For all the think pieces out there proclaiming influencers are a dying breed, influencer marketing is unquestionably here to stay. Sixty-three percent of marketers plan on increasing their influencer marketing budget in the next year.

If you’re considering an influencer marketing program, you’ll have plenty of options. On Instagram alone, there are an estimated 500,000 active influencers and platforms like TikTok are breeding an entirely new generation of influencers. The real challenge, however, lies in narrowing those options down and knowing how to find the right influencers for your brand.

Simply signing a well-known influencer with thousands (sometimes millions) of followers isn’t enough. If their values don’t align with your brand’s, a controversial post can quickly lead to a PR nightmare. On the other hand, a well-matched influencer can develop an authentic and loyal relationship with a brand that is much more powerful in the eyes of consumers. Knowing how to research influencers makes all the difference.

In this article, we’ll show you how to find the right influencers for your brand before collaborating and highlight the warning signs marketers should watch out for.

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Know what you’re looking for before you start looking

Working with an influencer comes with its own set of risks and rewards. Because influencers have their personal brands to consider, they get to decide how to portray your brand’s message on their feeds. That’s why it’s important to ensure whoever you work with wholeheartedly believes in your brand’s values and will authentically represent your brand to their followers.

If your brand is invested in diversity and inclusion, for example, ideally your influencers’ messaging should also promote those same values. Similarly, if you’re a clothing brand that values radical transparency, you’ll likely want to work with an influencer who is interested in the manufacturing process and how items are priced.

To ensure this alignment, take the time to review your organization’s mission and values before starting your search. Jot down the values that are most important to your brand and how they show up in your brand’s social messaging and content. Then narrow down and target influencers much like you would do when targeting potential customers using this information. Create an ideal influencer persona, if it helps, and leverage tools like social media monitoring and listening to help you narrow down your options.

Knowing how to find the right influencers for your brand is the difference between ensuring your marketing collaboration sticks the landing and a campaign that flops with your audience. While you can’t control every post an influencer will make once you start working together, you can get a good idea of what to expect by looking at how they already use social media.With your shortlist of potential collaborators handy, now you can start to dig into the social metrics to find the right influencer for your niche.

Rethink what influencer metrics matter most

Trust is a must-have in ensuring influencer marketing is successful—and misalignment between a brand and influencer is a quick way to break that trust. One report on brand trust revealed that 63% of 18-34-year-olds trust what influencers say about brands more than what brands say about themselves in advertising. To leverage that trust without breaking it, you need to know how to research influencers whose values align with your brand’s.

To this end, some social metrics matter more than others. Here are four that really make a difference:

1. Meaningful content and conversation.

The first place to look beyond follower size, of course, is the actual content an influencer is sharing. Scroll through each influencer’s feed (on all platforms, not just the one your organization is interested in) to get a feel for the kind of messages they send and support. Would you feel comfortable associating your brand with that influencer’s social posts? Does their content inspire conversation? If so, what kinds of conversations are taking place in the comments section and does that influencer take the time to respond?

For example: London-based influencer, Nià the Light, hosts Q&A vlogs on her YouTube channel where she takes the time to answer follower questions ranging from what her plans are post-quarantine to how she deals with criticism.

What you’re looking for is a sense that the influencer’s content not only aligns with your brand’s values but that they also genuinely enjoy upholding those values and bond with their audience over them. Perhaps they share user-generated content from their own followers that encourage voting, body positivity or other things your brand cares about. These are good signs of value alignment.

2. Credibility in your industry.

While looking over an influencer’s content and comment threads, you can also get a sense of their level of familiarity and authority with topics your brand cares about. Do their comments sound informed and demonstrate a clear expertise on the topics that matter most in your industry?

Take Jason and Nikki Wynn, who run the travel and sailing account, Gone with the Wynns on YouTube. With several years of sailing and vlogging under their belt, it’s little surprise to see the Wynns know a thing or two about which video cameras are perfect for the budding sailor.

Another place you can glean information on this is in an influencer’s followers list and who they follow. If many of their followers are inactive influencers or even fake accounts, that’s not a great sign. As for who they follow, look for some of the thought leaders and publications your brand keeps up with. That’s an indication that you’re on the same page.

3. Engagement where it matters.

While we all know that engagement is important, it’s also critical to make sure it’s the right kind of engagement for your brand. A home goods brand, for example, will likely want to work with an influencer who is known for their DIY projects and actively engages with others in the crafting community. And airlines will undoubtedly want to work with someone whose post about their recent trip receives just as many Likes and comments as their non-travel content.

In other words, look beyond an influencer’s most popular posts on their feeds and evaluate the posts that aren’t garnering thousands of Likes. Is there a noticeable difference in engagement when an influencer shares a post that features the hashtag #Ad in it compared to posts that aren’t sponsored?

These kinds of details reveal an influencer’s ability to not only connect with an audience that shares your brand’s beliefs but in a way that feels genuine. Look for influencers who not only post about the issues your brand cares about, but also get just as much or more engagement on them as the rest of their posts. This way, you can be sure that the influencer’s own brand shares your brand’s values for a one-two punch that’s sure to resonate with both audiences.

4. Relevant and supportive audience.

Obviously, you’ll want an influencer whose audience overlaps with your brand’s, but not too much. The goal in working with an influencer should be to further expand your consumer base, so look for influencers whose followers will be receptive to learning more about your brand.

Dig into the comments section on an influencer’s recent posts to get a sense of how their audience reacts to branded content and what kind of community they’re building. Social media often serves as a public square. Grievances are aired, and comments, shares, and Retweets aren’t always all positive. If half of an influencer’s audience is there to troll or argue, or negatively reacts to posts promoting a brand, you need to know that.

That being said, don’t overlook an influencer who takes the time to manage followers by pruning unconstructive comments and addressing valid criticism. By using the right influencer marketing software, you can also gauge an influencer’s future reach by watching to see whether their audience and engagement are growing or have plateaued over time. If you notice a lull or even a dip in growth and engagement, you may want to reconsider or question what factors may be contributing to these struggles.

You found the perfect influencer. Now what?

So you’ve found an influencer who shares your brand’s values and has a receptive, engaged audience. That’s great! There are a few final things you can do to ensure success.

In addition to your own research, ask influencers to provide their media kit when you reach out to them. Media kits are like an influencer’s resume—it includes a short bio, social stats and examples of past work with accompanying performance metrics. These insights can help confirm whether an influencer is the right fit for your brand’s needs.

Another consideration you’ll also have to keep in mind is your budget and their pricing. It isn’t unreasonable to ask whether their audience has made purchases based on their influencer marketing, and if so, at what price point and for what types of products. This will help you determine whether this relationship will produce enough ROI and positively contribute toward your collaboration goals, be it awareness or lead generation.

Finally, building relationships for the long-term makes for successful influencer marketing campaigns. Once you’ve identified an influencer and established a relationship, be sure to nurture that connection. There’s no better influencer than one who is truly in love with your brand.

Ready to get your influencer partnership up and running, and want to track how your collaboration performs? Learn how to create, manage and report on social media campaigns in Sprout to get the most out of your influencer partnership today.