Social network structure showing connections between profiles

When developing an influencer marketing strategy, it’s easy to assume that it’s something only big businesses can afford. With celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Internet-born stars such as Zoella commanding hundreds of thousands of dollars – simply for wearing a particular product in their videos – it may seem as if engaging an influencer takes a big brand name and huge marketing budget.

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. With bloggers, Instagram stars and YouTube personalities with a variety of audiences actively courting brands, influencer marketing is a strategy you can utilize on any budget.

Why use influencer marketing?

Research by the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth suggests that young people in particular are becoming increasingly resistant to traditional advertising. By 2017 it’s predicted that one third of all Internet users will be using some form of ad-blocker, ultimately diminishing the effectiveness of banner advertising. With evolving user behavior, businesses of all sizes are going to have to be more creative in the ways in which they promote their brand.

One of the key benefits of influencer marketing is that it taps into a ready-made audience, and subsequently the trust and admiration that influencer has already cultivated. If a blogger who has a great relationship with their readers reviews, likes or comments on your product, people are more likely to take this recommendation seriously. It’s this suggestion of credibility and authenticity that can often make influencer marketing so effective.

Choose the right influencer

While bloggers with hundreds of thousands of followers or the more well known YouTube stars may be as difficult (or expensive) to engage with as celebrities, so called “micro-influencers” (who have fewer than 10,000 followers) can actually garner more engagement from their audience and are more likely to work with small to medium sized businesses. Even someone who only has a thousand followers could prove to be an extremely valuable collaborator for your business.

The first step in influencer marketing is finding the people who are most likely to be enthusiastic about your business. Think about your brand values and the key principles of your business, search for bloggers who share these ideals. For example, if your business has sustainable credentials, green living bloggers would be a natural partnership. If your business is reliant on local customers, you may also want to focus on bloggers located within a similar area, tapping into an audience who may be more receptive to your products and services.

Create a two-sided relationship

When approaching an influencer it’s important to be both friendly and open, just as your would in the real world. Also, everyone is susceptible to flattery so letting them know how much you appreciate their work can often go a long way. Retweeting and sharing their content will help introduce them to your brand before you reach out the them over email, turning the initial approach from cold to semi-warm and increasing your chances of a reply.

Plenty of influencers will also expect some kind of payment for promoting your brand, but by setting a strict budget and negotiating politely, you can avoid overspending by determining what’s within your budget from the outset. If you can communicate your shared values, influencers will be much more likely to develop a positive working relationship with you.

Experiment with different strategies

As with anything online, testing is everything. It’s rare that you’ll achieve great success from the very first attempt, so vary your tactics in order to find out what works. One month you could engage smaller bloggers and social media users (spreading your budget across a variety of sources), and the following month you could dedicate your whole budget to a solitary influencer with a larger audience.

You may also want to try a social media takeover, where a influencer runs your social media accounts for a day. If you have no marketing budget at all, sending free samples or inviting influencers to try out your service is one way to get them to discuss your brand with their audience.

When conducting any testing it’s imperative that you’ve defined and set-up the various tracking metrics you’ll need in order to compare results.

Analyzing the results

Remember that not all benefits can be measured in immediate sales – raising brand awareness is more difficult to measure, and the benefits may not become obvious until later. Some of the key metrics to monitor will be traffic to your website, time spent on the site, conversions and engagement. There are also other advantages, for example if an influencer chooses to link to your website it will create both referral traffic can boost your visibility in organic search. Tools like Tweetreach and Google Analytics offer great insights into how your campaign is performing.

Every type of influencer will have a different reach (audience size), relevance (contextual fit with your business) and resonance (engagement power) and your marketing strategies will therefore have varied results. With some experience and careful consideration, you’ll find the ones that are best for you and form long-lasting relationships.

Holly Ashby is a content creator and social media manager who has worked with various start-ups on their brand and content strategy, like the rapidly growing meditation company Will Will Williams Meditation and slow-fashion start-up Lemuel MC.  She’s also a brand ambassador for the luxury property investment fund The Hideaways Club and fascinated by the luxury market.