Influencer Marketing: 5 Steps for Growing Your Startup

03 Sep 2016

Holly Ashby

Holly Ashby is a writer and content creator who's interested in social media, marketing and corporate wellbeing. She is particularly focused on helping startups and small businesses define their brand, social media and influencer marketing strategies, such as the young and rapidly growing business Will Williams Meditation, where she has been part of the team for two years. She is also currently working with Lemuel MC, creating a distinctive brand and tone of voice.

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Before the growth of the internet, influencer marketing wasn’t a viable option for the vast majority of businesses. While major brands had the reputation and budget to turn celebrities into brand ambassadors, cash strapped startups simply didn’t have this option. This has all changed with the advent of social media, and influencers aren’t reserved to those with celebrity stardom. Whether they are a blogger with thousands of weekly page views or an Instagram user who posts their craft creations to a small audience, the opportunities are almost endless.

Looking to established brands for inspiration and taking the time to create an influencer marketing strategy can quickly increase your brand awareness, establish credibility and even create new customers; all contributing to a significant impact on your bottom line. According to Tomoson, an influencer marketing platform, 60 percent of marketing companies are planning to increase their influencer strategy budgets, but if you are a startup, where do you begin?

Start with an open mind

When determining your influencer marketing strategy, keeping an open mind can have great and unexpected results. Looking beyond immediate associations and considering personality, morals and if their individual values align with your company’s ethos can widen an influencer’s relevancy for a variety of brands and products.

For example, sports stars are usually associated with sporting products, but The Hideaway Club, a luxury property investment fund, chose tennis champion Tim Henman to represent it. The company thought outside the obvious and were attracted by his reputation as a well-liked, gentlemanly character with a pleasant manner. This perfectly suits an exclusive luxury brand, especially when you consider his association with Wimbledon – a quietly fashionable and classy event.

This means that, while it makes sense if you are a food-based business to target food bloggers, you don’t necessarily need to restrict yourself to this. Another influencer may well reflect your brand personality far more effectively than someone who is simply in the same industry, but you won’t be able to determine who’s the best for your business unless you…

Define your values

Effectively using influencer marketing requires that you define your values. When you first get your business off the ground, it can be easy to ignore anything that doesn’t seem urgent. This often includes fine tuning your brand (by determining tone of voice, brand ethics and belief system), but without knowing and believing in your core values, influencer marketing is less likely to work. A case in point is the British supermarket Sainsbury’s relationship with the food blogger Jack Monroe.

Jack Monroe gained a huge audience by creating a blog that documented her experiences of living on the breadline, which included budget recipes that she cooked for herself and her small son. Young, talented and a great communicator, the match superficially seems like a good one. However, Sainsbury’s has had to distance itself from her controversial political arguments, displaying that perhaps their values don’t align as well as first thought.


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Research the influencer marketing strategies of major brands

By researching how large corporations and established brands use influencers, you can find inspiration for your own influencer marketing strategy. Examples to think about include the multinational Tyson Foods. Taking into account that there’s around 3.9 million women blogging about motherhood in America alone, they encouraged mom bloggers to turn their chicken nuggets into Christmas-themed creations over the holidays. With bloggers responding enthusiastically, Tyson Foods spread through blogs and social media, gaining 8 million impressions and a 42 percent increase in sales.

Gap went even further and set up a new blog of its own, called Styld By. They then engaged fashion bloggers with a big social media audience to write for them. Sometimes, sponsoring an influencer to promote a brand can come off as inauthentic and unconvincing, but Gap distanced itself enough from the blog to avoid this. With 61 percent of consumers reporting that they have made an online purchase after reading a recommendation on a blog, this was well worth doing.

Don’t get hung up on follower count

While plenty of major brands are still happy to pay the Kim Kadashians of the world huge sums to tweet about their products, many are moving away from this tactic. The celebrities and internet stars with the biggest audience have an obvious appeal, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that audience isn’t everything.

Influencers with huge social media audiences of 1 million to 10 million followers have (according to marketing magazine The Drum) an engagement rate of 1.66 percent. With 1,000 to 10,000 followers, this increases to 4 percent, while those with less than a thousand followers have a great engagement rate at 8 percent. For startups, the biggest stars are possibly out of reach, but you needn’t approach those with the biggest audience you can afford.

Reach out and share your enthusiasm

The holy grail in influencer marketing is to make an influencer so enthusiastic about your brand that they promote it naturally – and for free. You can do this by sending influencers your product to review, or inviting them to use your services for free in exchange for talking about you on their platforms. This approach works well if you focus on building genuine relationships with them. Retweet their work, comment on their blog and send warm, open and concise emails (influencers are often very busy).

By targeting individuals who naturally resonate with your brand, you can make an influencer excited about your business. If they profess to love a product that’s similar to your own, prove that yours is better, or if they are clearly passionate about something your business represents (for example, sustainability), make sure you stress this aspect of your brand as you approach them.

By thinking creatively, you can get your brand talked about on a shoestring, and enjoy all the benefits that influencer marketing brings.

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