Article originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal.

If you’ve spent any time on Instagram, the phrases “link in bio,” “swipe up” and “#sponsored” will sound pretty familiar. As social media platforms continually evolve, they have created more and more ways for brands to promote their products and engage with fans. However, the competition is tough and attention levels are short. Enter: influencers.

Influencer marketing is when brands align themselves with key leaders (influencers) to spread their message to a new, larger audience. Instead of marketing directly to a consumer, a brand will hire an influencer to spread the word about the brand or product to their audience.

While the concept of businesses hiring a spokesperson is not new, gone are the days when your brand needed to land a celebrity spokesperson to get its message out. Social media has allowed individuals around the globe to grow their own niche following through blogs, YouTube videos and Instagram accounts.

Whether they’re a local lifestyle blogger with 10,000 Instagram followers or an industry expert regularly posting to 500,000+ fans, social media has created a playing field where “everyday people” can become trusted sources of information for thousands of followers.

Working with influencers can be a powerful opportunity for small businesses, especially those in the B2C space. As with any marketing initiative, however, setting up a successful influencer campaign requires a lot of research, strategy and measurement. Here are some of the top things to evaluate when considering an influencer marketing campaign:

What is the goal of the campaign?

Start your campaign planning with the end goal in mind. What do you want the result of your influencer marketing campaign to be? Do you want to drive product sales, increase your own company’s number of followers, or build brand awareness? These different goals will have different calls-to-action. For example, if your goal is to sell a product you may want to offer a unique discount code for an influencer to share with their followers, along with a direct link they can share on Instagram or their blog. Clarifying the goal of the campaign will help you determine what your measures of success will be, and design tactics that can help achieve that goal.

What is your target market, and what channels are they the most active on?

It is imperative that you have a strong understanding of your target market for an influencer campaign. This includes basic information like age, gender, location, etc., but also a variety of behavioral information like hobbies, spending habits, eating habits and additional lifestyle information. The characteristics of your target market should align with a potential influencer. Social media users love influencers because they identify with their unique personality and trust their opinions. These same followers also are smart enough to know when a blogger they follow is trying to sell them something. In order for the “sell” to work, the product or service the influencer is promoting has to match the interest of their audience. You cannot force a partnership with an influencer to work if they do not align with your brand and target market. It also is important to know on which online channels your audience and/or influencers are most active. Do you want to engage with someone who has a large Instagram following, a blog, a YouTube channel, or a strong presence on all social channels? It’s wise to prioritize an influencer with a significant reach on a platform that your target market uses regularly. For example, research shows Generation Z overwhelmingly prefers Instagram, so a campaign focused on Facebook or Twitter would not be an effective use of your money.

How much can you spend?

Of course, the answer to this question will vary. It’s important to consider how your budget may affect your influencer outreach. Influencers with a lot of followers will charge more, and most campaigns will not show results overnight. An effective strategy will create a long-term relationship with an influencer to continually build trust between your brand and the audience.

How should you determine which influencer to approach?

Once your goals, target market and budget are established, it’s time to find the right influencer. Influencer fit is one of the most important factors in a successful campaign. Many businesses may struggle with influencer marketing because you have to give up control to some degree. It is up to the influencer to clearly and accurately spread your brand’s product or message in a way they think their audience will respond to. Don’t hand over the reins to just anyone! Make sure that they truly match your business’s values, mission and connect with your target market in an authentic way.

Where to search

Social media and Google searches are some of the easiest ways to begin looking for influencers. Find out what key industry terms people search for, and look for blogs that have a high Google search ranking for those topics. Check out multiple relevant hashtags on Twitter or Instagram to see whose posts are trending. Additionally, check out your own website analytics to see who is currently driving traffic to your site. An influencer might already be linking to your site!

What to analyze

Now that you’ve got a list of influencers who effectively reach your target market, take some time to analyze their content. How many followers do they have? How frequently do they post? What type of responses do they receive from their followers, and how are they creating opportunities for engagement? Make sure you read at least five posts on their blog or social media channel, and comment on a few to see if/how the blogger engages with you.

How to measure influence

While an influencer’s number of followers won’t necessarily correlate to the number of sales of your product, it is wise to take a look at the reach of your top-priority influencers. How many followers do they have on social media? How many monthly blog readers? Tools like Klout can help you measure influencer reach, links to original content and traffic driven to a site. Additionally, a simple Twitter or Instagram search for an influencer-specific hashtag can provide valuable metrics on reach as well.

Designing an influencer marketing campaign is not easy and does not come without its challenges. While some metrics like number of new followers, number of discount codes used and number of views to a post are measurable, the industry still is figuring out how to communicate ROI on brand exposure.

Sometimes a well-placed post or mention can change the game for a small business, but a majority of successful campaigns require time, research and trust. If your marketing strategy can navigate the considerations above, the world of influencer marketing just might be the powerhouse tactic you need.

In Business