The Super Simple Beginner’s Guide to Launching An Influencer Campaign

Photo by BRUNO CERVERA on Unsplash

Influencers, or people “just like me”, play a pivotal role in purchase decisions. While some pop culture celebs hold cache (e.g. Kylie Jenner’s lip kits), gone are the days when celebs in advertisements influenced culture and trends. Now, whether we like it or not, it’s all about the online influencer and marketers agree, 72% have budgeted six-figure line items for campaigns. Why pursue an influencer marketing strategy? Leveraging an influencer’s audience creates and increases visibility, it provides third-party validation and social proof of your products and brand promise. In other words, they can potentially get customers to your brand faster than you can. Some powerful stats:

  • Social media influencers have nearly as much clout as a friend or peer. Consumers are more likely to purchase products after having seen an influencer showcase the product (via a demonstration, tutorial) on Instagram, YouTube, Vine, or Twitter (source)
  • 59% of consumers said that the authenticity of a brand’s content influences them to follow the brand.
  • 3% of people drive 90% of impact online.
  • 72% influencers will share more branded content after your campaign ends if they love your product/service.

Influencer marketing is complicated and nuanced. I’ve been working with influencers since 2006 and no two campaigns have ever been alike. The most successful campaigns are bespoke in concept and design, however, there is value in learning the fundamentals — i.e. setting a foundation for brainstorming a strategy that drives meaningful brand and business results.

Consider this article your beginner’s guide (or general overview) to understanding influencer marketing campaign basics.

First off, let’s talk about macro vs. micro influencers.

  • Macro: 500K followers+. They require significant investment. Asks are limited but your assets will likely have a higher production value. This is good for a big burst of awareness to a large audience base. Downside: you likely won’t get all of your ideal customers. Have to be concerned with “fake followers” and you may not get the return you’re looking for based on your marketing spend.
  • Micro: technically, this is usually under 500K, but I think a good micro influencer can have a following 10K-40K. Micro influencers tend to have strong engagement and have concentrated on a few key platforms. They also, ironically enough, have more trust than the big influencers, who are often accused of “shilling” or “selling out.” The prices are lower and you can include more asks. Downside: You’re not going to get mass traffic and awareness. This is about homing in on your ideal customer and going deeper in the relationship.

Let’s stay you’ve had a few minor wins with influencers showing off your products. Now, let’s build a strategy. Start with micro-influencers. Sometimes getting big influencers to represent your brand isn’t always affordable and doesn’t always provide the return that warrants the investment.

What influencers can do for your brand (i.e. benefits):

  • Humanize the brand: Brands have a relatability issue. However, presenting a trusted, familiar face might be all it takes to get skeptical consumers on board. An influencer can provide this: a recognizable figure with a built-in following who applies their story to your messaging.
  • Create a smooth social media landing: Just as in our offline lives, it’s whom you know online that matters. Influencers who are already active on networks like Instagram or Facebook can be your passport to these new audiences — like showing up at a party on the DJ’s arm. Because you came with someone the audience knows and trusts, your new relationship with them is built on a solid foundation.
  • Inspire new products that your customers want: Influencers offer a fantastic insight into the needs of your target market because they are a part of that audience. So influencers acting as designers for your brand can guide you in the creation of new products that they know will resonate with consumers.
  • Produce content with context: Influencers create promotional content that can be shared with the public both by your brand and by the Influencers themselves. Although this content is produced with marketing intent, influencers know how to make it feel native to whatever space they work in, so consumers can absorb its message without filtering it, as they would with a traditional advertisement.
  • Spread the word to their audience: Working influencers into your marketing mix helps them to understand your objectives and apply their talent accordingly. Tell them what your brand wants to say (via your story, positioning, brand and product benefits), but give them the freedom to say it in a way that feels authentic to their own persona and audience.
  • Cover any pop-up or localized/retail events by being voices “on the ground”: Influencers can act as journalists, documenting your events and working to build anticipation with photos, videos, IG Stories/Lives, and Tweets. With the help of influencer coverage, your event becomes “real” and feels more relevant to consumers.
  • Spark conversation in your community: Influencers can guide community conversations and produce responsive content based on communal topics on IG/FB groups, Lives, etc. This allows consumers to interface with your brand through real, identifiable people who can speak to them on their level.
  • Aid in crisis management (should your brand ever get into hot water): Communicating through influencers in times of crisis can help diffuse the tension surrounding those situations. Influencers can meet consumers in the places that generate negative hype, so be sure to arm them with the information they’ll need to answer questions and address concerns.

Some information to know upfront (i.e. how some influencers are gaming the system)

  • Dirty Secret #1: Instagram Pods: If you follow a similar group of influencers you may notice that they’re all liking and commenting on one another’s posts. This has increasingly become common practice as users are taking steps to “game” the algorithm — the more people who engage with their post, the more visibility it has on the feed. But this becomes an issue when you are paying an influencer for their reach and engagement, as this engagement isn’t as authentic and transparent as it should be. Do your research and monitor an influencer’s post activity to see if they exhibit these behaviors prior to partnering with them.
  • Dirty Secret #2: Buying Followers/Engagement: Conduct research + use tools to check if someone has bought their followers. Note: Practically no one has 100% real followers. The more followers someone has, the more bots will likely follow them — so it doesn’t always mean that person has bought followers.

Six steps to creating an effective influencer campaign:

  1. Know your audience: Always keep your ideal customer in mind when engaging with an influencer. Determine if the influencer has your ideal customer as their audience. It doesn’t matter if the influencer is HUGE. If they don’t influence your ideal customer, you’re wasting money. That’s why a micro influencer program might be your best bet.
  2. Align your influencers to that audience: Your influencers have to be a natural extension of your ideal customer because you’re leveraging peer-to-peer influence to validate your service, products, and story.
  3. Consider the channels: Think about where they’re finding inspiration and information: Instagram, Pinterest, FB groups, blogs. You want to ensure that your influencer has power on the channels in which your ideal consumer already resides. It’s smart to “spread the seed” — i.e. have influencers spread across digital channels so you have a greater chance of reach and SEO healthy link building (you benefit from increased organic traffic the more quality sites link to your site and social channels). In short, don’t just work with IG influencers. Work with influencers who have a presence (s) across IG, YouTube, Pinterest, blogs, podcasts, or FB groups. It’s okay that you don’t have a strong presence on Pinterest or YouTube, for example, just as long as you have a destination to which you can point them.
  4. Communicate + negotiate: Connect with the influencer through a direct pitch or evaluate proposals from influencers on platforms such as Revfluence or Tap Influence. Arm influencer with all materials and brainstorm what content/angle would resonate best with their audience. Negotiate a per post or bulk post rate/multi-platform and event engagement rate. You want predominately micro influencers but you should (if budget allows) add a few top tiers to the mix.

What you could deliver

  • All brand assets: logos, images, media kit copy, approved brand copy.
  • A trackable link: created in Google Analytics so you can see all the activity coming through based on the influencer. Here’s how to do that.
  • Guest posts: (you posting on their space or getting interviewed so people can get to know you faster!) You can focus on the tech behind your products, business practices, and creating gear based on marketplace demand. You can also partner with the influencer to visit your offices/facilities so they can show their audience, in full transparency, how your brand works.
  • Special offers and exclusives for their audience: this could be anything from special offers/discounts to giveaways. Could there be something that the influencer’s audience would find useful in terms of content and how it could be packaged? Have these conversations at the onset to see how you can leverage good content or create custom experiences for their fans/followers

What they could potentially deliver (i.e. asks)

  • Platform takeovers + co-branded experiences: Influencers could they partner up with you on Live experiences for your Facebook group, IG Stories/Lives/IGTV, and cross-promote the event to their members. They could support launches and branded events, as well as offer up advice, tips, and how-tos with their vertical. You can even pair up an influencer with an expert who can give credible insight and advice beyond the product. This is incredible content that can be repurposed across all your channels.
  • Images/video: Preferably both. It would also be helpful to have some “behind-the-scenes” video or shots as “B-roll.”
  • Testimonials (text/video) that can be used in marketing efforts including advertising.
  • Collaborate on a capsule collection or a crowdsourced campaign, using their audience, to determine a new product launch: You’d document the entire experience including vision boards, swatches, preliminary designs, materials sourcing, samples, etc., complete with the finished result.
  • Living “your brand’s” life: Consumers love “in the day of” or real-life YouTube vlogs or IG posts/stories that take their fans through a day in their life. Perhaps you can partner with influencers (who’d use your product exclusively) and have them create a mini-documentary of their day and how they naturally incorporate your products. NATURAL being the operative word here. This works because it creates content that provides tips, value, and a deeper connection between the audience and influencer. Having your gear featured, a shout-out in the video/post, and trackable links back to your website is a terrific way to seamlessly integrate your brand into an influencer’s lifestyle.

Key campaign includes

  • Make sure that the content they create won’t be deleted or “hidden.”
  • FTC disclosure. This so important. They have to be compliant every time they post about you/the experience.
  • Make sure you have the ability to review posts before they go live. You want to stress that it’s more for factual checks vs. playing with their creativity. The more a brand has a handle on the creative process, the less inspired it feels.
  • They should tag your channels/site whenever they post. For example, if they post on Instagram, they should tag you in the post and call out your IG account handle.
  • Not to include any competitor products/mentions in any of the content they create for you.
  • Stats: They should be able to include a media kit with stats (including engagement rates and case studies of work with previous brands) before you start work and they should be able to provide analytics related to your campaign after. This will let you know what works/what doesn’t work as well as which influencers are driving real movement for your brand.

Remember this when you’re collaborating to create content: Great content is serving your ideal customer’s needs through the lens of your story and then the influencer adds their finishing touches/unique take on both. This is also why it’s so important to align the influencer with your ideal audience.

Let’s say you sell high-end fitness apparel. You don’t want to partner up with someone who appeals primarily to a budget-driven audience. You want to target people with discretionary income who have no problem making investments when it’s worth it. Otherwise, you won’t be hitting your prime demo and everyone’s going to call your products “pricey.” Remember, it’s important to pick influencers that reflect your ideal customer and their audience should be primarily comprised of this customer.

Executing the campaign

  • Map out the asks, in detail, in your proposal including @brandcallouts #hashtags, trackable links, brand must-includes, FTC disclosure, etc.
  • Review all content prior to its publication to ensure factual accuracy, brand alignment, and fulfillment of asks.
  • Engage with the community within the first few days of each post to field any product questions // concern. Your presence signals that you want to connect with your customers in a 1:1 dialogue.
  • Review and evaluate influencer performance through your tracking tools and reports from the influencer on performance.
  • Tweak and optimize the campaign and influencer mix based on overall performance against KPIs.

Examples of excellent content

Value-Added Content: Instead of simply plugging the new 50 Shades Darker film, one influencer elected to give her readers a fun recipe inspired by the film.

Engage an Expert for Tips: To promote a local floral arrangement service, Joanna Hawley of Jojotastic brought in an expert to give smart tips on floral arrangements for small space living (Joanna’s primary niche). Combing an expert with a special offer for Jojotastic readers is an excellent way to promote an on-brand service

An On-Brand Giveaway: Popular Instagram account, @Food52 partnered with a pro-knife brand to offer a reader giveaway. The brand is perfect for Food52’s premium audience that loves culinary finds and food preparation

Amplifying content

Influencer campaigns are SO important because they are built-in validations of your brand. They are evergreen (like press mentions) and can be used in:

  • Facebook awareness and retargeting ads.
  • Instagram Story and post ads.
  • Website (homepage, product detail pages).
  • Newsletter: special influencer spotlight/feature.
  • Social media: Cross-promotion on your channels.

Measuring the results

Campaign success is not attributable to a single measure: sales. Think about how you shop and interact with new brands — you don’t always buy instantly off an advertisement or blog post. Sometimes (especially for products that require longer periods of consideration), you need to research the brand more, evaluate the product via reviews and testimonials. Although you want your customers to click the “buy” button every time, that’s not necessarily realistic.

Especially if you’re a new brand or you’re introducing a new product. You need awareness, validation, and customer trust before they make a purchase. As a result, you have to rely on both qualitative and quantitative measures that elevate brand equity but get your target closer to purchase and repeat purchase. A few KPI (key performance indicators) suggestions:

  • Conversation increase: An increase in conversations about the brand + product line, conversational market share (i.e. conversational lift in context of a competitor set).
  • Brand health: Using sentiment and linguistic data analysis, you can track brand perception. Let’s say you’ve had a rough year with a faulty product. A turnaround and favorable brand perception are powerful not only for the immediate future but for the long-term viability of your business.
  • Engagement lift: As a result of our influencer campaign and all supporting tactics, do we see a lift in engagement rates across our key platforms? Also, we can view their engagement rates, return on spend, and overall performance via your reporting dashboard.
  • Conversions: Conversions don’t necessarily mean sales. Instead, they’re the steps a prospect takes to develop a relationship with your brand and they can be powerful if your marketing makes use of these new prospects. Examples of conversions could be: traffic (a win because you can remarket or retarget those customers with additional information, testimonials, offers, etc.), UPV, repeat visitors, purchase/repeat Purchase, offer redemption (if we have this tracked and coded by influencer), newsletter sign-ups, social channel followers.

At the end of the day, influencers can serve as the bridge between you and your customers. Done effectively and authentically with complete brand transparency, partnerships can be an incredible way to cultivate relationships with key voices in your community.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +398,714 people.

Subscribe to receive our top stories here.