Paid advertising and search engine optimization (SEO) can be useful for getting your brand in front of your target audience. But if you want to convince people to give your brand a try, you need to gain their trust.
One way to do that, whether you’re an upstart or an established business, is with an influencer marketing campaign: partnering with high-profile individuals to share audiences.
Maybe you’ve hesitated with influencer marketing because working with a celebrity seems unrealistic or too expensive, or because you’re unsure of how you can identify the best micro-influencer for your brand.
But influencer marketing is actually more accessible than you think.
Here’s how to put together and execute an influencer marketing campaign that will yield the best possible results for you and your brand.
Crafting your influencer marketing strategy
One of the biggest mistakes brands make is reaching out to influencers without defining their strategy first. To avoid this, be sure you consider the following steps.
1. Hone your brand's message
Before you even consider reaching out to influencers, you need to have a clear, concise brand message that says who you are, what you’re all about, and what makes you different from the competition.
It won’t do you much good to get in front of a new audience if you haven’t figured out what to say to them. What’s more, you’ll never get an influencer’s buy-in on an endorsement campaign if you can’t get them excited about your brand.
2. Decide whether macro or micro influencers are right for you
Macro-influencers have massive fanbases and large numbers of social media followers (often upwards of 100,000), which make them a valuable resource if your goal is to get your brand in front of as many people as possible.
But maybe your brand is in a market with a niche audience, one that’s unlikely to be following the recommendations of a big-name celebrity. In that case, the goal isn’t to become a household name—it’s to showcase your brand to those most likely to be interested in trying it.
This is why micro-influencers are such a popular option with brands: their audience may be smaller, but they’re more engaged and feel a much stronger connection to the influencer.
But don’t let that discourage you from shooting for the stars—just make sure it’s the kind of star that your target customers pay attention to.
3. Identify potential influencers to partner with
Having an influencer endorse your product can be valuable, but picking the right influencer is what makes these partnerships profitable.
When considering potential influencer partners, ask yourself this:
“How would my brand’s message sound coming from [Influencer]?”
If it seems like the kind of endorsement you can picture them doing, you’ll want to try to secure a partnership with them.
For an influencer marketing campaign to be successful, what’s most important is that their audience views the endorsement as authentic.
To get a sense of the fit between your brand and an influencer, ask yourself these questions:
- What is this influencer interested in or passionate about?
- Does my brand share their interests or passions?
- If not, does my brand relate to the influencer’s interests or passions?
The goal here is to find an influencer who overlaps with what your brand is all about. The better the fit between the influencer and your brand, the more authentic their endorsement will feel. And the more authentic the endorsement feels to the influencer’s audience, the more likely they are to follow that recommendation.
That’s the power of a good fit between a brand and an influencer, like this example of a creative partnership between LACER Headwear and the artist Pretty Lights (more on them later).
On a similar note, make sure the influencer’s audience matches your target audience. Even the most authentic endorsement won’t help your business if it’s directed at the wrong audience.
According to benchmarks from Grapevine, brands see about a 2% click-through rate from an influencer campaign on social media. So it stands to reason that the bigger the influencer’s audience, the better.
But it’s not just about audience size. The influencer’s audience needs to be engaged—that is, their fans regularly spend time liking and commenting on their posts. Genuine positive comments (not just emojis or generic phrases) are, of course, a more valuable signal of a strong social following than likes alone.
If an influencer has 1 million followers but only averages 1,000 likes or comments per post or video, their engagement rate is 0.1%, which is not great. Your ideal partner should have an engagement rate of at least 0.5%. Be mindful that engagement rates tend to be lower the more followers an account has.
4. Decide on a possible arrangement
The most popular influencer campaigns today are run through social media, since it requires less of a commitment of time and energy from the influencer.
The options available to you depend on one of two things:
- What the influencer and their team wants in exchange for their services.
- Your budget for the campaign.
Whether your campaign will be run on social media or face-to-face, your options are largely the same. Here are some of the most common ones.
A one-off deal means the influencer is only required to promote your brand or your product once, similar to the way Pretty Lights in the earlier example made one Facebook post about his partnership with Lacer Headwear. These kinds of deals are common with influencer endorsements.
If your brand is just getting off the ground, a one-off deal might be your best option: it’s usually cost-effective, and since it doesn’t require a long-term commitment, the odds of getting a “yes” are better.
Unofficial deals are a decent option for bootstrapped brands or startups, as long as you’re willing to give away your product for potentially nothing in return. Since the influencer isn’t being paid and you have no formal deal with them, there’s no guarantee they’ll promote your brand.
With this approach, rather than formally hiring an influencer to endorse your products, you just send free products to a variety of different influencers. The hope of these unofficial deals is that at least one of the influencers will like your product and decide to wear it in public or give you a shout-out on social media.
Blenders Eyewear takes this approach by partnering with Instagram photographers and models.
Product placement is a marketing staple of big brands, but it can even be used by smaller brands to boost their visibility.
A great example is Medtainer, a medical-grade smell-proof container company. Medtainer partnered with hip hop artists such as Migos, Wiz Khalifa, Post Malone, DJ Khaled, Fetty Wap, Talib Kweli, Lil Wayne and The Weeknd—the kinds of artists whose fans would love a medical-grade smell-proof container.
Because it was a great fit between the product and the celebrities, Medtainer saw a lot of success from having some of their merchandise included on certain tours and having their product referenced by these artists in their songs and music videos.
A creative partnership offers benefits for both the influencer and the brand: the influencer gets a percentage (sometimes 100%) of the profit from the sale of their exclusive custom product, and the brand gets to tap into the influencer’s audience and try to convert them into customers. A good example is the partnership between Lacer Headwear and musician/producer Pretty Lights.
Founded in 2011, Lacer Headwear is known for blending different elements of urban apparel—such as their signature shoelaces on hats, a nod to sneaker culture—to create something unique yet familiar.
Pretty Lights has earned a similar reputation as a musician and producer, using well-known samples of classic songs from a variety of genres to create music that feels both recognizable and innovative.
Lacer partnered with Pretty Lights on a special edition custom hat that sold out within hours and doubled traffic to Lacer’s website.
This kind of deal works best with brands whose products are fully customizable. A creative partnership was ideal for Lacer because the company also makes the products, which meant they could give full creative control to Pretty Lights in order to convince him to do the deal.
How (and how much) should you pay an influencer?
Here’s the big question you’re probably wondering: how are you going to pay for the campaign?
Naturally, you’re more likely to get an influencer to say yes if they’re getting something out of the deal, but that doesn’t necessarily mean money.
Let’s look at the most common payment structures and considerations for influencer endorsements on social media.
The standard format for an influencer marketing campaign is for the influencer to post about a brand or product on their own social media account. You might think that you own the rights to that post, since your brand or product is featured in it; however, it’s actually the content creator—that is, the influencer—who owns it.
These days, more and more influencers are working to ensure they’re compensated fairly for their content—not just up front with what they share with their audience, but the value they create after the fact, too. So if an influencer made a post on their account promoting your brand, you may have to pay a licensing fee to reuse their content on your own social media account.
If the influencer you’re targeting typically charges a licensing fee, it may be possible to work out a deal that gives your brand ownership or unlimited use of the content.
Ironing out that detail usually comes during the negotiation and contracting phase, but it’s important to be aware of it ahead of time.
The most typical payment arrangement is known as a “pay-per-post” deal. With these deals, you pay the influencer a certain amount of money (depending on the size of their audience) for a certain number of posts. The pricing for these deals can fluctuate based on a few factors, with the biggest one being the size of the influencer’s audience.
Here are some ballpark figures to help set expectations:
- Instagram: Influencers generally charge $10 per 1,000 followers for a sponsored Instagram post, but there is typically a minimum price tag of $150 per Instagram post, even for influencers with less than 50,000 followers.
- Snapchat: Snapchat campaigns are a bit different. Since follower counts aren’t made public on Snapchat, brands pay influencers based on the number of views in a 24-hour period. Rates typically begin at $500 for 1,000 - 3,000 unique views, but can go as high as $10,000 or more 50,000-plus unique views.
- YouTube: The starting price is about $20 per 1,000 subscribers. Making a video about a brand or product is much more labor-intensive than an Instagram post, and if an influencer’s audience is willing to watch an in-depth video, they’re more likely to follow through on the influencer’s recommendation. So while the price may be higher, the value often is as well.
The cost per post can also vary depending on what kind of post the influencer is creating. For example, a travel blogger with 108,000 followers charges $1,000 per “static” (no video, no slideshow) post on Instagram, but only charges $200 for an Instagram Story post.
If you’re not sure whether you can afford a traditional pay-per-post deal, a temporary post can be a cost-effective option. But you get what you pay for—since Instagram Stories only last for 24 hours, odds are your campaign will have less visibility with your influencer’s audience.
On the flip side, you can also pay an influencer more for extra visibility, with what’s known as a “link-in-bio” deal. With link-in-bio deals, the influencer includes a link to your brand’s site in their social media bio, which stays pinned to the top of their account page, or on their profile, and can drive direct traffic to your site. The pricing for these can be difficult to predict, but since a link in an influencer’s bio increases the visibility of your campaign even further, most influencers charge up to 40% more for that add-on.
If you’re targeting an influencer with a large following on multiple social media platforms, you should also consider a multi-platform campaign, where the influencer shares one post on all their social media accounts. This can increase your visibility, and many influencers offer bundled pricing for a multi-platform campaign.
Free product as payment
If an influencer really likes your brand, you may be able to strike up a deal where they’re paid in free product rather than cash. This arrangement typically takes more effort to set up because not only do you have to find an influencer that you think is a good fit for your brand, you also have to find one who genuinely likes your products. But if you’re confident in your products (and you should be), supplying an influencer with free product can be a good cost-saving option.
If you want to go this route, you’ll need to reach out and introduce yourself and your brand. The goal should be to position your brand as a good fit for that particular influencer, so be sure to note the specific post, video, or article that made you think they might want to try your product.
Your outreach can be something as simple as this:
My name is [your name], and I am with [company name with hyperlink to site and quick overview of your brand]. We’ve followed you on [channel] for a while, and we think our brand could be a great match for you.
We’d love to send you a complimentary [product name with hyperlink to the item on your site] so you can try us out for yourself. Or, if you see something else on our site you would like to try, we’d be happy to send a sample of that instead. If you love it as much as we do, it’d be great if you could share it with your audience.
Is there a business address where we can send the complimentary sample?
(*Note: If you’re emailing the influencer indirectly, through an agent for example, just substitute “you” for the influencer’s name.)
Another option is to pay the influencer a commission, which usually comes in the form of pay-per-sale, pay-per-lead, or pay-per-engagement. So instead of paying a flat fee for access to their entire audience, you only pay if their endorsement leads directly to a sale, a new referral, or engagement—whatever metric you've decided to use to measure success.
The commission structure helps ensure that you’re only paying for results, but most influencers prefer not to be paid on a commission basis. The way they see it, why put in the effort to endorse a brand without a guarantee that they’ll be compensated for their work?
Connecting with an influencer
The biggest mistake a lot of brands make in this stage is in not knowing how to reach out to the influencer or, if they do know how to reach out, not positioning their brand correctly in their pitch. Here’s what you should know.
To properly set up a deal with a macro-influencer, you need to work with their representatives, most likely their agent and their manager:
- Agents: An agent’s job is to find work for their clients and to negotiate contracts.
- Managers: A manager’s job is mainly to provide their clients with career guidance, which means they can either make or break a potential deal with an influencer. Think of managers as the CEOs of their clients’ businesses: you’ll need their buy-in on any potential partnership with the influencer you’re targeting.
If you’re not sure who to contact, there are celebrity contact info databases you can use to find out contact information for the agents, managers, and publicists of the influencers they’re targeting.
What to say
The best way to reach out to agents or managers is by email, and when you email be as quick and clear as possible. Influencer representatives aren’t going to waste time reading a 10-page email about your brand’s sales performance or your long-term vision for your company. They’re also unlikely to respond if your email doesn’t answer all of their immediate questions.
Your goal is to answer all questions relevant to the deal in one email so they can decide whether or not to discuss the opportunity further. To do that as concisely as possible, limit your first email to the key details:
- Who are you interested in? (The influencer you’re targeting likely isn’t their only client.)
- What do you want them to do?
- When do you need to know whether they’re interested?
- Where would their client have to go to promote your brand?
- Why do you think your brand is a good match for their client?
With agents, your selling point should be simple: You’re offering an opportunity for the influencer (and the agent) to make money.
With managers, it’s a little more complex—you need to show them that there’s a good fit between your brand and their client. Remember, managers are focused on their client’s long-term career, so be prepared to sell them on why a partnership with your brand is a good career move for the influencer.
Here's an email template you can use to make contact with a macro-influencer’s agent or manager:
Hi [agent or manager name],
I am with [your company], and we’re interested in working with [influencer] on a marketing campaign. The campaign would be centered around [describe what the campaign will look like and what the influencer would do], and we think [influencer] would be a perfect fit.
We’re targeting a kick-off date of [target date] for the campaign, and I wanted to see if this opportunity is something [influencer] would be interested in. I would love to discuss this in greater detail and answer any questions you may have.
Is this campaign something [influencer name] would be interested in?
[your full name]
[your phone number]
[your company with link to your website]
One of the benefits of targeting micro-influencers is that you can just reach out to them directly without going through their representatives. In fact, this direct access is one of the reasons why some brands prefer to work with micro-influencers.
Of course, because micro-influencers aren’t as well-known as macro-influencers, the challenge usually isn’t knowing who to contact, but in finding relevant micro-influencers in the first place.
These influencer marketplaces allow you to search for influencers based on keywords in their social media bios, and they’re a great way to identify micro-influencers and narrow down potential matches based on interest, industry and audience size.
What to say
When you reach out to a micro-influencer, your pitch should be almost the same as it would be to a macro-influencer’s manager. Your goal is to highlight the opportunity, demonstrate how a partnership benefits both you and the micro-influencer, and explain why you think they’re a good fit for the campaign.
You should also be as concise in an email to a micro-influencer as you would be in an email to a major celebrity’s agent. If you’re unable to find an email for them, you can just send them a direct message through their social media profile. Micro-influencers may not receive as many inquiries as macro-influencers, but that doesn’t mean that their time is any less valuable.
Follow the same format you would with macro-influencers. For obvious reasons, you can skip the “Who” part, but be sure to keep it just to the “What/Where/When/Why” in your email to a micro-influencer. And just like you would with a macro-influencer’s agent or manager, include a call to action to improve your odds of getting a response.
As you’ve probably noticed, there are some differences between making contact with a micro-influencer and a macro-influencer’s agent or manager. But once you’ve made initial contact, the remaining steps for both should play out in pretty much the same way.
Following up and following through
Both influencers and their representatives are busy, so if you don’t hear back right away, don’t get discouraged or assume they’re not interested. It’s perfectly okay to send a follow-up email to jog their memory.
Just make sure you time it correctly—if you send it too soon, you’ll risk seeming pushy, and if you send it too late, it’ll seem like you’re not all that interested in working with that influencer.
A good rule of thumb for following up is 5-7 business days after your first email; if another week goes by and you still haven’t heard back, move on to the next influencers on your list.
Micro-influencers and representatives for macro-influencers get these kinds of inquiries every day, so you have to do something to set yourself apart. The easiest way to do that is to have a polished pitch that covers everything we’ve discussed above. By doing so, you show that you know what you’re doing, that you’re taking this potential partnership seriously, and that you’ll be easy to work with.
Hopefully, the payoff for all that hard work is a “yes” from the influencer you’ve been aiming for. The final stage before the campaign kicks off is the contracting process.
If you’re partnering with a macro-influencer, their agent will handle the contract. With micro-influencers, you’ll usually work with them directly. In either case, assuming you’ve clearly communicated what you expect the influencer to do and what they’ll get in return, the paperwork should be straightforward.
Executing the partnership
The vast majority of influencers want the campaign to go as well as you do, because a bad campaign can be as harmful (if not more so) to the influencer’s brand as it can be to your own. But just in case, there are a couple of ways to protect yourself and ensure the influencer delivers what is expected of them.
First, you can withhold the influencer’s full fee until the work has been delivered and meets your expectations. You can pay influencers an up-front deposit (usually 50%, but it can be negotiated), and the leftover balance is paid once the work has been completed. This payment structure lets the influencer know you’re able to pay the bill for their services, while also giving you an additional layer of protection.
Second, if you use an influencer marketplace, most of them have a system where you can see an influencer's history of partnering with brands. Before you sign a contract with an influencer, check to make sure there aren’t any red-flags about them with former clients.
And if possible, try to work with influencers who are active in a given marketplace—they’ll be more likely to deliver as promised, since bad feedback can make it harder for them to get work in the future.
When negotiating with influencers, plan for success
An influencer endorsement can give your brand a quick boost, as long as you do it right. But as valuable as an endorsement can be, remember there’s no such thing as a silver bullet.
It’s unlikely that one endorsement from one influencer will transform your brand into a household name overnight. An influencer campaign shouldn’t be your entire marketing strategy—you’ll also need to think long-term, which means content marketing, email campaigns and SEO.
But when it comes to creating a buzz around your brand that you can use to gain new fans and new customers, influencer campaigns can offer a huge (and quick) return on your investment.