Influencer marketing: 7 tips to know before starting your first campaign

Once considered the “new kid on the block” of digital advertising, influencer marketing has risen in both popularity and effectiveness (when done right).

Brands are expected to spend up to $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022, according to Business Insider.

In the simplest sense, an influencer is anyone with a digital following (or audience) on a social media platform (but not necessarily) whom you’d like to attract.

The purpose of influencer marketing involves increasing brand awareness, targeting new and niche audiences and increasing impressions and reach.

How many followers does an influencer have to have to be considered an influencer? Well, that depends.

There are various definitions of influencer “levels,” but here is a good rule of thumb:

  • Nano-influencers: 1,000 to 10,000 followers
  • Micro-influencers: 10,000 to 50,000 followers
  • Mid-tier influencers: 50,000 to 500,000 followers
  • Macro-influencers: 500,000 to 1,000,000 followers
  • Mega-influencers: 1 million-plus followers

As odd as it sounds, bigger isn’t always better. For example, an influencer with 8,000 male followers doesn’t make sense for a national sporting brand to partner with. However, a local gym could be very interested in that audience depending on the brand of the influencer.

Either way, buyer beware. As you can already see, not all influencers and partnerships are created equal, and there’s a lot more to a successful campaign than an influencer agreeing to post about your brand or product.

Here are seven tips to know before starting your first influencer marketing campaign.

Set your goals

Goal-setting is critical for any marketing campaign, not just influencer marketing. 

It determines whether all elements are aligned for a specific strategy with a desired outcome that can be measured.

You have to ask yourself:

  • What’s the point?
  • How will it be measured?

Perhaps you’re looking for an ROI (return on investment) based on conversions. Or, perhaps you’re looking for an increase in website traffic. 

Keep in mind that developing an understanding of the type of audience you want to target is helpful at this point as well. If you’re an outdoor brand looking to promote a new product, what sort of demographic do you want to know about it?

Typically, awareness is the goal of most influencer campaigns, but don’t be afraid to take that one step further and tie that to revenue in some way. Awareness is great, but you are spending money on this campaign after all, so the ROI matters.

Whatever the metric, be sure to communicate it to everyone involved in the influencer campaign, especially the influencer him or herself.

Find your influencer

Once you know your goal or goals, you can start searching for influencer candidates. 

We’re calling them candidates because ideally, you should compile a list of influencers who appear to be a promising match for your brand and promotion and are worth taking a deeper look at.

If you are plugged in to your industry on social media and online, you can begin with a social media audit. Is there anyone with a significant following mentioning your brand? Perhaps your products and services? Are any relevant hashtags being used?

There also are several free or almost-free tools you can use, such as Upfluence, Buzzsumo and Crowdfire.

Check out these 18 influencer-discovery tools.

Do your ‘influencer homework’

Once you have your list of candidates, it’s time to do your homework. This can be considered one of the most critical steps before launching an influencer marketing campaign.

Skipping (or not fully doing) your research about a potential influencer risks problems down the line. For example, does an influencer truly reflect your brand? Have they posted controversial images or statements in the past that conflict with your brand? How do they handle other sponsored posts that they’ve done before? How do they engage with their following?

Keep these in mind when researching:

  • Relevancy. Think how an extreme sports athlete would work for Red Bull but not Cover Girl. However, relevancy doesn’t just tie to who the person is. It also involves the type of content a person posts. If that same extreme sports athlete only posts about his or her cat, that might not be the best fit either.
  • Influence and reach. This can be tougher to gauge without speaking to the influencer directly, but the idea is that you want to confirm that when an influencer posts about something, it can spur action by at least a portion of his or her followers. Take note of any past sponsorship posts an influencer has done, and feel free to ask how those campaigns performed. Any seasoned influencer will have that data available for at least his or her contribution.
  • Engagement rates. It’s very easy to get “razzle dazzled” by an influencer’s following size. The more followers, the more impressive. However, followings aren’t everything. In fact, many brands would opt for a smaller, more engaged following than a larger following that doesn’t engage very much with the influencer. This can help flush out who’s bought a following and who earned it organically. Learn about six different ways to calculate engagement rates. Also, keep in mind that ideally, an influencer’s following engages just as much about the products being shared as with the idea of the “celebrity” itself.

Once you do decide on an influencer, strive to build a relationship with him or her first. You can like and comment on the influencer’s posts, engaging before dropping a partnership request in their messages.

Determine your budget

When it comes to influencer marketing, there is no set cost or pricing rate. Every influencer is different, and every business has a different budget.

And spoiler alert: Many businesses do not have a huge budget for influencers (although that is shifting every year).

If you have a tight budget, consider what else you can offer. Is it a prototype of the product you’re promoting? Perhaps a day of the services you want to draw attention to?

Remember that your goal is key here, and more likely than not, an influencer would expect some sort of sampling anyway so that they can authentically post about the brand.

Typically, though, expect that the more sophisticated the influencer and the larger the following, the higher the cost. (That’s why nano-influencers can be better options for small businesses to partner with.)

Review the regulations

This surprises more than it should, but there are regulations surrounding influencer marketing and sponsored posts.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regularly updates its guidelines for online endorsements. While the FTC holds the influencer responsible for knowing and adhering to the rules, don’t assume that every influencer does or will.

It is in your best interest to understand the regulations as well and communicate with your influencer about them.

In the simplest sense, it really comes down to disclosure. Every sponsored post must be identified as such.

The FTC has its own 101 Guide for Social Media Influencers that you can dig into.

Think multi-channel

When possible, developing a content strategy with the right influencer can easily cross multiple social media platforms.

It’s not uncommon for a YouTube star to also have a strong Instagram following. Seize those opportunities and consider what you can do on which platform during an influencer partnership. 

The more touchpoints you can create with a new audience, the better.

Contracts are great things

Once you discuss and decide on everything with the influencer, put it in writing.

Better yet, make it an enforceable contract.

While the homework you’ve done on your influencer should serve as comfort that he or she will perform as expected, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Examine the steps for what you should include in a social influencer contract, or check out a simple template. Know that there are numerous contract templates available online, but you should always have a lawyer review any final contract you ultimately create.

Influencer marketing can be an effective way to drive brand awareness and sales. It enables brands to reach targeted audiences they otherwise wouldn’t reach (or at least not in the same way). However, the value and success of influencer marketing campaigns depend on your planning and research. Be willing to experiment, but keep your eye on the ROI the entire time.