How to Identify & Work With the Best Brand Influencers for Your Business

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Isabelle Hahn
Isabelle Hahn



When I scrolled through Instagram this morning on my commute, I commented on a friend's post about her vacation, scrolled right past an advertisement for a comforter, and double-tapped an influencer's post about a skincare brand.


That's the thing about influencers -- you follow them for a reason, so you don't mind interacting with their sponsored content.

I don't follow this exact influencer because I'm interested in her skincare routine. Instead, I follow her because she's an editor of a major magazine that I enjoy reading, and her content interests me. Since I trust her opinion, I'd definitely check out any skincare brands she endorses.

Even though influencer marketing is a well-known marketing channel by now, it's always important to reiterate that your customers trust the opinions of others -- and that majorly impacts buying decisions.

In fact, nearly 90% of all marketers find ROI from influencer marketing comparable to, or better than, other marketing channels.

So how can you identify the right brand influencers to work for your business? First, it's important to know what a brand influencer is, and determine the best way to connect with them -- on, or offline.

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If you work for a SaaS platform company, odds are you won't be reaching out to Beyonce to promote your product. Even if she did want to work with you, her audience likely doesn't fit your target audience or buyer personas.

Reaching out to random people with thousands or even millions of followers is a very transactional way to go about an influencer marketing strategy. The strategy becomes transactional because your business is completely focused on the influencer's follower count, and the influencer takes on a product endorsement role, rather than being a brand ambassador.

A better way to do it is by putting your relationship with the influencer first. The number of followers they have shouldn't be nearly as important as their fit with your brand and how their content resonates with both your audiences. Often, these influencers will be involved with your business long-term if you customize your content to their brand as well, and prove that you value their partnership.

Now that we've defined an influencer, let's explore how to find the best ones for your industry.

How to Find Brand Influencers for Your Industry

How can you determine the right "fit" with a brand influencer? Business/influencer fit will become extremely important for your future collaborations, so be sure to nail down the following criteria:

1. Figure out your target audience.

A target audience can be split by many factors -- including demographic, geographic, and behavioral, to name a few. Common ways to segment an audience is by age, gender, location, behavior, lifestyle, values, and interests. As you begin to narrow your audience, you'll dive into the types of marketing strategies and content that will resonate most with them.

Determining your target audience will ensure that your audience is similar to that of your influencer's. Otherwise, your content will fall flat and won't inspire users to take action.

A great example of business/influencer fit is how many sportswear brands, like Nike and Puma, partner with popular athletes to create both products and content. If you're a fan of Lebron James, you probably already know he's sponsored by Nike -- and that partnership goes a long way for Nike's business.

2. Research Influencers.

Obviously, the best place to research your influencers is on social media -- but let's break it down into more concrete steps.

The easiest way to find the right brand influencers is to see if any are already talking about your business. Social monitoring or searching for your brand on social media sites are great ways to get started, and listening tools can help you find influencers who are already interested in your industry.

Another tip for researching influencers is to search for relevant hashtags. If you're a health and wellness brand looking for an influencer, searching for "#health, #wellness, #sponsored, #ad" on Instagram will bring you to influencers who have already posted industry-relevant content. If you see a post that catches your eye, check out the rest of the influencer's engagement on other posts.

Keep in mind that influencers can have smaller, devoted followings -- so don't turn away from someone just because they have fewer followers than what you initially had in mind. Additionally, look out for influencers who are already posting your competitor's brands, as well.

If you see an influencer's post on Instagram that may resonate with your brand, try looking for similar profiles. Next to the "Follow" button on Instagram, there's a down arrow. By clicking the down arrow, you'll see a list of suggested users. Scroll through those and see if any might be willing to take you on.

3. Determine relevance.

Take a look at your own content. What is your brand's aesthetic, and what tone do you use in your copy? What are the underlying messages you're trying to communicate?

It's important to see how aligned your influencer's content is with your own. Obviously, their social presence shouldn't be filled with posts exactly like yours, but their messaging should be similar since you are targeting a specific audience.

Engagement is also an indicator of relevance for your brand. If the influencer's audience isn't engaged with their content, partnering with your brand won't make a difference. It's important to figure out whether the influencer's followers are commenting and sharing their content, or just liking it.

Additionally, do similar users return to comment and like content, time and time again? This implies the influencer's audience enjoys engaging with the influencer and likes the content she promotes.

Now that you've done your initial research, and hopefully conducted a list of possible influencers for your brand to work with, it's time to connect.

You want to reach out to influencers without seeming spammy or too transactional. Relationships are key, after all. And if you have a bad relationship with your brand influencer, odds are they won't continue to post on your behalf.

Connecting with Influencers

1. Reach out...strategically.

Cold emailing or direct messaging an influencer isn't a great strategy for relationship building. If you have an interest in working with an influencer, try courting them first.

What I mean by this is, you should subscribe to their blog, follow all their social channels, and comment on their posts. Influencers work hard on their content, just like your business does. If you want an influencer to take notice of your business, you have to be interested in what they're doing, as well. Beginning a partnership by interacting on the channels you hope to work together on will demonstrate your interest.

Some influencers have a presence on multiple social media platforms. It's your job to know how they want to be contacted for business partnerships. If they have a business email in their Instagram bio, that's likely the best choice. Alternatively, maybe they have an inquiries section on their blog. Whatever the case is, make sure to send a personal message that doesn't feel like it's been generated by a template.

2. Make a human connection.

Sending messages into the digital universe is a scary feeling because you don't know when or if you'll ever hear back. Making a connection in the real world is much more actionable, and puts a face to your business.

This doesn't mean you should go out and stalk your list of influencers until you meet in person.

If you're serious about making a connection, try attending or hosting an influencer event.

Bringing influencers to you will make connecting with them much easier, and give them an opportunity to interact with your brand before agreeing to work with you.

Many marketers are learning to market themselves as well as their business. Hopefully, you've been growing your network, as well -- so you may already have connections to your influencers.

If you have someone who is at the very top of your list, see if they're following someone you know. Maybe they've worked with a similar brand in the past, and you know someone on that team. The world is smaller than we think, and you might just be sitting on a goldmine of potential relationships.

3. Manage your outreach efforts.

Like any other marketing strategy, influencer outreach should be organized and well-documented. The last thing you want is to accidentally reach out to the same influencer on four different platforms with the same message. Yikes.

After reaching out, be sure to give an influencer some time before a follow-up. Just like in a sales pitch, you don't want to be overbearing or clingy. Be respectful of the influencer's time -- if they want to work with you, they'll respond to your outreach.

You should also be documenting what outreach strategies work for you. Maybe after a first email, you've found success in hopping on a call with potential influencers. Knowing what works for you will help you further develop your outreach strategy, and enable you to be more creative in the future.

To recap, brand influencers can help you:

  • Build and expand a devoted following
  • Increase your word-of-mouth marketing efforts
  • Bring in more sales, leads, and conversions
  • Create more human relationships with your potential customers

The right influencers are inherently interested in your brand, believe in your mission, and are capable of communicating about your business eloquently.

Focusing on long-term relationships with your influencers will continue to build their knowledge of your company, and will bring the best results.

Next, take a look at The Ultimate List of Instagram Influencers in Every Industry (94 and Counting!) to begin researching the ideal influencers for your brand.

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