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8 Influencer Marketing Tips for Small Businesses

Neal Schaffer
at PDCA Social
Feb 26, 2020

Influencer marketing leverages the social media audiences of others to promote your business far and wide. Here's how to conduct influencer marketing effectively.

Many of us think of influencer marketing as something that’s largely reserved for larger businesses. After all, top social media influencers like Kim Kardashian can charge tens of thousands of dollars for a single Instagram story. There’s no question that this kind of expenditure is too much for small businesses, and often even for medium-sized businesses. At the same time, social media is occupying an ever-larger segment of the marketing sector, and is becoming increasingly influential for most business markets.  That’s why everyone should be using influencers as organic social media becomes more difficult for most businesses.

Here are some ways in which small businesses can level the playing field by leveraging influencers on a limited budget.

Consider supply and demand

When deciding which social networks to use for your influencer marketing campaign, consider supply and demand.

There’s no question that demand for social media content is everywhere. However, some platforms have more content available than others, and some places will help you get noticed better than others. For example, it can be really hard to get noticed on Facebook, because that’s where everyone seems to start. With that said, this platform can work really well if you’re a small business with mostly local clientele and the influencers you’re hoping to engage with have a large number of local followers.

In addition to the possibility for engagement numbers, supply and demand helps regulate the cost of engagement.

These days I tell my clients to look at Instagram or Pinterest for B2C and LinkedIn for B2B because these platforms are still able to deliver relatively high organic engagement to those content creators that use them.

Aim for collaboration

Some influencers treat the business of influence more like a cash cow, while others consider it more of a public service that also enhances their income. Influencers who operate a cash cow are likely to “sell” you on “buying” a social media story, and then move on to the next person. However, influencers who are more public service minded will want to collaborate with you.

While transactional influencer stories have some value, you’ll get a better ROI when you partner with influencers as a collaborator. These influencers get to know you and your brand, and then take an interest in helping your business grow.

When you collaborate with the right influencer, you do so in hopes that you can convert the influencer into becoming your brand advocate. That’s when the ROI of such a collaboration skyrockets because the influencer will begin to talk about you naturally above and beyond any contractual commitment that they might have with you.

Start locally

Even if you could afford to go straight to the celebrity influencer, it wouldn’t do you as much good as choosing to stay local.

Let’s say you run a restaurant or an auto repair shop. In both cases, you’re reaching out to a local clientele: people won’t bring their car all the way across the country to let you work on it. And unless your chef is a celebrity, people won’t come from out of town just to eat at your restaurant. Therefore, you should start with people who have used your repair shop or really love dining at your restaurant. As word spreads locally, the number of customers should increase. Who knows, you may be able to open a second shop or become a local restaurant chain.

Once you master the local influencer network, where you have a chance to actually meet these people in person and even invite them to your shop, then you can think about expanding your geographic reach.

Go with high engagement rates

For your influencers, that is.

When you have a local influencer with a smaller following, the engagement rate becomes much more important. Partially, this is because those smaller followings tend to be more interested in what an influencer has to say than large ones. One example might be the local food critic, who mostly writes for the local paper and websites. People who follow someone like that love food and generally live nearby. You’re getting access to plenty of people with interest in your products or services even though the pool is smaller to start. As your business grows larger, you might move up to influencers with larger followings, but lower rates of engagement. So long as they still give you access to more potential customers than you had before an acceptable ROI is possible.

Do the math: Don’t even look at the number of followers they have. Look at their engagement!

Watch their industry

Don’t choose influencers in another industry than yours just because they’re local and influential. You want to make sure that content produced is something that’s interesting to their audiences, or you won’t get an effective ROI.

For example, if you follow my social media closely enough, you know what kind of car I drive and why. But the people who follow me are interested in my insights on marketing and social media. They don’t really care what car I drive, generally speaking. I’m therefore not a good choice for someone trying to sell cars.

From the brands that have pitched me on representing products and services that are completely irrelevant to my community, I can safely say that a lot of marketing budget is wasted on simply working with the wrong influencers.

Consider cost per action

This is just like buying any other kind of advertising, because you never want to overpay for exposure.

Getting name recognition is worthless if it doesn’t turn into sales leads. Even worse, spending your marketing money the wrong way means you don’t have it available to pay for better options. Not only that, but not every influencer is equally effective. Cost per action helps you know who to consider for your influencer marketing campaigns. Create an affiliate marketing program for your influencers for an even higher ROI.

Make a great pitch

Remember, you’re ultimately trying for a mutually beneficial relationship.

There’s no question it takes time to find the right influencers. But, if it’s taking too many tries then chances are you’re not reaching influencers with your message or you have an image problem. Not everyone is good at pitches to influencers. You need to diagnose the problem, and address it effectively. For example, your business might have really bad Yelp reviews so that influencers don’t want to be associated with you. Or, you might have trouble articulating why you’re different from your competition. Either way, this needs to be addressed.

Price it right

Before engaging with influencers, you need to figure out if it’s best to pay in cash, products or experiences.

Often giving out experiences results in better content, because the influencer gets to see every angle that a regular customer does. On the other hand, products frequently need to be used more than once to get the full sense of how they work. Decide what you can afford to give away, and stick with it. Sending out unsolicited freebies? Follow up with your influencer to see if they have any questions or need help. If you’re paying cash, then you really have more of a transactional relationship. These can work out OK, but proceed with caution.

I hope these tips are helpful for you and your business. Any more that you’d like to add? Need any clarifications on the above content? Please chime in in the comments below.

Image Credit:

Alessandro Biascioli/Getty

Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in March of 2020 will publish his 4th book, The Age of Influence (HarperCollins, on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.