What is influencer marketing: How to develop your strategy
Reading time 14 minutes
Published on April 17, 2023
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A decade ago, the influencer marketing arena was limited only to celebrities and a few dedicated bloggers. Now, social media influencers have risen and saturated the market.
And while their followings may vary in size, these influencers pack a punch. Their tight-knit communities foster authentic connections, leading to higher trust and engagement.
That said, working with digital creators and influencers is a refined process for brands to navigate. And we’re here with a guide to making sense of it all.
Read on for our tips on creating an effective influencer marketing strategy, mistakes to avoid and more.
What is influencer marketing?
At a fundamental level, influencer marketing is a type of social media marketing that uses endorsements and product mentions from influencers — individuals who have a dedicated social following and are viewed as experts within their niche.
Influencer marketing works because of the high amount of trust that social influencers have built up with their following. And recommendations from them serve as a form of social proof to your brand’s potential customers.
Types of influencers: Range and reach
Partnering with an influencer with millions of followers might sound like a dream come true — but it might not be the best fit for your brand.
Some social media influencers have large, broad audiences spanning across several demographics. Others boast smaller but more targeted and engaged communities.
Knowing what each type of influencer can offer you in terms of reach, range, cost and engagement is key to choosing the right ones for your brand.
Let’s take a deeper look at the various types of influencers out there:
Mega or celebrity influencers
These influencers have a massive following of over 1 million, and often include famous actors, musicians, athletes and other public figures. Their celebrity status allows them to captivate a diverse audience, making them ideal for large-scale brand awareness campaigns. Think: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Mega influencers can give your brand unparalleled exposure, but partnering with them can be incredibly expensive. Plus, since their audience is often broad, their engagement rates may not be as high as influencers with smaller, more niche followings.
Here are some businesses that might benefit from working with mega influencers:
- Large enterprise corporations that have the budget and resources
- Brands targeting a broad audience with varying characteristics
- Luxury or high-end brands that want to create a sense of exclusivity
With a following that typically ranges from 100,000 to 1 million, macro-influencers are established personalities within their respective niches.
These influencers have earned their reputation through consistent content creation and engagement over time, and are now thought leaders in their niche.
Macro-influencers offer a more targeted approach compared to celebrities, as their followers usually share common interests. Collaborating with macro-influencers can provide your brand with substantial reach, but it may still be relatively costly depending on your budget.
Here are some examples of brands that might work with macro-influencers:
- Startups seeking rapid exposure, growth and credibility (e.g., Canva)
- Nonprofit organizations looking to raise funds and awareness
- Hotels and airlines targeting a specific but large audience
With 10,000 to 100,000 highly engaged followers, micro-influencers are the rising stars of influencer marketing. These influencers typically have a strong presence on specific platforms, like Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.
Marketers love working with micro-influencers as they captivate a niche, passionate audience with their creative content, relatable recommendations and genuine interactions.
They’re also more affordable than larger influencers. But that doesn't mean they’re ineffective. Studies show micro-influencers have a 60% higher engagement rate than macro influencers, and can drive 20% more conversions for your brand.
Nano-influencers have fewer than 10,000 followers. But these influencers often have strong connections with their audience, thanks to their personable content and authentic engagement.
While they offer the smallest reach, nano-influencers can be excellent partners for businesses looking to target specific communities and demographics without breaking the bank. No wonder more brands are interested in partnering with nano influencers in 2023:
Also, since nano-influencers work on such a small scale, they can dedicate more time and effort to individual partnerships. This means more tailored content for your brand and personal relationships within niche communities.
- Local businesses targeting specific communities, cities or regions
- Small businesses with limited budgets that want to run cost-effective campaigns
- Artisan, home-based or speciality food businesses reaching a niche audience interested in their one-of-a-kind products
Why use influencer marketing?
Considering 56% of young Americans have purchased a product after seeing a post from someone they follow, influencer marketing can be an incredibly powerful marketing tool for your brand.
According to Influencer Marketing Hub, the industry reached $16.4 billion in 2022. This figure is expected to grow to $21.1 billion in 2023.
The report also explores how marketers are feeling about influencer collaborations for the new year.
Of those surveyed, 83% said influencer marketing was an effective form of marketing. The report also noted that 67% of marketers plan on increasing their budgets for 2023.
And now that you know where we’re at in the industry, let’s examine some key issues marketers often face when navigating the world of influencer marketing.
Influencer marketing mistakes to avoid
Influencer marketing can be highly rewarding — if done right. Sidestep these potential pitfalls to ensure smooth influencer collaborations and successful campaign outcomes.
Failing to define clear goals and KPIs
First things first, know why you’re doing this in the first place. Partnering with an influencer is a big deal — you need to be clear about the purpose and goals of your campaign.
Here are a few ways setting goals in advance can help you:
- Choose the right influencers: Defining goals helps you identify the specific characteristics and qualities you need in an influencer to achieve those outcomes. For example, if your goal is to increase brand awareness, you can find influencers who have a strong presence and reach within your niche.
- Define and measure success: What does success mean to you? Is it the number of impressions, post engagement or the amount of traffic coming to your website? Define which KPIs and metrics to track both during and after the campaign to assess how well your influencer campaign is performing.
- Keep everyone on track: Setting clear goals ensures that both the brand and the influencer are working towards a common purpose. This facilitates effective communication and constructive feedback, saving everyone’s valuable time.
- Hold influencers accountable: Establishing clear expectations and performance benchmarks makes influencers feel responsible. They know the results they need to provide and will focus on creating content that aligns with those goals.
Prioritizing follower count over engagement
A large following doesn't always translate to high engagement. It’s entirely possible an influencer has millions of passive followers but extremely low engagement.
Instead, partner with influencers with an engaged and loyal audience. A handful of people who trust the influencer are more valuable to your brand than thousands of indifferent followers unlikely to convert.
You can look at the influencer’s engagement metrics, comments and interactions, as well as past results for other brands to gauge their level of influence and likeability.
Neglecting to research the influencer
Choosing the wrong influencers can cost your business valuable time and money.
And it happens more often than you’d think. Research shows 72% of businesses run influencer campaigns in-house as they’re wary of fake influencers and mediocre results.
An easy fix is to do your homework before signing a partnership. Vet influencers to ensure they share your vision and complement your brand’s personality.
Here are some key areas to look into when researching influencers for your brand:
- Audience demographics: Study the influencer's followers to ensure your campaign reaches the right audience. Analyze factors like age, gender, location and interests (e.g., Millennials who identify as women) to determine if they are likely to become your customers.
- Interactions, voice and content: Look at the influencer’s engagement rate, the tone of voice they use and the type of content they create. For example, if your brand has a playful, casual image, partnering with an influencer known for their formal, business-oriented content might not be the best fit.
- Authenticity and influence: Forced partnerships can appear insincere and hurt both your campaign and brand image. In fact, authenticity is the most important trait for users when deciding to follow an influencer on social media. Collaborate with influencers who genuinely love your brand and products. Their followers trust them for a reason and you don't want your brand to get in the way of their (and your) credibility.
- Experience with branded content: Has the influencer worked with other brands in the past? Have they ever worked with your competitors? Carefully scrutinize their content to spot any red flags and gauge the value they can provide.
Writing poorly constructed briefs
Crafting well-structured briefs is key to maximizing your influencer marketing campaigns. A good brief equips influencers with the details and resources they need to represent your brand effectively, without being overly restrictive.
Here’s a quick rundown on what to include in your brief:
- What is the main goal of your campaign? What are you hoping to achieve?
- What is your company’s background? What is your brand and what product/s are you selling?
- What are your product’s key benefits, features and differentiators?
- Who is your target audience? Include an audience persona if you have one.
- What does your budget look like for this campaign?
- Do you have a timeline in mind?
- Do you want the influencer to use your brand assets? Provide them with your logo, colors and fonts if necessary.
Don’t forget to inform influencers of any words or ideas to avoid in their content. For example, if you’re an eco-friendly brand, let the influencer know that sustainability is a core value and they should avoid using plastic and other harmful products in their content.
Restricting the influencer’s creative freedom
While comprehensive briefs are important, there’s such a thing as too much information.
Avoid going overboard with your guidelines. You don’t need to dictate the influencer’s exact words or actions. Doing so can stifle the influencer's creative freedom, resulting in content that looks scripted and inauthentic.
Some brands also make the mistake of micro-managing every aspect of the content creation process. For example, you don’t need to vet multiple drafts before they go live or make the influencer go through several rounds of revision.
Let them add their own touch. Remember, they are the experts when it comes to creating content their audience loves and trusts. Your brand just needs to support them with resources they need to create great content.
Not setting expectations upfront
Establishing clear expectations beforehand enables a smooth, productive collaboration. The result? A successful campaign aligned with your goals.
Make sure you agree on the following items in advance:
- Timeline and deliverables: Clearly outline the campaign timeline, including start and end dates, as well as any deadlines for content submission and publication. Also, specify the required deliverables, such as the number of posts, stories or videos the influencer needs to create.
- Payment and terms: Agree on the payment structure, whether it's a one-time fee, ongoing retainer or performance-based compensation. Discuss the payment schedule and any additional terms, such as bonuses for exceptional performance or penalties for missed deadlines.
Focusing on the wrong metrics
Influencer marketing can offer more benefits to your business than merely boosting sales. Fixating only on conversions and revenue data can mislead brands into thinking their campaigns are not working.
Here are some other metrics to consider when measuring the impact of your campaigns:
- Engagement metrics: Evaluate likes, comments, and shares to understand content resonance and audience interaction.
- Brand awareness metrics: Measure views, clicks and website traffic to gauge campaign reach and audience interest.
- Follower growth: Track new followers to determine influencer impact on brand visibility and audience expansion.
- Inbound leads: Track the number of inquiries and messages your brand gets to analyze the campaign’s impact on inbound lead generation.
Now that you're aware of the potential challenges of influencer marketing and how to avoid them, let's look at how to create an effective influencer marketing strategy for your brand.
How to create an influencer marketing strategy in 5 steps
While Instagram influencer marketing is a well-known strategy, there are many other networks that are growing for influencers. Platforms like TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat have their own set of influencers with different demographics.
But like any marketing tactic, an influencer program takes deliberate targeting and planning. You won’t find strategic success just by sending free things out to everyone who asks or to your existing friends and acquaintances.
Below are some tips for creating successful influencer marketing campaigns.
1. Find influencers and understand their payment structure
Much like any strategy, research is the first step. Choose the platform you want to focus on first. You can always expand to other platforms later but if you’re just starting out, stick with one. Ideally, your brand should already have a presence on this network or be looking to expand into it.
If you’re unsure of where to begin, social listening can help you identify where people are talking about your industry and brand—and it can help you find the most influential voices in your industry on each platform. Check out our guide to social listening to learn more.
The industry you’re in also matters when you’re planning to implement an influencer marketing strategy. Beauty and fashion brands shine on Instagram and YouTube. The video game industry dominates on Twitch.
During your research phase, look into the type of influencers you’re interested in. Are you going for celebrities with massive followings? Or micro-influencers with less than 2000 followers? Perhaps something in between in the 5–10,000 follower range is more your preference. Whichever influencer type you decide to focus on will determine your budget.
Compensation varies wildly, too, so look at common rates for those influencer types. Nano-influencers tend to be focused on a few topics and accept products as payment. Some micro-influencers work independently while others may be represented by an agency, so who and how much to pay may vary. Whereas, larger accounts and celebrities will need compensation and might even go through a talent agency.
Think about the expected ROI of your social influencer marketing campaign: how will you gauge the contributions of influencer posts to your overall marketing goals? For example, compare your expectations for influencers to other firms – look at how you might gauge the budget for a video production firm’s work in creating an ad for you versus an influencer creating a video. It may initially seem like judging the value of influencers is unpredictable, but this type of approach will give you a familiar point of comparison and contrast.
Influence.co provides an Instagram influencer rate map for brands to calculate how much they might pay to work with influencers depending on their audience size and industry.
Research is key and you’ll find yourself returning to this step often in the process.
2. Set a budget and management strategy
Now that you understand the different pay rates of influencers, you need to create your budget. Be sure to also factor in time for planning, executing and reviewing your influencer program. Running a successful influencer marketing campaign is not a set-it-and-forget-it type of strategy. It’ll involve careful monitoring and follow up.
Unlike a more automated ad strategy, influencers are human and frequently balance multiple partnerships. Some may fall behind in their commitments to post on time or make errors in your requested tags or calls to action. You’ll need to more hands-on with these relationships to cultivate them, and refine your approach through experience about what works and what doesn’t in your niche.
If you have the time and money, consider setting up a formal ambassador program. Fujifilm utilizes its ambassadors in new product launches and in supplementing their content. With a variety of photographers and videographers at their disposal, the company’s able to diversify their feed to showcase what their equipment can do.
For brands that need a wider pool of influencers, hiring an influencer marketing agency who will do the research and coordination for you is a good bet.
3. Decide on campaign goals and messaging
The two most common reasons for using influencer marketing are to elevate brand awareness and increase sales. However, instead of setting these broad targets as your two goals, it will be more effective to kick off your strategy by honing in on what your brand’s needs are. Perhaps you want to increase your customer base in a younger demographic. Or you want to expand into a new user group with a new product. Or you want to skip trends and utilize influencers to talk about your brand values.
Influencers have the ability to reach very specific audiences. Instead of you relying on thousands of followers, influencers will help you ensure a very targeted audience who is likely to be interested in your product reads and engages with your content.
Influencer content that features a conversational tone and personal narrative help differentiate these posts from the type of features- or sales-driven ones a brand might do for the same product on their own feed.
Your message is just as important as your goal. While you don’t want to stifle an influencer’s creativity and uniqueness, you also don’t want them to post about something unrelated to your campaign. Determine how you want to structure your influencer marketing campaign and message so you can stick to it later on.
4. Establish influencer outreach: How to contact influencers
Back to step one: research. With a plan set around your network, goals and types of influencers you want to target, we go back to researching how to actually find the right influencers to work with.
During this research, keep in mind the below:
- Does the influencer already post about similar topics related to your service? For example, if you’re a restaurant and you want to promote a new menu, you should be looking for influencers who regularly post about dining out and the food they eat.
- Are they legit? This means scrolling through their feed and clicking through on posts. A poor engagement ratio to follower count and spam-like comments are signs of a fake account or fake followers.
- Have they worked with similar brands before? Depending on what type of influencer you’re looking for, a seasoned one will be able to show you a press kit that contains a portfolio of their work. The more you invest in an influencer, the more you’ll want to vet them.
You can also use social media analytics tools to identify potential influencers across several platforms that will fit your campaigns.
Next, determine how you’ll be reaching out to them. For microinfluencers, you could reach out directly in a private message on the same platform. For more established ones, they may list contact information for business inquiries in their bio. They may also link a website that denotes brand partnerships.
Summer Rayne Oakes has a multi-channel presence, which is a perk for her brand partners. In this particular video, she’s partnered up with Gardener’s Supply Company to give away a product. The brand gets increased visibility with Summer’s followers and she gets to keep them engaged with an interesting product. Even if they don’t win, they’ve been exposed to a new product.
5. Review and refine your strategy
Even if your influencer marketing campaign is ongoing, you should still have pre-determined milestones where you’ll measure its progress. The next part of this guide will go into how to track your results. Not all campaigns are successful but hopefully, you’ll learn with each campaign you create.
How to track influencer marketing campaigns
There are a few ways of measuring the success of your campaign. You can create a specific branded hashtag, like #SproutPartner, to track what your influencers are doing. The Sprout Social Smart Inbox makes it easy to see what’s being talked about with specific hashtags, or to watch for mentions of specific keywords.
If you’re aiming for more sales, giving out affiliate codes or tracking links is an easy way of seeing how much is being generated from influencers.
Sprout’s reporting makes it easy to tag campaign-related posts. Use this feature to compare how these posts perform.
Create a successful influencer marketing strategy for your brand
Influencers are here to stay but how the world of influencer marketing looks and operates has changed a great deal in a short time, and in five years may be drastically different from today. This guide will help you get started with building your strategy, but like any social strategy it’s important to be ready for change.
Still, while there are some unique considerations to working with influencers, setting up a campaign is the same as most marketing campaigns: research, set a budget, determine goals, find your influencers and review and revise.
Once you’ve gotten the rhythm down, you might find yourself creating additional types of influencer marketing campaigns. If you’re looking to get more resources for your team to run influencer campaigns, check out our ultimate guide for running successful social media campaigns.
Additional resources for Influencer Marketing
How the relationship between influencers and consumers is changing (and what marketers need to know)
What is influencer marketing: How to develop your strategy
Micro-influencer marketing guide: Facts and uses
10 best influencer marketing tools you need in 2022
Instagram influencer marketing: what brands really need to know
YouTube influencer marketing guide to boosting brand awareness
The rise of senior influencers: Age is just a number but follower count isn’t
Today’s top TikTok influencers: Inspiration for your brand’s evolving social strategy
Digital creators vs. influencers: What’s the difference?
The right fit: How to find influencers for your brand’s marketing campaign
Why LinkedIn influencer marketing matters for brands
What are fake influencers and how can you spot them?
Nanoinfluencer marketing 101: How I got 1000 engaged followers in 30 days
Influencer Marketing Ain’t Easy: 5 Client Questions to Answer Before They Ask