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How to Start an Influencer Marketing Program Without a Budget

8 minute read
Greg Miller avatar

Influencers can add authenticity and reach to your content that your brand can’t achieve alone. 

The problem with influencers, though, is you usually need a substantial budget to invest in creating those partnerships. This article will show you a way to use micro-influencers to get that authenticity and exposure to new audiences, without spending anything to create those relationships.

Look for Influencers with Similar Audiences

For the purposes of this article, we’re defining micro-influencers as top sharers of your content who share with audiences like your own. These can be either people and brands, as long as they share your content or similar styles of content regularly.

To make sure that your top sharers are the types of micro-influencers that you want, you need to make sure your content is consistent and always communicates your brand messaging appropriately.

Focus on a Few Content Themes

For my company, we focused on two content themes that we felt would be the easiest ways to incorporate micro-influencers: inspirational quotes and hand drawn graphics that contained tips for job seekers. We focused on these two content themes because they were consistently successful on our channels and would be an easy ask for contributions from our micro-influencers.

We chose inspirational quotes because they are already popular throughout social media, and support our call to action. We use the quotes to motivate viewers to make changes in their careers or get more serious about their job searches.

We’ve found the hand drawn graphics to be a visually appealing way to deliver educational content to help job seekers be more effective in their searches. For those, we simply take quotes and tips that our influencers provide and create graphics for them.

Use Analytics to Find Your Influencers

Once we knew what types of content we would focus on and how we would look for our influencers, we were able to start digging through our data to find them. This can be done through a social media management tool or manually. If you decide to use a manual approach, set up a process and stay as consistent as possible when using it.

We focused on Twitter and Instagram. We started with our top performing posts for each of our content themes and looked at who was sharing them. We followed the accounts that shared those posts, which made our home feed a compilation of what our micro-influencers were sharing. By watching what they shared, we not only got a better read on them, but they also gave us new ideas for content and tone that our audience might be interested in.

If your account already follows a great number of people, you can use lists on Twitter and train the algorithm on Instagram. Instagram, like Facebook, uses an algorithm to decide what it will show you in your stream.

Since Instagram is always trying to learn from your behavior, you can train it to look for certain types of content. The best way to do this is to make sure you like or favorite a few posts from the accounts you are trying to follow on a regular basis. This will allow you to see much more of their content and less of the old content that your home feed would normally pull in.

Judge the Content, Not the Profile

It’s important to note that we didn’t judge these accounts on audience size, post reach or any information contained in their profile descriptions. While these can be important, the most important thing for micro-influencers is the type of content they share.

As long as those influencers have the type of audience you want, you’re in good shape. A mainstream influencer might get your content in front of thousands more people, but the audience a micro-influencer brings can be much more likely to convert to the action you want.

Another important differentiator of this strategy is that it’s focused on amplifying what your micro-influencers are already sharing, as opposed to trying to force different content themes on the audience you want.

When you capitalize on what your influencers are already doing, you increase your chances of gaining multiple shares and creating the kinds of long-lasting relationships that can benefit your brand for years to come.

Create Engagement Before Requesting Participation

We liked and favorited the posts that matched our content themes and we unfollowed the accounts that didn’t share enough of the types of content we were looking for. Engaging with new potential influencers’ posts a few times first also put us on their radar in a positive way.

Since this strategy doesn’t involve using money to create relationships, it’s even more important to find accounts that already like your content and have positive impressions of you. Liking and favoriting their posts was a way to create engagement before sending our request.

Learning Opportunities

Keep Your Interactions Simple

Once you have a pool of accounts sharing your content and you are engaging with them in return, it’s time to reach out. We sent messages directly through the platforms instead of trying to track down email addresses because it also showed us what types of response rates various accounts have on various channels.

In the past, we had tried more open collaborations with partners, but we had run into trouble trying to keep the quality consistent with our brand standards while working with whatever they sent. Those experiences taught us that the key to creating content that both fits for your brand and showcases the contribution is to keep everything as simple as possible.

Maximize Your Content’s Bang for the Buck

The result was that we only asked for short quotes and tips because that content could be easily sent through Messenger, which cut the turnaround time down dramatically.

We also tried to create content that could work on multiple channels. That’s because whenever you are putting a concerted effort into creating a new piece of content, you want to make sure to get as much bang for your buck as possible. Our goal with most of our content is to create evergreen pieces that can be used over and over again if they prove successful the first time.

Stay Organized to Stay Consistent

Once we had our influencers on board, our next challenge was staying consistent with the program. If you use an influencer tool, this can be done for you, but you can also simply use Microsoft Excel and Outlook as we did.

We used Excel spreadsheets to keep track of all the contributions coming in, where they were in our process and when they would be added to our content calendar. We then used Outlook invites to make sure that our communications with the micro-influencers were consistent and timely. You might not feel like you need this in the beginning, but at a certain point you must set up some kind of automated reminders or you’ll start to lose out on your opportunities.

Decide on Your Program Goals

This is also a good time to take stock of how big you ideally want your program to be. Your goal might be to have 10 or fewer influencers that you develop strong relationships with over time. Or you might want to grow as big a list as possible and empower your influencers to take on parts of the process themselves.

We have chosen something in the middle. We are consistently trying to grow our list, but we also pay close attention to which are influencers are most successful so that we can continue and deepen relationships or move on as needed.

Turn Your Influencers Into Promoters

Remember that content should always be your primary focus, because if the content doesn’t work for your audience, it’s not worth the effort. Once you have that down though, promotion is the next step. Again, the key here is keeping it simple. One thing we always make sure we do is tag and notify the micro-influencers when we share the content they helped create.

As long as you are collaborative along the way, they will be excited to share the content with all of their audiences as well. And since your brand is probably much bigger than they are, they might also see it as an honor they’ll want to keep bragging about.

This is also something you can automate, but no matter how influential your influencers may be, they will always appreciate a personal touch.

About the author

Greg Miller

Global Social Media Strategist at CareerBuilder, Greg has also written for SocialMediaExaminer.com and spoke at Social Media Strategy Summit. He has worked on a number of both B2C and B2B brands like Adobe, Kohler, Marriott, Dentsply and Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation.