Social media influencer making video
Using social media influencers has become a common practice, but there are several steps businesses should take when finding and connecting with them. — Getty Images/g-stockstudio

Social media “influencers” — or users with a large and loyal following — are a common way for brands to advertise using word-of-mouth marketing. Influencers are considered to have credibility in a specific industry: Their followers trust their opinions and endorsements of products and services. As a result, influencer marketing has become a foundational element of many advertising campaigns.

It’s often difficult to measure the return on investment (ROI) of an influencer campaign given that some of the goals of influencer marketing are nebulous. Attributing “brand awareness,” for instance, to a specific influencer’s Instagram account is difficult. However, 60% of marketers agree that influencer marketing has a higher ROI than traditional advertising.

If you’re new to influencer marketing, or wondering how this practice has evolved, we’ve got you covered. Follow these insider tips to learn how to interact with influencers and get the most out of their services.

How to find influencers

There are many tactics to source influencers through your own social media channels, a simple search, or through an influencer marketing agency. To keep costs low, start by doing your own research.

“Start looking for influencers in the spot where your small business wants more publicity,” said influencer Carmen Varner (@carmenvarner), a social media/blogging coach who runs the travel and lifestyle blog It’s Carmen. If you’re looking for coverage on Instagram, try searching through hashtags relevant to your industry or location, such as #fashionblogger, #organicfoods, or #bloggerschicago. If you’re looking for backlinks, website coverage, and longer features, consider searching for a blog influencer, Varner advised.

“One way to find blogs is to simply search Google for something like ‘Austin, TX food blogger’ or ‘San Diego travel blog,’” said influencer Chris Clemens (@explrupstate), who runs Exploring Upstate, a blog dedicated to upstate New York.

There are also several platforms available that help connect businesses and influencers, such as PeopleMap, Linqia, Blog Meets Brand, and Heartbeat. If you have a bigger budget, consider working with an influencer marketing agency that can handle every aspect of your campaign. Influencer Marketing Hub has a list of influencer marketing agencies for you to explore.

Many micro-influencers create just as fantastic content as larger influencers.

Carmen Varner, social media and blogging coach, It's Carmen

How to choose influencers

Once you’ve learned where to find influencers, it’s time to narrow down the list. There are a few general tips to keep in mind when deciding if an influencer is right for you.

Check engagement levels

Just because an influencer has a large number of followers doesn’t mean their audience is tuned in. Look through their posts to make sure they’re receiving a high number of likes and comments. “This can show how committed the followers are to the influencer,” said Kara Larkin (@karalarkinlifestyle), an influencer who runs the beauty and lifestyle blog Kara Larkin Lifestyle.

Bigger isn’t always better

Don’t rule out micro-influencers, or influencers with a smaller number of followers (usually under 10,000), especially if it looks like their audience is engaged and they have the type of following your business wants to reach. “Many micro-influencers create just as fantastic content as larger influencers and can be excellent for small businesses with limited budgets,” said Varner.

Consider your brand’s image

Ask yourself what your brand stands for. “It’s important that the influencer reflects some of the brand’s core values,” said Varner. “If not, your business might not be speaking to the right audience at all.” Influencers often have media kits that describe who they are, what type of audience they target, past partnerships, and other helpful information, so be sure to check those out.

How to engage with influencers

When you’re ready to reach out to an influencer, consider what form of communication would give your message the best shot at being read.

“If they have a large following, you should reach out via e-mail or directly to their manager because they likely receive a lot of messages,” said Varner. “If they’re a smaller influencer, reach out via private message or e-mail.”

Try to start with a friendly conversation instead of immediately making an offer. “Let them know that you’re a fan of their work and maybe add a personal note about something they created that you were excited about,” said Larkin. “You can use that to lead into a conversation about working together.”

How to get the most from influencers

When you’ve found an influencer you’d like to work with, you should provide them with some general guidelines on what you need from them, such as the number and type of social media posts, key terms to include, deadlines, and other important details.

However, instead of giving them a script, allow them creative freedom to reach their audience. “People follow influencers because of their unique voice and ability to use digital media for storytelling,” said Clemens. “Let them use their skills and talents to find a way to represent your brand.”

When it comes to payment, be sure to hammer out all the details upfront. “Payment is always on a case-by-case basis,” said Clemens. “A contract should explicitly state for both parties what is expected.”

Sometimes influencers will accept free products or services instead of money in exchange for a review or social media post. “I worked with a company that gave me foldable flats for my entire wedding,” said Larkin. “I negotiated with them that I would do two blog posts, which is about equivalent to what the shoes would have cost.”

This story was updated by Emily Heaslip.

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