Influencer Marketing for Small Businesses

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The influencer marketing industry was worth $8 billion in 2019. This number is expected to almost double by 2022, reports Business Insider. Brands from all over the world are partnering with social media influencers to gain exposure, raise awareness and increase sales. The right influencers can boost your SEO and help convey your message to the target audience in a cost-effective manner.

What Is Influencer Marketing?

In this digital era, consumers have more power than ever before. They no longer trust advertisements and won't think twice before installing pop-up blockers or switching between TV channels when an ad shows up. "Advertising without trust is just noise," says Keith Weed, former Unilever CMO. According to a 2015 report, the average person is exposed to anywhere between 4,000 and 10,000 ads on a daily basis.

However, consumers do trust recommendations from family and friends as well as online reviews. In fact, word of mouth accounts for a staggering 13% of consumer sales and generates over $6 trillion in revenue each year. It also results in five times more sales than paid ads.

Social media influencers are the bridge between brands and customers. Influencer marketing is pretty similar to word-of-mouth marketing. Consumers have more trust in their favorite bloggers and celebrities than traditional ads. If, say, Bret Contreras or another fitness influencer recommends a particular protein bar, his fans will look for it in stores the next time they go shopping.

Think of influencer marketing as modern word-of-mouth marketing. To put it simply, it's a type of social media marketing that uses product mentions and endorsements from individuals with a large following on Instagram, Facebook and other social networks. Celebrity influencers, for example, are popular artists, musicians, athletes or political figures, such as Beyoncé and Leo Messi. Micro-influencers, on the other hand, are regular people or industry experts with a follower count of 1,000 to 100,000 people.

Who Can Be an Influencer?

This form of social media marketing is growing quicker than digital ads. Influential celebrities, athletes and other personalities are shaping customer behavior. Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, has more than 200 million followers on Instagram alone. Other influencers, such as Huda Kattan, Michelle Lewin and Joanna Gaines, are popular in their niches.

This market is extremely diverse, with influencers filling every niche and subniche one could imagine. These people are viewed as experts in their chosen area, so consumers trust their opinions and recommendations. Social media influencers can be classified into several categories based on their follower count:

  • Mega-influencers: 1 million or more followers
  • Macro-influencers: 100,000 to 1 million followers
  • Micro-influencers: 1,000 to 100,000 followers
  • Nano-influencers: less than 1,000 followers

As more users join Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other social media platforms, they begin to create and share content for others to see. Their following may increase over time, catching the attention of advertisers. That is how this market was born.

Types of Social Media Influencers

Each type of influencer appeals to a specific audience. Choosing one depends on your budget, advertising goals and target market. Celebrities, for instance, are famous and have a diverse audience. Generally, their services work best for brands that appeal to the masses and are not necessarily a good fit for small businesses.

Macro-influencers are typically regular people who become famous by producing original content. Think of fitness trainers, vloggers, makeup artists, entrepreneurs and so on. Micro-influencers, on the other hand, are viewed as experts in their niches and have strong relationships with their fans. Nano-influencers are everyday people with influence within a small community, such as their local neighborhood.

As a startup or small business, you may not be able to afford to work with celebrity influencers. Some charge as much as $1 million per sponsored post. Micro-influencers are often a better choice for small- and medium-sized businesses because consumers perceive them as being more genuine and credible than traditional celebrity endorsements. Plus, they have a more focused audience, which allows them to better target potential customers.

Does Influencer Marketing Work?

Influencer marketing is relatively new compared to traditional advertising. Brands that use this form of advertising make about $6.50 for every dollar spent, according to Tomoson. They also report higher customer acquisition rates than those using email marketing, affiliate marketing, paid ads or display advertising. About 80% find this strategy effective, and nearly 90% say that influencer marketing return on investment is similar to or better than other marketing channels.

This form of social media advertising can boost your visibility online, increase customer engagement rates and help you reach new audiences. It also supports your search engine optimization efforts and may lead to higher traffic. The right influencers can leverage content marketing to raise brand awareness for your small business. A cool Instagram post featuring your products could go viral within hours, putting your message in front of a global audience.

Social media influencers are in tune with the needs of their target audience. Therefore, they can deliver engaging content that educates, inspires or entertains your prospects. This can help you build credibility and trust, provide value to potential customers and get your message across without appearing pushy. Increased sales, lead generation, high return on investment and unlimited sharing potential are all advantages of influencer campaigns.

Is It Legit?

Despite its advantages, this form of marketing remains controversial because many influencers got caught up in fraud. Some buy fake followers and build engagement via bots, while others resort to click farms to increase their follower count. There are also influencers who make false claims and build a fantasy life for the sole purpose of gaining popularity. These tactics can affect a company's reputation and branding efforts.

In 2019, advertisers in the U.S. and Canada spent $1.4 billion on Instagram influencer marketing. About $255 million went to accounts with fake followers, reports Digiday. Despite Instagram's fraud detection algorithms, these issues still represent a major problem. The only way to make sure your advertising dollars don't go to waste is to connect with influencers who believe in your brand and have a qualified audience.

The problem with fake accounts is that they have no meaningful influence over real audiences. For example, fraudsters may create a fake influencer account, hire a model, take professional photos and buy followers. Companies would then pay for advertising or send freebies, hoping to gain exposure and increase their reach. This kind of loss wouldn't have too much of an impact on popular brands, but it could ruin a small business.

Influencers can also mislead their followers, especially young people, by advertising harmful practices. Australian cookbook author Belle Gibson, for instance, claimed that she cured herself of cancer through diet and lifestyle changes back in 2015. She even promised to donate the proceeds from her app to cancer charities. The thing is that Gibson never had cancer in the first place.

How to Spot Fake Influencers

Do a background check on the influencers in whom you're interested before reaching out to them. Make sure you know how to spot fake influencers. If you're using Instagram, look for the blue verification badge displayed on their profile page. Next, check the ratio of likes to followers and read the comments on their posts; watch out for generic comments coming from bots.

Go through their follower list to get a better idea of their target audience. Look for red flags such as low engagement ratios, sudden spikes in followers, irrelevant comments and fans with made-up names.

If everything looks right, ask for screenshots of audience insights and references from other brands with which they have worked. Google their names and check all of their social media accounts, especially when you're dealing with micro-influencers.

Reaching Out to Influencers

Finding the right influencers is half of the process. You also need to know how to approach them in a manner that catches the eye.

If you're only planning to reach out to a few people, the best approach is to send them a message on Instagram or whatever platform they use. Hook them with an engaging subject line, introduce yourself and mention something related to their work, such as how much you appreciate the content they published in a popular magazine, for example.

Keep your message short and to the point. Show your interest in working with them, describe your business and make an offer they can't refuse. Briefly explain why you think they would be a good fit for your brand and how this partnership would benefit them. Personalize each message for the influencer you're targeting and use a professional tone.

Use Influencer Marketing Platforms

Finding the right influencers for your brand is a lot easier if you join a dedicated platform like Upfluence, AspireQ or Hypr. These services appeal to advertisers looking to contact social media influencers at scale. Depending on the platform, you can search for bloggers, personalities and other influential figures based on their niche, interests, audience, follower count, pricing and other criteria.

Upfluence, for example, features over 3 million influencers, 20 advanced search criteria and tools for managing influencer campaigns. Furthermore, it provides everything you need to measure the performance of your campaigns, see which posts perform best and track social media mentions.

Another good choice is Hypr, a platform that offers data-driven insights to help users choose from more than 12 million influencers in every niche and automate their campaigns. Brands can connect with influencers directly and get compelling data about their followers, content and overall performance. Hypr also features advanced tools for audience targeting, fraud prevention, automated outreach, campaign post tracking and more.

Influencer Marketing Tips and Strategies

Once you've identified the best influencers for your small business, focus on building lasting relationships. Look beyond Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn and popular blogs work well for influencer marketing too. Start with a network that is most relevant to your audience and expand to others later.

Make sure you work with influencers who follow the rules. In the U.S., this industry is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, which requires influencers to disclose any financial or family relationships with the brands they promote. However, fewer than 7% of celebrity endorsements on social media are FTC-compliant.

Also, think about the best ways to compensate influencers. Those with large followings charge the highest rates, but their prices are not set in stone and may vary based on the platform and type of content. For example, micro-influencers charge about $250 per sponsored post on Facebook, $100 per Instagram post, $200 per YouTube video and just $20 per tweet. As a small business, your best bet is to negotiate and offer digital or tangible products rather than money.

You may be able to secure a better deal by offering content that influencers couldn't get otherwise. For example, a sustainable business selling organic products may provide industry reports, studies and other resources. Influencers will then use these materials to inform and educate their audience and mention the brand that made it all possible.