Influencer marketing is the hot term of the past several years.

Are you using it? Should you be? Is influencer marketing only for online businesses? Can small business owners of brick and mortar businesses use influencer marketing? The answer to this last question is absolutely, and we’re going to show you how.

Influencer marketing definitely has sway in the brick and mortar market.

According to research, consumers increasingly rely on visual social media platforms to find product reviews for items they’re considering purchasing, with 45% of female consumers turning to Instagram and 35% looking at Pinterest. And even while inside a brick and mortar store, 70% of consumers say they sometimes/often/all of the time check online reviews from their phones while shopping. Clearly, influence extends further than you might think.

Influencer marketing is not just for the likes of Nike, Gucci, and Amazon. Influencer marketing has tremendous potential for businesses of all kinds and all sizes, although it should be approached differently when it comes to brick and mortar businesses.

What is influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing has leapt onto the scene in recent years. Alongside the explosive growth of social media and entertainment platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat, individual content creators have risen to the top. Across these platforms, there are creators who have amassed enormous followings. Hundreds of thousands or even millions of people watch their videos, follow their accounts, and provide them with eager eyes on their content. Thus, influencers are born.

Influencers are those who have a (usually large) audience of devoted followers and may influence their decisions, about what to buy, where to travel, what to wear, and much more. The best influencers not only have a large audience but, more importantly, have an engaged and active audience.

There are influencers in nearly every category imaginable, from fashion to beauty, travel to outdoor adventure, motherhood to motorcycles. Influencers exist in every niche and category and there are influencers with all sizes of audiences, too. While some influencers have followings numbering in the millions, there are also successful influencers with only a few thousand followers.

Many celebrities in film, television, or music are also influencers in their own right. These folks likely didn’t gather their sizeable followings via social media, but because of their reputation in other areas. Yet social media is where their fans can go to follow them closely and intimately.

Influencer marketing emerged when businesses looking to promote their product saw how they could leverage the potential of these influencers’ vast audiences. Influencer marketing provides a business with access to a wider audience, and often one that is different than their own audience.

And these influencers have sway. Their opinions and recommendations are valued by their followers. The hopeful end result? Influencer marketing yielding heaps of sales and profits.

That, in a nutshell, is how influencer marketing functions. But it’s not always so straightforward anymore. There are a few obstacles to be tackled.

How do you choose which influencer(s) to work with?

These social media platforms and video/gaming sites have grown exponentially since influencer marketing came on the scene. Nowadays, it can feel like everyone is an influencer (or at least trying to be one). How do you find the right content creators to connect with? How do you know who is legitimate and has true influence?

Can you afford influencer marketing?

Many business owners think that influencer marketing sounds prohibitively expensive. And in truth, if you’re looking to work with Beyoncé, it is going to cost you.

But influencer marketing can be very affordable when you work with the right influencers that meet the needs of your brand.

How can I tell if an influencer genuinely has influence?

A third concern with modern influencer marketing is being sure to properly vet potential influencers. Sadly, there are a fair number of “faux influencers” out there. There have been news stories of Instagrammers, for example, inflating their numbers with fake/bought followers, fake likes, and even fake comments. These individuals may have impressive audience numbers, but if their audience isn’t real, no one’s on the other end. No one’s going to be buying what they’re selling.

How Influencer Marketing is Different for a Brick & Mortar Business

Influencer marketing can be a success for many different types of enterprises, but traditional brick & mortar businesses have unique considerations.

Here’s what to do when thinking of using influencer marketing for your local, physical business.

1. Local Local Local

The first step when launching an influencer marketing campaign of this kind is to keep your focus on the local. You will want influencers who are local to your business and who also have an audience with a significant percentage of local residents, too.

This can be accomplished by looking at a few things, including what kind of content they are posting, what their niche is, and who is engaging with their posts. All of this information is 100% public; you simply sign into Instagram and take a look at the profile of your potential influencer and those who are interacting with them.

You want to see a niche that, if not matching yours, is at least complementary. You want to see lots of local content being created and shared on their feed. A locally-based influencer who doesn’t focus on the region isn’t going to be helpful to you. Perhaps he or she only share images taken while travelling.

Now, look at the comments and likes on the photos. You can often glean if an influencer has an engaged, local audience from these. Look for consistency across the posts.

Finally, look at the content that is created. Are they quality images or videos? Are they clear, bright, and well-composed? Will this influencer’s style mesh with your brand?

2. How to find these influencers in the first place

You may be stumped on where to start when influencer marketing is concerned. Does your business have it’s own social media accounts? (Spoiler alert: it should). That’s a great place to start.

On Instagram, for instance, you can see who has tagged your business. Hashtags are also a brilliant way to search. Nearly all Instagram influencers use hashtags alongside their content. By searching local hashtags, you can find local influencers. Simple and effective. You can also search public posts by location, to find the accounts getting the most attention on posts about your area.

3. Create the right campaigns for a local business

Picking your influencers is definitely the most important step with influencer marketing. After all, if they don’t have the right audience, any of your subsequent efforts will be in vain.

But you definitely need an effective influencer marketing campaign to get the results you want, too.

What you’ll do may be largely determined by the type of products or services you sell, as well as what your primary goal for the campaign is. Is it brand awareness? Announcing a grand opening? Pushing a brand new product?

A local hair salon looking to increase brand awareness, for instance, could consider inviting local beauty influencers into the shop for a day of pampering and a new ‘do. In exchange, influencers could share real-time Instagram stories about their experience, giving their followers an inside look at a great salon. YouTube influencers might capture video content that they will edit and share later.

You might create an influencer campaign for a big upcoming event like a grand opening or annual sale. This type of approach may involve influencers posting on their platforms ahead of the event and drumming up excitement and anticipation. Then they could provide live stories or live Facebook videos during the event itself. This would potentially be a longer-term partnership, but it could pay off nicely for the small business owner.

For product-focused posts, you can opt to send the influencer the item in exchange for their honest review or for some coverage on their platforms. This is definitely one of the most common approaches for online stores, but for a brick and mortar business, having influencers onsite at your business may be the most powerful approach in the end.

Not sure how to present your business to someone else’s audience? Influencers themselves often have the best ideas when it comes to promotion. They know their audiences and they know what works. After all, they’re the ones who have built the audience. Don’t be afraid to give them the freedom to create something that will be beneficial for both of you. These posts often prove the most effective and engaging---and they feel most natural to an audience.

4. Offer the right exchange

You want to ensure that your end of the bargain is a solid one. While there are some influencers who will work for a small product exchange, an increasing number require monetary compensation. So, be aware that you may need to set aside a budget for influencer marketing, particularly if you’re looking to work with larger, more experienced influencers.

If payment is not what you had in mind, or out of the question altogether, there are other options, as well. It is possible to provide a high-quality product in exchange for social media coverage. Paid campaigns will generally garner greater coverage (multiple posts, sharing across different platforms, etc.) while for a simple product exchange you may only receive a single post in trade. Know what to expect, don’t be afraid to negotiate, and most of all, be respectful of them as fellow professionals. Although it can seem easy, the job of being a social media influencer is actually a fairly demanding job and influencers don’t appreciate being asked to work for free, or worse yet, for “exposure.”

5. Size matters, but it isn’t everything

One of the biggest mistakes businesses make is looking solely at the number of followers an influencer has. In many ways, this is the least important metric.

Brands are starting to understand this reality more and more, and so we have witnessed the rise of the micro influencer and nano influencer. These are influencers who reach an audience on a much smaller scale but have a high-quality, focused following. There are a lot of benefits to working with small influencers.

Typically, these individuals have a more engaged audience, especially if they have a highly-specific niche. Larger accounts on Instagram, for example, find their content doesn’t often reach their entire audience. Yet smaller accounts don’t experience this problem. Their accounts tend to perform better algorithmically and their posts are shown to more of their followers. Plus, these influencers are better able to interact regularly and authentically with their followers, creating a more loyal audience. Influencers with 500k followers probably are not able to spend as much time connecting one-on-one with followers, primarily because they are inundated with likes and comments. It becomes too much to manage.

Not only do micro influencers and nano influencers frequently have more optimal audiences, but they also tend to command a more reasonable price. So not only are you working with an influencer at a more affordable rate, you’re getting a far better return on your investment. This is definitely a win-win.

And speaking of a win, if your business is in a distinct, unique niche, working with a local micro or nano influencer in that niche can be the most advantageous approach of all. Remember, quality matters far more than quantity, especially if you want to see real results from your campaigns.

6. Seek authenticity

More and more brands, marketers, and influencers are focusing on authenticity in their content and their campaigns. Perhaps this comes about as a reaction to an increase in inauthenticity: inflated numbers, shady tactics, and even fake accounts. But whatever the cause, being authentic is more important than ever, and maybe doubly so for a local business.

Look for influencers that mesh well with your brand and hold similar values as you. An authentic influencer who is genuinely interested in your product or service will be far more effective than one who is only in it for the cash. And an influencer who keeps it real with their own audience is also important. These influencers have earned the trust of their audience, which makes any marketing or selling far, far more effective to this audience.

This is a fantastic article on authenticity in influencer marketing, including the story of a successful marketing campaign for a brick and mortar business.

7. Measure and assess

Finally, don’t forget to take stock of your influencer campaigns. It’s important to know what your goals are ahead of time, as there are some things that are more difficult to measure with these types of campaigns. By and large, influencer campaigns are mostly about raising brand awareness.

A campaign designed to raise brand awareness doesn’t necessarily have any numbers you can measure to draw a reasonable conclusion. Sure, you can observe the engagement on a given post or video, but you may not be able to trace the results of the campaign to future customers. This means it’s important not to put too much stock in numbers: the number of likes, comments, or views a piece of content receives, etc. These are just numbers, dependent on a variety of factors, and they don’t necessarily tell us anything tangible about the efficacy of the campaign. If you’ve chosen your influencers well, and properly vetted them, you can feel fairly confident that your campaign has had the desired impact, despite what the “likes” might say.

A campaign geared towards promoting a specific product is different. In this case, you are likely hoping to measure the number of leads and sales generated from the campaign, and specifically from the individual influencer. You may be able to do this with tracking codes for online purchases, but for brick and mortar sales, or for shops without online stores, the actual return may be nearly impossible to track. Your sales may increase a few weeks or months in the future, as a result of this campaign, but there’s no way to know. (One clever option, in this case, might be to have influencers give their followers a discount code. They can then use the code when making a purchase in your store, and this gives you a fairly reliable way to track the efforts of your influencer campaign.)

Ultimately, influencer marketing really can work, but it needs a savvy approach and a focus on the right influencers with local, true influence.

Have you worked with influencers? What was your experience like?

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