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Discovering the Right Brand Influencers: A Step-by-Step Guide

Khalipha Ntloko

Jan 15, 2024

Did you know that influencer marketing was worth $13.8 billion in 2021? That's according to Influencer Marketing Hub, which also reported that 59% of brands had a standalone budget for content marketing. Since 75% of those surveyed intended to dedicate a budget to influencer marketing, your company or brand may not be far behind.

Influencer marketing can tap into engaged audiences like no other. But as the number of influencers on social media grows, scouting them for influencer marketing campaigns becomes more of a challenge. In this post, we'll take a step-by-step look at how to find the best influencers for your brand.


smiling middle eastern woman holding up an iphone to take a selfie

Before you look at how to find influencers for your brand, you need to lay the groundwork for your campaign to succeed. Arm yourself with your brand's current social media analytics and complete the following tasks to guide you in your influencer search:

1. Know your target audience

Make your influencer search laser-focused by getting a clear understanding of who you already speak to. What has your audience come to expect? And what, or who, does your target audience already connect with? Audience insight reports and software like the Meltwater Consumer Intelligence Suite make it simple to dive deeper into your audience's demographics, psychographics (meaning their opinions, interests, values, and attitudes), and online behavior. They can be especially useful for brands that cater to niche audiences and interests.

It's also a good idea to research who is already talking about you on social media. You can do this manually or get a more comprehensive look using social listening tools that track conversations about your brand in real-time and help you find influencers that mention you in their social media content. Doing this preliminary research will save you time down the line and may even lead you to potential influencers off the bat.

2. Define your influencer marketing strategy and campaign goals

With established goals, you’ll be better able to select influencers who can help you achieve them. These goals may include:

Defining your influencer marketing strategy will typically involve choosing which social media channels you want to focus on. For example, if your goal is to draw more customers to your Shopify store, you may try to find Instagram influencers to take advantage of the platform integrations.

Tip: Are you using Shopify for your eCommerce online shop? Consider taking a look at the best Shopify podcasts to listen to. We also have a list of the best eCommerce podcasts in general that could be helpful to you.

But if your goal is to answer questions about a product or service, you may look for YouTube influencers who can create longer, more detailed content, such as tutorials, walk-throughs, and unboxings.

As you develop your strategy, the perfect influencer for your brand may be different on different social platforms.

3. Focus on authenticity

Now that you’ve set the stage, let’s remember to stay grounded. The most important part of your search is authenticity. Authenticity is the secret sauce that will take your campaign from being good to being exceptional. Audiences respond best to real and genuine content. That’s why influencer campaigns work so well compared to traditional advertising in the first place.

So, finding partners that check off these essential boxes will bring your campaign to life: 

✅ Are genuinely excited by your brand

✅ Are relatable

✅ Can tap into their highly connected community 

Of course, there’s no simple authenticity filter to add to your search. So how do you validate authenticity and ensure you are on the right track? This will take some nuance and you’ll need to do some vetting to make sure personalities, values, and content align with your brand. 

And to make the process even easier, Meltwater Influencer Marketing has Custom Brand Score and Brand Safety features to help steer you in the right direction and make strategic decisions faster. 

How to Find Influencers

From doing the tedious legwork yourself to getting the help of third-party software, there are many strategies for finding social media influencers. And thanks to the initial prep work you just did, you'll know which of the following influencer search methods is right for you.

screenshot of hashtag tech influencer on instagram

Method 1: Finding social media influencers using hashtags

Influencers rely on hashtags to make sure their content reaches audiences outside of their followers. In turn, you can use these same hashtags to find influencers on Instagram, TikTok, and other platforms.

Searching hashtags relevant to your brand, campaign, or niche audience will give you a plethora of influencers to look at. But this time-consuming method can leave you with a long list of potential influencers and no way of sorting through them.

Tip: Learn how to use TikTok for your influencer marketing strategy

Method 2: Using an influencer database or influencer list

Many of the free influencer marketing tools you'll find online offer databases that let you search through influencer profiles. Meanwhile some paid platforms — like Followerwonk, Upfluence, and Buzzsumo — have influencer databases on the limited, free versions of their software.

The Meltwater Influencer Marketing Suite on the other hand offers a premium influencer database which is really worth paying for. While this method gets rid of the time-consuming process of combing through social media, you'll still have to manually evaluate influencers and establish communication with them across platforms.

Influencer lists to help you find the right influencers

The following curated influencer lists will help you find influencers that actually fit your brand:

Method 3: Using an influencer marketing platform

Managing relationships with several influencers across the same or multiple social media platforms can get messy when you are trying to manage conversations through DMs. Influencer marketing platforms, also known as influencer marketing hubs, let marketers search for, evaluate, reach out to, and collaborate with influencers all in one place.

Meltwater's social influencer marketing platform lets users find the perfect influencers for their campaigns with AI-powered searches. It also allows for communication, payment, and campaign tracking directly on the platform, features you should look for in any influencer platform you consider.

A collection of screenshots of Meltwater's influencer marketing management platform, Klear

Let’s get visual 

Spend time picturing the content you would love to see as part of your campaign. Do you have home-run images you’ve seen in the past coming to mind and Instagram posts you’ve saved to reference later? Well, you aren’t alone.

On average, people retain about 80% of what they see vs. just 20% of what they readAnd for us visual learners (65% of all people), images make everything clearer. So, how can you use the visuals in your head to power your influencer search? Aren’t searches only based on hashtags and topics? Not anymore. Say hello to Meltwater Influencer Marketing's Visual Search feature.

Visual Search in Meltwater Influencer Marketing

Meltwater's Visual Search makes it easier for brands to find niche influencers based on images they’ve posted in the past. Visual Search is powered by AI and uses advanced image analysis to serve up influencers with existing imagery matching your search query.

So, say you are a beauty brand looking for influencers with curly hair. You can type in “woman with curly hair,” and Visual Search will work its magic to present you with a list of influencers who have images of people with curly hair. 

Or let’s say you are a food brand running behind on your holiday planning, and you need to quickly recruit influencers who are able to create a stunning tablescape. Instead of spending time frantically scrolling through feeds to find the perfect match, Meltwater's Visual Search has you covered. Not only will you have a curated list to work from, but you will also be provided with the exact images that match your search terms and needs. So you can see the quality and quantity of related content to see if they are a true match.  

This takes influencer discovery to a whole new level, adding an extra layer to your authenticity check. And it’s also just really cool. 

Bonus Tips: Improve campaigns with visual search 

Visual Search is a powerful tool to add to your new discovery workflow, but it doesn’t stop there. Visual Search can inspire and get the wheels turning on campaign strategy. 

  • Provide inspiration: Remember how over half of the population are visual learners? That includes plenty of influencers and creators too. As you uncover standout imagery through Visual Search, you can show these as examples in your influencer campaign brief to help creators understand your vision on the first go.   
  • Be on trend: If you pay close attention, you can catch on to the latest trends and see what content in your niche generates the most engagement. Do the most engaging photos have a colorful backdrop, do audiences respond better to flat-lay images? Finding these nuggets of information and infusing them into your brief can improve your campaign engagement. 
  • Expedite influencer alignment: Whether you are a brand or working at an agency, you likely need to collaborate with other stakeholders to align on the final group of partners. You can expedite back and forth with this process by highlighting the matching content to make a case for your favorite picks.

How to Find Instagram Influencers

TikTok and YouTube are gaining ground, but Instagram is still the top social media platform for influencers, according to the Meltwater State of Social Media report. Here are some tips for marketers looking for Instagram influencers specifically:

Find Instagram influencers using in-app features

As we mentioned earlier, hashtags are a simple way to find influencers on Instagram. However, you can also check out the app's Explore page. This method will work on any account that has an algorithm tuned to your brand or target customer. If you don't have this type of account, it may be a good idea to make one to help with your audience research.

Create a new Instagram account and use it as you imagine your ideal customer would.

Start by visiting and following your brand's page. Soon enough, the account's Explore page will lead you to other pages, and influencers, you may be interested in. 

Use an Instagram influencers list

Do a quick Google search and you'll come up with dozens upon dozens of ready-made lists of Instagram's top influencers in every industry imaginable. These lists are great for getting an overview of the Instagram influencer landscape and looking at current influencer trends. One downside to these kinds of lists is that they become out of date quickly. Plus, they may not show you the best influencers for your campaign, just the most popular ones overall. 

Use influencer marketing tools

Influencer marketing tools and platforms like Meltwater Influencer Marketing are the most comprehensive options for finding Instagram influencers. Focus your search not only by social media platforms but also by audience and metrics. With these tools, you can spend the time you save elsewhere, like co-creating with your chosen influencer.

Method 4: Leverage your existing community

You don’t have to start completely from scratch. Whether you are just starting to recruit or looking to scale, you have an untapped resource at your fingertips…and that’s your existing community.

The benefits of leveraging your community

Consumers have become quick to dismiss content that appears overly sponsored and disconnected from the creator, meaning authenticity is key to success. And what’s more authentic than partnering with someone who is genuinely a fan of your brand? They can already speak to what they love about your product, and you can save time convincing them what you already know. With this groundwork already set, that creates the opportunity to build deeper relationships quickly and focus on creative collaboration and content creation.

Tapping into your existing community to create partnerships gives you a leg up on the entire process. Once you connect with and onboard the best fits from your community, it’s time to run some campaigns, test the process, analyze results to see what’s working, and then focus on building a long-term strategy.

With Meltwater Influencer Marketing's Recruit feature, you’ll have a partner to help guide, build, and sustain your influencer recruitment strategy.

Let’s walk through how it works:

1. Build a recruitment page

Start with our custom landing page builder. This feature is equipped with a whole set of easy-to-use templates for brands to create a custom landing page for creators and influencers to apply to opportunities in minutes. The builder includes a simple step-by-step process, providing guidance as you upload images and copy, allowing you to make your page unique.

2. Promote your page on your website:

Along with creating a standalone link, you can embed your custom landing page to live on your brand website. Meltwater Influencer Marketing provides one piece of code to incorporate into your site, and you’re set. No need to hire a developer to create a page from scratch.

3. Get to know your applicant

You’ll need to get to know these creators a bit more to move forward. So the main CTA in your landing page will ask creators to fill out an application form. This form will live on your landing page and allow you to gather first-party intel on your applications to learn more about them. Identifying information like product preferences, sizing, birthdays, content preferences, and shipping information streamline your workflow down the line.

4. Build personalized campaigns

Gifting personalized products (which you can also do in Meltwater!) can help creators speak more authentically about the product, which drives engagement. If it were your friend’s birthday, you’d want to send them a gift you know they’ll like rather than just whatever is available at the store, right?

Learn more about influencer gifting.

How to Choose the Right Influencer For Your Brand

Perhaps you have a few relevant influencers in mind that you think would be a perfect fit for your brand, but to really be sure they are right for you, you'll need to evaluate them against some key social media metrics. Start with a Google search to gauge their reputation and see which platforms they are on, but don't stop there.

Here are some questions to ask to ensure that you pick the right influencer to work with:

1. What is the quality of their work?

Working with influencers means giving them the creative freedom to make content for your brand, so you want to make sure that the content they already make is high quality. Take a look at the content they share on the platform.

  • Does it feel genuine?
  • Does it aim to provide real value to the audience?
  • Are the captions well-thought-out?
  • Is it captivating?
  • Is there a storytelling element to what the influencer shares on Instagram?

These are just a few ways to gauge if an Instagram influencer's style is right for your brand. 

2. Do they have an engaged community?

From likes and comments to reposts and retweets, look into an influencer's engagement rate to have a better understanding if their audience is an active one. Look at the comments their followers leave, what questions they ask, and how well the influencer responds to them.

A passive audience is no good for a brand partnership; you want the influencer’s community to spread your message to others, expanding your reach to other social networks and online communities.

3. How large is their reach?

An influencer can have a high follower count but a low reach, which looks at the unique number of users who saw their social media post. For well-known and new brands alike, this metric is important for assessing just how many eyes an influencer really draws in. 

Reach is closely linked with measuring brand awareness and the ROI of influencer campaigns. Even influencers with smaller reach can produce great results. While macro-influencers, who have between 100,000 and one million followers, can get more eyeballs on your campaign, micro-influencers, who have between 1,000 and 100,000 followers, can introduce you to niche audiences and markets.

Some influencer marketing platforms can also help you evaluate influencers on this metric. Meltwater's AI-powered technology, for one, detects bots and fake followers to grade influencers on their actual reach.

4. Who are they reaching?

Having an engaged community is one thing, but if an influencer's audience does not care about your product, the ROI from a partnership will be minimal. Find an influencer whose followers are interested in topics that will lead to them converting to your brand. Influencers also have different audiences on different social media platforms. You may have to tweak your strategy depending on what channel you are targeting.

5. What other brands have they worked with?

Looking at the brands that influencers have worked with in the past can help you decide if their audience is part of your target market. Just keep in mind that if an influencer has had a long-term partnership with a competitor, their association with that brand may stick. 

6. Are their values aligned with yours?

Influencer marketing is different from traditional marketing channels. It's a third party connecting your brand to an audience, and acting as an ambassador. When collaborating with an influencer you are publicly saying that you trust and endorse their values. That’s why it is important to ensure that an influencer has never made public statements or engaged in past collaborations that contradict your brand values.

Review past collaborations

Check all of the past collaborations your influencer has engaged in to ensure that they have no past partnerships that would be harmful to your brand's image. For example, if your brand is publicly supportive of strict gun control legislation, it might not be in your best interest to partner with an influencer that has endorsed the NRA.

Check for malicious keywords

Past collaborations are not the only way to identify an influencer’s values. Use an influencer marketing tool to set safety keywords. This will allow you to get the full picture of your influencer’s online persona, and avoid a messy scandal.

Safety Keywords should align with your brand values. For example, an organization with strong pro-LGBTQ+ values would perhaps flag words that are derogatory to gay and trans people.

Sponsored post on Instagram

Influencer Safety Tips

Avoid the headaches that come with working with fake influencers by checking for these red flags.

Inauthentic audience

An influence with an inauthentic audience could mean several things:

  1. An Influencer has fake followers that were purchased but offer no engagements or genuine exposure
  2. An Influencer is a member of an influencer pod. An influencer Pod is a forum or group where individuals follow each other’s accounts and will exchange likes for likes. Pods are dangerous because it may appear as if an influencer is generating engagement, but these engagements are not coming from a genuine network.
  3. An influencer has purchased an engagement-bot, which automatically comments and likes content, but does not offer genuine engagements.

Is your influencer’s audience real?

After vetting an influencer’s performance metrics, you’ll probably have a good understanding of the authenticity of their audience. As mentioned before the size of an influencer’s audience is not the most important factor, but rather the quality of the audience.

There are some good indicators of an inauthentic audience. Just as there are strong True Reach metrics, influencers with a larger following but low True Reach and Engagement metrics could indicate fake followers.

Another important thing to be aware of is the demographics of an influencer. For example, if a large portion of an influencer’s audience is from a country that seems very random it would be wise to do a further investigation.

How to check for fake followers and engagement bots

While you can use some of the clues we’ve suggested to vet your influencer’s audience authenticity, it is meticulous work and sometimes small indicators can go overlooked. For this reason, Meltwater Influencer Marketing's AI technology can easily identify influencers with an inauthentic audience using hundreds of parameters that our data science team has researched and set. This enables you to easily review an influencer's audience authenticity and enter new partnerships with confidence.

Start Your Influencer Outreach

Now that you have found and evaluated the influencers you want for your upcoming influencer marketing campaign, what is the next step? You need to engage with them and establish a connection to stat off on the right foot.

1. Reach out

Your first outreach to an influencer could make or break your potential partnership with them, so your first impression needs to be a compelling one that demonstrates the value you offer. Many companies kick things off by sending PR packages or free samples to influencers they hope to partner with. 

Consider following them on Instagram or TikTok (or whatever social media platforms are most relevant for you) and engaging with their content. Leave a meaningful comment on a post where they mentioned your brand and express how much you appreciate their support.

The more you meaningfully engage with their content, the better the chances of getting a positive response when you pitch them a campaign. 

See our top Rules of Engagement for Influencers.

2. Craft a compelling pitch

Next, you want to craft an enticing pitch or proposal that highlights why you are reaching out, an overview of the campaign you have in mind, the deliverables you would need, the compensation you offer, as well as specific next steps.

While it's not out of the question for brands to first reach out to influencers on social media platforms, you should send business and pitch materials to their email address. This is another area where influencer marketing platforms can help you avoid guesswork and save time. 

And once your pitch gets you in the door, you'll need to draft a contract agreement to make sure there are no surprises as you begin your partnership. Here are 9 crucial elements all influencer agreements should contain.

Download your free social influencer contract template here.

3. Follow up and stay in the loop

Once you start your partnership with your ideal influencer, stay on top of communications and follow up. In-demand influencers get many messages a day, so yours may get lost in their inbox.

Often, a friendly reminder or follow-up can turn radio silence into a yes. As your campaign moves forward, keep that level of attentiveness and attention to detail. Even small-scale influencer campaigns involve a lot of moving parts, so we recommend consolidating them into one platform as much as possible. This makes it easier to not only manage campaigns but also maintain your brand's relationships with influencers

Measuring Influencer Partnership Success

Sustaining influencer relationships takes time and resources, so it's important to invest time in those influencers who you not only enjoy working with but who make meaningful contributions toward your business goals. By measuring brand influencer campaign ROI you'll know where to increase your efforts.

Use UTMs or personalized discount codes

One way of tracking the success of an influencer campaign is to add a UTM code to the end of the URL that they’re sending people to. This unique link tag connects easily to Google Analytics meaning you can track customer journeys that come from a specific source and analyze things like how long they spend on a landing page, whether they make purchases, or complete other goals such as signing up for you email list.

Another similar method is to provide influencers with a personalized discount code. This serves the same purpose, but it can be a little easier for the influencer if the same code can be used for multiple promotions. The downside is it won't help you understand see the full customer journey on your site.

Media intelligence

By using social monitoring widgets such as media exposure, you can measure whether an influencer contributes to an increase in engagement. Meltwater integrates Google Analytics with media exposure, so you can track whether a particular post has led to an increase in traffic.

By blending data types such as trending themes, sentiment, reach and media exposure you can understand whether the influencer has had an impact on important metrics like website traffic, media exposure, brand perceptions, and brand awareness.

Sustaining Influencer Relationships

Once you're happy with the impact a certain influencer is having, it's important to take the next step in sustaining that relationship. Many influencers work with the same brands multiple times, which is great for credibility and brand awareness.

Think about how you can keep the social media influencer engaged. You may want to offer them VIP access to events or inform them of brand announcements and product releases before other outlets. Showing your ongoing support of your influencers by sharing their content and celebrating their success is another way to keep the relationship warm.

Follow these tips and guidelines closely to get your next influencer marketing campaign off the ground in no time. Fill out the form below to learn more about how Meltwater's influencer marketing platform can make the process even easier.