Essential guide to influencer marketing for small businesses

A person reacting to an influencer's small business post

Influencer marketing can be a powerful tool for small firms, helping them to build brand awareness and drive sales. Rachel Miller explains how it works

Influencer marketing can help any business get more exposure on social media. There are influencers of all kinds on platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Snapchat - experts, personalities, enthusiasts, content creators and lifestyle gurus that have built a following by consistently posting great content with a clear theme and by engaging with followers as their influence grows.

What is influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing is where a business works with an influential personality to promote its products or services via their social media accounts. In short, influencers get paid to recommend products and services.

"Influencer marketing works best when there is a natural fit between the influencer and the business"

Influencer marketing is no silver bullet for small businesses but those that work with successful content creators can access new audiences, improve their reputation, build awareness and make more sales thanks to the power of endorsements. It’s about leveraging the power of influencers that have built a loyal following, taking advantage of the trust that has already been built up.

Influencer marketing works best when there is a natural fit between the influencer and the business. Social media users can tell when influencers genuinely care about the product they are endorsing. When it works, influencers can become long-term brand ambassadors for a business. The key to success is choosing the right influencer to work with. It’s the quality of content, the profile of their audience and the depth of engagement that matters more than huge followings.

Isn’t influencer marketing just for big business?

There are influencers for every type of business, regardless of size, sector or location. It’s not necessary to work with a famous name; the key is to find someone that has a following that matches the people you are trying to reach.

Influencers are often described by the size of their following. Mega influencers have followers in the millions. Macro influencers usually have over 100,000 followers. For small businesses, it’s the micro influencers (10,000 to 100,000 followers) and nano influencers (1,000 to 10,000 followers) which represent the best opportunity.

This is not just because they are more affordable but because these influencers are most likely to have the niche audiences that best meet the needs of a small business - whether they operate in a particular sector or serve a local community. What’s more, they generally have the highest levels of engagement because they can give more time and attention to their followers; and that means they often influence purchasing decisions.

What are the benefits of influencer marketing for small businesses?

Influencer marketing allows small businesses to:

  • Increase brand awareness;
  • Launch new products;
  • Reach new audiences;
  • Build a bigger social media following;
  • Improve brand reputation;
  • Drive traffic to social media pages and websites;
  • Increase revenue.

Which social media platforms are best for influencer marketing?

There are influencers on all the main social media sites including Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat and LinkedIn. Instagram is one of the most important platforms for influencers due to both its popularity and the fact that it offers a variety of content formats including posts, tags, Stories and Reels.

TikTok is also an important vehicle for influencer marketing, helping brands to access a young demographic that is actively looking for new things. In fact, social commerce is a growing trend, especially on TikTok where the hashtag #tiktokmademebuyit has billions of mentions.

What should you look for in a small business influencer?

The first step is to look for an influencer whose interests align with your business. Check their posts and hashtags to see if they are talking about the topics that meet your business needs. Start following them and engaging with them before you approach them about a collaboration. A nano influencer with a niche following could deliver just the audience you are trying the reach and deliver a great return on investment.

Quality of content is key. Every influencer has their own personality, tone of voice, creative approach and visual aesthetic. Make sure their online persona is right for your brand and that their content meets your standards.

Authenticity also matters. Do they seem genuine or are they just cynically delivering sales pitches? Do they engage with followers in a helpful way? While influencer marketing is transactional, the most successful collaborations are based on strong relationships.

Look at the level of engagement that potential influencers have with their followers. The more engagement the better. Positive signs of engagement include likes and comments and the extent to which the influencer responds to comments from their followers.

Influencers with high levels of engagement are said to have good “reach”. In other words, a good proportion of their followers regularly interact with them. Engagement rates are typically between 1% and 5%.

How to get an influencer to promote your business

There are lots of ways to use influencer marketing to promote your business. A good place to start is influencer gifting; usually, this involves sending free products to key influencers in return for a post.

Paid sponsorship is where the business pays the influencer in return for a social media post, story or reel. Influencer marketing campaigns can also include giveaways, discount codes or affiliate codes, where influencers get a percentage for each sale made. There are also takeovers, where an influencer takes over your business social media account for a day.

Video content is incredibly popular amongst influencers and appears prominently on the main social media sites but it costs more to make; simple posts with tagged images and engaging captions on a site like Instagram can be very effective.

As with any marketing campaign, always set objectives, track your activity and measure the return on investment.

How much does it cost to use an influencer?

Costs vary widely so it’s a good idea to shop around and negotiate. Most payments are set fees per post but some influencers work on a commission basis where they get a cut of any products sold. Influencers with over one million followers can charge over £3,000 for a single post. Nano influencers and micro influencers charge far less.

Consider whether you want your influencer to offer you exclusivity which would increase the price. You can also negotiate package deals to lower the price per post. In fact, one-off posts rarely make much impact so it’s worth finding the right influencer that can work with your business on an on-going brand ambassador basis.

These are some ballpark figures for influencers based on the size of their following:

  • Nano influencers (1k ­- 10k followers) typically charge between £125 and £250 per post;
  • Micro influencers (10k – 100k followers) charge £250-£600;
  • Macro influencers (100k - one million followers) charge £600-£1,000.

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