When it comes to motivating people to buy, few things are as powerful as a recommendation from a trusted source. This is one reason influencer marketing is so popular. Businesses of all sizes use social media influencer campaigns to raise brand awareness, increase credibility, and boost sales. Here’s what a social media influencer is, how to find the right one for your brand, and tips for working with them.
What is a social media influencer?
A social media influencer is a person who has a large following on one or several social media channels, and is known for their experience or expertise on a topic. They have established credibility and authority in a realm, which allows them to impact their audience, set trends, affect purchasing decisions, and shape the conversation in a specific space.
They are similar to other traditional celebrities, well-known bloggers, public figures, industry experts, and thought leaders. Many social media influencers partner with brands to monetize their authority and reach audience segments. They might feature a brand’s products or services on their social media accounts, post product reviews or recommendations, or otherwise advocate for a brand over its competitors.
A social media influencer in the beauty space might post makeup tutorials on YouTube, review beauty products on Instagram, and create a TikTok video series of time-saving life hacks for the makeup-obsessed. Brand partnerships could manifest in any of these content streams.
Influencer marketing can be highly effective for brands: One study showed 61% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know, including influencers—much more than the 38% who say they trust branded social media content.
Types of social media influencers
The influencer marketplace categorizes social influencers by their social media follower count. Here’s a breakdown of types of influencers:
- Nano-influencers: 1,000 to 10,000 followers
- Micro-influencers: 10,001 to 100,000 followers
- Mid-tier influencers: 100,001 to 500,000 followers
- Macro-influencers: 500,001 to 1 million followers
- Mega-influencers: more than 1 million followers
How to find the right influencer for your brand in 5 steps
- Identify your target audience and goals
- Identify your budget
- Conduct influencer research
- Evaluate potential influencers
- Contact chosen influencers
Follow these five steps to find the right people to work with for your influencer campaign.
1. Identify your target audience and goals
Determine the people you’d like to reach—be specific since influencer marketing can be micro-targeted. For example, if you want to raise awareness with male gamers aged 18 to 30, you can find an influencer popular in that particular niche.
Set goals for your social media campaigns that support your overall marketing objectives. What metrics are you trying to move with this campaign? Are you trying to grow your brand’s follower count? Drive traffic to your website? Increase sales of a specific product? Zeroing in on what you want to achieve will help inform the details of your influencer partnerships and what promotional activities you purchase—like product reviews, tags in posts, or long-term brand ambassadorships.
2. Identify your budget
The more social media followers an influencer has, the more a partnership with them will cost. Your marketing budget will play a role in deciding what tier of influencers you work with. If you’re new in the market or your budget is tight, you might consider gifting your products to hundreds of influencers in hopes of a mention, rather than paying a few select ones. Gifting is a low-cost tactic, but it doesn’t guarantee coverage.
3. Conduct influencer research
Once you’ve set goals and a budget, you can start researching potential partners. You can do that through:
- Search engines. If you search online for “knitting influencers,” for example, you’ll find articles listing popular influencers in the space. This strategy is likely to produce influencers with larger numbers of social media followers. Other research methods are better at identifying nano- and micro-influencers.
- Social platforms. You can conduct primary-source research on social media platforms by searching for relevant hashtags and mentions of your brand or competitors. Instagram allows you to see top posts for a particular hashtag, like #cleanbeauty or #interiordesign. Review top posts to find popular creators in your space.
- Influencer marketing platforms. Influencer platforms such as Shopify Collabs can provide information about an influencer’s audience demographics, recommend similar influencers, rate audience quality, or generate lists of influencers for a specific keyword.
4. Evaluate potential influencers
Influencer partnerships implicitly align your brand with all of an influencer's activities. Before selecting a partner, make sure their personal brand—both their public persona and political activities—complements your brand values. For example, if you find that an influencer is aligned with a particular political party, they might be a good partner for your brand if this affiliation is consistent with your brand values.
You’ll also want to evaluate their content and its performance. Do they create high-quality content and have an engagement rate that meets or exceeds benchmarks for their follower size? This will help you determine the value of their audience. To find an influencer’s engagement rate, you can look it up on an influencer platform, crunch the numbers yourself, or ask the influencer to provide their metrics. They may also have this information available in their influencer media kit.
5. Contact chosen influencers
You should approach influencers with a pitch, which can be an email, a direct message, or a message through an influencer platform. Pitches should specify how your two brands align, and your admiration for the influencer’s personal brand. Include the potential benefits of working with your brand, such as compensation, free products, or increased exposure for them.
Best practices for working with social media influencers
This approach can help you launch a successful influencer marketing campaign for your small business.
Put expectations in writing
No matter how good your rapport, it’s essential to put all terms of the partnership in writing. This ensures both parties are clear about expectations upfront. Specify what you are asking the influencer to do, such as review a product, create a certain number of Instagram posts, record a video, or livestream about your products. Include social media campaign specifics, such as number of posts you’d like them to publish, and on which platforms. Specify a timeline for them to submit deliverables, and provide a number of ways for the influencer to contact you, such as by phone, email, or direct message on a social media platform.
Consider cost on a per engagement basis
Micro- or nano-influencers can have higher engagement rates—the percentage of their following that interacts with their posts. When figuring out how to spend your influencer budget, consider costs on a per engagement basis. For example, an influencer with 200,000 followers and an average engagement rate of 1% will see an average of 2,000 engagements per post. An influencer with 15,000 followers and an average engagement rate of 8% will see an average of 1,200 engagements per post. If the mid-tier influencer is three times as expensive, you may choose to work with the micro-influencer. because you’ll pay less per engagement.
If you’re new to influencer marketing, start with a small campaign. This might look like paying three to five micro-influencers to publish three sponsored posts each. This allows you to test the return on investment (ROI) of influencer marketing for your brand. If the small campaign performs well, you can scale up. If not, you can adjust your strategy and try again, or focus on other digital marketing efforts.
Since you won’t know which influencer marketing tactics will pay off, try multiple strategies and hire multiple influencers to increase your chances of success. If your budget is small, hire a few nano- or micro-influencers. If it’s larger, go for micro-influencers, a mid-tier influencer, and a macro-influencer. This strategy lets you hire influencers popular with different audiences. That way you can test the effectiveness of influencer marketing activities with various audience segments and increase your total reach.
Monitor the influencers you work with
Your influencer will represent your brand, so set a search engine alert for their names. If your partner ends up in the news for breaking the law or becomes embroiled in an internet controversy, an alert will make sure you are among the first people to find out. You can proactively communicate with your audience about the issue and terminate your influencer relationship, if allowed by the terms of your partnership.
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Social media influencers FAQ
What type of content do social media influencers typically create?
Social media influencers create content for social media sites. This can be anything from a one-sentence tweet to a four-hour Instagram livestream, depending on the influencer’s platform and niche.
How can you measure the success of your influencer marketing campaigns?
Brands use metrics like reach, impressions, engagements, clicks, and conversions to measure the performance of influencer campaigns and calculate return on investment (ROI). These measures also allow brands to compare results between influencers and with other digital marketing activities.
Should you focus on influencers with a large following or a more niche audience?
Influencers with large audiences tend to charge higher prices, and in some cases, can more effectively raise your brand profile than influencers with smaller audiences. If your goal is to raise awareness within a particular audience segment, you may be better off focusing on influencer niche and engagement rates to choose a partner.
How do influencers get paid?
Influencers earn money through brand partnerships such as paid sponsorships or affiliate marketing arrangements, or by selling products through their online stores. Influencers can also earn non-cash income in the form of free products, services, or experiences.