For a long time, influencer marketing was an indulgence only large businesses with equally large marketing budgets could afford. Engaging the rich and famous in order to tap into their fan base took an established name and plenty of money, but the advent of social media has changed much of this. Influencers now come from a huge variety of backgrounds, whether they’ve made their name from an excellent food blog or being hilarious on Twitter, and this change offers a great opportunity for small businesses.
It’s now possible to reach out to the influencers in your niche with far more ease than was possible even five years ago, with bloggers, Instagram stars and YouTube personalities actively courting brands who want to get in touch.
What is Influencer Marketing?
The goal of influencer marketing is to find someone whose audience (or fan base) is aligned with your own, before turning them into a brand ambassador. For example, if you are a catering business, you may find a food blogger who has a thousand regular readers, and encourage these readers to discover your business by inviting this blogger to review your food. You could even ask to guest post on their blog, perhaps sharing a recipe or giving tips on cooking for large groups.
The aim is to utilize the influencer’s ready-made audience to get your brand name in front of more people. While the bloggers with hundreds of thousands of followers or big YouTube stars may be as difficult and expensive to engage as celebrities for this role, 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 businesses.
Taking Inspiration from Major Brands
Regardless of budget, the key tenets of influencer marketing are the same across the board, which is why it can be useful to first look to major brands for inspiration—or even for some lessons about what goes wrong.
Businesses have to find people that reflect their values and communicate some of the ideals they wish to associate with their brands. Take Charlize Theron’s long-term role as the face of Dior’s J’adore, or Audrey Hepburn’s relationship with Givenchy. Their otherworldly beauty, “classic” style and uncontroversial public image adds an ethereal and aspirational edge to these companies, and the relationships lasted so long as to appear genuine and sincere.
There are also complexities in influencer marketing. You have to think carefully and weigh up whether someone’s public image truly aligns with your brand values. A food brand may find its best fit with a beauty blogger because they share values and enthusiasms—you just have to keep an open mind.
Creating long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships is perhaps one of the best outcomes of influencer marketing, and something that small businesses (given their personal touch) may even find easier than major brands.
Where Should You Start?
The first step in influencer marketing is finding the people who are most likely to be enthusiastic about your business. Perhaps, if someone popular on Instagram loves a product that’s similar to yours, you can send them a sample and prove that yours is better. Or if you are an ethical company, seek out activist bloggers who share your views and introduce yourself and your business. By using a friendly approach and letting these people know how much you appreciate their work, you’ll build genuine relationships and won’t put them off by appearing too sales orientated.
It’s clear that established influencers can cost a lot of money, even in the mid-range, so trying to spot a rising star is, potentially, a more cost effective option. ROI is an issue when utilizing brand ambassador initiatives even for large companies, but by choosing someone with a smaller audience—but with clear talent and appeal—you open the possibility of sharing in their future success. You can use tools like Tweetreach to analyze the effect an influencer is having.
Making Your Customers Brand Ambassadors
An alternative (or complementary) tactic is to turn your actual customers into brand ambassadors. Getting people to rave about your business online is much the same as real life, you have to provide excellent customer service and go above and beyond. Small encouragements (without being pushy) could remind them to mention you online. For example, people will often post pictures of their new purchases on social media, and you can encourage this by adding your Twitter and Instagram handles on your packaging.
Engaging in influencer marketing doesn’t take a huge budget. In fact, plenty of influencers will be happy to promote your business just because they think your brand is great—especially if you share values. However if you have no marketing budget, sending free samples can be enough to get you talked about, and there’s no harm in approaching people just to make them aware of your brand. It’s simply about making people as excited about your business as you are.
Author: Holly Ashby is a social media manager and content creator who works with startups and charities defining their brand voice and content marketing strategies. Interested in travel, influencer marketing and the luxury market, she is also a brand ambassador for property investment fund The Hideaways Club where she can explore these interests. She’s currently working with a slow-fashion startup and lives by the sea in South East England.