social media influencer marketing

In a world full of marketing buzzwords, few terms are buzzier than “influencer marketing.” While not exactly a brand-new tactic, it has gained prominence in recent years as advertising on social media has become more popular.

Influencer marketing relies on people outside your company (“influencers”) to promote your brand to your target market — typically in exchange for some kind of payment or benefit.

All in all, it’s a pretty simple idea. Why talk about how great your business is when you can have other, less-biased voices do it for you? When done correctly, influencer marketing can have a huge impact on your business. According to Business 2 Marketing, influencer marketing generates 11 times the ROI of traditional digital marketing — a remarkable figure.

Luckily, small businesses don’t need to have the giant budgets of huge brands to reap these rewards. Here’s how you can connect with influencers in your industry without breaking the bank. 

Step 1 – Follow influencers 

The easiest way to attract influencers is to first follow them across various social media platforms. To begin with, follow the big names/personalities you’re already familiar with on each social network. Once you’ve exhausted your memory banks, follow these steps for each social network to find more influencers:

  • LinkedIn — Look into discussion groups relevant to your industry. Find top commenters and take a look at how many followers they have. Ask to connect to them, and in your message requesting to do so, note that you provide services/products for their industry and enjoy reading their thoughts.
  • Facebook — Use the search bar to look for industry specific terms, then browse pages and groups to find users with a large amount of likes or friends.
  • Twitter — Check the retweets of influencers you’ve already followed to discover new personalities in the industry. Search or click on the industry-specific hashtags you see used in profiles you’ve already followed, and add users who get the most likes or retweets. Generally speaking, any verified users are probably good follows.
  • Instagram — Search for key terms in your industry. The images that pop up in search will be the most popular ones; after clicking on these you can then view the profiles of each poster and follow them. You can also search geotags to find people who posted photos at certain events, like trade shows.

Influencers don’t need to strictly be the most popular figures on social media in a given industry; in fact, partnering with the people that the biggest influencers engage with may result in an organic introduction of your brand to the biggest thought-leaders in your field.

Step 2 — Make a dream list

Once you’ve built up some followers, use a tool like SocialRank to determine which followers have the most value to you (i.e. number of followers and engagement on posts) and begin the process of selecting those who stand out to you the most. To start, whittle your list down to between 5-10 contacts. This will give you a manageable list of influencers to contact.

How you do this is largely up to you, but pick users whose content aligns nicely with your organization and who look like someone you’d like to be in business with. If someone posts thoughts you disagree with, or if they seem to have a lifestyle you don’t want associated with your brand, move on. 

Step 3 – Reach out

Once you have your list of influencers, contact them to see if they’d be interested in partnering with you. If you can find their email, you can send them something like this:

Subject: Want to try our product and give a few away to your followers?

Hello, (Name)!

I came across your account while researching influencers in (industry name) — I love your posts and engagement with your followers!

[If you want, you can briefly mention a particular post that you love and why.]

I work at (company name) and have a [product or service] that I think you’d really like. [One sentence about why you think they’d like the product/service]. Would you be interested in testing it and reviewing it on [channel they’d publish on]? If so, I can send a free sample, as well as three extras that you can give away to your followers.

What do you think?


If you can’t find their email, you can also send them a direct message through a social media site. This message should be shorter than the above email but still hit on the key points, as seen below:

Hey (name), I came across your account while researching influencers in (industry name) and I love your work! Would you be interested in testing our [product/service] and reviewing it? I’ll also throw in a few extra for you to give away to your followers. Let me know if you’re interested!

Once they respond, you can then ask for an email address or other contact method to hash out the details.

From here, you’ll have to determine what you’ll be offering for their time promoting your organization. Free samples of products are always good — you can set aside packaged products just for this occasion — or free access to any of your services for a specified time. 

You could carry this out in a more organic way, giving them access to services or products and asking that if they enjoy using either, they tag your business or use a specific hashtag in any post they make about it. This could even morph into a sponsorship relationship, where you provide them with free services or products regularly in exchange for posts. You may also choose to pay influencers to promote your brand.

If you’re compensating your influencers, whether with money or free goods and services, your influencers are legally required to disclose that their posts are ads. This can be accomplished by using hashtags like #sponsored, #ad, #sponsoredby and #sponsoredpost. Here’s a good breakdown of the disclosures you’ll legally have to add to each post if you are compensating influencers for marketing. 

Step 4 — Coordinate your campaign

Once you’re in contact with your influencers and have discussed compensation, you should discuss your goals for the campaign and what guidelines they should stick to whenever posting about your products or services.

This doesn’t mean you want to dictate their captions or images — you want them to continue to be themselves when posting about your organization — but maybe there are some unique benefits to your products or talking points that you could make them aware of. Clearly outline these and check on their posts to make sure your organization isn’t being painted in a light you disapprove of.

An alternative — organic contests 

Along with honing in on specific, influential targets, you should also apply these tenants of influencer marketing to crowdsource exposure with your everyday customer.

One way to do this is to hold a contest once a month to win your products or free access to services. There are a number of ways to go about this, including:

  • Asking users to comment on a post with a hashtag (the winner can be chosen randomly)
  • Asking them to write about how a product or service helped them complete a task
  • Requesting they post a photo of how they used your product to create something
  • Select a winner (either randomly or based on the quality of their entry; be sure to be upfront with how a winner will be selected) and announce it on your page. Once they receive their prize, monitor their account to see if they post about it and reshare this post if they do.

Pick one social media site you’d like to do this on and do it regularly. You want your audience to expect it and be excited.

Similarly, weekly events can be held where you ask followers to share how they use your products or services. Followers could be instructed to use a predetermined hashtag in the caption announcing the event. Share the best stories or images on your social media accounts, increasing the reach of both the user’s post and acting as an organic form of influencer marketing for your organization.

Whichever path you choose, remember to get creative. Social media presents a great opportunity for you to connect with your audience and rely on expert influencers to rep your brand for you. If you aren’t seeing a ton of feedback initially from your contests or your influencer hasn’t moved the needle much, try a different approach. Maybe you’re just matched with the wrong influencer or your contest doesn’t appeal to your audience.

Keep tinkering — all it takes is one right match to greatly increase your organization’s reach.