In 2017, influencer marketing grew by 198 percent: more  than 1.5 million Instagram posts were tagged with #ad last year, according to social intelligence platform Klear. Influencer marketing is growing at a rapid rate, but if you don’t work with influencers every day, you may not know exactly what they are – and why you should embrace them as part of your marketing mix. Never fear, however – we’re here to help! Here’s an overview of this growing group of brand ambassadors, and how you can work with them to help drive your business.

What is an Influencer?

In short, an influencer is someone whose opinion is regarded highly enough by an audience, that they are able to influence how their followers spend their hard-earned money. An influencer can be a celebrity, blogger, photographer, industry professional or thought leader – the list goes on and on. For example, fashion bloggers have become a go-to resource for their followers for tips on style, because they are well-versed in current fashion trends, much like a professional athlete may be looked to for recommendations on the best wellness supplements.

While influencers often have tens to hundreds of thousands of followers, smaller micro-influencers (generally categorized as those with followings between 5,000 and 20,000), are well-versed in more niche topics, and are often just as effective as influencers with larger followings because of their hyper-focused interest. For instance, an influencer who mainly post content about the restaurant scene in Austin will attract followers who either live in Austin, or are interested in visiting; this may lend itself to a smaller following by the numbers, but these followers are more easily mobilized since the content being shared is right outside their doors.           

Whether you run a 10-employee business or a multi-million dollar corporation, influencers are a great resource to get your brand in front of your target consumers – often more quickly than is possible with traditional PR.

How Can You Work with Influencers?

Influencers bridge the gap between traditional marketing and personal recommendations/word-of-mouth marketing. The most effective and sought-after influencers are those who become a friend to their followers, giving recommendations about products they like, places they’ve visited, etc. Brands collaborate with influencers as a way to share their message through a credible third party endorser (much the same as with traditional media relations); social media today is flooded with brands promoting themselves, making it ever more difficult to garner consumers’ attention. An influencer is able to have a “conversation” with their followers about a brand, personally recommending it and showcasing how it becomes a part of their everyday life. In this case, the brand’s target market is learning about the product or offering from a person they trust, rather than the brand itself.

Influencers can be an asset to nearly any type of company, from clothing brands to restaurants, travel destinations and everything in between. Influencers provide a personal perspective that adds value to the companies they promote, and have been proven to drive sales. Some of the best ways to measure return on influencer collaborations include tracking conversions to a brand’s page from linked influencer content or using a commission-based model for product-focused companies to track and measure KPIs.

Looking to dip your toe in the water with influencer partnerships? Our advice is this: Find one influencer partner who loves your brand and understands your mission – someone you would follow – and work with them on a campaign to promote your product or offering in a mutually beneficial way (be sure to outline both parties’ expectations in advance). Evaluate your results, and learn and grow from there!