More and more leaders today are putting social media at the helm of their Marketing strategy, leveraging it as a primary driver for brand growth and awareness. Companies heavily lean on social to connect with customers, establish authenticity, foster engagement and capitalize on new business—now pair these elements alongside influencer marketing, and you unlock access to your most qualified and valuable audiences.

According to a 2016 study, an influencer marketing strategy can generate up to 11x the ROI of standard marketing campaigns. But what exactly is an influencer, and how can you incorporate this strategy to improve your brand’s reach?

Why is Influencer Marketing Important?

Influencer marketing is a form of promotion rooted in using the pre-established trust and authority built by other leaders in your industry. So, rather than focusing on the quantity of your reach, attention shifts to the quality of your reach through audience segmentation, ultimately allowing you to filter messages through a person or group of people with an actual influence in your niche.

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Influencer marketing strategies are all about building on the relationships that influential individuals already have with your desired audience, to help you amplify your marketing campaigns. They work because they build on the power of word of mouth marketing, a concept that generates more than double the sales of paid advertising, and ensures 37% higher retention.

As traditional forms of outbound marketing fall away, influencer marketing ungates the benefits of personalized and relevant content that often results in deepened audience relationships and stronger brand loyalty—both of which contribute to increased conversions. Reaching potential customers through a voice they already trust puts you on the most direct path for a chance to win their business.

Step 1: Outline Goals & KPIs

The best influencer marketing programs are laser-focused, which means you need to establish a set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) right out of the gate. KPIs serve as a valuable point of reference when evaluating your program and enable you to make decisions driven by data instead of intuition.

Create a culture where your KPIs become a conversation! The metrics you report on should be regularly discussed and the cause for any trends you see—whether it’s highs or lows—should be regularly identified.

For example, let’s say the primary purpose of your influencer marketing strategy is to obtain new customers in a specific vertical. In that case, some KPIs you’d want to track might be:

  • Weekly number of leads in the targeted vertical
  • Breakdown of lead source (how many leads were obtained through social media, organic, paid efforts and so on)
  • Social engagement (pins, tweets, likes, shares, comments) on posts within the campaign’s focus
  • Number of touchpoints made by Sales once the lead is passed
  • Revenue increase percentage within the targeted vertical

Step 2: Identify Your Brand’s Ideal Influencers

Once you’ve established the goals of your campaign, you’ll need to identify an influencer to support and help execute your strategy. Is this person or group realistic and within your budget? Will this influencer resonate with the audience you’re trying to reach? Are both sides aligned on what’s expected and what needs to be delivered?

For example, Sprout Social identifies experts and thought-leaders within the social media space through its All Stars Program.

A program like All Stars benefits everyone involved in one way or another, too—Sprout Social establishes customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth marketing for its brand, and the influencers gain exposure to relevant audiences and position themselves as thought leaders in their space.

Remember: Don’t overlook your own employees —they’re the most powerful influencers you can find.

Identify potential brand advocates by examining the current market landscape and considering questions such as:

  • What’s the quality of content and frequency of development?
  • How large is their scale of social influence?
  • What are the demographics/industries I need to speak to?
  • In what subject matter does this influencer have the most expertise?

Step 3: Start Networking

After establishing the influencer you want to land, start networking. Connect with others in your space—go to meet-ups, attend conferences, join forums or attend events in your area. Encourage employees to help with these efforts, too. They’re the ones closest to your brand and are constantly fostering new and existing relationships.

Be diverse with the avenues you explore—efforts shouldn’t be limited to just one channel or medium. Find out which hashtags people are using in your niche and leverage them to insert yourself into relevant conversations.

Between Twitter Chats, online groups, tradeshows or conferences, there are countless opportunities for visibility and access to your influencers. A simple hashtag search can be a great start finding brand advocates that are already within your reach.

On the other hand, if your focus is on expanding an existing pool of influencers, identify some of your most successful partnerships and try to replicate them by asking for a referral. Most social networks will even give you recommendations for similar accounts to follow based on the influencers in your network.

Remember, stay vigilant. Finding the perfect influencer isn’t always easy, but once you solidify your group of advocates, the results will speak for themselves.

Step 4: Nurture Relationships Before Asking

Powerful marketing campaigns are built on relationships, so it’s critical you get to know your influencers before asking for their help. Whether you leverage technologies, connect with influencers online or start conversations in-person, fostering engagement in your program is key.

Take the time to share content from your influencers, too—content beyond just what’s relevant to your partnership. Create conversations with the rest of the community by commenting with an interesting thought or ask a thought-provoking question. This will help the relationship feel more like a two-way street and solidify trust between the both of you.

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Step 5: Execute the Outreach

Influencer outreach is founded on fostering connections—around 3 in 4 marketers have allocated at least a portion of their marketing budgets to building these relationships. Most influencers are flooded with messages from companies who want them to promote their products or services, so craft a compelling pitch.

Be Clear & Concise

No one wants to read a lengthy email, especially when your point can be communicated in half the words—it’ll only result in the loss of attention, an unclear purpose and a lost opportunity.

Craft messages to your influencers that are clear and to the point. Explain what’s in it for them. While it’s important to be transparent about what it is that you’re proposing, it’s equally as important to highlight a partnership that will be mutually beneficial. Pitch the growth opportunity for their personal brands or the value it will bring to their community at-large.

Sell With Value

Make influencers feel important. Explain what stood out in their expertise and why they’re the most qualified fit for your brand. Lead with the mission of your company, the purpose of this program and how they fit into your goals. The more value you can add to strengthen the “why” behind your proposition, the more connected influencers will feel to what you have to say.

Showcase Credibility

Give weight to the authority your brand has in its industry and entice your influencer to keep reading. Remember that a little flattery can go a long way, so quickly referencing a recent post they shared or article they wrote will convey that your interest in them is purposeful.

Step 6: Set Expectations

Once you’ve built a connection with your influencer, begin discussing exactly what’s involved in the partnership and what you’ll need from them. Map out the tasks you want your influencers to complete, set a clear timeline and share your expectations. The tasks you select should be tightly aligned with your brand vision and KPIs, and might include:

  • Supporting the promotion of a specific product launch
  • Sharing images or messages about your brand online
  • Creating positive conversations at industry-relevant events
  • Conducting product reviews and providing recommendations

Step 7: Measure & Iterate

Once your influencer marketing strategy is fully underway, circle back to the KPIs you outlined earlier in the process. Evaluate the direction your pacing towards based on metrics you either are or aren’t hitting. Where can tweaks be made? What’s working well? Once you feel confident in your grasp of the program’s initial performance, use those findings to iterate and shape your strategy along the way.

Digital marketers are searching for stronger ways to connect with their audience and improve brand awareness, establish credibility and build meaningful relationships. As studies reiterate the importance of social marketing when it comes to purchasing decisions, influencer marketing could be the key to giving your campaign the extra weight it needs to impact revenue.

Great influencer marketing doesn’t happen overnight. To leverage the true power of word-of-mouth, start with a defined and purposeful plan and then follow it through to reach success.