What Is Influencer Marketing? Strategy and Mistakes to Avoid

Influencer marketing can raise brand awareness and increase sales, but it involves research and planning to be an effective marketing channel for small businesses.
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Written by Lisa Anthony
Lead Writer
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Assistant Assigning Editor
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Influence marketing is a form of social media marketing where businesses partner with influencers — people known online for their knowledge on a topic and who have sizable social media followings — to promote their products and services. Because influencers are often viewed as trusted experts, their endorsement of products can influence the buying decisions of those who follow them.

Businesses typically compensate influencers through free products and some monetary means. Essential factors in a business's selection of an influencer are audience demographics, number of followers, engagement rates and cost.

A common tiering system for influencers is based on the number of their followers:

  • Nano-influencer: 1,000 to 10,000 followers.

  • Micro-influencer: 10,000 to 100,000 followers.

  • Macro-influencer: 100,000 to 1 million followers.

  • Mega-influencers: over 1 million followers.

While you may think a macro- or mega-influencer is needed for a successful marketing campaign, nano-influencers often have especially close relationships with their followers. As a result, they can be cost-effective for business owners with limited marketing budgets but who want to include influencer marketing in their marketing plan.

Influencer marketing, like other forms of online marketing, must follow standards set by the Federal Trade Commission Act. An important part of following this act is disclosing the relationship between the business and the influencer. The influencers are responsible for making this disclosure and providing an honest assessment of any products they endorse for a business.

Influencer marketing vs. celebrity marketing

While some celebrities are mega-influencers, influencer marketing and celebrity marketing are different. Celebrity marketing — using actors, musicians, writers, sports figures and other well-known public figures to endorse products — is a common marketing tactic that some have traced back to royal endorsements in the 1760s. It uses a variety of channels to deliver the endorsement, including print, TV, radio, film and the internet.

Influencer marketing, on the other hand, is a newer tactic that mainly takes place on social media platforms. While influencers are well-known in their communities, they generally aren't famous beyond the social platforms they use. In contrast, celebrities are typically well-known in a larger community but are often less likely to be an expert on the products they endorse.

Influencer marketing strategies

If investing in influencer marketing is something you want to explore, here are some steps you can take to incorporate it into your marketing plan.

Know your target audience

To maximize your influencer marketing efforts, you'll want to direct your messaging to your target audience, the group most likely to buy your products and services. Reviewing the demographics of your target audience — age, gender identity, education, ethnicity, family size, income and location — will help you find an influencer whose audience overlaps with your own.

Don't let demographic details such as the average age of your audience prevent you from exploring influencers. There are influencers with followers that fall into many different demographic groups.

Determine your campaign goals

Clearly define the goals you'd like to achieve through your influencer marketing campaign, such as increased brand awareness, trust in your products, website traffic or product purchases. Also, determine the metrics you can use to measure progress. For example, you could create a unique landing page for an influencer to link to and track its visitor count. Or, influencers could be given unique discount codes to share with their followers, allowing you to track purchases.

Select the right influencers

The next step is to identify influencers with followers that align with your target audience. You may want to start your search on the platform where you have the strongest presence. After you select a few influencers, follow them to see what they share and with whom they engage. Free online engagement calculators and marketing tools can provide metrics such as the number of followers, posts, engagement rates and comments-to-like ratios to help you determine follower interest.

A simple way to calculate an engagement rate is to divide total engagement by followers and multiply by 100. Interactions such as comments, likes, shares, messages, downloads, saves, retweets and pins are some common engagements. Of course, what's considered a good engagement rate varies by platform, but it can be a useful comparison point when reviewing influencers on the same platform.

After you've narrowed your search to a few good candidates, reach out. Many influencers will include contact information in their bio or "about" section. You can provide an overview of the marketing campaign you envision, including highlights, expectations and a timeline. Next, request the influencer's rate sheet, which will include pricing and platforms and may also contain details about their followers, examples of posts and other information.

Calculate campaign cost

The cost of partnering with an influencer is typically based on the number of their followers, the social media channels they use and what type of promotion you're looking for. A post rate of $10 per 1,000 followers is a common estimate given for the industry. In general, the more followers an influencer has, the more they will cost per post. And posts on certain platforms, such as YouTube and Facebook, might be more expensive than on TikTok and Twitter. Influencer fees vary significantly, so it's best to refer to an influencer's personal rate sheet for an accurate cost estimate.

In addition to post fees, don't forget to factor in additional costs such as free products, discounts, commissions and performance bonuses.

Create messaging for posts and mentions

Providing brand information, guidelines on referring to your business and preferred topics will help influencers create the content used in their posts. You can ask to pre-approve the content that will be posted. However, influencers have control over what they will share. After all, they are speaking to their audience, one they've worked hard to build, and they want to be authentic in their posts.

Track return on investment

After launching your influencer marketing campaign, tracking the metrics you've set for your goals will help you monitor your return on investment (ROI). In general, ROI measures the amount of return on a monetary investment. An ROI calculation could be attributed to each of your goals. For example, if you're tracking sales revenue through landing pages and discount codes, a revenue ROI can be calculated from total sales revenue divided by the fees paid to the influencer. Or, an engagement ROI could be calculated based on the website traffic sourced from social media divided by influencer cost. A marketing attribution model can help you determine your most effective marketing channels.

Common mistakes to avoid

When you decide to move forward with influencer marketing, avoiding these common mistakes can help you make the most of this marketing channel.

Not thoroughly vetting your influencer

Because your brand will be associated with the influencers you select, you want to research them thoroughly to ensure they align with your brand values. Look at the content in their posts and frequency over a period. Also, review their interactions with followers to see if they are meaningful engagements or one-word responses. Reviewing prior sponsorships can help you determine if they will represent your brand well, and a Google search can reveal other information.

Focusing on follower volume instead of engagement

It's the quality of an influencer's relationships with their followers that matters when they promote your products and services. If the influencer has a large following but doesn't receive much engagement, their promotion of your product may not impact their audience. Influencers with highly engaged audiences — even if they're smaller — may be a better fit, and they generally cost less per post.

Unclear expectations

It's important that the influencers you partner with have a clear understanding of what they are expected to deliver. A written agreement can help define expectations and deliverables, clarify the campaign timeline, disclose payment details and highlight additional terms such as a content pre-approve requirement.

Not optimizing your social media accounts

While paying someone to promote your business on their social media channels, you also need to ensure your profiles are up-to-date, professional and visually appealing. After all, a successful influencer campaign will drive new visitors to your pages and website. Ensure your social media pages include high-quality images and content that gives insights into your products and brand. Information such as location and store hours are also important when you operate at a physical location. And regular activity on your social media platforms can also signal that you are engaged with your customers.