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15 Dos and Don’ts of Advertising With Social Media Influencers

These days, companies like GymShark and FashionNova have built nationwide clout by leveraging a mix of both big name social media influencers like emerging rap artist Cardi B and Snapchat superstar Kylie Jenner as well as everyday folks who have garnered large followings on social sites.

“[Partnering with a social media influencer] allows you to expand your audience beyond people who may not have heard of your brand or havent talked about your brand,” said Alma Smith, director of digital marketing at NUVI, a Lehi, Utah-based company that helps businesses identify influencers who are talking about their brand online.

For small business owners, forming these relationships — and choosing which ones are worth your time and limited funds — can be tricky. Not only do you have to find the right “influencer” for your audience, you also have to convince them to market your brand and make sure they do so in a way that won’t alienate your customer base — or drain your marketing budget.

When you get everything right, however, the payoff can be big.

According to the State of Influencer Marketing 2018 survey by influencer marketing company Linqia, 86% of 181 marketers and agencies surveyed used influencer marketing in 2017 and 92% found it effective. In addition, 39% of respondents said they plan to increase their influencer marketing budget in 2018.

Using influencers can actually be a cost-effective way for small businesses to market themselves. Influencers aren’t always huge celebrities requesting $250,000 for a single Instagram post, like Kim Kardashian reportedly does. And you don’t always have to go through an agent or advertising agency to get to an influencer.

Here are some tips on the dos and don’ts of working with social media influencers:

The dos and don’ts of influencer marketing

#1 DO consider the cost benefit

It’s important to keep up with changing times, but not every business needs to tap into influencer marketing.

While influencer marketing CAN work for most companies, you should factor in the cost benefit to your company before trying it out, advises James Michalak, director of business development at IZEA, a Winter Park, Fla.-based marketing agency focused on content and influencer marketing services for agencies and brands.

Sherri Langburt, CEO of influencer marketing firm, Babbleboxx based in South Orange, N.J., suggests brands may be able to cut costs by collaborating with other brands on one campaign.

#2 DON’T forget to ask how they will be compensated

“Influencer pricing can be as varied as the influencers themselves,” said Michalak.

Some influencers will negotiate directly with brands and businesses, while others may go through an agency or a company that hires a network of influencers. Some are compensated per post, others per campaign or click.

Some smaller-time influencers may charge lower rates or — instead of cold, hard cash — may accept compensation in discounts, products or services. If they really love your brand or cause, they may create content for free (think: an animal lover posting content for an animal shelter).

It gets even more complicated as pricing varies per platform, too. For example, you may pay an amount related to the number of followers on Instagram, but that may differ for the number of views on Snapchat.

Michalak says small businesses should keep in mind that more complicated and time-intensive requests will ultimately increase the costs associated with the content they’re purchasing.

“The key here is to be realistic with your goals as a marketer, be upfront with your requirements and remember that cash is king in terms of payment,” said Michalak.

Langburt advises small business owners beware of hidden or unexpected costs, too.

“If you have an event they may ask you to pay for transportation or things like that,” said Langburt. Or, if they post a photo and don’t like it but had to hire a photographer for the photo shoot, you may need to pay for a new photo shoot.

#3 DO stay local

If you’re a local coffee shop in Athens, Ga., for example, and you generally serve the local population, you might not want to make the investment of sending a bag of coffee to a New York City coffee blogger with national reach to post about your shop.

“You might find an influencer who has the exact same reach in a smaller town,” said Langburt. “Don’t be afraid to look in smaller markets because there are people who have just as much reach and just as much audience.”

For example, a coffee fanatic in your region may operate a blog that gets attention from those who may regularly pass by your shop. You may instead opt to reach out to them.

If you’re a local business serving local people, you may want to consider marketing options that work in your region, like ads with local news agencies, newsletters or coupon books that circulate in your area.

#4 DO consider alternatives (like in-house content marketing)

Your team can create your own in-house content for your company’s social platforms or for your company’s website. Content marketing educates your local base on your business’s value proposition through content like blog posts and content created for various social networks.

“Content marketing is just as effective if not more effective for many small businesses,” said Michalak.

The content can be shared on social networks by your targeted audience and — if you take care to pay attention to search engine optimization (SEO) — your content may rank organically when people in your area search on search engines like Google.

You may even be able to leverage influencers to save money in this area, according to Langburt. “Instead of hiring a bunch of content creators, you could leverage influencers,” she said.

#5 DON’T ignore the micro-influencer

When you’re looking for a social media influencer to help your brand, you should keep an open mind in your search, especially if you are a small company with a small budget. You may not have the need (or the budget) to hire a large influencer with millions of followers, like models Gigi and Bella Hadid.

Consider reaching out to smaller, micro-influencers. These are social media influencers with around 10,000 to 100,000 followers, according to Smith.

#6 DO find an influencer who is in line with your brand

When you are looking through an influencer’s social platforms, you should check to see that their posts reflect values in line with your brand, according to the experts.

Smith says to look for highly targeted influencers that are active in your space. For example, if your company makes running gear, you might look for runners who have a strong social media following and offer them some free swag in exchange for posting photos of them wearing your brand at their next half marathon.

Look for those who are already talking about your space and often use hashtags and keywords related to your industry. There are several companies that have cropped up in recent years to help you find these folks. If your budget allows, you can tap into a network of influencers through an influencer marketing agency like Babbleboxx, Mediakix, Viral Nation or IZEA.

“When a small business finds and works with one of these networks, it allows them a much wider swath of influencers, and allows them to better price out who they can work with to maximize their dollar,” said Michalak.

#7 DO check an influencer’s online AND offline behavior

Remember, the influencer may have a professional persona when dealing with and posting about your company, but may not reflect those same values in their actions in real life. If they are closely associated with your brand, consumers may tie any bad behavior they partake in to your brand, too.

“You don’t want to be a manufacturer of disposable diapers then engage with an influencer who in their next post says they only use reusable diapers,” said Smith.

Of course, people’s actions are unpredictable, so you may have to have a backup plan in your back pocket in case an influencer misrepresents your brand.

For example, in 2017, Disney dropped YouTube star, Felix Kjellberg, known online as PewDiePie, for making anti-Semitic jokes.

#8 DON’T confuse followers for engagement

There are instances in which some people have paid for followers or bots to create the illusion of a large following and attract marketers. A good way to gauge engagement from their followers is to look at their ratio of comments, shares and likes vs. followers, also known as an engagement ratio.

“It’s really easy to see if an influencer has built up their following with bots when their ratio of likes and comments drops,” said Smith.

Smith adds checking the engagement ratio helps you see not only that the audience is engaged but if they are populated with bots.

“Without that engagement from the influencers’ followers then you really don’t know if anybody is interested [in your brand],” said Smith.

Check to see if they are posting regularly and whether their posts are shared on other social sites.

“If you see the articles are shared on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, that’s great. If there aren’t shares, it means no one is sharing this beyond their page,” said Langburt.

#9 DO find people whose posts seem organic

Some influencers may be already partnered with other brands and may have posts about them. Langburt suggests ensuring that their social platforms don’t all center on offers and discounts and coupons. Look through their actual comments and posts to see if it feels like they are organic.

“The less organic that it feels, the less likely that the followers are willing to engage with the brand,” said Smith.

#10 DO form a relationship with the influencer before you partner

This is especially important if you are working on a tight budget and are looking to save money, Rahul Alim, president of Custom Creatives, an inbound marketing company, as you may be able to compensate the influencer for their time with services or products.

“If you want to pay them, then you just contact them and ask them their fee,” he said. “If you want to give the stuff, you would want to establish a relationship.”

If they are a local influencer, you may be able to find someone you know who may know the person to do a warm introduction.

Alim suggests offering to do a one-on-one interview with them and promote it on the internet as a cheap and easy win-win venture. You cover their costs and gain the benefit of the influencer’s influence. Plus, you get to know them face to face.

#11 DO be creative in the way you reach out

Another tip from Alim: Try to think of an interesting angle or a cool strategy when you contact them.

“They are still people. If you’re already thinking about reaching out to them, so has everybody else,” he said. He suggests approaching an influencer in a creative manner may help you stand out.

“One of the things that I’ve done in the past that works is a money gun. It’s basically a gun that spits out fake $100 bills,” said Alim. He sends the fake gun with a note saying something like, “Hey now that you are sitting on a pile of cash, how about we make some more money together.”

#12 DON’T break the rules!

Like social media platforms, influencer marketing space is relatively new. But marketing and advertising is old and highly regulated. There have been efforts by the federal government and tech companies to regulate influencers online, so consumers can tell the difference between when they are looking at an advertisement and a regular post.

Influencers are regular people who post freely online, but when they are creating posts sponsored by a brand, it’s still marketing and needs to comply with FTC endorsement guidelines.

“The number one thing is to make sure that the influencer is disclosing that they are being compensated for that post,” said Michalak, as it protects both the brand and influencer. He says to remember “the influencer is just as liable as the brand when it comes to fines.”

In early 2017 the FTC sent more than 90 letters to influencers and brands “reminding them that, if influencers are endorsing a brand and have a “material connection” to the marketer, that relationship must be clearly disclosed, unless the connection is already clear from the context of the endorsement.”

The FTC’s rules aren’t the only ones to comply with. Social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have released their own rules and tools for branded content (read: influencer marketing content). Other popular platforms like Twitter and Snap have guidelines for advertisers, but not specifically for branded content.

Here are each site’s guidelines:

Facebook

Instagram

YouTube

Twitter

Snap

#13 DON’T omit instructions

Brands should give influencers clear instructions, or have brand and posting guidelines to ensure your brand is properly represented in the influencer’s posts, suggest the experts.

Langburt advises brands and businesses to have a contract in place that defines the terms of the agreement, the scope of the contract and what the influencer is expected to do.

Give clear instructions so that your brand is accurately represented, but don’t be too strict.

“The more structured you are with them and the things they have to say tends to lead to less organic posts,” said Smith.

Strike a balance. For example, offer the influencer hashtags to use or suggestions for posts, or require them to submit content for approval before posting, but allow the influencer freedom to post as they would naturally, or it won’t seem natural to their audience.

#14 DO Follow up

Make sure to follow up with each campaign you run with an influencer, so you can judge your own progress.

“You definitely want to have a performance report and progress report throughout the promotion,” said Langburt. She suggests holding a campaign wrap-up call at the end of the campaign and maybe incorporate midpoint calls to check in on how the content was received by the influencer’s audience.

#15 DON’T set your expectations too high

You can’t expect every person who follows the influencer to engage with the content. Langburt says you can expect the content to have an impact on about three to five percent of the influencers following. For a micro-influencer with about 10,000 followers, that’s about 300 to 500 accounts.

It may take some time to see results, so don’t discount a campaign if you’re not seeing a huge return on investment (ROI) right away.

“Have realistic expectations and give somebody time,” advised Alim. “And be patient. It’s not going to happen in one shot.”

 

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