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When cross-country champion Stephanie Rothstein took to Instagram last year to talk about her personal journey, you could be forgiven for thinking this was just an engaging interview between female athletes. A closer look would reveal that REI was behind the candid conversation. Using a likable athlete to discuss a highly relatable topic was a way to promote their brand and, ideally, influence Rothstein fans and other runners to check them out.

Welcome to the world of influencer marketing, where popular influencers are used to make endorsements and brand mentions, typically through social media. More and more, it’s an option that marketers looking for new and creative strategies can’t afford to ignore.

As consumers become more ad-savvy, they crave an emotional connection with someone they trust. And that’s where influencers come into play. Because they’re typically outside of the company, they can convey what you have to offer more authentically than traditional advertising. Sometimes the endorsement is merely implied, and if done right it appears more organic than direct communication from the brand. It’s a growing strategy that’s been embraced even by small brands that lack the big bucks to fund sophisticated marketing campaigns.

Micro-Influencers Help Smaller Businesses Grow More Quickly

Move over, Kardashians. Despite the perception that celebrities have the most influence, smaller, loyal followings turn out to be more engaged and therefore more likely to help out a brand. Many influencers are people with authority or subject matter expertise but not a lot of glamour. A New York Times-owned agency that partners brands with influencers revealed in a study just how strong the upsides of working with lesser-known personalities are:

  • Accounts with 30,000 or fewer followers are more beneficial partners for marketers.
  • They drive 22.2 times more weekly conversations than regular consumers.
  • They are also 6.7 times more effective per engagement than those with larger followings.

Those are some pretty compelling numbers! Once you get the hang of it, aim for working with multiple micro-influencers. If you’re lucky, one or two will possess video production abilities and might be willing to create video content with you. If they vlog, you may be able to use that content with ads or distribute it on your YouTube channel.

Get Inspired by the Influencer Marketing of Prominent Brands

Smaller players can get a lot of inspiration from watching how companies use influencers to their advantage, sometimes with little focus on the brand or products at all. REI’s social media marketing approach works because it’s interactive, fun, and appeals to outdoorsy athletic types. They mix it up with posts from journalists as well as professional athletes (who might be getting something out of the deal, but still). REI also makes use of user-generated content by interacting with followers, responding to comments, and running challenges, sometimes with the tag #REIchallenge.

REI uses Instagram TV to livestream conversations with their influencers, then posts the content as a video for followers who missed it. As for that interview about overcoming obstacles, even though the topic isn’t really about REI, the brand uses it to redirect users to their online store.

Explore Opportunities to Connect with Existing Influencers

Your brand strategy can include a combination of videos, blogs, and several social media plans. As part of that plan, try to identify and connect with key social media groups and influencers within your industry. You may not immediately know who to use or how to reach out if you did. If possible, assign someone on your team the task of cultivating relationships with influencers by connecting with them, engaging with them on social media, and possibly sending them free product samples.

Look for influencers who might be interested in developing mutually beneficial relationships – including experts, potential subject matter partners, and enthusiastic followers who are already fans of your brand. Some may expect payment, but there are ways to get influencers to promote your brand for free. The trick is to find someone with a solid, trusting audience that fits within your brand’s niche. Ideally, their backing will drive friends and followers to take actions that support your brand.

Dip Your Toe in the Influencer Marketing Water

It takes time to build influencer relationships. With a little patience, you may be surprised at the opportunities that come your way. Start by connecting, befriending, and networking with influencers of interest. As you become familiar with their following and how they operate, it will narrow your idea of who to partner with and what kind of approach will work.

These five steps will help make your next influencer campaign a success:

  1. Scan your user base for loyal followers or product fans as a starting point.
  2. Repurpose influencer content across various networks.
  3. Mix in high-quality user-generated content such as images and product reviews.
  4. Create branded hashtags and combine them with popular ones to connect with consumers who don’t know the brand.
  5. Use the “Ask Me Anything” tag on Instagram so your influencer can respond to questions related to your topic or spread the word about an upcoming event.

On the surface, the concept is fairly straightforward. But pulling off influencer marketing can be a little intimidating. To avoid missteps, reach out to the experts at Connections Marketing. We’re ready to help you build all the aspects of your next digital marketing program. Contact us today to find out more.

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