Once You’ve Found the Right Influencer for Your Vertical, Then What?

February 20, 2018 | Kaleigh Moore


Marketers know that partnering with influencers is a smart way to reach new audiences and to drive sales. It’s social proof at work: Trusted sources make recommendations of products or services to their audiences, and then those audiences buy.

It happens to me all the time: I see an Instagram influencer I follow feature a new swimsuit or pair of shoes, and then I instantly HAVE TO HAVE THAT THING. In just a few clicks, I can buy that featured product – and many times, that’s exactly what I do.

The numbers back up the value of influencer partnerships as well: On average, data shows that influencer marketing drives $6.50 in ROI for every $1 spent. And on Twitter, 49% of users say they look to recommendations from influencers before making a purchase.

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The case for influencer marketing is a strong one – and as a result, many brands are already on board with this tactic. They’re connecting with go-to influencers in their niche to reach brand new audiences that are in a ready-to-buy mind frame.

The question is, though: Once you’ve found the right influencer for your vertical, then what?

Step One: Make Sure You’re Working with the Right Influencers

Let’s start at the beginning. The first step with influencer marketing is to gather a list of potential partners and then to validate that they can provide a meaningful impact for your brand.

Jason Quey, VP of Marketing at Codeless, recommends starting with a big list of potential influencers (100+) within your vertical. To initially discover potential partners, look at specific hashtags you’re targeting as well as sources of popular/highly shared content with the help of a tool like BuzzSumo.

Keep in mind that the bigger the influencer, often times the harder they are to reach. Starting with smaller-scale influencers who have fewer than 100K followers can help get the ball rolling.

From there, you can begin to qualify and prioritize your outreach based on the influencer’s:

  • Potential reach: How many followers do they have on the platform you’re targeting? Is that audience made up of your target demographic?
  • Audience engagement: Study the influencer’s level of engagement. Are followers commenting, asking questions, and/or sharing their content? Ideally, you want to work with an influencer who has active and dedicated following.
  • Past results: Impactful influencers should have a track record of solid results produced in past partnerships. Search out hard numbers, stats, and ROI that demonstrate past performance when possible.

When your list is organized and you’re ready to begin outreach, Content Strategist Cara Hogan recommends looking for shared connections to get an introduction:

“Use any existing connections you have to get an introduction and work with that influencer. Once you have that one person, you can reference them when you pitch the next influencer and the next. By showing social proof, it will become easier to get the right people to agree to work with you over time.”

Look for shared connections you may have with influencers on a platform like LinkedIn and put out an ask to your well-connected business partners. Many times, you’ll find a willing party who can help you get a foot in the door via an email or social media introduction.

If you can’t find someone that can make an introduction for you, give cold outreach a try – but be strategic about it. Make your request highly personalized for each person rather than doing a mass copy and paste email. Show that you’ve done your homework and make your ask value-centric for each individual.

Step Two: Knowing What Influencers Expect

As you work on outreach to influencers, it’s important to be aware of what they expect or want out of the partnership. There are no hard and fast expectations for influencers across the board, but it’s good to have a general idea of what your influencer partners may be looking for from their end of the equation.

I reached out to a few influencers in different verticals to find out what they expect when working with new partners for sponsored content and general marketing opportunities. Here are a few of the common themes I discovered:

1. A ballpark for rates

Not all influencers expect to be paid, but those with large audiences will often only accept paid opportunities. Payscale may be based on things like:

  • Number of subscribers
  • CPC or CPM of campaign
  • Commission-based, in which influencer receives a percentage of total sales produced

Here’s an idea of what average influencer posts cost on Instagram by vertical:

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Content Marketer and travel blogger Lauren Monitz recommends checking out resources like SocialBlueBook.com and Influencer Institute to be sure you’re paying fair rates and following general best practices in your efforts.

2. Clear value for their audience

Most influencers won’t partner with just anyone who comes to them with an opportunity (paid or unpaid.) They want to first validate that the collaboration would be a relevant one for their audience – and that the product/service is worth recommending. After all, their reputation is on the line.

Bridget Casey, a financial influencer and blogger, said:

“No one’s audience likes to feel like they are constantly being sold to, so I limit brand partnerships to only those who actually provide a lot of value for their clients or customers. I don’t necessarily have to use them myself, but I need to believe what they are making is worth my audience spending their hard-earned dollars on.”

3. An agreement that’s not too binding

Contracts are normal for influencer partnerships, but many influencers will shy away from contracts that include long-term non-compete stipulations, as it limits their ability to earn. Be willing to negotiate and don’t worry too much about competitors in this context. If your products are good, they’ll speak for themselves.

Step Three: Building Relationships & Fostering Trust with Influencers

Once you’ve made arrangements to work with a few different influencers, you’ll want to take a few extra steps to be sure you’re setting up a successful, long-term relationship. To strengthen the connections you’re building, think about how you can foster trust and respect by following some of the best practices.

Start small

Rather than overwhelming a new influencer contact with a big ask, sometimes it’s better to start small and ramp up projects over time. This is Relationship Building 101 – and it’s a good way to get a feel for how to best communicate with your new contact, too.

Jason Quey of Codeless said, “Usually, I start off with something small like getting them to promote an article or asking for a quote. Then I monitor what happens. From this, I gauge how they might be help (e.g. drive traffic, provide clients, client referrals, etc).”

Provide Value

To get the most out of your new partnership, it’s important to think about how you’ll provide value on your end – and it’s not always just via money. Can you help them build authority or reach a new audience? Support their project launches? Connect them with other relevant brands or individuals? Consider what might be most important to them at the moment and how you can deliver.

You should also base the value conversation around what you know is important to them. Research shows influencers value creative freedom and compensation when it comes to long-term relationships:

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Growth Marketer Sid Bharath says, “When it comes to influencer partnerships, you need to give value first. Whenever I meet an influencer online or offline, the first thing I ask is, ‘What can I help you with?’ I’ve converted die-hard influencers of competitors with that one question.”

Other marketers have value at the core of their influencer work, too. Patrick Whatman of Mention said, “We approach influencer marketing in exactly the same way we approach co-marketing opportunities. We ask: What do we need to offer? We look for other businesses in our industry with similar audiences (and buyers), and think of ways that we can work together for mutual benefit. That could be generating leads, increasing exposure, links, etc. Then we put this benefit in bold when we pitch them.”

The common theme is that when it comes to influencer marketing, there has to be an interesting value exchange on the table for it to be worthwhile for both parties – and exposure alone often isn’t enough to cut it.

Be clear

One of the easiest ways to establish a strong foundation with new influencer connections is to be very clear about what you’re trying to accomplish and why it matters for both of you. Ambiguity can lead to miscommunications and misunderstandings, so add clarity and be transparent right from the start. Also consider:

  • Outlining expectations: Let your influencer in on the big picture and show them what you’re hoping to achieve long-term through the collaboration. If you have any expectations around projects you’ll be working on together, share those up front.
  • Setting goals: Have a target you’re trying to hit during your work with an influencer? Let them know. Even if the goals aren’t reached, the influencer will have a clearer picture around what you’re striving for and will be better equipped to help you hit that goal.
  • Providing background: Context is king. Help influencers get to know your brand’s backstory, mission, culture, and voice with onboarding materials and resources for familiarization. This makes it easier for the influencer to get a grasp on your brand without having to dig around and learn on his/her own.
  • Giving suggestions (but enabling creative freedom): Influencers don’t want you to tell them how to do what they do best–that’s why you want to work with them in the first place, right? Share some general tips or suggestions, but remember to enable creative freedom and to ultimately trust the influencer’s expertise.

Say Thanks

Last, but not least: Remember to say thank you. Whether it’s a phone call, a handwritten note, or even just an email follow-up, showing gratitude around the working relationship goes a long way. Those who forget this step can come off as rude or unappreciative–and it can make it harder to land repeat collaborations.

If you really want to give a sincere thank you, look for ways to meet your influencer partners in person. Saying thanks in person at a conference they’re speaking at or over a coffee helps strengthen your bond with a real-life interaction and shows genuine interest in connecting with them.

Turn Influencers into Friends

By following the best practices here, you can get on the path that turns influencers into your raving fans and long-term supporters of your brand. These relationships can go a long way, and have a major positive impact on your brand.

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