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If you’re like me, the term ‘influencer’ probably makes you wince. In a relatively short time span, it has entered the grand pantheon of marketing jargon.
You’ve probably heard the term mentioned but it may have passed you by. So, what the hell is an influencer? It’s as the name suggests, really. It’s an individual who has a large, engaged community of followers on social media. The idea is they use products, speak about them, review them and their followers engage with the content. In turn, it has a halo effect on your brand.
Basically, it’s good old fashioned testimonial advertising with a social media twist. The foundational principle was summed up brilliantly by the UKBF stalwart Fisicx: “It’s not what you say that matters, it's what other people say that counts.”
The rise of the influencer has been concurrent with the explosive rise of social media platforms. These days we even have a whole industry called ‘influencer marketing’ and the highest tier of influencer charges princely sums for their services.
This rarefied social media realm is only within the reach of biggest brands. Even the middle sector of influencer can be a pricey investment. But keep going down the ladder, you’ll eventually reach the ‘micro-influencer’ (yeah, I’m sorry, here’s another tenuous neologism to contend with).
Now, before shying away from the obvious silliness of the term, it’s worth taking a closer look because they can be a very cost-effective way for you to market your product.
“It can work at the micro end of the scale if you target your influencers properly,” says Leon Emirali, co-founder of the PR and marketing firm Crest. “Small business owners need to look for influencers that aren’t specialists and by that, I mean people with large followings that are doing it more for love than money or out of profession.”
What you’re looking for in this spectrum is someone with around ten to 15 thousand followers on social media. “That isn’t huge in the grand scheme of things, but for micro-businesses, if you get two or three of those that’s a big audience if you’re trading on low volumes anyway.”
The added bonus? At the lower end of the influencer scale, the transaction won’t be cash. That’s not the same as ‘free’, of course. “It’ll just be them using the product or having the product for free,” says Emirali. “It’ll involve some sort of a trade off.”
Jane Cooper, who runs the jewellery brand Hex Cavelli, explained to UKBF’s sister site BusinessZone how her arrangement works. “The most engagement I’ve gotten was from a stylist with around a 1,000 followers, but someone who people were actually listening to. He’s been fantastic and humble,” she told me. “He’s never asked for anything; I’ve only lent him some of my jewellery. It’s been a really positive experience.”
As Emirali puts it: “It’s about depth, not width. If you have a thousand followers but you’re getting engagement, the influencer is very valuable.”
Finding a good micro-influencer means venturing into the social media wild lands. There are some tricks you can use to simplify it: find out the relevant hash tags for your industry or niche, have a look around. Hex Cavelli’s Cooper found her influencer on Instagram and simply sent him a private message. Some blogs curate lists of good influencers, too.
As with all things, there’s a catch: the influencer space has its share of shysters. “It can be bit of a Wild West,” admits Emirali. There are a few tried-and-true things you can look at though, he says. “If they’re catering to a UK audience but they’ve got loads of followers with Chinese or Thai names, that often means they’re probably bought the followers.
“Look at the posts, too. If they have a lot of followers but don’t get any engagement - then something is not right.”
It’s also important to remember that for some businesses, influencers just don’t work (B2B, in particular). Where influencers work really well is for consumer products, explains Emirali. Neither is influencer marketing about conversion or driving traffic.
“It’s for awareness. Take a look at Instagram, which is like the influencer haven, you can’t embed links in a post. So if you’re hoping to drive traffic or sales, it probably won’t offer much of an ROI in that respect. Whereas if you’re doing it for brand marketing, raising awareness or just adding a ‘sheen’ to your brand, it’s incredibly effective.”