What is influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing is a form of social media marketing that involves engaging with content creators and seeking endorsements, product placements or content collaborations to draw attention to your business.
Instagram is the best known and some might argue the best developed social media platform for influencer marketing. It has created a range of tools and new account types to support ‘creators.’
However, TikTok has grown exponentially in the past two years, threatening to become the dominant social media platform and is investing millions in attracting and growing content creators on the platform. Influencers are active on all the major social media platforms but will likely have differing levels of success on each.
Influencer marketing is now a major industry, predicted to be worth $13.8 billion by the end of 2021. There are now major international media personalities who started their careers on YouTube, Instagram or Twitter and who have gone on to host their own TV shows, shift millions of books or sell their own products across the world.
If you’re not familiar with Influencer Marketing, we’re going to review the basics, tell you why it is relevant to independent retailers in 2022 and how small businesses like yours can leverage the power of influencers to promote and drive footfall to their bricks and mortar and their online shops.
Why should retailers use influencer marketing?
There are a few reasons why influencer marketing is attractive to independent retailers
- Studies show that influencer marketing can have between a x6 and a x11 return on investment
- Organic (ie non-paid) reach on Facebook and Instagram is continuing to decline so retailers need to reach new audiences
- Working with influencers not only creates brand awareness with a potentially new audience but carries with it an additional level of endorsement which benefits your brand in the longer term.
- Influencers can also actively push for engagement with your brand online, draw attention to your physical location by creating content in your shop and even directly boost sales by offering discount codes to their audience
- The cost of working with influencers can still be more cost-effective than paying for traditional media advertising and even many forms of digital advertising
- There is a low-to-no barrier to entry – many indie businesses deal with influencers directly and you don’t need to be a digital marketing expert to use this form of marketing effectively (although a good level of understanding of social media certainly helps)
Influencer marketing allows retailers to tap into large audiences and gain endorsement from trusted content creators who positively influence their followers. They can help build your brand awareness and social following, they can build engagement with your brand and they can drive footfall to your shop and traffic and sales to your online store.
Are there different types of influencers?
There are hundreds of different types of influencer categories as each individual is more heavily invested in different social channels, creates different types of content and has different aims for their online presence.
There are three broad categories:
- Celebrities – these are people whose fame has been inherited from another media channel. That is they are TV personalities, broadcasters, sportspeople, authors etc. They carry the benefit of large mass media audiences and large social followings but will almost always carry a hefty price tag for collaborations.
- Subject Matter Experts – many influencers are experts in a specific niche whether that’s fashion styling, fitness, interior design, travel etc. If you sell a niche product, influencers in this category don’t need a particularly large following to be influential as long as their content aligns with your niche.
- Everyday People – These are regular members of the public who through their personality, approachability or sense of humour have grown a large and highly engaged social following. Some of these creators might call themselves ‘lifestyle influencers’ in that they are not particularly niche and they are not exceptionally qualified in a particular subject matter.
While you might wonder if this type of influencer is ‘famous for nothing,’ collaborations with the right creator in this category can be very powerful as this type of influencer builds strong personal relationships with their followers and posts a more authentic style of content.
What size of influencer is the best?
Influencers can also be broadly categorised by the size of their following. There are a variety of levels of influencers and there is no “industry standard” for how these categories are defined. This article is being written by a UK-based writer with experience in fashion marketing and is intended for independent retailers (that is, retailers in any sector with less than nine physical retail stores).
Large multinational brands or businesses based in big US cities might define these levels differently but based on our experience, we’re categorising influencers into four levels:
- Mega-influencers with 1 million+ followers
- Macro-influencers with 100,000 plus,
- Micro-influencers with anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 followers and
- Nano influencers with anything from 2,000 to 30,000.
It’s easy to think that “bigger is always better” but indie retailers starting out in influencer marketing should remember that the really big influencers have a high number of “unengaged” followers.
These won’t necessarily be fake accounts that the influencer has bought (a series of scandals over the last few years has meant that most serious influencers are less likely to do this) but some will have a lot of brands or businesses following them which typically don’t engage with content, large accounts often attract bot followers and they might simply have followers who have abandoned their profiles over time. So large follower numbers should always be taken with a pinch of salt.
Mega and macro-influencers will also have professional managers acting as intermediaries between them and brands. Any attempt at asking them to promote your business will be met with a quick ‘speak to my manager’ and those deals will be usually several thousand pounds for even the most basic endorsement or mention.
Micro and nano influencers often have the most engaged followers as they are still at a level to communicate directly with their followers. These smaller accounts, often the “everyday people” or niche “subject matter experts,” are also more trusted by their followers as they are more authentic in their output and less of their content carries the #ad which marks it out as a paid promotion.
These smaller accounts are also more likely to work with small independent businesses and the entry point to working with them is much lower.
For most indie retailers, we’d advise focusing on the micro and nano-influencers, particularly those who are local to you or who are perfectly aligned with your brand style and audience.
Expert Tip: Don’t tell anyone with a relatively small following that you’re categorising them as a ‘nano’ influencer. They might feel insulted – these terms are relative and small audiences can be more powerful than working with a major star if your shop sells a niche product.
How do I find influencers?
The number one way to find influencers is by being on social media yourself, connecting with as many people as possible and talking to your customers and followers about who they follow.
Your Twitter feed or Insta Story feed will soon reflect high performing shared content and much of this will come from influencers in your niche.
There are tools such as Buzzsumo that can analyse social media channels based on keywords relevant to your business but many of these rely too much on data from Twitter (which isn’t the best platform to reflect influencer marketing success) and those that don’t often attract a high price tag.
Of the tools which strike a good balance, we can recommend Social Bakers as they give free access to their Instagram Influencer tool and have a range of nifty features available on their free account or during their trial.
However, for indie retailers, you can’t beat just getting stuck in yourself and getting a feel for your favourite content creators.
How to choose the right influencer to work with:
- Consistency – the first thing is to look for people who post good quality content consistently.
- Audience relevance – They might have a million followers on Tiktok but if your audience is professionals aged 50+ they are unlikely to be a good fit for promoting your shop. Have a look through the comments on their posts and ask yourself if you can see those people shopping with you.
- Content Relevance – do their posts relate to your product? Do they use products such as yours in their videos or photos? Do you see their followers asking questions about what products they use? Fitness influencers have huge follower numbers but many of those followers are just there to ogle! If you’re not offering products in the fitness world, they are unlikely to be a good match.
- Engagement – Do their posts receive positive reactions from followers? They might have a million followers but when they post does anybody like, comment, re-share? A high follower-low engagement ratio can be a warning sign that this account has bought fake followers or is just bad at what they do!
How to work with influencers
- Set objectives – use influencers for a specific purpose and work out the value of achieving that goal and how you will measure whether you’ve been successful (some ideas on measuring success in influencer marketing are below). It is best to limit your expectations to one main goal for an individual influencer collaboration – do you want to grow your social audience, do you want people to come to an in-store event, do you want to increase your online sales? Pick a goal, create ways of achieving it with an influencer and focus on that.
- Be prepared to pay – Some influencers may consider working with a well-regarded brand for no charge to increase their level of exposure or in return for gifted products. However, the vast majority of reasonably sized influencers want to be paid for the time and energy they put into creating content.
- Appreciate their work – being an influencer or ‘content creator,’ is a full-time job for many and as such, they want fair payment for what they do. Respect that.
- Understand the value – the trade-off is not only exposing your brand to a relevant audience, it is an endorsement from an influential and trusted person AND some professionally produced content you can usually use on your own social channels.
- Collaborate – People follow this creator for their particular style, taste level and personality. If you insist on writing a script or text to accompany a post and start art-directing their photography, it will not only annoy the influencer but it will damage their credibility with their audience.
- Get to know them – Follow a selection of influencers in your niche for at least a month to get a sense of their content style and how much brand work they typically do. Like, comment and engage with them during this first month. If they respond positively, approach them directly via DM and ask if they are open to collaborating with you.
- Be nice – Higher level influencers will likely be upfront straight away about whether they require payment or if they’re open to working with you in return for a gifted product. If they do ask for payment and you don’t have the budget, politely defer but leave the door open to creating a personal relationship with them. Try inviting them to an in-store event with no obligation for them to post anything. Making them a friend of your shop can pay dividends in the longer term.
How to know if you’ve been successful with influencer marketing
Some retailers have dipped their toes in the waters of influencer marketing and quickly retreated. They question the cost of the investment – gifted product, a fee for the creator, the time of working with the influencer in store – and if they can’t see a jump in sales on the day that Instagram post or TikTok video went live then they back away.
When working with influencers you need to be clear about your objective, spell those out to the influencer and collaborate on how you will achieve that together.
Good influencers are creatives but the best are also savvy marketers and will have a good idea of what is a realistic expectation for the content you’re working on together.
All influencers where you are paying or gifting products should be happy to share some screen grabs of their social analytics to demonstrate the reach and engagement levels of the individual posts your business has been mentioned in. You’re looking for overall reach, engagement rate, clickthrough rates if relevant, conversions tied to that influencer post.
Outside of the influencers own stats, here are a few simple objectives, tactics and metrics you’ll want to track to ensure you’ve been successful
Objective: Brand awareness
Tactic: A number of product placement posts tagging your social account
Metric: Social following/ profile visits / direct and organic website traffic
Objective: Better engagement / brand familiarity
Tactic: A competition where followers have to find an answer to a question on your social feed or website
Metric: Direct/organic traffic / social post engagement rates
Objective: New product familiarity
Tactic: A ‘how to’ video guide using the product with a link to your FAQs page
Metric: Traffic to the product page or FAQ page on your website, increased sales and/or reduction in returns on this product
Objective: Increased sales
Tactic: Exclusive discount code to be used in-store or affiliate link for your website
Metric: Uses of discount code at checkout/visits to a custom sales page
Examples of indie retailers working with influencers:
Here are a few examples of independent retailers working with a range of macro, micro and nano influencers to give you an idea of the type of content they are creating together. Each is noteworthy for the level of engagement they get which independent retailer accounts typically struggle to achieve.
Indie menswear store Coneys of Lincoln work with local menswear influencers to promote their men’s suiting offer:
Sandersons Department Stores work with Paralympian Hannah Cockroft MBE
Whiskey distillery promotes their tours with fashion and lifestyle influencer The Little Magpie:
In this article we’ve reviewed the what, why and hows of influencer marketing. We’ve explored the different types of influencers and the different levels of followership which might help you choose or prioritise what influencers to work with.
The key to influencer marketing is getting a feel for the world of social media by being present on it yourself every day. Start engaging with your followers, learn from them directly who might be a good influencer to work with. Browse extensively and start liking and commenting on any influencers you think might be a good fit for your business.
Make sure the influencer you choose uses the type of products you sell and that their audience is aligned with your target audience. Click on any of their posts that show products similar to yours and do a few spot checks on the people commenting – do they look like your typical shopper, are they saying favourable things about the products in that post. Are they leaving genuine comments and not just heart emojis and simple two-word comments such as ‘love this.’
Spend time doing your research on that influencer. Do they receive good engagement on individual posts? Do they communicate with their followers? If a follower asks where an item is from, do they respond and namecheck the brand or retailer?
And finally, working with influencers is really working WITH influencers. Even when this is a paid arrangement, a certain level of freedom is expected by creators so the promotion will look like their normal posts and therefore feel authentic to their followers. Your campaign has much higher chances of success if it does.
Our final word is to say that, just like traditional media relations, influencer marketing is all about building relationships and knowing how or when to leverage them.
Influencers are now professionally represented at a much lower level than they ever have been and brand/creator relationships are monetised much sooner than five years ago. However, starting a relationship with a small influencer (and nurturing that relationship as they grow) could be the smartest investment you’ll ever make in your marketing.