How to Build Your Influencer Marketing Program from the Ground Up

It should be no surprise to hear that influencer marketing has become one of the most successful and widely popular ways for brands to reach their consumers over the past few years. In fact, influencer marketing now drives 11 times higher ROI than traditional forms of digital marketing. With so many platforms to engage with, influencer marketing is now allowing brands to reach more consumers through various forms of content in a completely authentic way.

But what’s a marketer to do when your brand’s diving into influencer marketing for the first time and you don’t have, well let’s just say, a Nike sized budget? Because let’s be honest, most of us marketers aren’t fortunate enough to work with Serena Williams or Colin Kaepernick.

But good news is, you don’t need to. Any brand can build an influencer marketing program from the ground up even with a small budget. And guess what, it can be extremely successful.

Here’s how:

Do your research

In the same way you would approach any new marketing campaign or strategy, developing the right influencer marketing program means knowing your audience. Read blogs, search keywords, and spend time on relevant forums. But don’t just read them -- become a part of the conversation. This way, your audience and potential influencers will start coming to you. A true understanding of your audience will come from this two-way dialogue.

While all of the above are free methods of research, you can also look to platforms like Muck Rack to monitor industry news and keep better tabs on what your audience is saying.

A study by TapInfluence and Altimeter revealed that over two-thirds of marketers struggle with finding the right influencers for their brand. Most likely because they didn’t conduct the appropriate research. Take the time to understand your audience and it will pay off in the long term.

Reach out to potential influencers

Once you’ve completed your research, it’s time to reach out to potential influencers. Keep in mind that anyone can be an influencer. Stay with me here. What I mean is that anyone who is influential in their own circles, is in fact, an influencer. This could be a blogger, product enthusiast, or even your neighbor. Which is great news when you’re working with a smaller budget.

As you’re having conversations with these potential influencers, keep in mind, “what’s in it for them?”

In addition to contractual payment, it always creates a stronger partnership if there’s an additional incentive for your influencer. And these don’t have to be big budget items. For example, giving them access to your audience through one of your brand’s platforms, receiving product, etc. This way, you’re creating a mutually beneficial relationship that allows them to promote their message as well.

Make it authentic

Influencer marketing is all about advancing your brand’s narrative through authentic voices. Therefore, the most important factor in selecting influencers is ensuring that this is authentic to your brand. When an influencer aligns with your brand’s product and narrative -- this builds long term trust and loyalty.

Take my earlier example of Colin Kaepernick. While his partnership with Nike, but most recently Nike’s 30th anniversary ad, created quite a bit of controversy, Nike’s sales spiked 31% afterwards. Why is that? Well, not only because we’re living in a time where it’s crucial for brands to take a stand, but because this partnership and message is completely authentic to Nike.

Authentic influencer + authentic brand narrative = success.

Authenticity also means allowing your influencers to speak about your brand in their own way. Don’t over-direct -- allow them to talk from their perspective. Inauthenticity is easy to smell a mile away.

Bring it 360

Influencer marketing is way more than just social media these days. As an authentic partner to your brand, they should be involved in as many aspects of your marketing program as possible. For example, could they guest write on your blog? Participate in future company events/ tradeshows? However it makes the most sense for them to be incorporated into the brand’s bigger picture, they should be. But just keep in mind, influencer marketing results can be a slow burn -- so allow for about a year’s time before expecting to see significant results.

Building an influencer marketing program may sound intimidating, especially if it’s new for your brand or if you’re working with a smaller budget. But if you find the right combination of influencers who produce positive word of mouth for your brand, you’ll see the results in the long run.