If you’re venturing into influencer marketing for the first time, it probably feels like unchartered territory. While it can be one of the most effective ways to get in front of your target demographic, it’s also one of the most difficult strategies to wrap your head around. There are dozens of articles out there that boast about the importance of influencer marketing, but not many tell you HOW to do it. Ahead, I’m offering six tips for getting started with influencer marketing campaigns, so you can nail them from start to finish.

Go for influence, not popularity

When you set out on your influencer journey, you’ll probably be using follower counts to uncover the most popular bloggers to work with in your industry. While popularity can certainly be a good indication of influence, the two aren’t one and the same. In fact, it really depends on your business, as influence looks different for everyone. So, before you go out hunting for the biggest bloggers on the block, make sure you know what type of person exerts influence over your demographic. Just because Beyonce has a following the size of Jupiter doesn’t mean her fans are ready to buy your cloud software.

In fact, your ideal influencer might not have through-the-roof follower counts, but if her engagement is solid, your sales, as a result of working with her, could be too. There are no guarantees in influencer marketing, but educated bets can go a long way. I always suggest reading through blog posts to see what types of brands bloggers have partnered with in the past, if those brands are similar to yours, if they’ve received repeat business from them, and if the sentiment and feedback from the audience on their sponsored content is positive.

Find bloggers in your league

If you look at today’s influencers, many have reached near celebrity status. And their near celebrity status has also garnered the attention and business of equally big brands that want access to their readers (and can afford to work with them because, trust me, it really can cost a pretty penny).

If, on the other hand, you’re a startup or medium-size business, that elusive second tier blogger (or as some like to call it, the “magic middle”) is the one to go after. Unfortunately, unless you know all the influential players in your industry, you probably don’t know who those second tier bloggers are off-the-cuff. And they aren’t easy to find either because when you start googling around for roundup lists, you tend to find those same big-time bloggers that everyone wants to work with. To make things easier, I highly suggest using a platform like BuzzSumo, Cision, or ours to uncover influencers and narrow down to the bloggers that best fit your brand, budget, and campaign.

Be strategic about your blogger outreach

Oftentimes brands will develop an outreach template, and go full force with it, blasting out emails to every blogger they can possibly dream of running a campaign with. To achieve a high response rate though, you’ll need to test out different types of emails and personalize your outreach. Pretty much every blogger’s pet peeve is receiving cold, untargeted emails that show you haven’t taken the time to get to know them before pitching some rando campaign. With that in mind, make sure you read through several posts, look for an about page, scan social media, do whatever you have to do to ensure you’ve gotten to know the blogger. Now, use whatever tidbits you’ve gathered to ensure your outreach is personalized and thoughtful. The best way to garner a response is to tie your brand or the campaign directly back to the blogger and why it’s such a good fit. And if you can pull out any specific angles that you really think will be fitting for the blogger, this can help her visualize the campaign instantaneously and how it will be interesting to her readers.

I recommend sending out emails in smaller batches, so you can test out the response rate. Make sure you are tracking opens with something like Sidekick, so if your open rate isn’t high, you can quickly make adjustments to your subject line. If your open rate is high but you aren’t receiving responses, you’ll need to tweak your email. Go for conciseness because bloggers are busy. If you leave the blogger confused, she’ll likely ignore your email inquiry all together.

The winning email combination will be different for each and every blogger so tweak it as you move through your blogger outreach. Just remember that you can’t fake personalization. And when it comes to outreach and relationship-building, personalization is not optional, it’s mandatory.

Communicate expectations

Once you start getting responses from bloggers, don’t be afraid to communication what sort of ROI you want to achieve through the campaign. Be nice about it but don’t be afraid to ask if they think your goals are achievable based on their past similar campaigns. This will also help you out when the campaign wraps, as you’ll be able to judge how well the campaign did based on your targets.

It’s also a good time to ask the blogger for her media kit so you can learn more about the size of her audience and past campaign success. The media kit should also give you a good indication of her demographic, which will further allow you to see if it’s truly in line with the one you’re trying to hit.

Compensate bloggers for their work

Many brands passionately feel they don’t need to compensate bloggers for their time. The truth about influencer marketing though is that it’s just as effective as any other form of paid advertising, and often outperforms all other forms of marketing as well. And just like you pay for your Adwords campaigns and other media buys, you should expect to pay for your influencer marketing campaigns.

Many brands are under the impression that they’re doing bloggers a favor by gifting them products and a topic to share with their readers. While that may be the case for a new blogger, it really isn’t case when the blogger is influential and has a decent size audience. Influencer marketing is often thought to be similar to public relations. In fact, it’s often assumed that bloggers should be working for free because they’re getting great content. But public relations is different because the journalist is getting paid, not necessarily the blogger. Bloggers put tons of time and effort into their campaigns, and as a result, many are making a living from their sponsored content. Especially if you’re working with a blogger that has a kickass following, you definitely need to expect to pay a pretty penny. The bloggers that charge more are often the ones that bring in better results and can shoot your ROI expectations through the roof. And, if you can’t afford that top-tier blogger, just remember that the “magic middle” will expertly target your demographic if you go for the most relevant fit.

Get performance metrics

As far as metrics go, you should be tracking the meaningful ones, not the vanity ones that only look shiny but really don’t translate into any sort of growth for your brand. While it’s nice to see huge spikes in traffic when that post goes live, the hits to your site don’t mean much if the visitors don’t convert on whatever action you’re trying to drive. Not to say these metrics are completely useless. You just shouldn’t be spending the bulk of your time or energy caring about them.

The metrics you track should tie directly back to the goals you set at the onset of the campaign. These goals should inevitably be in line with the ROI expectations you outlined with the blogger (signups, number of sales, downloads, time on site, just to name a few, but it all depends on your campaign). Let the blogger know from the get-go that you’ll be collecting certain metrics from her at the end and ensure you receive them once the campaign wraps. At this point, you can gage whether the campaign was a success, what to tweak for next time, or if you want to continue working with the blogger again in the future.

Concluding thoughts

Influencer marketing can be a tangled web to weave if you don’t know where to start. From outreach to campaigns to tracking success, the entire process takes awhile to master. The only way to wrap your head around it is to literally dive in head-first. Start working with influencers, give them full reign to use their own voice and tell an authentic story, and watch your campaigns take off like dynamite.

Do you have any tips for navigating influencer marketing campaigns? Let’s discuss in the comments!