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How to find top social media influencers for your next campaign

01 Jun, 2020 Social media

Influencer marketing is when companies partner with influencers to increase brand awareness or conversions among a specific target audience. Marketers accomplish this through sponsoring an influencer’s online content, with the goal of increasing reach; raising awareness of the marketer’s brand, product or service; building engagement and driving business results (sales, donations, conversions, etc.) for their organization. This article explains how to find top social media influencers.

The influencer marketing industry will be worth up to US$15 billion annually by 2022, up from around $8 billion in 2019, according to Business Insider Intelligence estimates, based on Mediakix data. This makes it a big marketing segment. When implemented well, influencer marketing works for a wide range of companies – and the data backs this up, but be aware some companies struggle with this type of marketing because their sponsored content is not thoughtfully planned, executed or authentically aligned with the audience.

The most common influencer budget in 2019 was $1,000-$10,000 per year (19% of marketers), with 17% spending $10,001-$50,000, 14% spending $50,001-$100,000, and 18% spending 100,001-$500,000, according to a mediakix survey. The survey found that 89% of the marketers said the ROI from influencer marketing is comparable or better than other marketing channels. Instagram and YouTube stood out as being the most important media channels for influencer marketing.

COVID-19 and its variants have understandably affected influencer budgets

As people spend more time on social media, they’re also likely to spend at least some of that time interacting with influencers. According to a May 2020 GlobalWebIndex survey, 96% of US and UK consumers who followed influencers were engaging with them more or to the same extent as before the coronavirus outbreak. Despite the rise in social media usage, the coronavirus pandemic-related economic downturn has impacted marketing budgets across the board. In a May 2020 survey, Linqia asked US marketers how COVID-19 had changed their planned influencer marketing budgets for Q2—and 41% said their budget had decreased.

Many top social media influencers started as popular bloggers, who became content creators, curating and writing their own stories, photos, illustrations and videos for others to see. They spread into influencer channels such as Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Twitter. This is how they quickly attracted the attention of marketers. Viewership, audiences, and social platform growth continue to rise, with marketing dollars seeking to capitalize on the reach and exposure of these marketing channels.

Determine your goals and strategy for using top social media influencers

As of May 2020, US and UK consumers who followed influencers were most interested in influencer content that entertained or helped them with their daily lives amid the pandemic, according to a 2021 article in Business Insider.

There are two primary ways of categorizing influencers: reach and niche.

    • Reach. As a general rule, targeted reach, cost-effectiveness, engagement, authenticity, and accessibility all go up as follower count goes down.
    • Niche. Brands can leverage relevant niche influencers to more intentionally target audiences.

Before pursuing a partnership, brands and influencers alike should ensure brand fit, meaning that an influencer is aligned with the brand and product.

Brands should develop a streamlined but robust network of high-quality influencers to diversify their bets. Brands are likely to increasingly prioritize longer-term partnerships with fewer, more authentic influencers.

As a result of these findings, start by deciding on your campaign goals, and then develop your influencer marketing strategy based on the goals you have set. Your goal might to increase brand awareness, so you would aim at a higher level of social engagement and gaining new followers. Perhaps your overriding goal is to drive sales. Once you’ve established your goals and strategic plan, you can move forward with identifying influencers appropriate for your brand’s budget.

Be mindful that many factors can reduce the performance of an influencer marketing campaign. Therefore, you need to prepare thoroughly for all influencer campaigns you commit to. You need to be alert to some of these traps:

  • Selecting influencers who aren’t aligned with your brand, or wouldn’t normally use your product.
  • Not evaluating the influencer’s target audience alignment before partnering up.
  • Pushing a rigid script on the influencer, rather than collaborating on a creative approach they feel will resonate with their fans.
  • Failing to set clear terms and timelines for your agreement.
  • Publishing blatantly promotional, hard-selling content that turns off fans.
  • Not setting up proper tracking, URLs or landing pages beforehand.

Appoint an influencer marketing agency if you are new to this field

If you are fairly new to influencer marketing, you can use an influencer marketing agency to reach top social media influencers. They would collaborate with you to confirm your draft strategy, and would manage these types of marketing campaigns on your behalf. Agencies also have insights into influencer rates due to their experience in working with reliable influencers. 

Demand continues to grow for top social media influencers

With their reach into targeted groups of subscribers and followers, demand (and therefore sponsorship rates) for top social media influencers is growing. One of the reasons for this growth is the use of ad blocking technology. With billions of advertising dollars potentially barred by this technology, brands and advertisers search for the most effective alternative ways to reach big online audiences. Therefore, top social media influencers will continue to be in demand by marketers.

As an example of a current influencer, the son of a friend of my wife, in his early 30s, is an active, full-time men’s fashion influencer, traveling the world to appear on behalf of high-fashion labels, and promoting himself wearing the various products developed by the brands he represents.

An online influencer generally has the potential to fulfill a range of activities and behaviors. Of course, you would need to decide that a particular influencer would readily fit the segment of the market you are aiming for. Jay Bauer from Convince & Convert says he still sees too many cases of marketers seeking to find influencers before they figure out their goals and strategies. Bauer says influencers generally fulfill any of 8 roles:

1. The Megaphone: Spread the word to their audience.
2. The Reporter: Cover your event like a journalist.
3. The Face: Be a spokesperson for your brand.
4. The Connector: Introduce your brand on a new social platform.
5. The Creative: Produce creative content for your brand.
6. The Designer: Help create new products/services for your brand.
7. The Neighbor: Spark and facilitate conversations in your brand’s online community.
8. The Defender: Support your brand in times of crisis.

Graphic: from Convince & Convert.

Image: mediakix. The above graph shows how marketers decide which influencers to use.

What makes a top influencer

Here are the top 5 attributes you should look for when deciding the best influencers to work with:

  1. Quality of content. Before working with an influencer, review their content and compare it to others in their industry. According to Ryan Robinson’s recent blogging statistics, 65% of content marketers say they have a documented content marketing strategy in place, meaning 35% have room to improve.Is their sponsored content thoughtful and creative, or is it comprised of quick shout outs or product placements thrown in without much thought?
  1. Target audience. Even if an influencer has great content, it’s crucial to confirm that the influencer’s audience profile aligns with the demographics you’re targeting for your campaign.
  1. Engagement rate. Engagement is by far the most common metric used for measuring influencer marketing success, measured by 75% of marketers for influencer marketing. The engagement rate of a post is calculated by adding up engagement (likes, comments, etc.) and dividing it by the influencer’s total number of followers. Note that engagement rates for sponsored content will almost always be lower than on organic posts.
  1. On-brand messaging. Evaluate whether the influencer’s voice and aesthetic line up with your brand’s style. It’s also important to research any past controversies and keep an eye on their language to identify whether anything throws up red flags regarding brand safety.
  2. Budget. Clearly, an influencer needs to be within your price range. Remember to consider influencer fees, production costs, product costs (if you plan to ship them a sample) and any platform or influencer agency fees when calculating your overall budget.

Above image: The ‘media kit‘ produced by influencer, Katrina Julia, to inform prospective marketing clients seeking information about her track record as an influencer. You would expect all other influencers to have done the equivalent, so marketers contacting them have a quick reference.

Find top social media influencers who fit your budget

It is difficult to determine a suitable budget because the fees set by influencers vary so much. To find influencers within your budget, you can work to your influencer marketing goals to develop a suitable strategy, and use influencer discovery tools or appoint an influencer marketing agency.

By using tools such as influencer databases or free discovery resources, you can find influencers who fit within your price range. Influencer databases give you the capacity to research reputable influencers using filters and other search parameters. This can help ensure your cost fits within your budget.

Influencer rates can be unpredictable, as the influencer will charge what they can, depending on a host of factors. You can check the general topic categories they usually cover, and assess the estimated return on your investment by checking their past branded collaborations to see what kind of results generated. If they’re well-known in the space and can provide insights into previous campaigns, you should be able to decide if their rate is reasonable. Just be careful about the possible number of fake followers an influencer may have, and beware of inauthentic influencers who exaggerate the extent their influence. Ask them about their rate, which they would tailor to the nature of the brief you provide. Compile a list of rates from influencers you contact – and decide which provide best value for money.

The other unknown is that the market is undergoing constant change, and so brands must continually evolve their influencer strategies accordingly. The market is rapidly expanding because influencers are filling an amazing number of niche and sub-niche interests. Each of these types offer distinct benefits and trade-offs for brands. In addition to celebrities with massive followings like Kim Kardashian West and Kylie Jenner, brands are increasingly tapping other key influencer types, including micro- and nano-influencers, celebrity influencers, blog influencers, kidfluencers, gaming influencers, and virtual (computer-generated) influencers, as well as key opinion leaders, according to Business Insider.

As social media becomes more entrenched in people’s lives and takes on more functional uses beyond communication, like shopping, the role of influencers is likely to expand exponentially. And as ecommerce and social media converge, influencers will become increasingly vital intermediaries, helping to connect brands with consumers on social media in high-profile, authentic ways that can deliver immediate returns.

10 factors that affect influencer rates

Influencers rarely charge a flat rate because they can set their own rate based on what they are able to charge in response to that particular brief. Influencer marketing agency mediakix lists most of the variables you would expect in calculating acceptable influencer rates:

  1. Social channel – Will the influencer publish sponsored content on Instagram, YouTube, or some other social channel? Depending on the social channel, the format, messaging style, audience type, creator resources, and other factors will vary. Influencers may have a flat rate no matter what platform they post on, but many alter their rates accordingly.
  2. Size – How many followers or subscribers does the influencer have, and how many will they potentially reach? Influencers with massive followings typically command higher rates, while influencers with more modest fan bases will cost less. This is not always the case, but more impressions generally translate to higher cost.
  3. Engagement rates – How much engagement does the influencer generate on organic versus sponsored content? A mega-influencer may have more followers, but how much of their audience is meaningfully interacting with their content? Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity.
  4. Category – What category does the influencer specialize in (e.g. fashion, lifestyle, family)? Popular niches such as fitness or beauty tend to have more influencers available, making their category more competitive. Less popular areas, such as tech or gaming, may be pricier because their area of expertise is hard to come by.
  5. Content format – What type of content will the influencer create (photo, video, story, blog post, etc.)? Based on the format of the sponsored content, influencers will spend varying degrees of time and resources to create it. The more time and resources used to produce the content, the more it will usually cost. The lower the input, the lower the cost. Also consider the value derived from specific types of content. For example, an in-feed Instagram post might get buried within user’s feeds. A story, however, may entice viewers to convert right away.
  6. Campaign deliverables – How much content will influencers have to create? Is it a one-off campaign in which the influencer publishes a single sponsored YouTube video, or will they publish a series of videos featuring your product over a longer period of time? Some campaigns require bigger time investments and more deliverables, whereas some are simpler and take less time to execute.
  7. Seasonality and demand – Is your campaign seasonal and how in demand is the influencer you want to collaborate with? For instance, in the December quarter, holiday promotions and prep for new year will typically come with the highest demand, driving up influencer rates.
  8. Reuse and licensing rights – Do you plan to reshare or repurpose the influencer’s sponsored content? Some influencers may charge more for your brand to reuse their content. Don’t forget to outline these terms in your influencer contract.
  9. Exclusivity – Do you want the influencer to sign an exclusivity clause that prohibits them from promoting competitors for a set period of time? If so, consider the fact that influencers who agree to this are eliminating another potential source of income, especially if they’re in a competitive niche. This element can increase the price of an influencer engagement.
  10. Production costs – Will the influencer need to factor in production costs (e.g. video equipment, editing software, etc.) to ensure professional quality? Remember, low effort normally means lower cost relative to a collaboration that requires high effort. If an influencer is expected to produce a high-quality video, the influencer will need top-of-the-line equipment, a professional videographer, more detailed editing process, and any other elements necessary to professionalize the end product. If so, expect the influencer rate to rise.

4 ways to find influencers

Here are 4 ways to find online influencers, with some examples of each type:

1. Google

This is simply the hunt and peck method of influencer discovery. Totally feasible, but time-intensive and not terribly accurate.

2. Database
Using software to locate influencers based on their specialized segment, geography or other aspects. This includes platforms like LittleBird, and new options like inPowered that finds the top influencers about your brand.

This also includes platforms that allow you to not just locate influencers, but contact them as well. Companies like GroupHigh (which writes influencer outreach case studies on the Convince & Convert blog), and Cision, which provides PR software for media and social monitoring, media release distribution, social media and influencer contacts and communication measurement.

These databases are an excellent way to find influencers, and probably give you the broadest selection. Then you just need to  approach those influencers yourself, once you identify them.

3. Network
Influencer networks are becoming more and more popular because they minimize the effort that brands need to expend. Influencer agencies, ad agencies, PR firms and start-ups are creating influencer networks that are usually focused on a topic (Dad bloggers, for example) or a platform (Vine creators, for example). Brands can then work with the network proprietor to source influencers, ask them to participate in one of the 8 behaviors discussed above, etc. These networks can be a complete option for brands, but of course the selection of influencers is smaller than what you’d find via a database or marketplace.

4. Marketplace

An influencer marketplace (TapInfluence is an example) functions by bringing both sides of the online influencer equation together. Influencers agree to be part of the marketplace and list the types of activities in which they’d be interested. Brands can then match up influencers with their needs, and the marketplace serves as the conduit. It’s a matchmaker approach.

Regardless of which method you select to find influencers, and irrespective of which of the 8 types of actions you want them to do, remember that the best possible scenario is to build relationships with influencers before you need them. Your program will be far more effective if you know the influencer and vice-versa than if you are faced with the “our campaign is starting in 3 weeks – we need to find and activate some online influencers.”

Ask the right questions

Once you narrow down your potential influencer list, it’s important to ask several questions of your chosen influencer(s):

  • What makes that influencer stand out from the crowd?
  • Are they tapped into a niche audience likely to enjoy your product or service?
  • Do they offer photography, blogging or an email list in addition to social media reach?
  • Are they clear and professional communicators, able to lay out the scope of work from the start?
  • Can you access examples of their previous work, including brand collaborations?

More insights into finding top social media influencers

How to pitch influencers – examples

This is a real example of an influencer pitch. The before version was sent by Swell, a division of Billabong that sells beachwear and accessories online in boutique stores, and through a very successful catalog. The after version was how Jay Bauer rewrote the pitch for Swell:

Influencer pitch before

Hi Natalie –
Firstly, the ladies at Swell wanted to send some love for your style blog…we may or may not use it for inspiration sometimes!

Just to introduce you to who we are:

Swell is a beach lifestyle boutique from Southern California. Although we do carry the larger surf brands, we like to keep the focus on more up-and-coming contemporary brands. We think our fans would really resonate with your style (especially now that you’ve become part of the Volcom community), and would love to work with you on a curated collection, sweepstakes, or maybe just sending over some product from the site. Swell has a large following, so it could be a great opportunity to gain some exposure on both sites.

Anyway, let me know what you think, or if you have any ideas/questions/etc.

Or if you’d rather, we’d love to send you some apparel from the site – just let us know what resonates with your style.

Thanks for your time!
Nicole
Swell.com

Influencer pitch after

Hi Natalie. I absolutely love your blog, especially the . I’ve got a limited opportunity for style bloggers that I’d like to run past you please.

I’m Nicole, the Community Manager for Swell.com, an online beach lifestyle boutique. We’ve been around for 10 years, and have an email list of more than one million customers. We carry the big brands like Billabong, of course, but also up-and-coming brands, too.

Our team at Swell has selected our 9 favorite style bloggers, and of course you made the list. We’d like to send you 3 outfits from our Fall collection. Then after you’ve had a chance to check them out, we’d like to interview you on Skype about which one you like best and why, and then include that video on our Facebook page, where we have 61,000+ fans. It’s a great way to introduce a bunch of new people to you.

We’d like to get the clothes out to you tomorrow, and schedule the video interview on…

Can I get your mailing address today please? Also, please let me know if you don’t want to be a part of this program. Thanks! I look forward to working with you.

Nicole
Swell.com
Facebook.com/Swell

Spot the differences

The revised influencer pitch has specifics, fluffs the influencer’s ego, makes the benefits clear, and provides a concrete deadline and call-to-action (plus, a reverse psychology opt-out).

How to align social media and content marketing strategy

In addition, Chris Makara from Bulkly, has written a helpful article on how to align your social media marketing and content marketing activities for better results. Helpful guide.

Photo at top of page by Iwona Castiello d’Antonio on Unsplash.

About Kim Harrison – author, editor and content curator

Kim Harrison, Founder and Principal of Cutting Edge PR, loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in his books available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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