Influencer marketing—relying on people who have built a large online presence (“influencers”) to market a product or service—has been a fast-growing trend in recent years. And continued growth is expected: The marketing form has been projected to reach a market size of $13.8 billion in 2021, up from just $1.1 billion in 2016.


Many people associate influence marketing with Instagram users who disclose they were paid to post about certain products on their feed. But it also includes bloggers and other people who regularly produce and share content online, such as podcasters or even professionals with a large email newsletter following.


While many large brands have turned to influencer marketing, small businesses can use it, too. Here are five tips for how to take advantage of influencer marketing for your business:


1. Choose the right “micro influencers”

A common misperception is that all influencers are celebrities—who often charge thousands of dollars to promote brands on their social media accounts. In fact, many influencers are non-celebrities (“micro influencers”) who simply have built an online following of people who care about and trust what they say. And often the best influencers are people who are already using and buying your products—they just haven’t been officially “spreading the word.”


“Choosing the right influencer is critical to a successful influencer marketing campaign,” says Tom Augenthaler, founder of 551 Media, a Houston-based influence marketing consultancy. “This influencer must have an ‘audience’ that would buy your products and services, even if that audience isn’t huge.”


For example, if your business sells children’s clothes online, you might work with a mother or father who blogs about parenting and gets 5,000 or 10,000 unique visitors a month. Or you might find somebody on Instagram with a sizable following who regularly posts relatable and interesting anecdotes about family life and kids.


If you are a payment processor in the business-to-business (B2B) space, an influencer might be an expert in electronic payments who has 3,000 followers on LinkedIn and 5,000 newsletter subscribers, or a well-known marketing consultant with 10,000 podcast subscribers.


You can find potential influencers by searching on social media platforms and in search engines using keywords related to your business. Include your location in search terms to find local influencers.


2. Create an incentive model and budget

Before you start enlisting influencers, set a budget and goals, Augenthaler says. Those goals could be as simple as seeing revenue growth that’s higher than what you spend on influencer marketing or adding followers to your social media pages or subscribers to your email newsletter.


Here’s an example of how it can work: One well-known influencer in the chief information officer world is often sought as an influencer for software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies, Augenthaler says. For $5,000, this influencer might co-host a webinar with the client and promote the webinar to the 20,000 people on his newsletter list and all of his social media followers. The influencer could also write a blog post about a client’s products and services and interview the client on his podcast.


“These actions typically result in five to 25 inquiries over several months, which generally converts to several sales by the end of a year, leading to a very positive ROI,” Augenthaler adds.


Keep in mind that not all influencers expect to be paid in cash. Some people will gladly accept free product.


3. Have a conversation

 It’s really easy to communicate entirely via email or text, but having a one-on-one phone or video call is really helpful, Augenthaler says. By talking with the influencers, you’ll be able to gauge how interested they are in your product or service, as well as their level of understanding.


You’ll want to work only with influencers who like your products and services and understand them enough to communicate their features and benefits clearly with their audience. It’s a good idea to provide them with messaging around what benefits or attributes of your product or service you’d like them to highlight in their content.


You’ll want to work only with influencers who like your products and services and understand them enough to communicate their features and benefits clearly with their audience.


4. Create a contract

It’s a good idea to have a formal contract with the influencer. This should include:


  • The amount of money you will pay and/or product samples you will send
  • What you will receive for your investment
  • The timeline for when the content will be published, and how often (for consumer products and services)


5. Measure your success

As with any marketing effort, make sure to track the success of your influencer marketing. This might include giving your influencers a special promo code they can put in their content, so that you can easily identify new customers stemming from those influencers.


Influencer marketing can be a very effective and affordable way to grow your audience and customer base, but you’ll want to make sure to do it right.

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