Influencer marketing for startups is the Ultimate growth hack

Tasked with driving inbound leads and conversions for your startup? Influencer marketing should be on the top of your marketing tactics to test in 2017 for 3 reasons:

  1. Provides access to a LARGE and ENGAGED audience
  2. “Organic” content is more effective than paid advertising (to the tune of 9x)
  3. Enables you to quickly scale content creation

What Is Growth-Hacking anyways?

If you’re reading this, I imagine you already have a good idea of what a Growth Hacker does so I’ll keep it short. Put simply, a growth hacker is someone who rapidly experiments with various tactics with a goal of driving revenue and/or acquisitions. Most importantly, a great growth hacker identified and focuses on those channels that offer the highest ROI. They work quickly, experiment quickly, and work across all business functions to drive results. It’s about efficiency and effectiveness.

QuickSprout has an excellent definition of what growth hacking is, so we’ll let them sum it up:

“Every decision that a growth hacker makes is informed by growth. Every strategy, every tactic, and every initiative, is attempted in the hopes of growing. Growth is the sun that a growth hacker revolves around.”

So where does influencer marketing fit into growth hacking?

Done correctly, influencer marketing doesn’t fit neatly into what we think of as classical marketing. Influencer marketing means finding and engaging with the trend-setters, the thought leaders in your industry to drive interest and inbound leads to your startup. The reason this doesn’t fit neatly is because it requires a combination of skills; namely, business development, PR, sales, marketing and even product. It’s about covering a range of areas, and equiping your influencers with the assets needed to drive results for your brand. This may mean providing them with special editions of your product, early access, inviting them to local VIP events, or even getting feedback on product during development to maximize chance of market acceptance.

Why Influencer Marketing Works

Today’s digital consumer savvy and conducts online research before purchasing a product. In fact, 81% of shoppers conduct online research before they make a purchase, with 61% reading reviews and independent blogs before making any purchase. Startups (really any business) cannot afford to dismiss 60% of their addressable market!!! Looking at it another way, influencer marketing has the potential to increase your total addressable market (TAM) by over 2x. Make sure you’re really going after the market you pitched in your investor decks.

Online advertising is losing its effectiveness. 25% - 80% of people use some sort of ad-blocking technology (depending on the market segment you ar focused on) and those who don’t are ignoring intrusive banner, search and pop-up ads. Paid advertising isn’t the only way to go anymore.

Influencer marketing programs work when brands find and activate the right set of influencers to promote your product your business. All you need to do is ensure that the influencers you target are people who align with your product (hopefully LOVE your product) and have the means to get it out into the world and let people know about it. Influencer marketing not only effectively generates buzz for your product, but drive inbound leads.

Why Influencer Marketing Is Great For YOUR startup

As a startup, influencer marketing should be one of the channels you’re heavily focused on from the onset. You’re a startup, and that means a few things:

  1. You are limited by both time and money
  2. You and your team are spread thin, and you’re all going at a million miles an hour to keep up with the businesses’ demands
  3. You are willing to testing new approaches and doubling down on tactics that deliver results.

Influencers help you scale your content creation and maybe more importantly its distribution. The real beauty of working with influencers is that they are speaking with an engaged audience. Leveraging the voice of influencers is the perfect way to get information about your product and your business into people’s hands with minimal cost in terms of both time and money.

Moreover, the influencers are already speaking with the prospects you want to target, which removes the job of actually finding them. In addition, other influencers will undoubtedly be following your chosen influencers, presenting the likelihood of your content going viral and spreading into other channels and social streams.

How To Choose Your Influencers

Before we get into the ‘do’s’ of influencer marketing, let’s talk about what you should be avoiding; what we call the dark side of influencer marketing. Throughout this article, we’ve been advising that you heavily take advantage of influencer marketing, and it can be understood as you taking from the influencers, and taking only. The ethical and most successful influencer marketing is based on trust between both your business and the influencer, and not a one-sided partnership.

Here’s what we’ve learned after running campaigns across industries over the past 12 months:

First tip: Focus on micro-influencers instead of larger internet celebrities. Micro-influencers (defined as 5k-100k followers across channels drive 2-4x the engagement as compared to those with 100k followers

This means a bit more effort in building a network of influencers with sufficient reach and expected engagement. It’s easier to reach 10M potential customers by finding and connecting with 10 people who have 1M followers each than 200 people with 50k followers.

But the data proves that going after the group of 200 “micro-influencers” will be far more effective. We analyzed over 100k Instagram accounts and blogs and found that micro-influencers engagement rate is between 6%-10% while those with 1M followers get around 1% engagement. That’s a 10x return by going micro!

Another good proxy for making this determination is percentage of sponsored posts. If you are considering anyone who falls above 50%, run! Typically micro-influencers (those with <50K or <100k depending on your definition) have more authentic content and will drive better results in terms of engagement.

If you’re not sold, here’s a couple other reasons for avoiding bigger influencers:

  1. Hefty upfront price-tag (macro influencers charge more on a CPE basis by 3x-5x)
  2. Inauthentic content and low engagement (After all, who wants to buy into the product that’s been shilling to everyone they can get their hands on? No one)

The second tip: Work with influencers already aligned with your brand.

It’s your job to make sure the influencers you choose represent you properly and with integrity. While large audiences are appealing (after all who doesn’t want more eyes on their product?), they can end up costing you a lot more than you stand to make.

Don’t be tempted by the numbers and instead look at the influencer, what they’re typically known for, and the online persona that surrounds them. If you’re selling a new piece of wearable tech for example, there’s no point in choosing influencers who deal predominantly with cosmetics but dabble in tech to promote you – their audience is primarily there for cosmetics, and not the tech side.

Be clever with your choices. Choose influencers who reflect what your brand is, and promote that strongly; if they do talk about other areas, that’s perfectly fine so long as their main audience is there for the niche your business is in.

Third Tip: Data is king, just make sure to analyze the right data

At the end of the day, your goal with Influencer marketing should be the same as any other marketing program – to drive sales. Don’t get caught up in social media vanity metrics like followers and likes. This will help you weed through the noise generated by bots.

The best proxy on social media for resonance is engagement. You’ll want to work with influencers who get a high relative amount of engagement on the content they create. That can be how many times their blog articles are shared across social media, how many likes and comments they get on Instagram, or how many comments they get on average for a blog post.

Just remember engagement is what you should be focused on, as an influencer must connect with their audience and be able to start conversations in order to drive sales.

Fourth Tip: Trust is key, both between you and the influencer, and the influencer and their audience.

Find people that you trust to represent you properly, but that are also trusted. Again, it comes down to our desire for those big numbers. But big numbers mean nothing if none of the audience takes action. It’s like sticking your head out of the window in the middle of a city, and screaming something; sure, people will notice, but they’ll quickly forget and go on with their lives.

Find people you can trust to deliver; which segues nicely into our next point.

How To Get Started With Authentic Influencer Marketing

The first step is to identify the biggest influential content creators in your market.

There’s no need to overthink this one; just grab your marketing topics and keywords and Google-fu your way to finding some of the popular influencers and sites. Comb Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn groups and Google’s first few pages. Make a list of the top creators you’d like to work with.

Remember: The influencers you choose should align your product and business as well as the problem you’re solving.

Doing this takes time and will only get you so much information. This is where Lumanu’s concierge service comes in really handy. Lumanu’s power is working with you to identify the right influencers based on their reach and engagement. We hate to stress it, but it really comes down not just finding influencers with big enough audiences but the right audiences. Numbers mean nothing if it’s not an actively engaging audience.

Lumanu ensures you target the right influencers – the ones with those engaged audiences. Lumanu’s concierge service also manages outreach and negotiation, delivering vetted influencer introductions and partnership opportunities. But if you’d rather manage this process on your own, read on…

How to build relationships and work with influencers

Start by engaging with your chosen influencers over social media. Find their social profiles, and follow them. See what they’re posting, sharing, tweeting etc. Subscribe to their blogs as well to see what kind of content they’re publishing. Not only do you get to see what you can expect to get if you work with them, it’s also a great opportunity for you to share their content and show that you appreciate their work.

Definitely not a bad way to start out a working relationship!

The golden rule is to make sure you’re giving as much if not more than they are. Send them product samples, hook them up with premium access to your product or SaaS platform, things like that. Some of the top brands even pay for trip and experiences. You’re showing them you’re a brand to be taken seriously and also that you care about them.

It’s a way to say “hey, we respect your expertise and reach – this is how much.” Be careful however that this tactic doesn’t come across as you buying their expertise. Not only will they not appreciate that feeling, but may also let people they’re in touch with know that’s how you approach business – not a good look. It’s important to frame it as you giving them an opportunity to try out your product and share the great experience with their audience, and not you simply buying them off.

Maintain these relationships. It isn’t a hit-and-run kind of relationship you should be aiming for. The longer you work with influencers, the more they’ll know and trust you to deliver great products to their audience. If you can, meet up with them at conferences, events and the like – develop, strengthen and maintain those relationships through regular interaction.

Don’t forget that they’re people and not just a gate to more profit – it sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget that they have their own agendas, desires and goals. That means they’ll have insights, feelings and thoughts on your business and your product, so keep your ears open for invaluable advice, particularly into your customer’s needs and your product roadmap.

Not only that, but they’re perfectly placed to let you know what your competitors are doing, and how you can differentiate yourself from them – a very powerful tool indeed, and something you want to have access to.

Here are some of the most common influencer relationships:

  • Thought leadership content and product comparisons (get your brand into the consideration set)
  • Amplification of exiting content or product releases
  • Special discounts for new customer acquisition
  • Special affiliate programs (if the influencer loves your product, incentivize them and provide subsequent compensation if they bring in customers)
  • Product focus group participation
  • Special advisory roles

See how this can go way beyond traditional marketing? It’s about developing and nurturing relationships and using that power and trust responsibly to develop your business ethically. It’s an be much more than transactional, it’s relationship-building and establishing your brand in the market through reliable and ethical sources, without using traditional advertising that screams “look at me!”.

The Numbers: What To Do After You’ve Developed The Relationships

The next step is to set goals (if you haven’t already), and measure the results once the influencers go to work.

You should decide upfront what your business goals are in terms of influencer efforts in order to decide (as a growth hacker) if influencer marketing is a good fit for your business and worth the time and energy it’s going to cost. After all, if there’s no likelihood of your business profiting from influencer marketing (unlikely but possible!), there’s definitely no point pouring money and time into it.

Finally, measure your inbound referral sources. Who is pushing the most traffic and revenue your way? Double down on the biggest traffic drivers, and invest more time and energy on ensuring those influencers are taken care of. It comes down to the 8020 rule – 80% of the results out-performing the rest. From there, it’s up to you continue to refresh your influencer pool, adding new influencers to your business, and continue to grow so that your product gains further traction in the market, leading ultimately to success!

If you want to know more about influencer marketing, check out another blog post that covers this process in more detail:

Paul Johnson
Co-founder at Lumanu

Paul has a background in management consulting but found a passion for marketing & inbound sales when technology enabled the capability to react and respond to customer needs in real-time

He co-founded Lumanu with the mission to simplify the messy and unpredictable process of generating growth via organic digital content