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Unlocking the Influencer Code: A Step-by-Step Guide to Skyrocket Your Brand’s Success

Guide to influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is a buzzword in today’s digital marketing and PR landscape – a phenomenon that’s exploded within the past decade. Now most companies, even the smallest businesses and start-ups, are looking to utilise influencer marketing to help boost their profile and profits in some way. But what is it, how does it work, and is it worth spending time and money on?

At Smoking Gun, we specialise in cutting through the noise and making the complex easier to understand. With this comprehensive, simple step-by-step guide we’ll explore everything you need to know about leveraging influencer marketing effectively. We’ve split this handy guide into seven easy-to-read sections – so you can skip to each section based on what you’re most interested in, or read the full article from start to finish. 

Ready? There’s a lot to learn, so let’s get started. 

Understanding Influencer Marketing

Grasp the fundamentals of influencer marketing

What is influencer marketing?

To understand what influencer marketing is and how it works, first you need to know what an influencer is. Essentially, an influencer is any influential individual with a sizeable online profile. Usually they have amassed a following of some sort and have the ear of a large audience, or highly engaged group of people. Typically influencers are only well-known to a certain demographic or users of specific social media sites, but some have become global celebrities in their own right. Sometimes they may have a large presence on more than one platform, but usually they have one platform in particular where they have gained the strongest and largest following. 

Influencer marketing is the term used to describe engaging the services of one of these individuals in order to help secure greater visibility for your products or services in the social media space. 

Naturally brands want to connect and work with influencers because as the name suggests, often they genuinely do have an influence over their audiences, who tend to literally follow them physically as well as metaphorically. This very often means they do the same things, hold the same interests and buy the same products. 

A more primitive version of influencer marketing is celebrity endorsements – for years, high-profile people in the public eye have been paid huge sums to promote products and services. Now celebrity status and visibility can essentially be obtained by anyone within the online sphere thanks to social media, so this type of promotional activity has become accessible to all types of businesses. 

It’s also useful to think of influencer marketing as a type of social media advertising. You’re spending money to enhance visibility, reach and engagement. In many ways influencer marketing can be just as successful as running ads, if not more successful in certain cases. 

Why is influencer marketing crucial for your brand? 

Influencer marketing

Not every business invests in influencer marketing, and it isn’t right for everyone – but for those that do, there’s a diverse array of advantages. Besides augmented sales, benefits of influencer marketing can include:

  • Enhanced reach and brand awareness, particularly within new markets/audiences
  • Increased engagement and following on social media
  • Improved credibility, trust and authenticity
  • Generation of content (both by influencers and users) which can be repurposed and reshared to further promote your brand more easily and cost-effectively 

Influencer marketing can be especially powerful due to its ability to tap directly into your target audience if you know they follow an influencer. This can result in more sales, huge boosts to brand recognition, and a surge in follows. Often this is referred to as going ‘viral’ – and it’s rare. 

This is however one of the many pitfalls of influencer marketing. 

Most companies mistakenly believe that influencer marketing is a ‘quick hit’ strategy – pay someone a lot of money to promote your brand online, and in turn gain a huge amount of followers or sales instantly. Sadly it isn’t that simple – and like most forms of marketing you’ll usually need to employ a carefully planned long-term approach for best results. 

The most successful influencer marketing strategies are carefully considered, well-thought out, correctly targeted and often involve a prolonged, multi-faceted approach as opposed to an ‘eggs in one basket’ scenario. 

Different types of influencers and their advantages

Before we share more about how influencer marketing works and how you can use it to your advantage, first we need to discuss the different types of influencers.

In its infancy, influencer marketing tended to involve big numbers – and influencers were known even to those who didn’t follow them such as celebrities and public figures. This meant that influencer marketing was only accessible to big companies who paid eye-watering sums for just one post or endorsement.

But now there are many different influencers brands can choose to work with, all at different stages of their journey and all with different sizes and types of audience to choose from. This opens up the benefits of influencer marketing to all kinds of businesses, provided you know what type of influencer you should work with for best results. 

We can split influencers into roughly four groups: 

  • Mega: An influencer with 1 million+ followers – usually reserved for large national or global brands. Often these are already celebrities offline or in other spaces 
  • Macro: 100,000-1 million followers – a huge sector with a spectrum of different types and sizes of influencer within it 
  • Micro: 1,000 – 100,000 followers – most popular amongst smaller start-ups and SMEs  
  • Nano:  Less than 1000 followers – best suited to start-ups and smaller brands with lower budgets, but can also be implemented strategically by bigger brands to gain more diverse reach with higher impact 

The type of influencer you choose and the size of their audience will depend on several factors including your brand, nature of your offering and budget, which we’ll share more detail on throughout this article. 

Identifying Your Target Audience

social media manager
Target market concept, attracting customers

Defining your target audience and their preferences

We discuss audience a lot here at Smoking Gun – because it’s crucial to understand your audience before embarking on any type of promotional activity for your business. Without having an appreciation of the people you want to attract to your company and knowing who they are, it’s very difficult to fully engage with them and achieve a desirable result for your business.

You can find an in-depth guide to understanding your audience and the importance of informed audience targeting here we recommend giving that a read first if you’re new to audience targeting or don’t know who your target audience is just yet.

Below we’ve shared a brief overview of some of the tools and techniques you need to be aware of in order to gain clarity on your audience before you embark on an influencer marketing campaign. 

How to conduct audience research for better influencer selection

When it comes to influencer marketing, research should start with the social platforms your target audience frequents the most. Each social platform has a key demographic, but within that there are pockets of people with different ages, interests and needs. Your job here is to first identify the social media channel you believe your audience spends time on the most, and then understand their behaviours when they use that platform. Who do they follow and engage with? How do they interact with and share content? What types of content do they prefer? 

Aligning influencer choice with your brand’s values and goals

As we’ve mentioned in previous guides, a decision to spend money is more emotional than most companies realise. Consumers often make an assessment on the values of the company they’re spending money with subconsciously, which means much of the work you do to attract new customers depends on the feelings they have as opposed to more obvious, straightforward variables like price and positioning (although these have a role to play, too).

Influencer marketing is all about trust and reputation, so by choosing an influencer to represent your brand, they become an extension of your company. That’s why understanding your audience and being able to select an aligned influencer to communicate with them on your behalf are two key skills required for influencer marketing success. 

There are two important things to consider here. First, does the influencer you have chosen represent your brand in a way that resonates with your audience? Do you feel your target audience will be inspired and encouraged when they see you working with or endorsed by this person? 

Secondly, is your chosen influencer’s audience going to be receptive to you?  Often brands are so focused on choosing who they want that they forget to consider whether the audience in question will want them back. Good influencers should point this out and mention any potential conflicts or concerns. Some influencers will actively turn down brands they feel may put off their audience, but many won’t or may simply not be as aware of their audience’s needs from a marketing perspective. 

It’s also worth noting that whilst some influencers will work with anyone, many actively curate their feeds and the list of companies they work with to maintain their reputation. This means you could potentially be turned down by an influencer if they feel your brand or offering isn’t a good fit for them or their audience, or doesn’t align with their own values and ethics. Although it may be disappointing this is good news because authenticity is key – and audiences can often tell if someone genuinely likes and uses a product (and when they don’t).

Finding the right influencers

Vegan Influencer marketing

Discovering influencers who resonate with your brand

Next you’ll need to find the right influencers to represent your brand. This might sound easy on the surface – but it isn’t as simple as opening up Instagram and choosing someone with loads of followers. This stage is crucial because if you get this right, it will make the next steps of content creation and promotion much simpler. 

If you haven’t drilled down on your audience and their values, wants, needs and concerns yet, you’ll want to go back and complete that step first before searching for influencers. 

How to search for influencers on social media platforms

Social networks have millions of users – and there are now more influencers available than ever before to choose from. Starting your search from scratch can feel daunting and confusing to say the least, but you can use a variety of tools and techniques to pinpoint potential influencers to partner with

You can also organically begin to make a note of influencers who you feel are aligned with your brand or who have run successful campaigns with similar companies. Narrowing your search before you begin will save you a lot of time and money – it also maximises your chances of success. 

Evaluating an influencer’s credibility and authenticity

It’s become easier than ever to fake stats and buy followers – so as a brand, how do you know who to trust when finding influencers to work with? The good news is it’s also easier to track and access impartial analytics, thanks to tools such as Brandwatch and HypeAuditor. Your influencer should be happy to provide you with a media pack sharing an overview of their audience and stats to date before you agree to work together. They may also share case studies of previous clients or campaigns and their results. 

Usually the results speak for themselves – and you should be clearly able to see genuine engagement and support on an influencer’s previous content and campaigns. Look out for comments sections filled with spam or bots and discrepancies between follower numbers and likes on content. It’s worth noting here that sadly like any online service the influencer marketing space has become susceptible to scams, so be sure to exercise caution and run thorough checks on prospective agencies and influencers before parting with any funds.

Picking an influencer who ‘talks’ to your target audience

By now you’ve probably noticed that successful influencer marketing really comes down to successful connections. Connection between the influencer and their audience, your brand and the influencer, and ultimately between your brand and the influencer’s audience. It’s crucial to ensure that your influencer speaks the same language as the demographic you’re looking to make a connection with. 

Another aspect to be mindful of is the nature of your audience and your relationship with them. Are you selling B2B or B2C – or a blend of both? Your choice of influencer may differ depending on the nature of your business or product and the type of audience you plan to sell to. 

Crafting creative collaborations

How to build engaging campaigns with influencers

Working with an influencer tends to be a much more collaborative process compared with other types of marketing and marketing strategies, where contractors will take care of everything on your behalf. An influencer will expect a certain amount of input from you in order to make your partnership with them a success. 

You’ll need to approach prospective influencers with some ideas in mind, including your key messages, brief and any creative concepts or styles of content you’d like to share with them. 

Different types of influencer collaborations 

There are many versatile ways you can work with influencers. Which you choose depends on your audience and brand identity, the specific campaign or products/services you’re looking to promote, and the influencer you’ve chosen to work with. Your influencer can even suggest an approach based on your brand and desired outcome. Popular types of influencer-led content include sponsored posts, takeovers, giveaways and competitions. Usually content centres around encouraging visibility, engagement and interaction, but sometimes it’s a straightforward feature or demo. 

How to align influencer content with your brand’s messaging

If you nail the influencer selection stage, the creative side of things should almost take care of itself. As a brand, your job is to properly brief your influencer partner on what you want to promote and whether there are any specific actions you want their audience to take as a result of working with them. For this you need to revisit your overall goal and consider how you want aligned users to interact with your brand. 

Maintaining creative freedom for your influencers is really important – so allow them sufficient leeway to create content that feels genuine to them and will resonate the most with their audience. This is a collaboration, a partnership, rather than a creative exchange, so be sure to respect your influencer’s professional opinions on both their audience and the content they create. This is a savvy move because usually nobody understands an influencer’s audience better than they do, and they can share vital insights into what has worked well before for brands or products that are similar to yours.  

Measuring ROI and performance

We’ve said it before but we’ll say it again – your marketing activity needs to be measurable. Without clear targets and indicators of how your campaigns have performed, you have no way of knowing whether they have worked well or not. 

Continuously evaluating the effectiveness of your influencer marketing endeavours is essential in order to keep growing your online profile. Even if things didn’t go well, you’re gaining valuable insights into how to finetune and further improve your promotional efforts moving forward. 

Setting measurable goals and key performance indicators (KPIs)

Before beginning any kind of influencer campaign, start by outlining your overall objectives. Do you want more followers and engagement on social media? Do you want to sell higher quantities of a specific product? Are you launching a new product and want to create a buzz? Is it trust and brand awareness you’re hoping to secure? Once you’re clear on this, you can set smaller ‘stepping stone’ targets (also known as KPIs) which can then be linked directly to different stages of your influencer marketing activity. 

Tools and methods for tracking ROI and campaign success

It’s not always easy to evaluate the success of social media marketing activity – especially when it comes to influencer marketing campaigns. If you’ve done a good job of defining your audience and have gathered data from previous marketing activity and similar brands, you can then measure your results against them. There are many different tools you can use to get a clearer impression of how your influencer marketing activity is performing – from the basic overview of impressions platforms provide themselves to more in-depth, sophisticated tools.  If you’re investing in any ads alongside your influencer campaign it’s worth setting up a Meta pixel to track conversions. Other tools include Google Analytics, Bitly and SEMRush.  

Although it’s more complicated to set up and monitor, usually a blended approach integrating a variety of third-party and platform-dependent tools will give the clearest picture. Consider where you’re sending users if they are continuing their journey off-platform, what actions they take there and how this can be monitored.   

You can find more on marketing analysis and evaluation techniques and tools in this article.

Creating niche targeting strategies

Understanding the significance of niche targeting for influencer marketing

Going niche is a little bit like putting your money in a stock market investments account. The potential risk is higher, but so is the reward.

When you go niche and get it right, you can really maximise ROI and increase revenue opportunities because a smaller audience feels as though you’re speaking directly to them. But if you fail to nail your niche and get it wrong either with your creative approach, influencer or audience selection, you could find your time and money is wasted. 

Creating niche targeting strategies isn’t for the faint hearted – but with the prospect of winning big, it’s something many brands are understandably keen to try. 

What are the benefits of reaching a highly specific audience?

When you nail your niche, you stand to win big. It’s much harder to really get clear on and understand a niche market and what makes them tick – but once you do, the rest is relatively easy. Through speaking directly to a narrow audience with specific messaging designed to make them feel as though you’re speaking to only them, you can secure some serious sales and engagement.  

It’s important to note here however that these benefits can only materialise if you’ve really done your research on your audience, and understand exactly what works to engage and influence them. 

Building long-term relationships with influencers

Cultivating lasting partnerships for sustained success

Long-term relationships with influencers help you to maximise profitability from that connection and continuously retarget an already engaged audience. If previous campaigns have gone well, you can work with the influencer again either on an ad-hoc or continuous basis. 

There are pros and cons to this approach. On one hand, you can work with someone you know and trust and keep rolling out fresh offerings with relative confidence that they’ll be picked up via your influencer partnership. On the other hand, without balance you could inadvertently exhaust an audience and lose out on the results representation from a fresh face could bring. Diversity is key when it comes to influencer marketing (or any kind of marketing), so if you only have a limited budget focusing it on one influencer long-term could prevent you from exploring better options elsewhere. 

High-profile examples of companies with successful long-term influencer partnerships include Garnier (Davina McCall & Holly Willoughby) and Just Eat (Katy Perry & Snoop Dog). 

What’s the importance of fostering relationships beyond one-off campaigns?

Earlier we mentioned that influencer marketing isn’t transactional – and it’s important to touch on this again before we finish. The industry has a reputation for being superficial, but in many cases there are deeply personal motivations behind an influencer’s career choice. Some are in it for the money but on the whole it’s important to remember that influencers are human beings, creatives, who genuinely love to create and share content and have worked hard to grow their loyal following. Showing loyalty, commitment and appreciation to them through working with them over an extended period of time regularly or on an ad-hoc basis can pay dividends for your brand not just through continued exposure to the same audience, but also through incentivising your influencer to share even more because they have a genuine connection with your brand, especially if your values are aligned.  

Ensuring effective communication and collaboration with influencers

When working with an influencer it’s crucial to be mindful of the fact that they are essentially providing a blend of creative support and consultancy, just like a digital marketing agency or PR company would do. Recognising this and the role they have to play in the future success of your brand helps you to secure more loyalty and commitment, and in turn be able to work with an influencer on an ongoing basis or return to them when running future campaigns. 

As the profession is relatively new, some brands make the mistake of disrespecting or undervaluing influencers. Be sure to be respectful and professional both when approaching and working with influencers. The best way to foster a positive working relationship is to treat your influencer as you would any other supplier – as an expert in their field who has skills and assets you’d like to invest in to help elevate your brand profile. 

It’s also important to lay some ground rules and arrange a simple contractual agreement between your company and the influencer, outlining the exact services they’ll provide and expectations on both sides. This step should be completed before you begin working together, and can help to avoid conflict or make potential issues more manageable. 

Navigating the world of influencer marketing with confidence

Influencer marketing may appear complex and daunting at first – but with a carefully planned, considered approach any business can benefit. The way we market brands and share products and services with consumers has changed beyond recognition within the past few years – and companies that fail to understand and use up-to-date promotional tools can quickly fall behind. 

This simple step-by-step guide has been specifically designed to help you develop a more in-depth understanding of influencer marketing so that you can elevate your brand’s success with the support of influencers. Take your time, and learn as much as you can before you get started. Don’t be disheartened if your first efforts don’t produce the type of results you’d hoped for. Sometimes it can take time to develop a successful influencer marketing strategy – so keep developing your skills or enlist expert support where needed. 

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