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Influencers sound a terrifying way to approach marketing for many of us.  We certainly may not have considered using influencers regularly in our marketing.

Many people misunderstand what influencer marketing is, believing it involves throwing tens of thousands of pounds at one of the Kardashians.  That is not influencer marketing but paying celebrities for endorsements.

Nor will you have much success sending some gifts out to people from your Instagram connections in the vague hope they will promote you.

Where do influencers work best?  Usually on YouTube or Instagram, but you can apply the same principles on a variety of platforms.

Who is an Influencer?

They are the contemporary version of celebrity endorsement.  The cynical buying public has become disbelieving in advertising and direct selling and wants to buy things recommended by friends, family, and people they trust.

An influencer is someone who is recognized as having authority, experts in their niche, knowledge, and a good size digital following.  The particular area of the market can be anything that fits with what you do, and the more niche, the greater buy-in.  Influencers in niche fields develop strong followings.  Their posts will be successful on social media because they both educate and entertain.  They earn the trust and respect of their followers through the quality, expertise, and strength of their knowledge.  That carries huge weight when they recommend you to the niche that you share.

It is also essential to understand that a relationship with an influencer is not about hiring them, even if it does mean payment, but about collaboration.  They will have worked long and hard to build up their brand and need to be convinced that you are completely aligned to it.  A relationship with you needs to enhance their brand.

Influencers - a weapon for your marketing?
Should you be using Influencers?

Undertaking the Influencer Marketing Campaign

Before you start, you might want to re-think what that means.  What you are going to be doing is marketing to influencers.  It is not an easy thing to get right.  One super-useful resource for additional reading for beginners is The Influencer Marketing Hub.

The first step is to choose who you want to work with.  You can decide to use an agency or to try and do influencer marketing in-house.  Let’s look briefly at other semi-out-of-house options.  There are different types of SaaS companies to be hired for every stage of this type of marketing – finding the right ones, managing your campaign, tracking how it worked, and even managing the relationships you have with your influencers.  They will, of course, charge you a license fee but then build you the software.

As with all things, it will be a question of balancing cost versus return.   You can attempt the process yourself.  Start by defining exactly who your audience is, and from there, look at who they follow, who they listen to and emulate, and whose content they share.

After some study, you will begin to see who the influencers are in your niche.  The next step will be for you to start to engage with them.  I don’t mean sycophantic posts nor a lot of arm-waving but genuine, intelligent, valuable interactions.  The content has to be exceptionally carefully chosen to get the attention of the influencers.

With niche influencers, they will start to notice you as one of their contributing fans.  Already, they will be aligned with you, assuming you have got the posts and interaction right.  Remember, it must be both helpful and genuine.  There is another bonus here.  Once you are in the group, already being regularly seen and read, you are starting to access their followers by those interactions and building your own base.

At that point, when you already have a shared relationship, can you think about approaching them.  Remember, you are dealing with another human with business interests.  If they enjoy dealing with you and benefit from the association both financially and reputation, then providing you make life easy for them, the chances are good the relationship can develop.

Finance will come into it with influencers.  They do have to make a living, so it has to be worth the work.  The easier the work, the better.  For example, if they have a massive email list from their quarterly newsletter, don’t expect them to do a special one just for you.  Be grateful to be in the next quarter!

Never forget that there will be 1000 other people waiting to jump into your place in that influencer’s sunshine.  You need to treat them as your most treasured ally to ensure you keep your spot.

Influencers as a source of Information:

Why on earth would you want one of those?  I would have cried a few years ago.

As a writer, one of the great things you can deliver to be of service to your readers is new content.  Who has the best access to brand-new content and information?   Influencers.  They are right in the middle of the niche.

But it isn’t just writers that benefit from that.  If you are running a business, the more up-to-date the information and data you have about your industry, the better you do your job.

Many influencers are happy to trade information in return for fees, but trust is absolutely paramount.  They have to be 100% sure that you will use the information when agreed, for the purpose decided, and with integrity.  Otherwise, no size fee is going to be worth it to balance the damage to their reputation.

Mini Influencers

It is easy to overlook your followers when on the hunt for big influencers.  Some of them may only be quite small, have relatively small followers themselves.  No one, bar their best friend and a few aunts and uncles, may ever have heard of them.

However, this is the reverse of when we looked at you standing out to the big guys.  The smaller fans who engage with you and share your content in an engaging way are never the less, increasing the ripple effect of your reputation. 

These are your true fans and an invaluable weapon in your digital marketing armory.  Get to know them, value them and let them work wonders for you.  This principle I mention often and comes from marketing Strategist and author David Meerman Scott.  David appears in Scale for Success and also authored the book Fanocracy.   David wrote it with his daughter when they investigated fans’ effect on the marketing of their respective passions, The Grateful Dead and Harry Potter.   They found that eventually, fans take charge of the marketing and the narrative. 

Be Your own Influencer.

There is, of course, another possibility.  You can concentrate your resources on becoming an influencer in your own right while running your business.  You don’t have to become a full-time influencer.  It is about being recognized as the authority, which will turbo-boost your business.

You can get there by building a big enough following in your niche, producing content that is clear, on-brand, and on values, networking with other influencers in your niche both to be seen as an authority in their circles and for up-to-date information.

To achieve that following and position as an expert, it comes down once again to quality content that both educates and entertains.

I thoroughly recommend Gordon Glenister‘s book Influencer Marketing Strategy or joining one of his groups for further resources.  Gordon is Global Head of Influencer Marketing at the Branded Content Marketing Association and hosts the Influence Global Podcast.

Also, if you want to read all our series on digital marketing, this is the first one here on how to achieve it on a budget.