The Beginners’ Guide to Influencer Marketing in Ecommerce – Everything You Need To Know

Mar 25, 2021 | Ecommerce marketing

17 min read

Influencer marketing and finding the right influencer sometimes resemble that old “plenty of fish in the sea” saying. Not all of them are edible, let alone tasty — and you are hungry.

It’s the same with influencer marketing. This booming industry is expected to grow to $13.8 billion in 2021, and it grows with every month passing by. Still, it’s pretty hard to find just the right people to promote your brand.

Even when you fish out the trustworthy influencers — publishing fees quickly wipe the smile from your face.

Is it possible to win at all?

Yes — and it’s easier than you think.

Don’t give up just yet — influencer marketing has a great ROI if done right. In fact, 89% claim that ROI is even better (or at least comparable) than other marketing channels.

Here, we’ll show you how to be a part of this success story.

In this blog, you’ll learn:

  • What are the benefits of influencer marketing
  • Influencer marketing channels and their benefits — including Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook
  • How to find the right type of influencers for your brand
  • Types of influencers
  • “Free product” influencer marketing strategy
  • The way to approach influencers and build lasting relationships with them
  • How to pitch and win with influencer whitelisting
  • How to scale influencer marketing

TL;DR:

  1. Instagram is the most popular choice for influencer marketing, while TikTok grows very fast; Facebook and YouTube are old reliables, with YouTube being precious for video reviews, how-tos, and other sponsored content going in-depth.
  2. For influencer outreach, start with seeding. Plant the seeds and nurture genuine relationships over transactional — influencers appreciate honesty, generosity, and a fresh approach.
  3. For a “Free product” influencer marketing strategy to work, don’t ask anything in return just yet, so you start on good terms.
  4. Later on, pick the influencers with best-performing content and propose a further collaboration. Offer affiliate links, for example, so they get paid, and you get more content.
  5. Use whitelisting to really get to the influencers’ audience, but start small after laying the foundations with seeding. Instruct the influencers, explain how it benefits them, and give them more creative freedom than simply running ads
  6. To scale, be smart about your content (and you’ll get more of it with seeding): repurpose, create mashable content, and double the high-converting type of content.

Now, let’s get into details.

What Are the Benefits of Influencer Marketing?

If used right, influencer marketing works wonders. After all, 80% of marketers find it effective, and 17% of companies spend more than half of their marketing budget on influencer marketing.

These are the benefits you may expect if you introduce it to your marketing efforts:

  1. Creates brand advocates — real people are vouching for something with their names and reputations at stake. This makes the strategy more convincing than traditional marketing.
  2. Trustworthiness — people have more trust in influencers than brands and celebrities. Their relationship with followers is more personal, and influencers are more relatable.
  3. It gets you closer to your audience — a huge part of influencer work is staying in touch with their followers. They do so by maintaining meaningful conversations about wants, needs, and concerns users have; lean into it, and you’ll get the most accurate social listening channel and find out how to offer a better experience.
  4. Reaching out to new markets — when influencers publish content where they’re featuring you, it exposes you to plenty of different people and reveals new niches you could dab into. For example, the vegan food industry and cruelty-free makeup are natural “partners,” contributing to the same goal you can help them achieve
  5. Cost-effectiveness — by hiring an influencer to present your product, you cut the costs of paid ads, creating and producing the content in a studio, and gain things you cannot buy — such as trust people have in influencers as “regular people.” This especially applies to influencers with smaller following, who have better engagement rates anyway (more on that later)

Influencer Marketing Channels and Their Benefits

Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook — these social media platforms double as powerful marketing channels for influencers.

With recent changes, all of them now have videos in multiple forms. This change is amazing because video outperforms static content by a lot.

After all, why would a giant such as Instagram bother with the continuous introduction of new, video-appropriate features if it wasn’t profitable?

Going far beyond the traditional ads, here’s how each of these benefits influencer marketing strategy and what makes them a great choice.

Instagram Influencer Marketing

Without a doubt, Instagram is a king of influencer marketing.

It is the most popular social media channel for influencers, with 89% stating it’s crucial for influencer marketing strategy.

Here are some more stats to back it up:

  • 81% of “Project Instagram” survey respondents stated that they use Instagram to research products and services; it’s also worth mentioning that more than a half of them said that good content matters more than a big name
  • 90% of Instagram users follow at least one business — and 2 out of 3 profile visits are from the audience that doesn’t follow that brand page yet
  • 58% of “Facebook Stories survey by Ipsos” respondents said that they’ve been interested in a brand or product after they saw it in Stories, and 50% bought something as a result

Simply put — it just works, and there are plenty of reasons it does.

(Almost) everybody has Instagram. With more than one billion users worldwide, Instagram is second only to Facebook. Your brand is exposed to a massive amount of people with organic and paid posts alike.

The audience is diversified and keen on shopping — Instagram is the most popular among Millenials and GenZ. More than half of users are 34 years old or younger, and gender distribution is pretty balanced (510 million female, 490 million male). And guess what? Millennials are also the highest-spending age group.

Instagram’s shopping optimization is amazing; the whole platform is adapted to marketers’ needs:

  • Product tags appear on posts with a single tap. They direct the users straight to the product present on the image (ads can have product tags as well.)
  • Product detail pages pull all the info from tagged posts and display the goods with an image slider with different product photos.
  • Instagram Shop, an in-app spot resembling the Explore page, but shopping-oriented; Shopping from creators is more personal — ideal for influencers’ posts!
  • Instagram Checkout, selling directly from Instagram. There are other tools that lead to the webshop where people can make the purchase, swipe-up feature in Stories, for example

Plenty of content formats allow creatives to showcase and speak about the products in many ways. Instagram Reels, IGTV, static formats with added text, stories… This makes Instagram the most versatile tool and brings in multiple kinds of precious content.

TikTok Influencer Marketing

TikTok is among the newer platforms but a powerful force to be reckoned with.

Since September 2016, when it was launched, it grew to be the seventh-largest platform with 689 million active users, and it grows fast, surpassing Twitter and Snapchat.

Teens make up the majority of users (32,5%), followed by people aged 20-29 (29,5%).

On TikTok, things happen overnight: just one viral post praising your product, and you may expect it to be sold out in a flash!

This is especially visible in the beauty industry. Maybelline Sky High Mascara and Nyx Shine Loud Lip Color were nowhere to be found only a couple of days after going viral on TikTok, where creators showed how well they performed.

This is why TikTok is a great choice for influencer marketing campaigns:

  • Bite-sized videos — Videos can last up to 60 seconds (longer if they’re uploaded and not created natively within the app). A short attention span combined with the most engaging content format makes it a perfect choice.
  • Accessible to everyone — TikTok is built so everybody can create and share video content with their smartphone only. After taking a look at the most viral TikToks, you’ll notice that video quality isn’t all that important.
  • Other platforms try to follow (copy, to be honest), but TikTok is unmatched when it comes to in-app possibilities, with plenty of filters, audio-visual effects, and engaging challenges and duets.
  • Rabbit-hole experience — thinking you spend too much time on Instagram? Think again — the average user spends almost an hour daily browsing TikTok! This goes to prove that short videos are the most captivating.

When compared to Instagram and YouTube, it lacks static formats and capabilities to hold the attention longer.

However, the stats confirm that TikTok is going nowhere, and the brands should take notes.

YouTube Influencer Marketing

Coming right after Google, YouTube is the second most visited website and the second-most used social media platform (following Facebook).

People can use and watch YouTube without ever creating an account or downloading an app. With that said — YouTube has over 2 billion logged-in monthly users, and people watch over a billion hours of video each day. This means that these impressive stats are slightly underestimating the power of YouTube.

YouTube works differently than Instagram and TikTok: for other social media platforms, usage drops in the older age groups. That’s not the case with YouTube — 74% of American adults use it regularly, more than Facebook and Instagram.

Creators are earning more and more on YouTube. The number of channels earning six figures grew more than 40% year after year and more than 50% for creators earning five figures.

The most popular types of YouTube videos are:

  1. Product reviews
  2. How-tos
  3. Vlogs
  4. Gaming videos
  5. Comedy videos

This is what else makes YouTube more than a solid choice for influencer marketing strategy:

  • Freedom of expression — as long as they’re following the guidelines, YouTube’s content creators may film whatever they please. This leaves a lot of space to be creative and adjust the video length instead of being constricted by mere seconds.
  • Longform video content — no matter they’re pandering to our ever-shrinking attention spans, you can’t do it all with one-minute videos and small smartphone screens — and this is where YouTube jumps in.
  • Detailed product reviews, directions, alternatives — YouTube is a perfect place for you to flaunt the products and show their value and practicality. How to use them, how well they work, what to pair them with, are they good alternatives to the existing offer… The possibilities are vast!
  • Evergreen value — it’s good to be viral, but it’s even better to have people get back to your old content. Videos accumulate more and more views over time and, similarly to good blog posts, retain their value over the years.
  • Timestamps — putting timestamps in videos addresses the impatience viewers might feel and their desire to get to the point fast.

Instagram is eye-candy, TikTok is fast and entertaining, but people will come to YouTube for value.

Facebook Influencer Marketing

Usually, when people start their blog with “Is ______ dead?” the answer is no.

To cut it short — this dinosaur still lives and thrives.

Facebook has the widest reach with 2,2 billion users of all age demographics — although it’s less popular with GenZ and younger audiences. According to this influencer marketing survey, it’s the third most important social media channel for influencer marketing.

This is why influencers/ content creators continue to use Facebook:

  • Wider audience — although Facebook is less popular with the younger crowds, it is still the most popular social media worldwide, with more than 2.7 billion active monthly users
  • Expanding reach — creators often use Facebook as a secondary platform. Instead of focusing on creating content specifically for Facebook, creators share the content from other platforms here automatically, such as Instagram posts, stories, YouTube videos, etc.
  • Boosting the engagement rates — not only does this expand their reach (and we know that Facebook’s reach is impressive), it boosts the engagement rate as well: people spend 35 minutes per day here on average.
  • Great analytics tools — Facebook Insights is one of the best social media analytics tools on its own. From tracking the performance, you instantly know what works best to conduct sentiment analysis to go even deeper and see how the audience thinks.

Like a little black dress of influencer marketing: not the most flashy, but always needed.

Bottom line: actionable usage tips

This is how to include each social media platform in your influencer marketing strategy:

  • Instagram — lay the foundations: attractive imagery and videos, engaging captions
  • TikTok — go guerilla: short videos that are hilarious, useful, “hacks” — or all of it, and follow the current trends to go viral.
  • YouTube — go in-depth: useful content to show how your product/ service works amazingly for the target audience.
  • Facebook — secondary platform: reshare the content and stay active to boost reach and engagement while connecting to all demographics

How To Identify the Best Influencers for Your Brand?

Everybody with a phone can be an influencer, and many people use that opportunity to elevate their careers and personal brand.

However, you should be a bit picky when it comes to choosing the influencers and brand advocates who’ll represent you online. After all, they become the face of your brand.

This is how you identify top influencers:

First of all, study your audience. Take a look at Google Analytics and Facebook Ad account to learn more about them: demographic data, the language they use, what they are talking about, whatever you can.

This will serve as a filtering system for influencer search: which influencers people who’d have value from your product follow on social media? These are the people you should reach out to! To filter them out, you can use various tools such as Brand Collabs Manager (Facebook), Followerwonk, Buzzstream, and NinjaOutreach.

Now, study those influencers, and look into their:

  • Brand/niche fit — would they be able to make use of your product and show it in the best way possible
  • Followers and engagement rate — surprisingly, some people still buy followers; that’s why engagement rate is a better indicator of their success when it comes to influencer marketing
  • Current social media presence and track record — their social media presence, reputation, and past activities. The purpose of this audit is to show you their growth, how they collaborate with other brands, who they work with, and how their audience responded to it (and if they were at some point canceled for a racist tweet)
  • Content creation ability — this is the most important thing! Can they create high-converting content that sells? Can they communicate the value with their great content? Instagram Highlights are a great place to check out their content creation capabilities

Types of Influencers

In broader terms, there are two types of influencers:

  1. Celebrity influencers whose power and influence come from a notable career in something other than social media. Actors, singers, TV personalities, and other public figures also earn money as influencers. They use their fame to promote products by brands they collaborate with and have a very high follower count from the start — think million and above. They are expensive to hire and typically sought out to promote goods and services used by a larger crowd.

Take a look at this high-profile example of Cardi B promoting Fashion Nova:

nfluencer Marketing — Cardi B and Fashion Nova

Source: Cardi B’s Instagram

Regular influencers, people who started as non-famous, passionate about their work or hobby, recommending products they try out and use for their craft. They have a bit lower follower count on average when compared to celebrity influencers. But, their following is composed of people with a genuine interest in their work, more likely to buy the stuff they recommend. Makeup artists are a perfect example, starting small and rising to fame and then using it to build their own business, just like Samantha Ravdahl did with Auric.

nfluencer Marketing — Samantha and Auric

Source: Samantha Ravndahl’s Instagram

Now, let’s get more specific and sort them by the numbers.

Nano-influencers

Nano-influencers usually have up to 10.000 followers, though some claim that numbers go even smaller, around 5k, even 1k. This number may seem small, but they are not to be overlooked!

nfluencer Marketing — Nathan Barry
nfluencer Marketing — Nathan Barry and James Clear

Source: Nathan’s Instagram screenshots

See how Nathan piqued his follower’s interest with one simple yet beautiful image?

Their presence feels human and sincere, unlike obviously paid ads forced on followers by celebrities. With a lower follower count than the rest, they have more time and energy to communicate with their followers and build earnest relationships.

This makes nano-influencers trustworthy and their recommendations more compelling.

From the business perspective, they are more cost-effective and bring greater ROI.

Micro-influencers

Micro-influencers typically have up to 50k followers or less.

This is where you’ll usually find niche experts who grew their platforms off specific topics. This could be anything from vintage car enthusiasts to AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) diet proponents, fitness bloggers, and more.

With micro-influencers, you still get a great ROI and people who try and connect to their audience, with slightly higher rates.

Dove is an example of a large company that doesn’t steer clear of influencers with a more modest follower count.

nfluencer Marketing — Dove
Source: Dove’s Instagram account
nfluencer Marketing — Dove and Shannydoots

Source: shanydoots’ Instagram

Mid-tier influencers

Mid-tier influencers have between 50k and 300k and are still considered to be authentic content creators.

With more experience than nano and micro-influencers, they have great engagement rates going for them, as well as impactful recommendations. They reach many people and are still approachable and cost-effective.

Shootwithkitty
nfluencer Marketing — Shootwithkitty Photo

Source: Marija’s Instagram screenshots

Marija undoubtedly provides amazing quality and resides at a sweet spot between mild popularity and fame.

Macro-influencers

Going up to million followers, macro-influencers could be celebrities or just lower-tier influencers who worked hard to persevere and grow on social media.

For example, Andréa Matillano got to 325K subscribers on YouTube; starting way back in 2011, she built her channel with detailed and professional cruelty-free makeup reviews and commentaries.

Andrea Matillano

Source: Andréa Matillano’s YouTube screenshot

Here’s a snippet from one of her videos sponsored by e.l.f. Cosmetics:

nfluencer Marketing — Andrea Matillano and elf

Source: Andréa Matillano’s YouTube screenshot

With a large number of followers and dedication, this is their full-time (and sometimes only) job.

They sometimes might be harder to reach out to, but it pays off, as your brand will get exposed to more people.

Mega-influencers

Now we’re talking celebrities, no matter if they’re from another world or built their name on social media. More than a million for sure. Even several million follow them and take notes of their activities, thoughts, and favorite products.

Matt D’Avella is a huge name on the minimalist YouTube — with a refreshingly non-huge ego, might I add.

Matt D'Avella

Source: Matt’s Youtube channel

He’s a filmmaker famous for his “Minimalism” documentary and amusing YouTube videos on minimal lifestyle, self-improvement, and evading consumerism.

There are two ways you can go about working with influencers:

  1. Throw tons of money at them — yep, it’s harsh and blunt, but true. However, as unbelievable as it seems, money won’t always work. That’s when you try with option number 2:
  2. Offering a meaningful exchange — if you pick the fitting person and believe your product is bee’s knees, it’s time to introduce a different approach to influencer marketing strategy

“Free Product” Influencer Marketing Strategy

How often do you run into phrases that claim “nothing is free” in the business world?

That’s not entirely true — the best things in life and business cannot be bought because they are priceless. Genuine relationships and friendships, for example, are those priceless things — and you can build them with this strategy.

Brands hesitate to do this in fear of low ROI, but it couldn’t be further from the truth!

The “Free product” strategy will continue to supply you with great, organic user-generated content. You can repurpose it many times, combine it and adjust it to your current needs: reviews, unboxing videos, testimonials, use cases… Great influencers will provide you with diverse content, and you’ll save plenty of money you’d otherwise spend on influencer marketing agencies. They take 30k on average, but with this tactic, you get free content and brand ambassadors.

So, instead of starting the negotiations and bargaining from the first touchpoint, be different and send them your product — no strings attached.

How To Approach Influencers and Structure Deals?

Influencer seeding is a lovely approach, similar to gardening! This type of influencer outreach plants the seeds of long-term relationships with influencers and continues to supply you with plenty of usable content.

Be genuine — there’s nothing unique about transactional business relationships. This outreach is refreshing, and people will appreciate it since most brands exploit influencers and try to get them to work for the lowest possible rate.

The first step is to pick the influencers who fit and reach out to them—the more, the merrier, as long as you can afford it. For starters, pinpoint around 300 influencers per month, and reach out to all of them. Follow up twice, no more and no less.

Message them on Instagram, via email, or another medium they use, and make it your goal to get the product into their hands. For free, of course — don’t take them out on a date and make them pay for it!

Ideally, 50% of them will accept your gift, and out of those who accepted — about 30% will create organic posts featuring your product!

How To Build Relationships With Influencers After They Promote Your Free Product?

Well, it *is* a relationship, not a one-night stand powered by Tinder. You should follow up and be kind about it.

After 3 months of seeding and tracking whose content performed the best, pick the top 5 influencers who supplied you with top-notch content.

You can use the MightyScout tool for this: upload their socials into the system, and it will automatically track their content and measure the stats.

When you pick the best of it, reach out to them and tell them you loved it — and would like permission to use it. You can start repurposing it for the paid media and distribute it over your channels.

Here’s a template to get you going:

Hey {{firstName}}

Loved your post about {{our product}}. Your content is awesome.

We love your work, and we think you could be a perfect brand advocate for our product. So we would like to make an ongoing collaboration with you.

We were thinking of hiring you for 3 videos, 3 images, and one story post each month.

Our current budget for that is $150/mo.

What do you think?

You can adjust, but feel free to go with this low price: someone will agree, and for those who have higher rates, this is a trigger to continue the relationship.

Create a creative brief for the ones who agree: tell them about the talking points, the scenes you want to capture, and your overall goals. Let them be who they are and value their input: if everyone follows the same brief, you’ll get stale, uniform content.

Take Advantage of Influencer Whitelisting

Influencer whitelisting is all about granting brand advertising permissions to an influencer’s social media account.

More specifically, it’s about serving ads from influencers (Instagram and Facebook primarily), taking their content, Coca-Cola’s and handling copy, audience, budget, and running ads to their audience.

Typically, on organic social, reach frequency engagement is incredibly limited. Influencers’ reach is 10%, and out of those, 2-3% of them will engage with the content at its peak) — but with whitelisting, reach is almost unlimited.

With whitelisting, you have full control of distribution. You can also:

  • Set up the customer journey
  • See the website visitors
  • Learn who clicked on your ad
  • Create custom audiences and retarget those people

The possibilities are endless, and brands can directly speak to an audience that is more likely to resonate with the brand’s products.

How To Pitch Whitelisting to Influencers?

You can do whitelisting from the start if you have great funding.

However, it’s better to first lay the foundations with seeding and only then offer the whitelisting. By that time, you’ll know how to directly target their followers with the right stuff.

Start by building trust — the whole seeding process (and the “free product” tactic) serves to build trust between brand and influencer. Go the mentioned route: seeding, examining their content, seeing what works, and picking top performers to pitch to.

Then, explain what’s in it for them. Whitelisting is a win-win strategy for both the influencer and the brand behind them. Influencers get higher reach and exposure — the growth that makes them more visible and successful. In addition to that, the ads you create in their name don’t show up in their feed.

How To Scale Influencer Marketing?

Content fatigue is real — after some time, you and the audience have seen it all, and you can’t seem to find anything amazing and new to serve.

Use wisely what you have from the start, and learn how to repurpose the old content.

You can create a mashable (combine multiple content snippets from different influencers) similarly:

  • Reaction videos — how different influencers reacted to the results of using your product
  • Pain-point specifics — a video where all the influencers address a specific pain point and how they solved it with your stuff
  • Use cases — let’s say you have a new home workout gadget: you can piece together different workouts influencers showed when using the gadget.

While you’re at it, learn what kind of content brings the most conversions, so you can double down on it as time goes by.

The Bottom Line

Influencer marketing is here to stay, and it’s proven to work.

With good marketing, brands *can* penetrate the hearts of people (just look at Coca-Cola’s Christmas stuff) and make them laugh. However, influencer marketing will humanize your brand and give it a human face — making it more relatable on a personal level. Influencers’ relationships with their audience are the key component here.

You should humanize the relationship with influencers, too, by reaching out to them personally and offering your product without strings attached. By being generous, you plant seeds of amazing future collaboration.

Continue to nurture these relationships with top-performing influencers who chose to showcase your products, and you’ll continue to receive bespoke, high-converting content.

Top it off with whitelisting, and there you have it — a successful influencer marketing strategy is yours to use.

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