As much as any fashion brand would love to collaborate with Chiara Ferragni or Aimee Song, most don’t have the budget (sometimes thousands of dollars per post) to engage these top bloggers — and the truth is, for many brands, a smaller, more targeted blogger can often deliver better results at a fraction of the cost.

So why aren’t more brands looking to smaller bloggers? Well, until now, they’ve been hard to find and time consuming to manage. Not too long ago, finding “niche” influencers (small and medium-sized bloggers whose audiences match your own) was like spotting a needle in a haystack. The only option for connecting to bloggers was to work with blogger agencies, who pushed the same handful of bloggers with little transparency about their rates.

Influencer marketing platforms are digital communities that connect brands with bloggers, allowing brands to search for influencers based on a number of parameters, including gender, age range, interest, geographic location, and sometimes even audience demographics. With such targeted functionality, you can immediately narrow your search to just those bloggers whose audiences match yours. A good platform will also let you sort by influence level, so you can better separate well-established bloggers with mainstream audiences from up-and-comers likely to have a more niche following.

Above: In the past, brands had to work with agents to reach influencers like @aisha_jade. This is changing, with brands and bloggers forming more direct relationships.

But just as all bloggers vary widely in terms of quality and their level of influence, influencer marketing tools are not all created equal, either. While some platforms tout large numbers of bloggers, others have focused on a particular industry. We recommend finding one whose blogger community closely matches your own target audience and the best options based on your requirements. Searching through thousands of generic bloggers who may have little to do with your product will only cause the same headaches as searching the entire Internet. Using a platform that has already vetted bloggers within your industry will give you the best results more quickly.

If your goal is to establish long-term relationships with influencers, you may also find greater success with a platform that combines digital with real-world collaboration options, such as events or the opportunity to participate in roundtables. The chance to meet bloggers and share your brand history and personality can make a powerful impact on influencers, leading to more genuine connections and even more organic posts from influencers outside a collaboration.

Stripes dress kind of day ❤️ #stripes #sunnyday #Paris

A photo posted by Violette (@violettedaily) on

Above: In the past, brands might not have considered collaborating with an up-and-coming influencer like @violettedaily, but many are recognizing the value of niche bloggers with loyal followings.

Finally, it’s also important to work with a platform that has a personal knowledge of, and passion for, the bloggers within its community. No matter how many influencer collaborations you have run in the past, sometimes you’ll find that your search results aren’t showing the kinds of bloggers you had in mind. Sometimes you just need help with collaboration ideas. Working with a platform that offers personal support and recommendations beyond just the digital ensures that you get the most out of your collaborations and marketing spend. After all, influencer marketing is first and foremost about relationships.