How to Build a Successful Influencer Strategy

A series of shapes moving along the ground in what looks to be a race. Behind each shape is a white trail, giving the appearance of movement. This image is being used as the header image for a blog on How to Build a Successful Influencer Strategy because, like a race, many companies are competing with one another for the most likes, traffic, and engagement on social media.
A series of shapes moving along the ground in what looks to be a race. Behind each shape is a white trail, giving the appearance of movement. This image is being used as the header image for a blog on How to Build a Successful Influencer Strategy because, like a race, many companies are competing with one another for the most likes, traffic, and engagement on social media.

Influencer marketing is the buzzword of the day right now - with a growing cohort of influencer brand partnerships blurring those marketing lines once again. If you’re thinking of getting in on this unique and powerful marketing channel, you’re not alone. But before you can begin you need a strong influencer marketing strategy. 

While the notoriety of internet personalities is appealing, you can’t simply chase after campaign success by partnering with someone who happens to have a large audience.

Understand how to find the right partners and stay aligned on your business goals with a comprehensive influencer strategy.

Table of Contents

Influencer marketing should be an important component of your marketing strategy. It involves partnering with individuals who have a strong following on social media and arranging promotions of your products, from their platform. These promotions can come in a wide variety of styles - they may be sponsored posts, paid promotions, or other types of arrangements. Influencers cover a wide range of topics and can be found on a number of social networks, from YouTube to TikTok to Instagram. Successful influencer marketing relies on the influencer’s voice and their relationship with their audience. 

Tip: Don’t make the mistake of thinking an influencer marketing strategy isn’t for you if you’re not in one of the sexier spaces that are rampant on Instagram like fashion and food! Influencers run the gamut from health care to astronomy.

Maintaining their authenticity and trust from followers is going to strengthen how your brand is perceived, so as tempting as it might be, marketers need to resist micro-managing the style and delivery of an influencer's message. You can and should have control over the talking points of course, and in almost all cases all influencer content goes through a final approval process. 

Why You Need an Influencer Marketing Strategy

Dart board with several darts, one in the bullseye. An influencer marketing strategy is essential for the success of your influencer program

A well-thought-out influencer strategy will help keep all your internal stakeholders aligned, as well as keep the partnerships running smoothly. The stronger your strategy, the stronger your relationship will be with the influencers and may lead to multiple collaborations.

56% of brands use the same influencers across different campaigns. (Influencer Marketing Hub)

If you like working with an influencer and their numbers are strong, it is highly advisable to work with them more than once. This way their followers learn to trust what’s being advertised, so while they may not have converted to a customer the first time, seeing your brand name associated several times with an influencer they follow closely will keep you top of mind.

Their followers will also be able to acknowledge that you are helping keep the influencers lights on - allowing them to continue creating the content they love. 

Creating an Influencer Marketing Strategy

We've laid out all the important facets your influencer strategy needs to include to be successful.

TIP: Map out your influencer marketing strategy as far in advance as possible in order to build relationships with potential partners. 

You can get more specific closer to the actual campaign date but have a rough outline based on product releases and marketing initiatives that you have planned for the year. 

This gives you time to develop a natural rapport with potential influencers in your space by liking their posts and leaving comments. For example, if you know you’re releasing a new lipstick line in the spring, you can start interacting with fashion and makeup influencers in January.

Then when it’s time for the “ask” they’ll already know who you are, and know that you’ve enjoyed their content. This process also gives you time to keep tabs on their style, flag any inconsistencies, as well as get a sense of how engaged their followers are.

1. Goals & KPIs

Typewriter with paper listing Goals. Knowing your goals and KPIs are crucial for an influencer strategy

When crafting your influencer marketing strategy, first and foremost you need to understand what you’re trying to achieve. Many companies use influencers for brand awareness, growing their subscriber base, or if it’s a product-specific campaign, your goals will probably be tied to the number of purchases.

Secondly, think about how you will measure the success of those goals. You need solid KPIs clearly laid out for both you and the influencer partner so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to how the success of the partnership will be measured. This is important not only for the internal reporting of the brand but will also give you a clear indication of whether or not you should work with the influencer again in the future.

Examples of influencer marketing KPIs:

  • Engagement - a lot of influencer marketing campaign reporting relies on qualitative results. Even though an engagement doesn’t necessarily correlate to a website visit, a new email subscriber, or a purchase, it is an important measure of brand awareness. These KPIs will include things such as post likes, impressions, shares, comments, and brand mentions.
  • Web traffic - if your campaign agreement with the influencer includes link sharing, you’ll definitely want to track traffic to your website through those link(s). Once the campaign goes live and you see a bump in traffic, you could surmise that the influencer helped create the spike, but it’s impossible to know for sure. Some good ways to increase the accuracy for this KPI include asking visitors how they heard about you, but the best way is with a UTM code. This helps you not only see the volume of traffic from the influencer's link but can also show you more information about their user journey.   
  • Purchases - promo codes are a nice perk for buyers headed to your site to make a purchase. But they serve another purpose as well. They make it easy to attribute a purchase to a particular influencer and campaign.

2. Identify the types of influencers most relevant to the campaign

Once you’ve nailed down the campaign parameters like the target audience and messaging, create a map of the influencer landscape most likely to deliver on your KPIs. Frame a big question around the written asset or product like “who influences the target audience of this campaign?” Use these to determine your outreach approach, and if you’re also planning to incorporate inbound marketing as well, this can help direct your landing page copy. 

To continue with our springtime lipstick campaign idea, the example below gives you an idea of what your map could look like. Say your new line is aimed at girls ages 15 - 25 and is sustainable, vegan, and cruelty-free. 

Example of how to map the influencer landscape for a specific campaign

So you might want to try and connect with some well-known environmentalists or animal rights groups on the political spectrum who can inspire young people and encourage purchases with a deeper message. You might also consider trying to tap into the “Mommy Blogger” arena with an emphasis on gift-giving and girl power. 

As you walk through this exercise, you’ll really be able to hone in on and solidify aspects of what you want to achieve through this influencer marketing campaign.

3. Content promotion overview

During step number 2 of crafting your influencer strategy, your marketing team's brains will likely start buzzing with content ideas. Depending on the breadth of your campaign, structuring this content promotion should be organized with a communication plan so you can keep track of all your owned, earned, shared, and paid marketing efforts in support of the campaign. Influencers fall under the Earned umbrella and can bleed into Paid and Shared depending on the agreement you have with the influencer partner.

4. Demonstrate the value to the influencer

Image of a man holding lit up lightbulb.

Most influencers today, whether they be nano, micro, or macro, are a pretty savvy bunch. They’re going to want to know what’s in it for them, and they’ll want to be certain that working with you provides enough value to them and their loyal following. 

Some examples of value could include: 

  • Exposure for their personal brand - this is a strong value, but be very careful how you position it in your initial pitch. Exposure is a bit of a dirty word for influencers nowadays, and it can come off like the brand saying “we’re doing you a favor” insinuating that they’re expected to work for free, or extremely low pay. Even if the type of partnership you’re considering isn’t a direct monetary compensation model, make sure it’s clear you value their time more than “we have a larger audience and will give you a retweet.”
  • Increased legitimacy - the influencer will gain clout as an authority, which in turn can open doors to more brand partnership opportunities. 
  • Grow their following - one of the best things about influencer relationships is the mutual follower growth. The brand gains brand recognition in front of a relevant audience, and the influencer may gain followers as well, through the brand liking and sharing their posts.

5. Anticipate potential roadblocks

While you can’t predict the future, it’s always a good exercise to brainstorm potential issues or roadblocks that could arise and have a plan in place to respond to them. While we definitely hope you don’t encounter one, make sure you have a crisis communication plan as well.

6. Have a contract template

Blank paper with pen, paper clips, and calculator. Having a clear contract template is important for an influencer strategy.

Arguably the most important step when executing your influencer strategy is the contract agreement portion. An influencer agreement should be thorough so there are no surprises on either end when it comes to expectations, timelines, deliverables, and KPIs. 

In drafting the agreement template, give yourself enough time for it to be seen by multiple eyes. Your legal team should make sure there’s nothing incriminating in the language, your marketing team needs a detailed section where they can clearly outline messaging, campaign parameters, and understand the promotion channels (is the influencer committing to three Instagram Stories or two? One YouTube video and one sponsored TikTok video? How many links to your site have they promised from a blog post?).

These are just some of the questions you need to ask and have ironed out before you sign on the dotted line.

7. Outreach!

Meltwater Klear platform for finding, vetting, and working with influencers.

Now it’s time for the fun part: finding, vetting, and reaching out to your short-list of influencers! There are many fake influencers out there so in this step, while you can start with a quick Google search, it’s more advisable to use a tool such as Klear from Meltwater. These sorts of all-in-one software solutions can help you find the right influencers, manage your campaign from start to finish, and make it easy to report on KPIs.  

Examples of Successful Influencer Campaigns

Here are some excellent examples of brands working with influencers through 3 of the major influencer marketing channels available.

Using YouTube for Show and Tell

Did you know, 6 in 10 YouTube subscribers would follow advice on what to buy from their favorite creator over their favorite TV or movie personality?

YouTube is second only to its parent company, Google as the web’s largest search engine. Billions of hours of video are viewed around the globe every month by audiences looking for images that are entertaining, inspiring, or educational.

Rachel Maksy is a YouTuber with a dedicated following of 905,000+ subscribers who love her focus on costume construction, vintage fashion, and makeup transformations. She is a prime example of how finding niche influencers can create long-standing returning customers. 

Regularly working with brands like thredUP (an online consignment store), Maksy stays true to her core channel subject matter, communicating to a large audience also interested in thrifting and creating the kinds of looks that she does with her thredUP finds. 

Some Autumn Outfits! || A Cozy Autumn Thrift Haul & Try-On

She also finds unique ways to incorporate her brand partnerships into her style, such as this collaboration with GlassesUSA - a prime example of how brands need to let go of the reins and let their products shine through the influencer's lens, not the other way around. 

When sourcing influencers on YouTube, brands need to look beyond subscribers and views, studying sentiment in comments to find YouTube stars whose influence translates to impact. A media intelligence platform can come in handy to research how certain keywords and trends are evolving over the course of a few months. Someone who’s able to generate sustained glowing dialogue (and positive sentiment) is more valuable to a brand than someone who can simply garner views.

Inspiring with Instagram

67% of brands use Instagram for influencer marketing. (Influencer Marketing Hub)

With more than 1 Billion active users as of a recent 2021 report, Instagram remains the most popular platform for social media influencers.

Dave Burt is the founder behind the @london account on Instagram, which provides followers with a daily dose of wanderlust through sights, sounds, and happenings in the city. That’s why Eurostar, the train service that connects London to Paris, chose to work with Burt for branded content. 

The sponsored content shows the ease with which Brits can hop on a train to live out their French getaway fantasies. And Instagrammers are offered an opportunity to plan their own trips in a similar fashion while perusing the @london Instagram feed. The aspirational becomes immediately accessible enough to lead to action.

Keep in mind that the evolution of IG has created many new ways for influencers to reach audiences. While photo and video posts are still the standard, Instagram Stories, Reels, and the newest iteration of IGTV (allowing for videos of up to 60 minutes!).

Convincing and Educating with Editorial Content

Bloggers desk with computer, coffee mug, notepad, and phone. Working with bloggers is a great way to use your influencer strategy

Blog editorial content, the original influencer marketing, still remains the beating heart of any program today. Kelly Mindell, known as Studio DIY, first built her brand by sharing colorful and fun projects on her blog. While the brand has grown into an empire over the last few years, blog content still sits at the center of her bright universe. Brands like HERSHEY’S tap her to educate readers on the products like Cupcake Kisses, which Mindell baked into an on-trend, sweet Valentine’s treat.

Whereas channels like YouTube and Instagram provide quick hits that capture attention, blog editorial content allows in-depth examination of products, services, and experiences. Usually, the longer someone spends considering, reading, thinking about a piece of (branded) content, the more likely they’ll consider buying a product or trying a service.

A blogger’s content speaks for itself, so when sourcing editorial influencers, make sure you read up and do your homework. An influencer database will come in handy here, since you’ll be able to research the topics they cover, as well as drill down into keyword searches, and get information about their social profiles (and what type of audience engagement they inspire).

Look at Other Social Channels

Channels like Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook play a role in influencer marketing but often function as secondary avenues for distribution. Links to blog posts are shared, tutorials are pinned, and discussions are retweeted. However, creative activations that are linked to specific platform functionality (like a Facebook Live event or well-placed Tweet thread) can go a long way, if your influencer strategy is able to accommodate them.

In fact, “nearly 40% of Twitter users say they’ve made a purchase as a direct result of a Tweet from an influencer” (Influencer Marketing Hub) so it’s important not to discount these channels.

No matter what channels you decide to source for influencer content, you should browse social media channels the same way your audience will. In this way, you’ll understand where discovery, consideration, and decision all happen for your brand.

Key Takeaways

The best influencer marketing strategies give a clear path to leveraging a creator’s unique point of view, audience, and style to do something a brand can’t do on its own. Here are a few things to remember:

  • One of the biggest misnomers about influencer marketing is that the larger the follower count the better the opportunity. In reality, follower count is actually not the most important aspect when vetting influencers and you should take care to look at their follower engagement instead.
  • Collaborate instead of dictate. Influencers are their own creative directors. While it may feel uncomfortable relinquishing complete control over an idea, it’s important to remember that influencers have worked hard to cultivate their audiences and personal brands. Kick-off campaigns with briefs that allow partners to brainstorm their own ideas for how to reach their audience with your brand’s goals in mind.
  • Disclose the relationship. The FTC has updated its guidelines surrounding sponsored content, requiring most influencer promotions to be labeled. Brands that fail to do this risk costly fines and other legal consequences.
  • Ask for exclusivity. Negotiate contracts so that an influencer can’t work with a competitor right after working with you. Periods of 6 months to a year are the most common.
  • Know the ROI. You will most likely be relying on an influencer’s owned channels to host content and the resulting engagement. Make sure you have data access or a reporting cadence established so you can attribute every new follower, hashtag, site visit, or purchase to your influencer marketing campaign.

Hopefully, now you should be able to identify the platform where your audience engages, research the influencers making the most impact, and understand how influencer marketing can be a win for your brand.

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