The Beginner’s Guide to Influencer Marketing

If you haven’t yet tried out influencer marketing, you may want to consider integrating it into your marketing portfolio. Influencer marketing can help you raise brand awareness, increase your social media follower counts, or even boost online sales.

 In fact, 91% of marketers believe it to be an effective form of marketing, according to a 2020 report.

 In addition to effectiveness, influencer marketing has another thing going for it: adaptability. The strategy can be molded to fit businesses of any size, from multinationals right down to the smallest of startups.

 However, if you’ve never tested out influencer marketing, there are some important points you need to be aware of.

Intro to Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is the promotion of a brand’s products or services by social media content creators, or, influencers.

As people spend more and more time on social media, it’s only natural that brands would start to allocate a portion of their advertising efforts there.

According to a study from December, the influencer marketing industry was worth $6 billion in 2020, and is projected to grow to around $24 billion by 2025.

Basically, as long as we live in a smartphone culture, the industry’s not going anywhere.

Influencer marketing shares a lot with other forms of marketing. Campaigns need careful planning, and you need a target audience.

You have to set objectives and KPIs, and determine how you’re going to track them. You’ll face budgets, spreadsheets, emails, and reports.

But there’s also a whole new set of criteria you’ll have to consider when stepping into the world of influencer marketing for the first time, namely deciding on a channel and figuring out how to find influencers who are good fits for your campaign.

Know your goals

Some common goals in influencer marketing strategy are:

social media goals

  • Branding – raising awareness of your brand among social media followers
  • Followers or engagement – acquiring new followers for your brand’s social profile, or boosting the level of interaction you have with those followers
  • Sales – selling products, usually online, through influencers

Each campaign is totally unique, so yours may have a goal not mentioned above. That’s fine, but what is necessary for all campaigns is this: know your goals.

If you don’t have a clear goal from the start of your campaign, you won’t have the necessary focus to find influencers and make decisions about channels, incentive, content, etc.

In addition to establishing your goals, set up the KPIs you’ll use to track them. KPIs in influencer marketing could be:

  • Impressions (the times campaign content was displayed on screen)
  • Interactions (the number of likes, comments, reposts, etc.)
  • Clicks on certain links
  • Time spent on your website
  • New followers
  • Uses of influencer discount codes
  • Sales

Again, this is just a list of some common KPIs. Yours may look different, but just make sure they accurately reflect your campaign objectives.

Which channel is best?

When planning your campaign, you’ll have to decide on which social network, or networks, you want to launch. The answer is totally dependent on your brand and campaign.

Your decision should come back to one central question that must be answered in the campaign planning stage: who is your target audience, and where do they reside online?

For example, if you’re targeting American teens, Snapchat or TikTok might be the best choice, as it’s where most of them prefer to spend their digital time. Or, if you want to reach 18-35 year olds, Instagram influencers may be your strongest allies, as a majority of that platform’s users fall within that age range.

The Influencer Tiers

Another question to answer while planning your campaign is which type of influencer to collaborate with. Influencers can be organized into five tiers depending on their number of followers:

  • Nano influencers – 1-5K followers
  • Micro influencers – 5-50K followers
  • Medium influencers – 50-100K followers
  • Macro influencers – 100K-1M followers
  • Mega influencers – 1M+ followers

Nano and micro influencers have far fewer followers, but they make up for that with the highest engagement rates in the industry.

This means they have a stronger connection with their followers, who are mostly from the same niche background that the influencer represents. Working with nano and micro influencers can be advantageous to your brand; their audiences trust them, which means they’re more likely to trust your brand if it’s promoted by them.

At the medium tier, influencers start to get more professional. They start to hire managers or seek representation from agencies.

Their content may shift toward a more heavily edited and polished style. And of course alongside this, they start to charge brands more for their services. So yes, medium, macro and mega influencers have greater reach, but they’re more expensive and less authentic, due to their “perfect” content and heavy rotation of brand collaborations.

Influencer Incentive

You can pay influencers in two ways:

  1. Monetary compensation
  2. Non-monetary compensation

Non-monetary compensation includes free products, services, and experiences your brand offers an influencer in exchange for their services.

Although giving an influencer a free pair of your sport label’s newest pair of sneakers may not feel like a payment, it is, and should be treated as such.

Looking back at the influencer tiers, know that from medium on up, you’ll nearly always have to pay a fee. Influencers with that many followers no longer work for free swag.

Micro influencers may also ask for a fee in addition to whatever products you send them, but those fees usually cap out around $200. And with nano influencers, you can usually collaborate in exchange for free products alone.

Mommy influencer

Mommy influencer Sharon (@raisingelise) noted that this post contains gifted products. Source: Instagram.

When paying influencers in fees, there are a few models you can use.

A flat fee is one option, and CPA is another. CPA is cost per acquisition, in which the acquisition is specifically set by your for the campaign.

 For instance, if you want influencers to help you increase sales, you may choose to pay them commission-style using CPA, with the acquisition being the sale.

Further, CPA can be paid in two ways: a flat cost per acquisition, or a variable cost per acquisition. Those would look something like this: $5 for every sale sold, or 5% of every sale sold. Influencers generally won’t work for CPA alone, but you can use it alongside some other type of payment to create an attractive compensation package.

How to find influencers for your brand?

You can search for influencers directly on social media or with an influencer marketing platform. Let’s walk through the pros and cons of each.

Searching directly on the social network is free, but it takes much longer, and your search is limited. You’ll be able to search influencers by their handles, or the keywords and hashtags they use in their biography and content.

But you can’t tell Instagram, for example, to show you all the fashion influencers in Brazil with between 15K and 50K followers.

For that second type of query, you’ll need an influencer marketing platform. The con here is that you have to buy a subscription to use the service, but the pros are that you’ll save a lot of time and effort being able to find what you want.

search query heepsy

The search query from above plugged into influencer marketing platform Heepsy.

Simply tell the search engine what you’re looking for, and it returns results with detailed analytics about each profile.

This is another important step in the influencer search process, so let’s look at what you should be looking out for.

The metrics to analyze

When finding influencers, you must analyze the strengths and weaknesses of their profiles. If not, you might end up throwing your investment down the drain.

And contrary to what people may think, follower count isn’t the only thing that matters.

Some of the key metrics to analyze are:

  • Follower count and growth over time (how did they acquire followers?)
  • Engagement rate (the level of interaction between the influencer and their followers)
  • Post frequency (this one is self-explanatory)
  • Audience demographics (look at things like age, gender, location, language and interests and make sure they match your target audience)
  • Audience authenticity (do they have fake followers?)
  • Performance of past branded content (can give an estimate for future collaborations)

If you decide to go with an influencer marketing platform, you’ll get these metrics as part of the results to your influencer search queries.

However, if you end up working directly on social media, you’ll have to manually extract and analyze this data from the influencer’s profile, or reach out to the influencer for their media kit and private performance data.

How to detect influencer fraud?

Like in most areas of life, social media is unfortunately subject to fraud. Followers, likes, comments…all can be bought and sold.

And this is a chief concern among marketers, as no one wants to spend their marketing budget on bots. Thankfully, if you know where to look in the data, you can detect and avoid fake influencers.

Follower growth over time

Analyze how an influencer accumulated their followers. Organic growth is a long-term strategy; it doesn’t happen overnight. If we were to plot out healthy growth visually, it would look like a gentle hill.

organic follower growth

 An example of organic follower growth: slow but steady. Source: Heepsy.

On the other hand, sudden spikes and dips are cause for alarm. If you see this type of jumpy pattern, first check into whether or not the influencer has gone viral or recently hosted a giveaway.

Both are occasions in which it’s possible to increase follower count drastically in a short period of time without fraudulent practices. But if there’s no viral moment or giveaway, the influencer may have bought fake followers.

Engagement rate, compared to average

We already said that this metric shows how engaged an audience is with an influencer’s content. But engagement rate varies depending on the social network and the number of followers an influencer has.

Therefore, it’s important to compare an influencer’s engagement rate to the industry standards for their network and follower segment.

If engagement rate is extremely low, that’s always a bad thing, but could be for one of two reasons. First, maybe the influencer’s content just isn’t interesting enough.

Second, they may have bought fake followers, which boost the follower count but actually hurt engagement.

engagement rate analysis
An engagement rate analysis, comparing the influencer to the average for their follower segment on Instagram. Source: Heepsy.

Engagement rate is calculated by adding up the total number of engagements (likes, comments, retweets, etc.), dividing it by the number of followers, and multiplying it by 100.

When an influencer buys bot followers, those bots don’t tend to engage with the content on the profile they’re following. Therefore, adding more followers into the equation but not adding more engagement lowers the overall rate.

If engagement rate is extremely high, the influencer may have bought fake engagements. This boost in engagement makes a profile look more attractive at first.

But brands have to be aware of this trick, because a high engagement rate is worthless if your campaign content isn’t ending up with real people.

engagement analysis
An engagement analysis showing engagement that is suspiciously high when compared to the average for the same follower segment and social network. Source: Heepsy.

When using an influencer marketing platform, the software will warn you when it thinks an influencer’s engagement is too high. Here, the old cliche is really on point: If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Audience demographics

Checking into the demographics of an influencer’s audience can also reveal instances of influencer fraud.

Now first thing’s first, an influencer doesn’t have to have 100% of things in common with their audience.

While they will share something in common, those things don’t always have to be age, gender or location. It’s not unusual, for instance, for a female influencer to have a majority-male audience, or for a Canadian influencer to also have followers from the US and the UK.

audience location analysis Influencer Marketing
An audience location analysis. This influencer is based in Barcelona, so it’s logical for most of her audience to be based in Spain. Source: Heepsy.

But, if you see something that looks weird, trust your gut. Imagine you see a Mexican fashion influencer who posts in Spanish, but whose audience is primarily located in Uzbekistan, posts in Russian, and is interested in video games?

When you can’t find the common thread, then the audience might include a lot of bots. And even if they’re real people, do they align with your target audience? If not, move on to someone else.

Data elements that can help your campaign

You can make your influencer marketing life a bit easier if you set up an analytics tracking system before you launch your campaign.

This way, you can start measuring your KPIs as soon as influencers start posting.

Here are a few things to look into in connection with your campaign tracking:-

UTMs

Urchin tracking modules are parameters that you add to links to track traffic in Google Analytics (Urchin was the predecessor to GA, if you didn’t know). There are five types of UTMs, but only three are mandatory:

  • utm_source – the referrer, which site sent the traffic to you
  • utm_medium – the medium used to send the traffic
  • utm_campaign – the name of the campaign or promotion

To illustrate this, say you want to launch an Instagram campaign with Sierra Schultzzie (@schultzzie) to promote your spring athleisure line. Your final link might look like this:

 https://yourcompany.com?utm_souce=Instagram&utm_medium=schultzzie&utm_campaign= spring

With UTMs, you can see in Google Analytics how many people visited your site because of that exact link. If you want to learn more about UTMs, check out Google’s Analytics Support, and if you want to quickly build them, visit the Campaign URL Builder.

Link shorteners

If you’ve ever been on Instagram, you’ve probably come across a link that doesn’t look quite like a regular URL. Bitly, TinyURL and the like are link shorteners, which do exactly what their name suggests.

However, these services often also include link tracking. So they basically provide similar information to Google Analytics, but you don’t have to worry about attaching UTMs to all your links. Just be warned that these, unlike Google Analytics, aren’t free.

Influencer-specific discount codes

If your campaign goal is to increase sales, influencer-specific discount codes can not only incentivize followers into making purchases, but help you determine which influencers were the most successful salespeople for your brand.

Audry Influencer
Audry (@audrybos) promoting her influencer-specific discount code with sportswear brand Stronger (@stronger). Pay attention to the code: AUDRYBOS20. It’s simple and easy to remember. Source: Instagram.

When defining these coupon codes, keep them user-friendly. Most people will be able to copy and paste them, but if a user is unable to do that, you don’t want to kill the conversion with an overly complicated code.

Brand mentions and hashtags

Depending on the social network you’re utilizing for your campaign, you can keep on top of influencer content by paying attention to your brand’s mentions and by tracking any relevant hashtags.

vaidaurmul
Vivi (@vaidaurmul) both tagged fashion e-commerce ASOS (@asos) and used their branded hashtag #asosdesignmusthaves in this post. Source: Instagram.

On Instagram for example, when an influencer mentions your brand, you’ll get a notification, and you can follow certain hashtags to make sure you see all the content uploaded with that tag.

Advertising disclosure guidelines for Influencer Marketing

After catching on to the massive amounts of money moved through influencer marketing, various governments set out guidelines with respect to how advertisements are portrayed on social media.

In short, influencers must disclose whenever content is paid for by a brand, whether that payment comes via money or free products.

Look into this thoroughly when preparing your campaign. Some countries’ guidelines apply even when the influencer isn’t from that country, living in that country or posting in that country.

The Federal Trade Commission from the US, for example, states in its disclosure guidelines that US law applies “if it’s reasonably foreseeable that the post will affect U.S. consumers.”

Sierra Schultzzie Influencer Marketing
Sierra Schultzzie (@schultzzie) disclosed this collaboration with Nintendo with both the use of Instagram’s paid partnership feature as well as the hashtag #ad. Source: Instagram.

Instagram, which is included in 9/10 influencer campaigns, recently cracked down on this issue.

So make sure, regardless of channel, that you discuss with influencers how they’ll denote that their content was part of your collaboration.

And this isn’t completely their responsibility; as the brand, you’re also responsible for ensuring proper disclosure.

Tips for working with influencers

To finish up, let’s run through a few more general tips for working with influencers on marketing campaigns.

Leave leeway for missteps

There are a lot of moving parts in an influencer campaign, metaphorically and literally.

And especially now in pandemic times, shipping times can end up being a problem for your campaign.

If you want influencers to feature your products in their content, they need to actually have the products.

And they need some time to figure them out, get used to them, and come up with ideas for their publications.

Therefore, make sure that if you need to ship something, you leave enough time for it to arrive. Pay for tracking, and pass that info on to the influencer.

Give them creative freedom

Tell influencers what you want them to communicate about your brand. Maybe you want them to highlight a specific value, or emphasize some aspect of your product.

Maybe you have certain aesthetic requirements, like you want your sportswear shot outside and not in the gym.

It’s fine, and encouraged, to walk through these key messages and requirements with them.

However, do not micromanage an influencer’s content creation. Give them creative freedom.

Their followers follow them for their voice and perspective, not your brand’s. Influencers best know how to communicate with their followers, so let them do it.

Manage relationships for the future

If you have a great experience with an influencer, bookmark them for the future!

Repeating campaigns gives a sense of consistency.

Plus, you already know the influencer and how they work.

In terms of managing relationships, the brand-influencer connection is no different from any other type of human relationship: communication is key.

Be upfront but friendly when communicating with influencers. Answer their questions.

Consider their concerns. Keeping communication fluid and clear will lead to smoother relationships.

Conclusion

This has only been a primer on influencer marketing. But there’s much more to learn. If you’d like to read more about how to manage a campaign, check out this influencer marketing guide. And keep an open mind when you run your first campaign.

It will be a learning process with some errors, but as long as you stay organized, track your progress, and do some self-reflection, you should gain valuable insights into how influencer marketing can best work for your brand.

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