Influencer Marketing for Small Businesses & Startups
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A major myth about the value of influencer marketing is that it only works for big business. But the truth is that influencer marketing works great for small businesses and startups. In fact, many DTC brands credit the success of their initial launch to the work of influencers and brand ambassadors.
What is influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing leverages the power of digital word-of-mouth. At the heart of this word-of-mouth are influencers, or individuals that have leveraged their personal brand on social media to build a community of like-minded consumers.
Influencer marketing occurs when brands partner with social media influencers to promote a product or service. This approach harnesses the psychology of influence to nurture deeper relationships with customers.
“Influencers help frame the brand and product perceptions for others. They generally have the reach, credibility, and flair required for good salesmanship. They are trusted by their followers. Marketers leverage the relationships influencers have with their followers to push their brand’s messages.” – GRIN, What is Influencer Marketing?
The key ingredient for influencer marketing is content authenticity. As such, marketers achieve the greatest success when they partner with those who use their voice to do more than merely promote other brands. The best influencers promote a specific quality of life and set of values. And when that influencer finds a brand that they love, their brand excitement overflows onto their audience.
What can influencer marketing do for your brand?
“89% say ROI from influencer marketing is comparable to or better than other marketing channels.” – Big Commerce
Influencer marketing can drive sales like few other tactics can. But influencers don’t just drive sales. Because of the size of their audience, influencers are great for building brand awareness and increasing web traffic.
The reality is that influencers are professional creatives. They’ve resonated with sizable groups on social media, and those audience members respect the influencer’s perspective and recommendations.
“Influencers are social media power users that carefully curate an online community based on a particular lifestyle or set of values. These influencers frequently promote their favorite products and services to engaged audiences, who then go and follow the influencer’s example.” – GRIN, What is Authentic Media and Content?
That said, not every self-proclaimed influencer meets the standards typically associated with what it means to be a successful influencer. Fake influencers can manufacture an online following, but their audiences are either not real or completely unengaged.
Furthermore, different types of influencers produce different results for the brands they advocate for. After separating the real influencers from the fake ones, it’s important to know what kind of influencers there are and where their strengths lie.
Types of Influencers
Marketers typically categorize influencers by the number of engaged followers that they maintain. Types of influencers are as follows:
- Celebrity (or Mega)
- Brand Ambassadors
Nano Influencers (1,000-10,000 followers)
Nano influencers maintain strong connections with a small group of highly-engaged followers. They nurture online communities around nuanced topics and subcultures. Because of how connected followers feel to a Nano influencer, it is typically easier for these influencers to drive sales.
Micro Influencers (10,000-100,000 followers)
Often considered the “sweet spot” of influencer types, Micro influencers engage just enough followers to achieve decent brand awareness while still nurturing deep connections with their audience. Most seasoned influencer marketers recommend that brands start with Micro influencers and expand into other influencer groups as they gain more experience.
Macro Influencers (100,000-1,000,000 followers)
Macro influencers border on celebrity status. They maintain engagement with a massive online follower that rises into the hundreds of thousands of social media users. While Nano and Micro influencers are often happy to promote the brands that they love solely on product gifting or commissions, Macro influencers demand greater compensation, such as a flat fee.
The reason for the higher cost is simple – one post from a Macro influencer can make waves in several audience segments at once. While these influencers’ engagement rates may not be quite as high as influencers with fewer followers, they most certainly create social media buzz for the brands that they support.
Celebrity Influencers (1,000,000+ followers)
In some circles, celebrity influencer marketing is considered a celebrity endorsement. One of the most famous celebrity endorsements occurred when Michael Jordan partnered with Nike in its startup phase.
These kinds of celebrity influencer campaigns are still popular today on various social media platforms and in television commercials. Celebrity influencers are the most expensive to work with, but like Macro influencers, their reach is vast.
While some influencers can also be brand ambassadors, not all brand ambassadors are influencers. Brand ambassadors don’t always achieve follower counts in the thousands. However, they’ve found a way to promote brands authentically within their online communities.
Because of how down-to-earth and authentic these creators can be, some DTC brands prefer to only work with brand ambassadors. These brand-creator relationships tend to be long-term and brand exclusive.
Social Channels for Influencer Marketing
Technically, influencers exist on every kind of social media platform, including the ones not listed here. However, there is a reason that the following channels are tried-and-true breeding grounds for today’s top influencers.
Instagram’s image and video-centric platform is arguably the most popular destination for influencers. Not only will you find a larger number of influencers from every category, but you will also enjoy great campaign features, such Instagram Stories, Shoppable Ads, and more.
YouTube supports amazing influencers that have mastered short, medium, and long-form videos. Consumers are quickly turning to YouTube for information, such as “how-to” and DIY videos. These influencers generally produce amazing product reviews and vlogs on behalf of the brands that they love.
TikTok serves the youngest crowd of consumers. These influencers also tend to be younger and more lighthearted. This platform only allows short-form videos (which reduces the amount of time one can showcase a brand), but it does offer more engagement opportunities, such as duets and challenges.
Of the channels listed here, Facebook serves the oldest demographic of consumers on average, but that’s not to say that these consumers are strictly 40 year-olds and above. Facebook will always offer strong influencer campaign opportunities, and because Facebook owns Instagram, many Instagram influencers are also active on Facebook.
In most cases, Twitter serves as a secondary social channel for influencers focused on their primary channel, such as Instagram or YouTube. But Twitter’s hashtag search features are among the best. This influencer platform is still very much alive.
How to Kick Off Your Influencer Marketing Program
If you’re new to influencer marketing, then you will gain amazing insight from Ethan Frame, former Senior Manager at MVMT and influencer marketing thought leader. Before becoming the successful fashion DTC brand that it is today, MVMT was an unknown startup that partnered with influencers to launch its product line.
In a series of interviews with Katya Allison (GRIN’s Director of Marketing), Ethan Frame discloses invaluable tips for startups getting an influencer program off the ground.
1. Determine your social channels.
It’s likely that you already maintain a following on one or more of the social media channels listed above. Start on one of those channels and examine the field of influencers in your industry.
2. Identify your influencer program goals.
As a small business or startup, you need to identify your goals with as much specificity as possible.
“What is the problem you’re trying to solve? That should give you the answer right there.” – Ethan Frame, 0-100 Chapter 1: Getting Started
If your business is relatively unknown, increased brand awareness is the answer to your marketing problem. For most businesses, sales is always a critical goal. You may also want to get a stronger following on social media or increase website traffic. Each of these goals can help you know what to look for when you begin to recruit influencers.
3. Define your influencer marketing budget.
One of the best things about influencer marketing is that you have several great options to launch campaigns on a shoestring budget. Especially if you’re working with Nano influencers, Micro influencers, or brand ambassadors, you will be able to generate significant ROI through product gifting (product seeding) alone.
Other financially-strapped brands have scaled their businesses by offering these influencers commission on sales through affiliate links or custom discount codes. Either way, your upfront costs can be remarkably low when partnering with influencers.
4. Discover the right influencers.
It’s critical that you look deeper than an influencer’s follower count. Examine the kind of posts they create, as well as how their followers engage those posts.
“This is the number one question you wanna ask yourself, ‘Does the influencer have a connection with my audience?’” – Ethan Frame, 0-100 Chapter 2: Identify Influencers
A helpful metric for determining an influencer’s connection with their audience is engagement. Engagement occurs anytime a follower interacts with an influencer post. These interactions can be likes, comments, or shares.
You know you’ve found a successful influencer when you see substantial conversations between that influencer and their followers underneath most of their posts. While engagement does not guarantee returns, it is a strong signal that that influencer enjoys a deep connection with their audience.
Once you’ve learned which influencers have a good relationship with their followers, make sure that the influencer’s audience matches your audience. You should also make sure that the influencer’s tone and style are also a good fit for your brand.
5. Reach out and recruit influencers.
Initiating contact with an influencer can be done through social media direct message (DM) feature using a brief and direct request. Here is an example of a great introductory message,
“Hey [first name of influencer], we have this product that I think you’d like. May we send you a sample?”
This approach encourages the influencer to test your product first. It’s a simple offer – if the influencer is interested enough to try your product for free, then they’ll respond. After you get positive feedback, you can offer them the chance to participate in a campaign.
6. Build influencer campaigns.
Setting up your influencer campaign should be a collaborative process between you and the influencer. You’ll want to inform the influencer of the goals you created in step two above.
Make sure that you and your influencer are in agreement regarding compensation, duration, the number of posts, and so on. Many of these details make up what is known as the campaign brief, a document outlining each piece of information relevant to your campaign.
“You don’t have to do just one type of campaign. [These campaigns terms] are just a way to learn how things run differently. So Evergreen is essentially always on… No matter what time of year, you can keep running influencers through the pipeline. Seasonal is obvious – if you have a swimwear company and summer is right around the corner, and your sales are happening then, you probably wanna make sure that those influencer posts are happening right around May, June, or July… Longterm or Bespoke is more like an extension of Evergreen or Seasonal. It happens when you ‘pluck’ out influencers that are doing really well for you and put them on a long-term deal or retainer.” – Ethan Frame, Chapter 5: Campaigns
For your first campaign, you’re likely going to use an Evergreen or Seasonal approach. Either way, it’s critical that you and your influencer are on the same page. As much as possible, put all details in writing.
7. Track and measure your influencer program performance.
To get the best ROI, you should track your influencer’s posts and engagement carefully throughout the campaign. You can make the process simpler by setting up an affiliate link for each influencer and utilizing tags and hashtags.
For your first campaigns, you can manually track influencer performance using spreadsheets. Make sure to incorporate as many key metrics as possible to get the full picture of your campaign performance.
How to Scale Your Influencer Marketing
For newer influencer programs, manual performance tracking and spreadsheets are sufficient. However, once your program includes more than a handful of influencers, spreadsheets will begin to consume your time.
Influencer marketing automation tools can greatly reduce the time it takes to recruit, organize, and track your influencers. Furthermore, GRIN’s IRM platform can integrate with your eCommerce platform to track costs, shipping, commissions, and more.
In time, you will notice how certain influencers consistently outperform the others. By examining closely the parts of your program that are working well, you can replicate your success and build a robust influencer community.
As you gain more experience, you can also expand into different types of influencers and social media platforms. This approach will help you find new audience segments and increase brand awareness.
Conclusion: Get started on your influencer campaigns and know when to streamline your program with automation tools.
The best way to learn any marketing strategy is to jump in and do it. Like any approach, experience will help you refine your results, increase your ROI, and take your brand to the next level.
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