As appealing as “being your own boss” may sound, in reality, working for yourself means you’re the only one responsible for facing one challenge after another—especially when you’re first starting out. Whether you own your own business or are a freelancer or independent contractor/gig worker, part of your workload will involve promoting yourself and your work. And given that most people don’t have a background or experience in marketing, advertising, or public relations, this is something you’ll have to put significant work into.
But advertising and marketing don’t look like they used to—and we’re not just talking about the Mad Men era of the 1960s. While print, TV, radio, and ads on websites are still very much in use today, consider the rise of a new type of marketing that uses “regular” people with large social media followings to make consumers aware of (and ideally interested in) a variety of products and services. But is social media influencer marketing actually worth it? And if so, how do you go about finding and vetting one? Here’s what you need to know.
What does social media influencer marketing involve?
In 2020, social influencer marketing certainly isn’t new, and it doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon. In fact, a report by Business Insider indicated that it’s likely to become $15 billion industry by 2022. And while celebrities frequently double as social media influencers and get paid to promote their “favorite” products, most people starting out working for themselves won’t have the capital to have someone famous serve as a social spokesperson.
Instead, these business owners target people who are not otherwise famous beyond social media (except maybe in their specific area of expertise), but have substantial influence over their followers. In exchange for some type of fee—in the form of actual payment, discounts, donations made to charities, or other perks—these influencers will post about and talk up your work. But is it worth the investment? Let’s take a look.
How much does social media influencer marketing cost?
Unsurprisingly, it depends on a variety of factors, including the number of followers a person has, as well as the fee structure (more on that in a minute) and the frequency of their posts. According to Geoff Crain, the digital director of Kingstar Media, a standard rate is $100 for every 10,000 followers. So, an influencer with 50,000 followers would be paid $500 for creating text, images, and videos and posting that content on their social media channels.
The rate can also depend on the social media platform in question, Oleg Donets, founder and chief marketing officer of RealEstateBees.com, explains. Noting that different influencers come at different costs, he says that the standard pricing per post in the industry is $20-$30 per 1,000 followers on Facebook platform, $10-$15 per 1,000 followers on Instagram platform and $20-$30 per 1,000 subscribers on YouTube platform.
And, as Joshua Carter, director of digital and social marketing at Tunheim, points out, social media influencer marketing doesn’t necessarily need to cost a lot. “In my experience, influencer marketing can be done efficiently and effectively with smaller budgets, or can be done in bigger ways if there is more budget,” says Carter, who has more than 15 years of experience in influencer and celebrity partnerships, including launching Chrissy Teigen’s “Cravings” kitchen collection at Target.
Plus, according to Carter, the beauty of today’s influencers is that they’re also “content engines and creators,” meaning that in some cases you’ll be able to get your product shot and featured in a more cost effective way than a full-blown ad campaign.
What does the fee structure look like?
Like traditional celebrity brand partnerships, most social media influencers are paid a flat fee and operate via contract work, Carter explains. These contracts typically involve a one-year licensing agreement, according to Crain, during which the influencer produces images and video content to be used across brands.
Other fee structures used in the influencer marketing space include ppp (pay-per-post), ppc (pay-per-click), ppv (pay-per-view), ppe (pay-per-engagement), and cpa (cost-per-acquisition), Donets says. Payment for these models is calculated per a single post based on hard numbers like amount of followers/subscribers, clicks, views, etc.
What about return on investment?
Even if the costs of hiring a social media influencer can be kept relatively low, Carter says that it’s important to do your homework and look at data to formulate the potential return on investment (ROI) and other key performance indicators (KPIs) to make sure you’re not overpaying. Part of that includes taking the type of payment into consideration (monetary fees, donations, other products/perks, etc.).
Like the payments themselves, ROI can take multiple forms. As an example, according to Crain it’s “very rare” that a post by a social media influencer that includes a “swipe up to purchase” component will lead to a profitable return for the advertiser. Instead, he says that influencer content is best to use across paid social initiatives in the form of user-generated content—for instance, as an affordable alternative to a full video shoot. “For only a few hundred dollars, small businesses can use influencers to generate content that they can leverage across their website, social media, and paid digital initiatives,” Crain explains.
Given that no two programs or campaigns are the same—and there are so many factors that go into influencer engagement performance and traffic metrics—Carter says that ROI ultimately comes down to how a brand partners with an influencer. This means more homework ahead of a partnership; taking the time to understand a social media influencer’s engagement in terms of the average number of likes, comments and/or shares on their posts; whether their audience cares about their content; and whether they have the ability to drive traffic to a specific destination for the campaign.
If you’re looking for a way to test or prove ROI, Carter suggests providing influencers with customized links or special promo codes to help determine whether their content is making impact.
How do you find and vet social media influencers?
Generally, there are three main ways to find social media influencers in a particular niche, Donets explains. One involves hiring an agency that specializes in influencer marketing. Another is using platforms like upfluence.com or influence.com that connect influencers with businesses.
But assuming that you’re starting small and may not have the budget for the first two options, you can take a more traditional (and cost-effective) route and do your own searches on Google and/or the social media platform of your choice (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.), Donet says. Here are some specific strategies for finding and vetting potential social medial influencers:
Narrow your search
Before you dive in, it’s helpful to know what—or in this case, who—exactly you’re looking for. Andy Vale, head of content at Infinity, a call intelligence platform, suggests starting by asking yourself what you’re selling and who you’re trying to sell it to before starting your search.
Look at their engagement rate
Even without fancy software, Crain says it’s entirely possible to look at an influencer’s engagement rate. To do this, look at the number of comments an influencer has on their posts, relative to their following. “Those with 2.5% -5% engagement rates indicate that their followers are engaged with their posts,” he explains. “Anything less than this will indicate otherwise.”
Analyze an influencer’s audience
Once you have a certain influencer in mind, it’s time to take a closer look at their audience. According to Vale, the easiest way to do this (which also happens to be free) is by manually scrolling though their followers and attempting to determine which accounts appear to be genuine and which are potential bots. One way to do this is to look at their engagements. Are their responses specific? To use Vale’s example: “that’s an incredible jumper, I love the blue bits!” is a lot more telling than something vague like “WOW! great product!” The latter could be an indication the response has been automated and the follower isn’t a real person.
If you’re considering particular influencers for your marketing campaign, Crain recommends getting in touch with them via a direct message to their social media profile. Or, if they’ve included their email address in their bio, you can send requests that way, too (that’s probably why the email address is there in the first place).
Make sure it’s a match
In today’s space, Carter says that it’s not enough to work with just any influencer—it’s important that a brand partners with individuals with a similar audience and whom believe in the same things. “If the casting and partnership is too much of a stretch, audiences will see right through it and lose trust in the brand,” he explains.
To help determine whether an influencer is a good match for you and your brand, Vale recommends considering the following:
- Is this someone you’d want to be selling your product in your store or at an event?
- Are they already working with other brands, and if so, how are those posts performing?
- Based on their other posts, would you be happy if your product was featured in those photos?
- Does this person’s values seem to match your brand’s?
Sure, you can give an influencer some guidelines, but you don’t want to alter their style or tone too much—otherwise the partnership won’t work for either of you, Vale says. “Doing this research now will save hassle later,” he adds.
So, are social media influencers worth it?
Carter, Crain, and Vale each see value in social media influencer marketing. “Influencers know their audiences, can bring products to life in new and creative ways,” Carter says. “And they do it quickly—especially given the changes brands have had to make because of Covid restrictions.” Another benefit, he notes, is that paying influencers to promote you or your brand ensures that you get exactly what you want out of the partnership, including that “your product or story is told correctly, and there are no surprises.”
Meanwhile, Crain points to the fact that working with social media influencers can be a great way to generate content for a brand at an affordable price, and in a way that comes across as authentic and organic, showing consumers real-life examples of people who use their products.
Finally, Vale says that the longer-term brand building that comes with a smart influencer strategy is where their real value can lie. “Get this right and you’ll gradually be organically embedded within the culture and can start to lead within it,” he explains. “This is what major brands such as Red Bull have spent years doing, but there’s no reason you can’t become central to a local artistic community, carve out a space in a specific online fanbase, or [find] any other niche by working with (and then becoming) trusted voices in those spaces.”