How can Instagram influencers help my business?

This is the question I’ve been asking myself for a while and I’ve been itching to start an experiment to find the answer. Would influencer marketing be a useful and cost effective strategy to improve our sales in our new handmade shop, Boldlie & Co?

We finally set out to implement a simple 4 step strategy we hope you’ll find useful:

  1. Define your influencer marketing goals and budget
  2. Find Instagram influencers
  3. Pitch to Instagram influencers
  4. Measure the success of your influencer marketing campaign

C’mon, dive in, copy our strategy or just take bits and pieces of it for your own marketing plan…

 

Step 1: Define your influencer marketing goals and budget

Before we start, I want you to take a long hard look at your business.

  • Are you a big and established business or are you a small newcomer?
  • Is your business well known in your niche or are you a no namer?

You probably already know your answer and we’re not afraid to admit that we are a small and new brand with hardly any brand recognition. It likely means that a lot of influencers probably won’t even look at us unless we have a big budget.

Fear not, it’s still possible to find success in influencer marketing. It just means we have to be realistic about our goals and final outcomes.

 

Setting realistic goals for our influencer marketing campaign

Before diving into any marketing campaign, we always ask ourselves why we’re doing it.

Are we trying to generate more traffic in order to make more sales?
Or, are we trying to build our following in order to expand our reach?

Of course, we would LOVE to achieve both goals and it is totally possible for some businesses. But knowing how small we are and how tiny our budget is (more on that below), we think it’s worth more to focus on one goal: building our Instagram following in order to expand our reach.

 

Setting an influencer marketing budget

A marketing budget for influencers can quickly get out of hand when there’s so many popular influencers commanding up to hundreds of dollars per post PLUS free stuff.

Okay, okay – so I lied in the title of this post. Influencer marketing is never truly free. There’s always a cost – whether that’s cash, freebies or time. Here are some of the most common ways influencers might expect to be paid:

  • Pay per post. Some influencers will agree to promote a business in exchange for money.
  • Free stuff. Sending products to influencers to endorse.
  • Free stuff + pay per post. Really big influencers get tonnes of free stuff, so often only the companies who pay + post (free stuff) get a shout out.
  • Influence exchange. If you’ve built a bit of a following yourself, you can collaborate with influencers by offering to feature them on your Instagram. Hopefully, they return the favor.

We’ve decided to send out free stuff as our method of paying our influencers. You have to remember that working with influencers is about building relationships. The more you give first, the more likely people will want to help you out.

 

What free stuff should you send to Instagram influencers?

Remember back to when I said influencer marketing isn’t free? Neither is sending “free stuff”. It still costs you money to produce the product. Plus, whatever you give away can no longer be sold in your shop.

In the end, we chose to give influencers their choice of digital print from our shop. We’re lucky because we have digital products in our shop inventory. We’ve already created the product, we don’t need to spend money on shipping and we’ll never run out of stock.

If you sell physical products, think about something small that you can send that’s easy on the wallet. Here’s how to pick a gift that’s more cost effective.

  • Can you offer a digital version of your product just for influencers?
  • Can you send a “sample” size of an existing product?
  • Can you send them something physically smaller that would fit in an envelope?
  • Can you send items that might not be as popular?
  • Can you send seconds or items that aren’t completely perfect that you wouldn’t usually sell to your customers?

 

Step 2: Find Instagram influencers

Next, it’s time to identify influencers in your niche, reach out to them and pay them.

 

How to find Instagram influencers in your niche

If you make vegan soap, you might get some results by sending your products to the biggest food blogger in your city with 100,000+ followers. But, you might actually get better results by sending your products to a healthy lifestyle influencer with just 10,000 followers. They probably have a following that is more likely to buy your vegan soaps.

When thinking about influencers, we want to pick the people that have the most relevant niche to us – not the biggest number. Here’s what we did…

 

Look at your product

Our shop is filled with nursery inspired prints that feature animals, abstract shapes and quirky illustrations.

 

Think about who would want to own your product

Some of our previous customers have been new mothers and dog owners. We sat down and wrote down a list of potential buyers based on our product line:

  • New mothers
  • Whippet and Greyhound owners
  • French Bulldog owners
  • Black cat owners

We divided dog owners based on breeds because we realized that owners usually have a stronger affinity for breeds they own.

 

Write down the hashtags these influencers would use

Next, we wrote down the hashtags influencers in these niches would use. This is pretty important because we want to filter out the influencers from the everyday Instagrammer. Here’s our list:

  • New mothers. #momblogger, #newmom, #mommyblogger, #momblog
  • Whippet and Greyhound owners. #whippetmom, #whippetlife, #whippetsofinstagram, #greyhoundsofinstagram
  • French Bulldog owners. #frenchiemom, #frenchielife, #frenchiesofinstagram, #frenchieoftheday
  • Black cat owners. #blackcatsofinstagram, #blackcatsrule

I use Hashtag Suggestions on Later.com to find related hashtags.

Remember, you don’t have to use hashtags. You can filter for influencers by looking at geotags, suggested users and even by writing up your own list of people you admire.

 

Filter for influencers with the optimal amount of followers

We all want to work with niche-relevant influencers with the biggest followers but it’s not always realistic. Consider a few factors before only contacting the big and famous:

  • How much you’re willing to pay. A small budget means that you’re more likely to attract smaller influencers or one’s that are just starting out. This applies if you’re sending out cheaper freebies instead of payment, too.
  • How big your brand is. The same rule applies here – the smaller you are, the less you can offer your influencer in terms of exposure and reach.

With our small following, digital freebie and our zero dollar budget – we’d get better results by putting together a list of smaller followers that fit in the following range:

  • Our influencers should have a minimum of 500 followers. This filters out the everyday user who’s following is made up of their Facebook friends.
  • Our influencers should have less than 7,000 followers. Any more, and the influencers might feel that they’re too “big” to work with us.

To compensate for a smaller following, we also decided to contact more influencers. If we can get 100 influencers with 1,000 followers to talk about us – that’s already a reach of 100,000 people.

If your strategy involves working with bigger names, you can probably forgo the volume and focus on a select few Instagram influencers.

Remember: working with a lot of smaller influencers can be just as effective as working with one big influencer.

Explore the hashtag feeds

Now, it’s time to start putting together a list. We trawled through the hashtags we wrote down and picked posts that looked like content an influencer would share.

If the influencer fell into our follower range, we sent them a DM!

 

Step 3: Pitch to Instagram influencers

It’s time to polish your pitching skills and start contacting Instagram influencers to get on board.

Before you go round spamming people, it’s worth shifting into an influencer’s shoes to come up with a message. Here are my thoughts on crafting a pitch influencers will reply to:

  • Address why the influencer would want to work with you. Does your business relate to their audience? Are you giving them free stuff they would actually want to own?
  • Give, but don’t ask. What can you give to your influencer? I personally never ask influencers to do anything for me in the first message. You can work out those details later.
  • Personalize your message. If you’re sending large amounts of messages, it’s worth complimenting the influencer and letting them know you admire the work they’ve done.
  • Include the next step. Make it clear what you expect the next step is for your influencer. Do you want them to choose a free item? Do you want them to email you their rates?

Here’s the message format that resulted in the most replies. We slightly tweaked the DM based on who we were talking to:

 

How to contact an Instagram influencer

We started the process by making a list of influencers and sending them a personalized DM. In the end, we stopped documenting who we had contacted and we simply messaged someone suitable when we came across their account.

Next time, we want to experiment with sending emails to compare the outreach results. I think if we were working with bigger influencers, DM’s would largely go unnoticed and email might be a better method.

After influencers replied and chose their free gift, here’s a snapshot of the reply we sent:

 

Automating our process with Jarvee

I made myself a goal of contacting 100 influencers at the very start. But after a while, the process got a bit too tedious. You can use automation software like Jarvee to send DM’s and find influencers for you. Here’s the tutorial that I followed to set it all up. The set up took about an hour to figure out, and after that, we didn’t have to touch another outreach DM again!

We still manually replied to messages and sent out the prints one-by-one. I would recommend figuring out the process first and seeing which messages have the biggest impact before automating the process.

 

Step 4: Measure the success of your influencer marketing campaign

Finally, a marketing campaign is not truly a campaign unless we measure how successful it is. Here’s what we’re tracking:

  1. How many influencers reply to our DMs and decide to work with us. Over the course of a week I sent out 150 DM’s and got replies from 34 influencers – a 22% conversion rate! I’m still going back and forth with quite a few of them. So far, I’ve sent out 11 free prints.
  2. How many influencers actually create and post content about our business.
  3. How many new followers we get from our influencers
  4. How many sales we make from our new followers

 

 

How effective is influencer marketing?

I’m a bit hesitant to share the results for the other steps because so many of our influencers haven’t posted anything yet. It’s only been a week, which isn’t a very long time when you’re dealing with Instagram influencers. I’m going to update this section again in a few weeks when our influencers have framed their prints and shared it with their followers. My goal is to reevaluate once we’ve sent 100 free prints.

Interestingly, we got more replies from dog accounts than mom-bloggers. We’re definitely keeping a close eye on the dog owner group because they just seem so much more receptive to collaborations.

Keep in mind, not all influencers will share products you send them unless they are also compensated with cash. It is a gift, after all. And, if the influencer decides that they don’t want to use the product, why would they talk it up to their followers? I’m hoping that most of our influencers will talk about us, but I’m also not expecting a 100% endorsement rate.

 

How much does influencer marketing cost?

At the end of the day, our campaign cost us $0 because we were able to send digital products. What we saved in dollars, cost us in time, though. Because our strategy relied on contacting LOTS of small influencers, we were constantly replying to DM’s and getting files ready for our influencers.

If you’re not taking a volume approach to influencer marketing, you might want to consider all the other small costs that might add up:

  • The rate paid to your influencers
  • The cost of the product you’re sending
  • The profit you would’ve made if you sold the product instead (that you’ve just lost)
  • Shipping and courier costs

It’s so important to stack these costs against your final results and ask yourself whether it’s worth it or not.

 

What we’d like to try next

Instagram influencer marketing is still an experimental strategy for us. Next time, we’d love to mix things up. Right now, it’s proving to be a good strategy to run in the background. The amount of time that we dedicate to replies and sending emails is small enough to keep trying.

Eventually, we want to invest in bigger influencers who do pay-per-post content, mail out physical products and open up potential collaboration project ideas.

What about you? Have you tried influencer marketing for your online shop? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.