We hear a lot of talk these days about influencer marketing, but what does it really mean? Who are these influencers? Can anyone be an influencer, and can they make a living from it?
When most people think about influencers, they probably think about social media stars, bloggers and celebrities on YouTube, Instagram and elsewhere, but that’s a limited perspective. My theory is that everyone has influence, and therefore anyone can be considered an influencer.
No doubt you have a circle of family, friends, colleagues and others who look to you for certain areas of expertise and recommendations. You might be a tech guru who people turn to for input on what kind of computer to buy. Or you could be a coffee connoisseur with recommendations about the latest espresso machine. The point is that you have passion, expertise and opinions about particular products and services, and people value your input.
Congratulations — you’re an influencer. You have an opportunity to turn your status into revenue. Say hello to influencer marketing.
Influencer Marketing Is Big Business
Influencer marketing has become a big business for large brands. It’s been estimated that influencer marketing grew to almost $10 billion in 2020, and it’s anticipated to reach nearly $14 billion this year. If your circle of influence is big enough, you may be able to convince some of these large brands to pay you to promote their products. Even if your circle is smaller, you can still seek to generate revenue through referral bonuses or discounts for your valuable recommendations.
As I mentioned in my previous article on affiliate marketing, brands are becoming increasingly attracted to influencer campaigns that drive sales, rather than just awareness. Indeed, many brands have long relied on their affiliate marketing programs to track, report and pay commissions to influencers who are able to generate sales.
These programs are often reserved for larger publishers who can drive significant volume, but there are ways for influencers of all sizes to benefit from influencer marketing. In fact, I believe that smaller influencers — also known as microinfluencers — are very well-positioned to benefit from influencer marketing.
Microinfluencers Can Have A Big Influence
Microinfluencers tend to have tighter circles of individuals who deeply value their opinions; thus, they may have smaller groups of followers, but those followers are often more likely to be influenced by their recommendations. As such, they’re probably also more likely to generate sales (as opposed to awareness) for the brands they work with — and sales are becoming increasingly important to brands, even more so than building awareness.
As a microinfluencer, you don’t necessarily need to have a lot of followers, but you do need some, and you need to get them the right way. There are places that allow you to buy followers to inflate your numbers. Do not use them. Aside from being borderline unethical, that’s not going to help you develop a trusted and devoted circle of fans.
Instead, look for opportunities to engage with others with interests that are similar to yours. Promote your opinions and recommendations on online forums, like Quora, or through your various social media profiles. Blog frequently about the topics, products and services you love and understand, and use hashtags so people can find and share what you’re writing about. People are often skeptical of marketing messages, so keep your content informative and helpful, and don’t try to sell to your audience.
Remember: Trust is perhaps the biggest commodity on the internet. People tend to trust an honest voice that’s adding value to discussions about particular products or services. Brands tend to trust influencers who are willing to continually post about their solutions. If you can make yours a trusted voice that people pay attention to, your circle will grow along with your influencer marketing opportunities.
Becoming A Big-Brand Ambassador
Of course, there’s still the matter of getting your name in front of the brands you want to partner with. While building up your online presence helps, it can still be challenging for microinfluencers to get the attention of big brands if they’re just starting out. You can pitch yourself to them, but unless you’re very well-known, or have exhibited some level of success in the past, you may not get selected to be one of their brand ambassadors.
Keep working on establishing your influencer profile. In the meantime, look for ways to indirectly connect with these companies. One route is to use an influencer monetization platform that has already established relationships with these brands and can provide you with a percentage of every sale you are able to generate. Or you can leverage an affiliate marketing network that can make it easier for you to connect with brands that match up with your interests.
These tools allow you to work with bigger brands with minimal effort and can help you get a clear view of how many sales you’re driving and what your followers are responding to. With this data, you’ll be able to adjust your influencer marketing efforts accordingly so you’re always achieving the best possible results.
I suggest looking at the brands these tools have available and whether those brands are ones you are interested in promoting. Also compare commission rates. If multiple networks have the same brand, one may be paying more than another.
If you want to work directly with a brand and not link through a third-party monetization platform, you will need to apply directly to that brand’s program and affiliate network, negotiate commission rates and ensure you keep up with changing affiliate links when deals change or the brand you are working with changes affiliate networks.
Start Thinking Bigger — Maybe
Once you’ve made the initial inroads, you can start thinking bigger, if you want. All the while, you can continue listening to and engaging with your followers to grow your trusted base. But don’t discount the value of being a microinfluencer. Because the smaller and more dedicated your network of contacts is, the more valuable that network could end up being to the brands you love.