One of the biggest obstacles for fledgling small businesses is how to market on a small budget. After all, a small business that can’t find its audience can’t grow. Luckily, the rise of social media has presented an infinitely customizable solution: influencer marketing.
Influencer marketing has undergone massive growth over the past decade. From 2016 to 2020 alone, the market size of influencer marketing increased by nearly 500%. The emergence of new platforms like TikTok, as well as consumer habits shaped during the pandemic, have further fueled the rise of the influencer as a uniquely powerful marketer. Making use of influencers is now one of the most effective — including cost-effective — ways for a small business to reach its potential audience.
What Is Influencer Marketing?
Influencer marketing involves partnering with social media personalities who have a significant number of followers and working with them to get your brand or product in front of their audience.
There are a number of advantages to this approach. Influencer audiences are very active and engaged, and they’re often demographically unique, hard-to-reach, high-value audiences. They also typically have a high degree of trust in the influencer, so they don’t need to give them the hard sell. Influencer marketing offers a lot of value for your dollar, especially considering that it gives you the ability to precisely target a certain market.
The Main Types of Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing can take a number of forms, depending on your product, and on the influencer’s platform. Here are a few of the most common kinds.
Sponsored content or “sponcon” is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term “influencer marketing.” Think of the classic fitness influencer hawking “tummy tea,” or the Kardashians selling shapewear.
Sponsored content is usually a photo or video that features your brand and product. You should make sure you’re aligned with the influencer who’s producing your sponsored content since their audience is going to be yours.
Keep in mind that influencers are obligated to disclose sponsored content, so make sure they’re not running afoul of the rules. Typically, you’ll pay for sponcon either by flat fee or per click, usually with a minimum fee built in.
Giveaways and Contests
Contests are a great way to build buzz and generate engagement. Everyone loves the chance to win a free prize. Consequently, you should make sure the contest prize you’re offering is sufficiently high-value enough to generate interest. If you’re a moving company, offering a prize of free boxes probably won’t generate much excitement. On the other hand, a free cross-country move could bring in a huge wave of engagement.
Members of the influencer’s audience enter the contest by performing actions like following your brand’s social media, interacting with content, signing up for your newsletter, or submitting their own content. Just keep in mind that the bump you get from contests is fairly short term, so you’ll want to quickly follow up with other marketing efforts.
Discount Codes and Affiliate Links
Discount codes and affiliate links can be a very effective way to not only reach an influencer’s audience but also to precisely measure that reach.
When an influencer gives their followers a unique discount code, you’ll be able to see exactly how many conversions it led to. This will give you a much more accurate idea of their reach, and is an excellent way to assess the value of your relationship with them.
Affiliate links are also a favorite of many influencers since they receive a commission on each purchase.
This is a strategic partnership between your brand and an influencer who’ll promote your brand over the long term. Over time, as your product becomes more strongly associated with them, the reach of your partnership should grow. That makes it doubly important that your brand and the influencer make a great fit, with plenty of mutual affinities.
How to Harness the Full Potential of Influencer Marketing
If you’ve decided to give influencer marketing a try, there are a few principles you should keep in mind.
Work With the Right Partners
Just because an influencer has a large audience doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the best choice. Fit should be your highest priority. Look for influencers who share your brand’s values and aesthetics because those affinities will generally apply to their audience too. If you’re a company that buys houses for cash, you won’t want to partner with a fitness or foodie influencer. Instead, you would look at partners like real estate YouTubers.
Once you’ve found influencers who align with your brand, zoom in on metrics like audience size, reach, and engagement rate to find the best partners.
Have a Plan
Don’t just do a handshake deal with the influencer and then give them carte blanche to handle the content end of things. Draw up a contract detailing the terms of the partnership, including payment, duration, and the exact nature and quantity of content that you expect. You should also have conversations about the tone of the campaign to confirm that it aligns with your brand.
It's important to know what you want out of the campaign. Are you after sales and conversions, brand awareness, engagement, or follower count? Do you have a call to action, or a form people can easily fill out to learn more about your brand? If you don’t know what you want out of the campaign, you won’t be able to determine later if it’s been successful or not.
Use the Data
Make sure you’re using metrics like engagement, conversions, and total reach to evaluate your influencer marketing campaigns. Close analysis of this data will reveal everything from which influencers are most effective, to the types of content that resonate most with your target audience. These numbers should shape your approach to subsequent marketing campaigns.
The Future (and Present) of Influencer Marketing
In just a decade, influencer marketing has gone from a marginal, makeshift type of marketing to arguably the most effective kind of marketing today. With a precise reach, measurable effectiveness, a variety of price points, and unlimited upside, it’s almost certainly the best way for a small business to reach its audience. And as more of our everyday lives migrate online, it’ll only become more important.