Word of mouth is, and always has been, one of the best forms of advertising. You just can’t beat a solid recommendation from a friend or family member, which is why 90% of people trust word of mouth recommendations – and nowadays, social media influencers.

At the end of the day, people trust people. And in the digital world where consumers have become increasingly skeptical of traditional advertising methods, word of mouth has crossed over into the domain of influencer marketing.

So-called social media influencers – beauty bloggers, fashionistas, fitness gurus and gaming addicts – are working with companies to cut through the skepticism by endorsing their products and helping spread viral conversations about brands online.

It’s big business. Influencer marketing is now one of the fastest growing categories in advertising. On Instagram, brands are spending over $1 billion per year, with this figure projected to hit $5-10 billion by 2020.

In this article, we’ll explore what social media influencers are, how influencer marketing can benefit your business, tips for working with influencers, and examples of some great social media influencer campaigns to get you inspired.

What are social media influencers?

A social media influencer is someone on social media who has established credibility in a specific industry. Their posts are typically lifestyle orientated and revolve around a particular passion or niche – tech, travel, beauty, business and everything in between. They use their influence to persuade others by virtue of their authenticity and reach.

These influencers are generally regular, everyday people who have built a large and highly engaged following due in large part to the original and genuine content they post. While celebrities will always have their place as the OG influencers, social media influencers have also taken on a celebrity status amongst their loyal followings.

So much so that a survey of teens conducted for Variety found that musicians and movie stars took out just two of the top 10 spots in a survey of influencers – the remaining eight spots were YouTubers.

It’s worth noting the distinction between “social media influencers” (who built their following on social media) and “influencers” who built their following outside of social media and have since gained a significant number of social followers.

For example, entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck built his business empire before joining Instagram, where he has 2.9 Instagram followers. By contrast, photographer Ben Brown’s digital presence is predominantly on Instagram where he has 724,000 followers.

Like Brown, fashionista Margaret Zhang built her 917,000-strong Instagram following when she started sharing photos of her street style and fashion shoots. These days, the 24-year-old might be found seated in the front row at New York Fashion Week – she’s been twice listed in the Business of Fashion 500, a definitive professional index of the people shaping the $2.4 trillion fashion industry.

Frankie Greek, a self-described “Snapchat journalist,” works with numerous brands on the platform for account takeovers and Facebook Live for brands like The Shorty Awards, Thrillist, Fuse TV and The Times Square Alliance. She was also the first person to host a weekly Snapchat talk show.
Social Media Influencers - Frankie Greek Snapchat

The King of Snapchat, DJ Khaled is one of the world’s top Snapchat influencers, known for his inspirational sayings. One of his go-to ways to motivate fans is by instructing them on “the keys” to success.

When the White House joined Snapchat back in 2016, it paid homage to DJ Khaled in its first snap. The video of someone filming their surroundings while walking in the dark comes with the caption, “The key: get some rest before the big day.” The video was posted ahead of former President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address that year.

When the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority joined Snapchat, it hired DJ Khaled to take over its account, driving more than 350,000 views in just two days.

How Social Media Influencers Can Benefit Your Business

Like I mentioned earlier, people trust word of mouth recommendations. In fact, Twitter research shows that influencers rival friends in building consumer trust. When looking for product recommendations, 49% of people rely on social media influencers. That’s second only to tweets from friends (56%).

So when companies work with social media influencers with loyal followers, a brand mention goes a lot further – and provides more social proof – than an Instagram post from your company account.

Reputation and authenticity play a key role in buyer decisions. Above, you can see how photography Jason Charles Hill worked with Visit Dubai to boost its presence on Instagram. These types of mentions spread awareness faster and more cost efficiently.

Here are a few more reasons why working with social media influencers can benefit your business:

1. Builds trust

Social media influencers have relationships and credibility with their followers. People respect and trust their content and recommendations, so when they mention your brand, they’re putting your message in front of an already enthusiastic audience.

2. No ad blockers

The rise of ad blockers has been troubling for companies, marketers, and especially publishers. Influencer marketing crosses over into “editorial” territory, which ad blockers can’t touch.

3. Often the only way to reach certain demographics

Some demographics, such as millennials and Generation Z, don’t watch television, read printed newspapers or magazines, or listen to radio. These users are typically glued to their phones, so there’s no point using billboard advertising, either.

4. Copycat behavior

Just like some people want to be like their favorite celebrity, so too do some people of their favorite influencer. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Think about the last time you saw travel photography on Instagram. Didn’t it make you want to travel too?

5. Improves brand awareness

When a social media influencer shows they have a positive relationship with a brand, it also raises the awareness and opinion of the brands in the eyes of the consumer.

6. Incredible ROI

According to a case study by Nielsen Catalina Solutions and TapInfluenc, influencer content generates ROI that is 11 times greater than traditional digital campaigns. In addition, a survey from digital agency Burst Media found that influencer campaigns earn $6.85 in earned media value for every $1.00 of paid media.

How it Works: Partnering with a social media influencer

Collaborations and partnerships with influencers is growing faster than digital ads.

But how much does it cost?

Let’s take a look at Instagram influencers.

In the early days of influencer marketing, social stars on Instagram would work with brands in exchange for free products. Nowadays, influencers who regularly partner with companies charge set fees to create sponsored posts for brands as their accounts have become their primary source of income.

This bypasses “traditional” ad and, as it’s a closer market where you negotiate with the influencer or their representative directly, it can be significantly cheaper than buying ads through the Instagram platform.

Later surveyed businesses and influencers to find out how much Instagram influencers really cost. On average, 66% of businesses pay $250 per post on Instagram while 27% pay between $250 and $1000.

Many marketers stick to the 1 cent per follower (or $100 per 10K followers) rule, but only as a starting point for their calculation.

Since social media influencer marketing is still relatively new, few small to medium-sized companies are experimenting with it. This means you can get a competitive advantage because your competitors probably haven’t realized this can be a highly effective tool for targeting people in your niche.

How to Find Social Media Influencers

Often, the best social media influencers for your business are right in front of you – you just need to know where to look.

But before we dig into how to find them, there are a few things to consider first:

  • What are your goals? What do you want to achieve with a social media influencer campaign?
  • Who is your target audience? Who are you trying to influence? And what action do you want them to take as part of your campaign?
  • Who does your audience trust? What kind of personality type will gel well with your audience?
  • What kind of campaign do you want to run? Do you want to run a giveaway? Or maybe a brand awareness campaign?

Once you’ve worked out the goals for your campaign and the kind of influencer you want to partner with, there are lots of different tools you can use to find the perfect person for your brand:

1. BuzzSumo

How to work with social media influencers - BuzzSumo influencer marketing

BuzzSumo is more than just a simple content marketing tool. It includes an influencer marketing feature that lets users discover and understand influences your niche. You can search for social media influencers in any topic area or location, filter influencers by reach, authority, influence, and engagement, and build and outreach lists so you can get in touch.

2. Traackr

How to work with social media influencers - Traackr

Traackr is an influencer relationship management platform that lets you find social media influencers to work with your brand, manage campaigns, track conversions and validate real influence. You can even benchmark your brand’s share of the influence market and define a baseline for improvement.

3. Hootsuite

With Hootsuite you can find influencers by searching streams and monitoring conversations relevant to your niche. Look out for people you target audience engages with and whose content they are sharing. Then you can add these influencers to a Twitter list and save it as a stream so you can continue to track their influence before reaching out.

4. Followerwonk

How to work with social media influencers - Followerwonk

This free tool lets you find relevant influencers on Twitter by topic and location. With Followerwonk you can build a list of potential influencers to engage and partner with.

Maximizing the benefits of a social media influencer partnership

Once you’ve established a relationship with an influencer and you’re ready to run a campaign, make sure you measure its effectiveness. This includes using UTM tracking codes so you can track conversions.

Influencers should be able to provide analytics and detailed reports on the reach and engagement of their posts, but it’s up to you to track how well it converts.

Tools like Traackr and Hootsuite can help, allowing you to measure campaign success by tracking mentions of your brand or campaign hashtags.

As with any advertising campaign, you need to be prepared to run a few campaigns, test their effectiveness and make mistakes along the way so you can optimize your influencer marketing before drawing any conclusions.

Case studies: Who uses social media influencers?

Here are three examples of successful social media influencer marketing campaigns:

1. Daniel Wellington

Swedish watch company Daniel Wellington sent free watches to selected social media influencers on Instagram and asked them to post a picture of the watch, a campaign with a discount code for 15% off Daniel Wellington watches, and the hashtag #danielwellington. All creative control was left to the influencers, and since they were creative communicators, they posted smart and artistic photos of the watch.

The brand awareness campaign (and similar campaigns in recent years) helped Daniel Wellington grow from a small startup into an established brand that’s now worth over $220 million in less than six years.

Kimmy Schram shared her “love” of Daniel Wellington watches with her 37,000 followers on Instagram.

2. Chanel

Fashion brand Chanel used branded hashtags to build hype and awareness for its new perfume Chanel No. 5 L’Eau. The company invited social media influencers to its French flower fields and production facility to see how Chanel makes its iconic fragrances. Influencers were then asked to share photos and videos of the new perfume using two hashtags, #newchanel5 and #chanelgrasse.

The campaign generated over 1,600 pieces of content and nearly 1 million likes in the first month.

Influencer Jessica Mercedes Kirschner shared this image of Chanel’s new perfume with her 858,000 followers:
Likewise, model Virginia Varinel shared this image of her experience at Chanel’s production facility with her 340,000 followers:

3. GoPro

How many dogs do you know who have 1.7 million followers? Social media influencers don’t have to be human. GoPro teamed up with Loki the Wolfdog to promote an Instagram meet up and prizes.

The campaign allowed the action camera company to reach an audience it may not have otherwise been able to reach through posts on its own profile.

This photo alone got more than 889,000 likes.

Loki and his owner Kelly Lund have also collaborated with Toyota and Mercedes on branded Instagram campaigns.

Wrapping up

Word of mouth is the best form of advertising and its crossover into the realm of influencer marketing has helped businesses create positive conversations around your brand and products online.

Social media influencers have the kind of authenticity and connection with their audiences that businesses crave. Fortunately, working with influencers lets you tap into these engaged and loyal audiences.

Once you find an influencer you want to work with, you might be focused on the value they can provide for your brand, not the other way around. It’s important to look at the relationship as a meaningful and lasting one – influencers don’t want to represent just anyone, they want to get more than just money. So ensure there is mutual value for long-term success.

With some research, collaboration and creative freedom on the social media influencer’s part, you can look forward to boosting your brand awareness and establishing strong relationships with influencers in your niche.

Have you worked with social media influencers or do you have plans to? Share your thoughts on working with influencers in the comments below!

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