Why tell the world how wonderful you are when you can get someone else to do it and make 1000 times the impact?
Big name department stores have fashion bloggers on their payroll because their target market is influenced by the say-so of the people they engage with daily.
They’ve recognized that people’s purchasing behaviour has changed. A Nielsen survey found that only 33 percent of people trust advertisements while 90 percent trust peer recommendations.
And Instagram is where peer recommendations are happening more than ever.
Instagram influencer marketing may just be the golden ticket that provides your business with access to a huge pool of potential customers.
If you follow the right strategy…
Table of Contents:
- What’s In This Post?
- What Exactly is an Instagram Influencer?
- How Powerful is Instagram Influencer Marketing?
- STEP 1: Define What Success Looks Like to You
- STEP 2: Identify the Right Influencers to Partner With
- STEP 3: Refine Your Pitch to Influencers and Increase the Chances of a Response
- STEP 4: Design and Optimize Your Influencer Campaigns
- STEP 5: Follow Best Practices and Maintain Transparency
- STEP 6: Track the Success of Your Strategy
- How Much Does It Cost?
- Who Should Be Using Influencer Marketing?
- A Problem With Instagram Influencers (And a Solution)
What You’re About to Discover…
When the retailer Lord & Taylor enlisted the help of 50 influential names in fashion on Instagram, its strategy involved all influencers wearing the same dress – which promptly sold out by the end of the weekend.
How can you start getting a piece of the action?
Instagram influencer marketing is more challenging than most marketing strategies on the platform – especially if you’re just starting out. Everyone wants a ‘piece’ of the influencers – that’s why they’re influencers!
Your efforts will fall flat on their face without a strong guiding strategy. But the potential rewards are huge.
You’re probably not ready just yet to ask Prince Harry and Meghan to endorse your brand. But that’s OK. Any size business can use influencer marketing.
The main question is: how do you get the right influencers sitting up and taking notice? That’s what I’ll take you through here.
As well as clearing up a myth or two about influencers, you’ll learn why Instagram influencer marketing is so powerful, what it costs, and what types of businesses it’s for.
Most importantly, I’ll take you through a series of six practical steps covering:
- How to create an influencer marketing strategy that can be measured
- Who you should be trying to partner with
- How to approach influencers and actually get a response
- The types of influencer campaign you can run:
- Best practices – transparency and disclosure
- Tracking how your campaigns are going
Before we get into the practicalities of your strategy, let’s understand a little more about Instagram influencer marketing and why it’s so powerful…
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What Exactly is an Instagram Influencer?
When you think ‘influencer’, do you think ‘celebrity’?
If so, you’re only partly right; celebrities ARE often influencers but not all influencers are A-listers. In fact, most aren’t like this chap:
So let’s not restrict ourselves to Ronaldo, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Jay-Z.
As well as celebrity A-listers or ‘top tier’ Instagram influencers, you have:
- ‘Macro’ influencers - those who have built up a very large Instagram following in their specialist area (generally 10,000 plus)
- ‘Micro’ influencers - those who have built up a smaller but highly engaged Instagram following (generally 1000 - 10,000 or more)
For our purposes, we’ll focus less on the celebrities and more on the two other types of influencers - because we want results, not pipe dreams.
Only 3 percent of buyers are influenced by celebrity endorsements in their purchase decisions, according to a 2016 Collective Bias survey.
And, according to Google, The Top 25 YouTube stars attract 12 times more comments than traditional celebrities.
We’ll get into who exactly who you should be targeting in STEP TWO below. For now, it’s enough to recognize that Instagram influencers have significant networks of followers and enough ‘pull’ to be able to sway opinion amongst followers.
By engaging these influencers in marketing initiatives, we tap into their ability to build favorable sentiment towards us and our products.
How Powerful is Instagram Influencer Marketing?
Ever since brands started hiring celebrities to wear their trainers, carry their designer bags, or endorse their sports gear, the power of influencer marketing has been no secret. It’s why you see David Beckham collections in H&M stores.
That it has come to Instagram should be no surprise. Everyone from YouTubers to Tweeters, Facebookers and Snapchatters have been dabbling in it in recent years.
In 2016 for instance, Twitter reported that:
Nearly 40% of users claim to have made a purchase as a direct result of a tweet from an influencer
Elsewhere, the Collective Bias survey mentioned earlier reported that:
70% of millennial consumers are influenced by recommendations from their peers in buying decisions
Instagram as a marketing vehicle has been on a sharp upward trajectory over the past few years. As a result, Hashoff reports that 91.9 percent of 150,000 influencers chose Instagram as their number one platform.
With 800 million active users, the potential is obvious. But standing out from the crowd has become ever-more challenging when all the smartest kids on the block are marketing the hell out of Instagram.
Instagram influencer marketing can set you apart. Let’s go…
STEP 1: Define What Success Looks Like to You
All the best marketing strategies are measurable. Set out with some expectations, goals, and KPIs in mind.
This will help you decide not only which influencers you partner with (STEP 2) but what type of campaigns you run (STEP 4) and what you will end up tracking (STEP 6).
Here are a few of the most important questions to consider when working out your goals:
- Do you want to increase brand awareness in general?
- Do you want to simply gain more followers and more engagement?
- Do you hope to expand your reach? By how much?
- Are you hoping to increase click-throughs (store traffic)?
- Is the main aim to increase sales of a particular product (like the Lord & Taylor dresses)?
- Do you hope to raise revenue in general? If so, by how much?
- Are you looking to increase conversion rates?
- Do you want to raise awareness about a particular event?
- Do you need help making a splash with a startup launch?
- Is the main aim to find brand reps to work with on an ongoing basis?
If there's a way to add a fun illustration to represent each goal, that'd be cool if time allows.
Identify precisely what you want to achieve and then how you’re going to measure success.
This will help decide the types of engagement levels, reach, and traffic you need from your partner influencers, as well as how much you’re willing to spend.
STEP 2: Identify the Right Influencers to Partner With
If there’s one golden rule for Instagram influencer marketing it would be this: make sure you find the right influencers.
It’s easier said than done: two-thirds of marketers consider finding relevant influencers their biggest challenge, according to a joint study by Tapinfluence and Altimeter.
It’s made easier by a wide range of tools specifically designed to identify influencers that suit you. Find out more about these tools here but let’s assume that you’re trying to work it out without their help.
Where do you start? What should you be looking for in an influencer?
Firstly, let’s return to the three basic types of Influencers:
- Celebrity influencers
- ‘Macro’ influencers
- ‘Micro’ influencers
Why Focus on Micro-Influencers?
The vast majority of small businesses should focus on micro influencers and perhaps a few macro influencers.
Most can forget about celebrities. If you’re a food brand, you might think ‘Jamie Oliver’ at first but you need to get more realistic. Besides, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that aiming smaller is more effective.
The Collective Bias survey referred to above found that 30 percent of consumers were more likely to buy a product recommended by a non-celebrity blogger whereas only 3 percent were influenced by celebrity endorsements. (Note: this applies to influencer marketing in general rather than just Instagram.)
People often find it hard to relate to celebrities. While they may dream to be like Beyoncé or LeBron James, it’s a fantasy world. And always at the back of the mind is the question: “Are they just saying that because they’re getting paid for it?”
The opinions of people a little closer to home are more trusted and believable. The best Instagram influencers may be experts in their field; they are influencers because they’ve earned it and risen through their niche; but they’re mainly people like you and me rather than big-name actresses, singers, or sports personalities (i.e. from another niche or even another planet!)
There are exceptions but the general rule is to find influencers who are prominent in the specific niche that you play in. Their audience is the same as yours so it helps you get really targeted and in front of the right people.
For instance, if you sell women’s shoes, it makes sense to target micro-influencers in ‘women’s shoes’ rather than ‘women’s accessories’ or ‘women’s fashion’.
Some micro-influencers may not even consider themselves as an ‘influencer’ until you approach them - even better! They’re more likely to be authentic and won’t have an Instagram feed full of product endorsements; so their support of you will seem more selective.
Ten posts from well-selected micro influencers will normally be less of a risk and may be more effective than one from a celebrity.
Their recommendations appear like authentic recommendations from friends. This encourages more engagement between the influencer and the audience - which is better for you.
With limited budgets, multiple posts from micro-influencers are also good for increasing the amount of content out there about you and your brand - especially if content is simultaneously published by several influencers. Suddenly this has the effect of making your brand look ‘bigger’ and more ‘buzzy’.
The all-important metrics to look out for
OK, so you’ve decided on targeting micro influencers. What metrics should you be looking at?
The wrong influencers can be expensive mistakes, remember. So invest time into the prep work. Here are the most common metrics to pay attention to:
- Industry niche - usually there must be an intersection between their niche and yours. If you specialize in yellow hats, make sure they have a strong connection to yellow hats too.
- Engagement levels of posts - are followers deeply engaged with posts - liking, commenting and sharing? (At least 2-4% and ideally higher). Use tools like Iconosquare, Tapinfluence or Sprout Social to help calculate engagement levels.
- Follower numbers - this has become less important than engagement as Instagram’s algorithm has changed.
- Follower quality - does the influencer’s audience reflect the quality of potential customer you’re looking for?
A good example of follower makeup/quality trumping everything was when HP Australia partnered with 20 Instagram fashion influencers to promote the HP Spectre laptop. While they play in very different niches, HP wanted to reach a young audience that was well-aligned to the fashion influencers. The results? 62,943 direct engagements with campaign content and almost a million consumers reached.
- Traffic - how much web traffic does the influencer generate?
- Post costs - how much do they charge for posts? Does it realistically fit within your budget? You probably can’t afford what Kim Kardashian West charged for this one…
- Location - is the influencer’s location important to you and your followers or for marketing your products/services? Are you going global or hoping for more of a local uptake?
In general, go for balance. Raw follower numbers are a poor yardstick to use on their own because the temptation to go for huge follower numbers may ignore a lack of engagement.
Celebrities may have hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers but low engagement levels. A survey by Markerley of over 800,000 Instagram accounts with over 1000 followers found that:
- Influencers with 10-100,000 followers were most effective at providing a balance of engagement and reach;
- Influencers with fewer than 1000 followers get their audiences to like their posts 8% of the time and comment 0.5% of the time
- Instagram influencers with 10 million+ followers get their audiences to like their posts 1.6% of the time and comment 0.04% of the time.
In most cases, target micro influencers who already have a strong affinity with your niche and who, preferably, are experts in the field.
And while lower follower numbers may limit your potential audience initially, it may help your case for building a strong influencer partnership.
You should also tailor this advice towards your target market. According to Twitter, youngsters 13-25 lean heavily towards social media influencers while people over 45 tend to prefer established, household names.
It’s not unknown for some unscrupulous influencers to buy followers to boost their appeal to businesses. Some may even artificially boost engagement rates with automated comments. Do your homework on influencers and avoid those with questionable followings or repetitive or bland comments. If something seems fishy, it probably is!
Don’t limit yourself to human influencers! Get creative: pet care companies often partner with ‘influencer animals’: cute dogs, cats (or raccoons) with large followings (1.5 million????) for instance:
STEP 3: Refine Your Pitch to Influencers and Increase the Chances of a Response
So you’ve boiled it down to a shortlist of influencers you want to target. What next?
Before we look at how you contact them, let’s get into the mind of an influencer a little.
Why are they doing what they do and how can you demonstrate the right approach to working with them? Are there any approaches that will increase the likelihood of successful outcomes?
Influencers won’t necessarily agree to work with you just because you pay them. In fact, you want your influencer to be choosy because it means they’re authentic and interested in alignment and quality, above all.
So here are some basic ground-rules to follow:
- Ensure that you make it easy for your influencer to understand how your brand aligns with their own values: Crowdtap found that influencers value work that is aligned to their own; create an easy-to-read one-page overview of what your brand represents. Here’s how Fast Company does it on their website:
- Show respect to influencers you approach - as you would any potential publisher of your content: this was considered vital to influencers interviewed by Crowdtap in their survey.
- Guarantee the freedom for influencers to express themselves creatively - don’t try to dictate terms to them; it’s their audience and they know their followers better than you. If you’ve selected the right influencer and are well-aligned, trust them to talk to their target audience in a way that will get your own message across and produce win-wins.
- Keep it authentic - trying to fake it with influencers won’t work. They’ll see through you - and they won’t jeopardize their relationship with their followers for you!
“...when working with influencers, brands have to let go and allow influencers control of the narrative to preserve the authenticity of what is being communicated.”
Priyanka Dayal, content marketing manager at Centaur Media PLC.
- Work directly with the influencer rather than going through a marketing agency—they just prefer it that way.
Tracking Down Your Influencers
Now- how do you actually find and get in contact with your influencers? Fortunately, the Instagram search engine makes it relatively easy to search for influencers. Here’s what you do:
- Search for hashtags that relate to your industry. For a men’s shoe store you might look for #mensleathershoes:
- Identify more hashtags by clicking on posts in the search results and exploring what other hashtags they use.
- Try each of these hashtags - they needn’t all contain the word “shoes”. They can be closely related to shoes. The posts with the most engagement are listed at the top - these are usually from influential Instagrammers:
- Examine the accounts of leading posts with these hashtags. Check for content, frequency of posting, engagement levels, follower quality, etc. Really do your homework before identifying them as candidates. Have you found a potential influencer?
Beyond this, there are several tools that you can use to make life easier with finding and contacting influencers. These are covered in some detail here.
Outreach to Your Influencers
Understand that you’ll be most effective if you look to build a relationship with your influencer. One direct message is not going to cut it.
Use your communication and relationship-building skills rather than treating it as a single ‘transaction’.
Assuming you don’t use one of the influencer search engines included in the tools mentioned above, expect to contact your influencers multiple times by direct messaging (DM) or email.
For DM-ing: tap in the top right of FEED. From there, you can send messages and manage received messages.
For email, you can ask for an email address, if it is not listed on their bio.
Note that DM is not available on the browser versions of Instagram. You’ll need to download the desktop app to use on a PC; it is however included in the mobile versions of the app.
You’re ready to start your outreach to your influencers:
1. A very brief initial introduction message to test the water and to pop your head up on their radar. Make sure you’re knowledgeable about your influencer and sincere. You don’t want it to sound like spam! Something like this:
“Hi Melanie! This is Jon from XYZ here. Your Instagram content is pretty inspiring and aligns closely with what we’re trying to do. I see quite a few similarities with your values and ours - particularly your XXXX and your XXXX. We’d love to work with you. If you’re interested in making that possible, let me know and I’ll call at your convenience.”
2. Follow up according to their response: if NO - thank them and point out that the door is always open. If YES - email or call to discuss details (what you’re trying to achieve, what your budget is, etc.)
3. Even after you have run the campaign, stay in in contact with your influencer and share their content if it’s of use to your followers. Who knows when you can hook up again?
Back to the Top
STEP 4: Design and Optimize Your Influencer Campaigns
There are many creative ways to set up campaigns once influencers agree to work with you. Start to collaborate to create more brand awareness, promote certain products or services, or achieve other goals defined in STEP ONE.
Before you get going, you might like to create and share a mood board with your influencer, as a guideline for the content of posts. This can help the creative direction of posts - though typically, remember, influencers like their own freedom of expression. So play this one by ear.
Some of the most common types of influencer campaigns are:
This is when influencers provide exposure for particular products or services by creating a post that you pay them for.
Give your Instagram contest a boost by getting an influencer to either run it on their account or to promote it to their followers:
Work with your influencer to weave your brand name or products into their content in informative or entertaining ways that engage their followers—and get your message across:
A thorough review of your product or service can educate and inform your target audience, building trust through a peer recommendation from an influencer.
Brand Rep Programs
Brand reps are influencers that you send free products to; enthusiasts in your field who may appreciate the quality of your products and communicate it to their followers…
Some influencers will agree to take over your Instagram account for a day. This will be appreciated by your existing followers and should attract the influencer’s followers to your account, expanding your potential following:
Campaign Optimization Tips
Create branded hashtags: For each campaign, decide on a hashtag that suits your products or brand. Then all influencers can use this hashtag, helping to build identity and consistency for your brand.
Get promoting yourself: Just because you have an influencer in charge of posting content for a while doesn’t mean you can sit back and watch the sales roll in. Do your own promotional stuff too.
STEP 5: Follow Best Practices and Maintain Transparency
The quickest way to lose a social media audience is to be caught misleading them. You may have heard about several high-profile influencers being asked to disclose the nature of their brand partnerships by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Stay on the right side of this. The laws are tightening. Full disclosure of any “material connection” is the best way for your business to partner with influencers. FTC penalties are severe and you can read about their guidelines here.
Quite apart from the regulations, most Instagrammers are smart enough to recognize when they’re being blatantly misled. They know the difference between an ad, a personal recommendation, and the gray area in between.
To retain your credibility and authenticity with your audience, maintain transparency and create intuitive influencer marketing campaigns that do not look like ads.
Always flag the following to your followers:
When a post is sponsored:
Ideally, make it clear using the tag “Paid partnership with…”:
Alternatively, simply use a hashtag like #ad or #sponsored
When free products are provided:
If there is any other business or personal relationship with an influencer, make that clear too via hashtags.
STEP 6: Track the Success of Your Strategy
The metrics that you identified in STEP ONE need to be measured to provide insight into the success (or otherwise) of Instagram influencer marketing campaigns.
Without this important final step, you may not be in a position to adjust strategy (if necessary), replicate success, or to get it right next time if results are poor. Find out what’s working and what’s not - whether you’re reaching your target audience and if these new followers are clicking through to your store and buying.
So, this means using robust analytics to measure performance in terms of the following metrics:
- Engagement levels: The number of likes, comments, and shares (usually measured as a percentage against your number of followers): Iconosquare, Tapinfluence or Sprout Social can help. Using the data from those tools, maintain a spreadsheet with the data you need to track. For example:
- Brand awareness: How often are your branded hashtags being used on Instagram social media? Again Instagram analytics tools such as Sprout Social and Iconosquare can help measure this.
- Web traffic: How much of a spike in traffic to your website has there been?
- Sales enquiries: Are you getting more enquiries about your products (leads?)
- Sales: What’s the increase in sales revenue (if any) and how much of this can be attributed directly to the influencer marketing campaign?
How Much Does Instagram Influencer Marketing Cost and What’s the ROI?
The all-important questions for business marketing initiatives:
- What’s it going to cost?
- What can we expect back?
- Is it worth the outlay?
Whether it’s banner advertising, PPC, or Instagram marketing, it’s important not just to throw money at it.
But some business owners discard influencer marketing because of the perceived expense. They’re thinking A-list celebrities again. They’re right not to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a single post - but the point is they don’t have to.
With Instagram influencer marketing, the stakes are high. Much depends on getting the finer points of your strategy right. No question: if you target the wrong influencers, it’ll be an expensive flop.
But get the right influencers on board and develop the relationships over time and it can help your business fly - without costing much.
General Guidelines on Costs for Posts
This is an area that often trips up Instagram brands. Few tend to have a realistic idea about the costs of posts - and that’s partly because rates do vary so wildly.
Most influencers quote flat rates; others base their fees on the number of sales or leads created (in a type of affiliate arrangement).
In the 2016 Bloglovin’ Global Influencer Survey of 2500 micro-influencers it was reported that:
- 84% of respondents charge less than $250 for a sponsored post on Instagram;
- 97% charge less than $500 for a sponsored Instagram post.
In 2017, Influence.co found that the average cost for a sponsored Instagram post was $271.
However, this varies. Typically, industries like modelling, photography, and food command the highest rates for sponsored posts, while the travel, lifestyle, and music industries charge the lowest rates.
The $250-500 per post guideline is generally a good one to use. Note that as soon as you go above the 10,000 follower range, you can end up paying up to $5000 or $10,000 per post.
In the case of famous bloggers or other online celebrities with many hundreds of thousands of followers, it might be $15,000.
This is the main reason why the smartest small businesses target micro-influencers rather than celebrities: apart from being far more accessible, their rates are much more manageable.
As a small business, you are generally in a better negotiating position with micro-influencers than larger players too.
Some cash-strapped startups also like to use the strategy of offering free products in exchange for sponsored influencer posts, rather than paying in cash.
What ROI can you expect?
Measuring ROI is often touted as the toughest part of Instagram influencer marketing.
It’s very difficult to find figures for Instagram - though a little easier to find ROI estimates for influencer marketing in general:
- According to TapInfluence, influencer marketing generates eleven times more ROI than traditional forms of marketing.
- A survey by Tomoson in 2015 reports that businesses make $6.50 for every $1 spent on influencer marketing, with the top 13 percent of businesses making $20 or more for every $1 spent; just 18 percent of businesses generated no revenue.
A tool like Grin can help you track metrics such as earned media value and content engagement. This should help provide ROI estimates for Instagram.
Is it Worth the Outlay?
I cannot guarantee that you’ll make money out of this. What I can say is this:
If you target the right influencers, you’re well-aligned and build mutually-beneficial relationships, design the right types of campaigns and measure and adjust them accordingly, you will come out well on top.
Who Should Be Using Instagram Influencer Marketing?
Short answer: any business looking to take a few risks and make a splash on Instagram—and especially those targeting younger audiences.
User engagement on Instagram is estimated to be 10 times higher than on Facebook. So whether you’re looking to create more brand awareness or you have particular products that you want to get in front of a new audience, Instagram influencer marketing can be your ticket.
You’ve seen how even smaller brands can benefit from partnering with micro-influencers, making a huge difference to the business.
It’s no exaggeration to say that there are potential micro influencers for every business on Instagram. And, importantly, it works alongside your existing Instagram marketing - so don’t stop doing that!
There is a definite focus on a younger market:
A 2016 Twitter survey found that 13-24 year olds were twice as likely to evaluate an influencer by their social presence and follower count as older audiences.
The same applies to YouTube and Facebook - and we should expect little difference on Instagram, Different age groups listen to different people.
Even those with older target customers shouldn’t dismiss Instagram influencer marketing. You might just decide to target higher profile names or minor TV celebrities rather than social media influencers.
The majority of social media influencers see the visually-oriented Instagram platform as the most effective for engaging their target audience; so they shouldn’t be too hard to convince.
So you’re in the right place!
Back to the Top
A Problem With Instagram Influencer Marketing—and a Solution
With all this potential power of Instagram influencer marketing comes a problem: there’s a limited window to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities.
More brands are incorporating influencer marketing. It’s becoming more competitive and this will drive prices up. It’s already a one-billion dollar industry—and about to get bigger.
According to Promo Republic, the number of brand-sponsored influencer posts on Instagram grew from 9.7 million in 2016 to 21.7 million in 2018 and a projected 32.3 million 2019:
The Influencer Marketing Hub 2017 Study also reported a 325 percent increase in Google searches for “influencer marketing” in one year; influencer marketing is the fastest-growing customer acquisition strategy.
Right now, Instagram influencer marketing is affordable even for the smaller businesses and startups that play their cards right - but for how much longer?
With such growing popularity, rising costs may restrict its potential and follower ‘fatigue’ may set in.
Blatant advertising has never sat very well with social media followers: ad blockers are widely used amongst under-35s. People easily get sick of being bombarded with marketing: digital advertising is rapidly going the way of print and TV advertising, with less and less influence, particularly amongst the young. According to a poll by Infolinks, half of Internet users never click on online ads.
So, for Instagram marketers, it’s very important to understand three things here:
- The opportunity presented by Instagram influencer marketing is huge
- The window for taking action may already be closing - you need to act quickly
- You must follow the best practices and stay on side with your audience
That's How to Make the Best of Instagram Influencer Marketing With a Step-by-Step Strategy
Next, get familiar with a few of the top Instagram marketing tools to help you source influencers - and then get going with it.