Influencer Marketing 101: The What, Why, and How Not To Go Wrong (with Examples)

Editor’s note: This guest post by N.G. Gordon of Dear Mishu’s Dad is on a topic we don’t talk about much here at SPI Media: influencer marketing. But if you’re in the physical product space especially, influencer marketing can be a key component of your marketing toolkit. N.G. provides some handy advice for getting started finding and working with influencers—to which we’ll add, make sure that whenever possible, you’re building relationships with the SMIs you want to work with and prioritizing your audience’s trust in you. Long-term relationships over short-term wins, always. Enjoy the article!

Now that marketing through social media influencers is maturing, it’s time to take a wiser, more experienced look at it. But first:

What Is Influencer Marketing?

Influencer marketing is a form of guerrilla marketing! And when we talk about marketing via social media influencers (SMI), we mean someone who:

  1. Owns a social media account (minimum 50 followers) on platforms such as on TikTok, Instagram, Linkedin and YouTube, and—very importantly—
  2. Uses it for amazing relationship building with their followers AND/OR content creation.

As I’ve said before, our social media accounts are our brand business cards now. It’s obvious to the post-business-card generation that when one talks about “influencers” they mean social media influencers. And so, marketing via endorsements from bloggers, famous authors, whitepaper composers, or podcasters isn’t really considered to be influential nowadays unless they’re using social media to get their message across.

At the same time, the public and the media tend to hate what they think the word “influencer” stands for. So if you’d like, use other names to refer to them: creators, testimonial advertisers, online cheerleaders, advocates, social media impactors, etc. But whatever you call them, it is generally agreed that there are four types of SMIs, determined by their follower counts: 

  1. Celebs/Mega-Influencers (those with over one million followers) 
  2. Macro-Influencers (between 100,000 and one million followers) 
  3. Micro-Influencers (10,00 to 100,000) 
  4. Nano-Influencers (5,000 to 10,000)

Only Mega-Influencers are usually famous. That means that all others—and there are millions and millions of them—are unknown to the general public but are very well-known to the communities they’ve built through their social accounts. And, as a result, they can move mountains through those communities.

Why Would You Use Influencer Marketing?

You work hard designing, innovating, and creating. Whether it’s a new product, your new design services, a new menu, a new app, or a new Amazon product, it takes time and sweat to give birth to that baby. But when you are done, and the product is ready to be released to the world, alas, crickets… It’s hard to break through—and most people know how to bypass ads via ad-blocking software or emotional blockers! Unless you can find someone who already has the eyes, ears, and trust of your potential audience to recommend your creation. 

And that is where hiring an SMI can be a great shortcut to speed your marketing efforts. If done right, you can get exposure, and so much more, including:

  1. Feedback. You can save/earn a lot of money and avoid unnecessary work when your audience tells you whether or not they’re interested in your new idea for a business/product. This kind of feedback can be accessed through SMIs and their communities, because if you pick the right ones, they will become your target audience.

Here’s a real-world example from my DearMishu, where she found an issue with package closure of a sample she received, reported it to the brand, and saved them a lot of money before they launched to a mass market:

Influencer Feedback Can and Should Be Arranged
  1. Access to new communities. By creatively working with influencers, brands can reach communities they never would have considered targeting. I always like to give the example of a new tennis racquet entering the market that happens to come in orange. Imagine that the brand worked with an SMI who leads a community of people who love anything orange!
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Orange tennis racket and orange lover SMI—what a match!
  1. Recognition. SMI’s are recognized as experts, and they transfer that to you. An SMI can bring you what we marketers know as “positive bias.” As a result, your brand will be “stamped” into their followers’ subconscious, and when they need to make a buying decision, they will remember the SMI’s recommendation.
  2. Virality. If the SMI you work with is skilled, your message will become viral through their communities.
  3. Great, reusable content. You need to have content—photos, videos, audio, etc. Even if you already have someone (yourself?) creating the content, after some time it can become repetitive and less creative than when you started your business. Most SMIs are very talented at story-telling, and you can use that to your advantage. 
  4. Great consultant. SMIs “live” in your marketplace. They know exactly what your audience members want and feel, how they’ll react, and so on. Ask them to share their experience and recommendations—they can be great consultants.
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What SMIs can bring to the table…

How to Do Influencer Marketing

You’ll be able to access all those benefits of working with influencers, but only if you do it right…. The secret is to find someone on the social media channel of your choice who is:

  • Not a criminal or operating unethically (but know that most influencers are ethical!)
  • Has built a community that is relevant to what you do 
  • Dominates search results for your category on the platform
  • Their followers care about them, and care about what you do. An unengaged audience is a waste of your time and money.
  • And optional but good to have—someone who can create amazing content.

Search for these kinds of folks, and your success rate will be high.

How to Approach Influencers

Approaching an influencer doesn’t have to be complicated DM them and say something like:

“Hi Johnny, I would like to pay you for promoting my ____ product. Is that okay, and what would be your fee?”

Once you do that:

  1. Treat the SMI as a business partner. Know that they work hard, days and nights (like you), they have bills to pay, and this is how they pay them. They take their job seriously—and you should do the same. Therefore, just hire them using the same process you do with SEO experts, graphic designers, and software coders.
  2. Don’t ask them to bring you instant sales. What they do is marketing toward sales, not sales right from the first day. Let them help you get your message out first and build a social media presence, trust, etc., and then sales will come.
  3. Ask them to do at least two oro three campaigns/projects per year for you. Why? If someone has nothing to say about your brand 364 days a year and then suddenly starts singing your praises—would you trust them? 
  4. Sign a Brand-Influencer contract. (The one I use is available from Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B084SP1R7G.)
  5. Once the campaign is on, don’t forget to be there, actively engaging on the campaign posts and getting involved with the SMI’s followers. You want to show your commitment as a brand to the SMI and their followers. 

How Much Does Influencer Marketing Cost?

First, should you pay a SMI for their work? The answer is YES.

What would you do if someone asked you to work and didn’t want to pay you? Not so good, right? It’s the same with SMIs—they spend their working hours on you, they introduce what you do to a community it took them months if not years to build, they put their reputations on the line for you, etc. They are right to expect to make a living from their social media activities. Paying is the right way to go!

When calculating how much to pay an influencer, you can use one of five methods: 

  1. Pay the SMI 4% of their number of followers. For example, if Sarah has 30,000 followers, then pay her $1,200.
  2. Pay $120 per post for every 10,000 followers the SMI has (e.g., $360 for Sarah’s 30,000 followers).
  3. Pay by the hour, when the rate can be from $25 to $950/Hour, usually based on the SMI’s talent at story-telling, design, and marketing performance.
  4. Pay by project—as above, but an agreed amount per project. For example, a project may be defined as “Sarah creates 2 x 50-second YouTube videos recommending Brand X and posts them to her followers with 2 hashtags that Brand X provides. The work will be owned by Brand X. In return, Brand X will pay $900 upon contract signing and $1,400 after the posts go live on Sarah’s YouTube’s channel.”
  5. Pay by KPIs, such as number of tags, comments, or reshares. This is a mix of results-based payment forms, for example: “When KPI X is reached, you’ll get $__, and when KPI Y is reached, you’ll get $__.”

Each method has its pros and cons. Some of them are easier to calculate and work off already existing business models (project contracting or pay by the hour, for example). However, just like with paying other contractors, there are flaws and room for suspicion sometimes, as you don’t know your new partner well. For example, what if the number of hours Sarah reports looks inflated by the brand that ordered her work? There are also issues with the accuracy of numbers—it’s difficult to measure KPIs scientifically, and platforms don’t give access to all of their data.

The 17 KPIs to measure an SMI’s success

Also consider that many SMIs see themselves as real artists and creators. They may not have a huge number of followers, but they are still highly successful through their art and content creation and charge accordingly:

I charge based on my time & effort (& the time of year at some point). I leverage my fees on my metrics and my engagement rates based on the average in my bracket. I can also tell you there are a hell of a lot of others in my bracket who would laugh a brand into the river at $100 per 10k per post.

—Anonymous

Examples of Successful Influencer Marketing

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Mishu—a “pupfluencer”—recommends a new investment app to her followers.
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Chef Dennis is an SMI who recommends good food for his audience to try.

[embedded content]

A sample unboxing video by an SMI

Downsides of Influencer Marketing

There are several downsides to relying on influencer marketing. If you are aware of them, you will be able to deal with them more effectively.

Choosing the wrong SMI means choosing the wrong partner, which can cost your brand in reputation or in trouble with organizations such as FTC or with communities, and the ROI will be negative.

  1. Measurement is a problem. Marketing, branding, and feedback are all hard to measure. ALso, social media platforms limit access to the data you need to measure performance (and that won’t change any time soon because of user privacy protections). 
  2. It takes a few tries to find the right SMI.
  3. It’s easy to make a wrong decision—mistakes can include:
    • Looking for the most popular accounts instead of someone who cares and can influence or create content really well. 
    • Confusing a high follower count with big influence or big results.
    • Not allocating enough budget to hire the right SMI, and ending up with a “universal-do-all,” cheap ($5, anyone?) but horrible quality SMI who targets irrelevant markets and countries.
  1. Competition with the SMI’s brand. Some SMIs offer their own products, which could be in direct competition with yours. 
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Hiring a cheap, “do-every-campaign-possible” SMI results in negative ROI

Avoiding Influencer Marketing Mistakes

Luckily, most problems can be avoided if you prepare well. And there is nothing like a good interview to know if your candidates are the right pick or not. Here are some important questions to ask them: 

  1. Do they like what you do? Why?
  2. Have they promoted other competitive products recently? How did it go?
  3. How much do they usually charge? Why?
  4. For their past successful campaigns, what day or time were they posted?
  5. Will they provide a 60-day snapshot of their social media insights? See how their engagement went (calculated as quantity of followers divided by likes and comments on posts—anything above 2% is great).
  6. Can you keep and reuse the content they create for you?

Finally, here are some tips about which SMIs to never hire:

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Good luck, heroes. You can do it! (And don’t forget to sign a brand-influencer contract with all the above precautions!)

About the Author

N.G. Gordon is the creator of Dear Mishu, a dog character that gives underdog advice to humans on social media. He originally built the account to learn about influencers and how they work. Over time, the account grew and Dear Mishu became a real social media influencer with a community of followers who ask her for advice. Gordon uses this experience, and his 20 years of B2B and B2C marketing experience, to help brands understand how to reach their goals through influencer marketing and social media branding.

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