small business strategy. Here’s how to identify the best talent to represent your brand and drive sales.
Instagram influencer marketing might seem like a brave new world, but in 2022, it’s a key small business marketing strategy across all industries – not just beauty and fashion.
Unlike traditional paid media - print, television, radio, online and social advertising - Instagram influencer marketing offers a different perspective on your brand, and content that you can’t completely control. Risky? Potentially, but the reward is great. In fact, Instagram influencer marketing is more than six times more cost-effective than paid media according to a 2020 study of global influencer marketing.
“Influencers are social media’s trusted tastemakers."
Why? “Instagram Influencers are social media’s trusted tastemakers,” says Aaron Brooks, co-founder of global influencer platform Vamp. “Their powerful recommendations drive social users to action both on and offline. By producing authentic, creative, and relevant content, influencers help drive awareness, website traffic, and online sales for brands.”
The first step to a successful Instagram influencer collaboration? Finding the right Instagram influencer for your brand and budget.
1. Prioritize brand alignment
Overall follower count is an important metric when it comes to selecting an Instagram influencer. However, personality and brand alignment are just as crucial.
“Ask yourself, ‘is this the kind of person I want representing my brand?’” says Jules Von Hep, founder of body-positive self-tanning brand Isle of Paradise and sustainable knitwear brand Yan Tan, plus an influencer in his own right (80K+ followers).
“Do the Instagram influencers' values reflect those of your brand? Are you aligned on tone? Do they offer something you can’t? Do they speak to an audience you want to capture? That’s what you should be asking yourself when looking at influencers. Work with people who make you feel good and can communicate your brand message effectively.”
2. Location, location, location
“If you’re a small local business, an Instagram influencer who lives and works in the area you’re based, or the area you’re wanting to target, is more influential for your brand than someone who influences on a more national or global scale,” says Von Hep. “In these cases, someone with 5,000 followers can do more than someone with 1 million followers.”
"In these cases, someone with 5,000 followers can do more than someone with 1m followers.”
Breana Phillips, marketing and partnerships manager at parenting product e-tailer The Memo, agrees, adding that even for medium-sized or online businesses, the location of an Instagram influencer's fan base is the key metric to get the desired result. “The Memo is based in Melbourne, we have good brand awareness here, and in Sydney. But we’d like to be known more nationally, so we’d look to work with influencers who have audiences in Queensland or Adelaide to introduce our brand to new parents in those areas.”
3. Read the comments
Justin Gaggino is the general manager of teeth-whitening company, Hismile, which runs an extensive global influencer program across Instagram and TikTok. He recommends not only checking an Instagram influencer’s engagement rate, but reading their posts to gauge the type of relationship they have with their followers.
“You can look at their rate of engagement, but I think it’s better to look at the quality of the comments, and what’s being talked about as that’s a true indicator of how receptive a community is to an influencer’s messaging.”
In other words, when you look at an influencer’s Instagram posts, what do the comments say? Are they discussing the topic of the post? This shows they are interested and absorbing the Instagram influencer's message.
4. Look for content fit
“Followers can see straight through a paid partnership if it feels out of the norm for an influencer or their organic content,” says Phillips.
“Followers can see straight through paid partnerships."
There are Instagram influencers for all industries - finance, parenting, business, education, DIY, homemaking – and it’s all about finding the right Instagram influencers for your brand’s niche.
For example, cleaning agency Urban Company regularly collaborates with micro and macro lifestyle influencers. The collaborations work because the Instagram influencers show before-and-after images of their living spaces, which offer behind-the-scenes glimpses into Instagram influencers' aspirational homes and personal lives.
5. Consider adjacent verticals
Just because you're a fashion brand doesn’t mean you’re restricted to partnering with fashion influencers. There may be lifestyle influencers, entrepreneurs, DIY enthusiasts or even food influencers who align with your values and could potentially be great ambassadors for your brand.
I want them to be the influencers within their own network.
For example, Phoebe Simmonds, founder of Australian blow-dry brand The Blow, targets female business owners: “I don’t need them to have a big following, just the kind of following that would also see the value and benefit in a blow-dry subscription, which is usually busy, working women. I want them to be the influencers within their own network.”
6. Scour social media
While large brands often employ partnership managers to connect with, manage and track social media influencers, smaller businesses usually rely on organic searching to discover potential influencer partners.
“It’s not hard to find people right for your brand, just by spending time on the platforms. If you know your business’ target market, you can find an influencer,” says Simmonds, who employs a partnership manager now, but started out doing the legwork herself.
Not sure where to start?
Once you do find an influencer who is a great fit, check whether they are connected with other Instagram influencers who might also align with your brand.
7. Consider agencies
Don’t have the time to manage Instagram influencer partnerships yourself? Consider enlisting a talent agency or influencer marketplaces and self-serve platforms like Izea or Vamp to help you find talent.
“Vamp’s assistance, businesses can produce higher-performing and higher quality content. Our platform offers faster connections, effortless collaboration, and powerful tracking. This means your investment produces more, reaches further, and performs better than before,” says Brooks.
As a small business owner, it can be difficult to know how much Instagram influencers will charge. However, it’s generally accepted that there are several tiers of influencer.
Smaller businesses should focus on nano and micro influencers, while larger brands may have the budget for big-name influencers.
There are generally two types of influencer marketing: gifting or paid collaborations.
Gaggino describes gifting as a “fluid” approach, and recommends that businesses be realistic about results they’ll get from sending influencers unsolicited product.
“If you have a launch, or a send out gifting, you can’t expect that they will all post, or post on that particular day. It’s fast and unvetted, and won’t always be exactly what you expect. It’s better to loosen your expectations on how and when they’ll post.”
Simmonds views gifting as “an awareness play” – and the first step in building a relationship with an influencer.
“That’s what a small business should really focus on in the beginning: community building and brand awareness. Gifting, done well, is great for that. Particularly as you’ll most likely not have the budget for paid collaborations.”
Simmonds says that approaching an Instagram influencer out of the blue with an offer of a paid collaboration can be detrimental, and adds that it’s much better to slowly foster a genuine relationship.
That might mean introducing an Instagram influencer to your brand or products through gifting. Then, if they respond well, the next step may be inviting them to events or broaching the subject of a paid collaboration.
“When the Instagram influencer has never spoken about your brand before, it can feel less authentic to their audience. Paid collaborations are signified as such, so it’s important to think about how it will be received.”
Once you’ve identified an Instagram influencer who seems like a good fit for your brand, the next step is approaching them.
Ditch the DMs
It might seem the best approach to contact the Instagram influencer you want to work with through the direct messages on the platform they influence on, but not so, says Leigh Campbell, a beauty and lifestyle journalist and influencer with 68K+ followers.
"Influencer DMs are out of control, and used for community management, not business."
“Generally, influencers have a decent following, so their DMs are probably out of control, and regardless, [used] for community management, not business.”
Instead, she suggests checking their bio for an agent or email address, and connecting that way, particularly for paid collaborations. “It’s a much more professional way to start the conversation, and they’ll appreciate you taking in the information on their profile.”
Talk to them business owner to business owner
“When influencer culture was emerging, it was very much about giving people ‘free stuff’ in exchange for exposure,” says Campbell.
“As the industry has evolved, most influencers are small businesses in their own right - it’s their primary source of income and how they support their families, so when working with an influencer, keep that in your mind, and treat them how you would want to be treated.”
“If you’re starting with gifting to influencers, make it as personal as possible,” says Phillips.
"The more thoughtful, the better."
“This doesn’t mean you have to monogram your product with their name, but put it on their card, make it a reaction to their content. For example, a mega-parenting-influencer posts about spraining her ankle and how the mess in the house is already starting to get her down, so a local cleaning company gets in touch to offer their service complimentary while she’s laid up: ‘We heard your foot’s put you out of action, let us take care of the big clean this week.’ Much like gifting to a friend or family member. The more thoughtful, the better.”
Be up front about budgets
“It’s understandable if a small business doesn’t have a huge budget, and that’s completely fine,” says Campbell. “It’s best to be up front and honest about budget, and it’s absolutely acceptable to offer gifting and ask if the influencer would be open to that as payment, but it’s also totally acceptable for an influencer to decline contra as payment.” If your budget is small, or you're relying on gifting or contra, stick to nano or micro influencers. “Nano and micro influencers are really good to work with because they have engaged communities and are willing to put in the effort with the content,” says Gaggino.
It’s all about the relationship
“Relationships are key: remember to treat any digital talent with respect and build a working relationship with them,” says Von Hep. “Be grateful and courteous to each person you work with and remember an influencer’s following can explode overnight.”
Gaggino agrees, well-fostered relationships and the passing on of education helps the influencer be informed and confident in speaking about your brand. “We work to really educate them on the product and brand so that they can speak to the science behind it intelligently. It’s super important that they understand and believe in what they are selling.”
Involve influencers at launch
“Influencers should never be an afterthought,” says Simmonds. “Influencers are a key way to drive brand awareness from the inception of your business.”
"Influencers should never be an after-thought."
Both Simmonds and Gaggino engaged influencers right from the beginning of their brands, and recommend that any small businesses do the same.
“Pre-launch, reach out, talk to your USPs [Unique Selling Points],” says Simmonds. “Give them a brand preview, the education and key messaging and then gift a sampling of your product.”
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