Matches shaped with red human heads - social media influencer concept
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Influencer marketing is real, it’s proven and it's growing, which is why total brand spending on social media influencers is projected to reach $101 billion by 2020.

However, while brands may be embracing influencers, it's essential to have a plan when selecting and approaching them. Industry leaders offer advice on how to best get started with influencer marketing.

Realize the Value of a Social Media Influencer

Before you set out to hunt for influencers to push your brand, product or service, you need to realize the value of an influencer. You must understand the role they can play in bridging the gap between your brand and your target audience.

"Customers in 2019 are less likely to trust brand messages" according to Haley Fraser, content marketing manager at Pixlee. She said people have trust in their peers, and the figures they've “opted in” to hearing from, more than brands without a human element.

Yaniv Masjedi, CMO at Nextiva, explained that influencers can help smaller companies jostle with larger competitors when it comes to popular culture and media in general. "All of the mainstream brands [use product placement] at live events, as well as in movies, TV shows, radio, print, articles, etc," Masjedi said. She believes, "influencers are a way for small and midsized businesses to get a piece of the media pie as well."

Evy Wilkins, VP of marketing at Traackr, said, "brands [can leverage influencers to] merge their marketing, sales, product and social media [efforts] through relevant relationship-based communication," touching on the fact that trust and social proof can be generated by the human-nature of influencer marketing.

Related Article: Social Media Influencers: Mega, Macro, Micro or Nano

How to Choose Your Ideal Influencer (or Influencers)

Whether you’re looking for a mega influencer or a nano influencer, our experts offer four main tips:

1. Know Your Target Audience

It's essential to know how your audience evaluates the products it buys. Wilkins said becoming "an expert in the space will help you identify your key audience to strengthen your core message." Masjedi agreed, "If you are in tune with your customer base and core audience, it shouldn't take you long to figure out who they follow — that's who you need to go to."

2. Find Experts in Your Industry

Effective influencers are experts in a specific industry. This allows influencers to "have strong relationships with their audience, know their likes and dislikes, and how to create content that resonates," explained Wilkins. She suggested you pay attention to the influencer's audience and "make sure you're aligned on brand values and messaging before pursuing any possible prospects."

3. Concentrate on the Underdogs

Influencers with the most followers may not have the best ROI. Instead, Wilkins said, "what can be more effective is learning about mid-tier and micro-influencers." Fraser agreed it's best to focus on smaller influencers, adding that brands choosing "highly engaged, niche influencers that connect with their target audience see a lot of success with influencer marketing."

4. Focus on Authenticity

When it comes to influencers, transparency and trust can lead to stronger collaborations and more authentic messaging. Wilkins says to remember, "Influencers are people, not channels." She says building trust with influencers "can have a positive ripple-effect — and it shows!" Audiences benefit from a great fit between a brand and influencers.

Related Article: Why Nano-Influencers Are a Social Media Marketers Secret Weapon

How to Approach Social Media Influencers

There are many ways to get into contact with influencers, and the approach will likely be different for each brand.

Masjedi said the best thing you can do is become a legitimate follower yourself that "consumes the influencer's content, engages with it and is a part of the follower community." She says this will help you ensure the influencer is a suitable fit for your brand, and increase the probability of the target influencer responding to your outreach. "[W]hile everyone loves money," suggests Masjedi, "even influencers appreciate a real fan over an artificially peppy outreach team member."

After following an influencer and doing proper research, Wilkins recommends "reaching out to conduct an initial discussion with potential partners," as this gives you the chance to "discuss shared goals and what the benefits for both parties would be if the partnership came to fruition." You don't want to jump right into negotiations until you know the relationship is a right fit for both your brand and the influencer's audience. "Most influencer engagements aren't one-time projects," explained Masjedi, so you "want to develop a relationship with the person."

Wilkins reveals that Traackr’s customer SAP, for example, "treats their influencer partnerships like clients, which in turn leaves both parties feeling positive and keeps the door open for influencers to partner with them multiple times. She says this contributes to continuing partnerships that help SAP "create a compelling and cohesive story through their influencer marketing campaigns."

Reaching knowledgable and skeptical B2B decision-makers isn't easy, but influencer marketing may be a key strategy in building trust and brand awareness. Fraser said, "Influencers give brands the engagement and scale needed to win over the hearts and minds of customers." That's not something brands want to overlook.