Most marketers don’t need another blog post convincing them to hop on the influencer marketing bandwagon.

They get it. It’s effective – influencer campaigns drive 11 times more ROI than traditional forms of digital marketing.

The problem is that everyone’s an influencer now. Follower count doesn’t necessarily translate to influence anymore. Everyone with an opinion about your product or service that posts on social media has the power to influence their friends, family, and coworkers.

Research by Markerly shows that Instagram influencers with fewer than 1,000 followers have a like rate of 8%, while those with between 1,000 to 10,000 followers only average around 4%. Once a social media influencer reaches a critical mass of followers, audience engagement actually begins to decrease.

So does this mean we can only ever have one or the other: engagement or reach? Is there a happy compromise? How do you find the right individuals that will represent your brand and drive ROI?

The key lies in picking out the right influencers and getting them on board.

Here’s how:


1) Provide Incentives

At Bitly, our influencer marketing program is relatively new. We’ve just started ramping it up this past year, and are still testing out new ways to find influencers.

We’ve found though, that one of the of the quickest ways to post up a “casting call” for influencers is by running a social media contest.


Last year, eCommerce company Cuyana encouraged shoppers to share their branded tote bags with the hashtag #mytotestory. As an extra incentive, the accessories company would occasionally repost images and give away free totes.

Influencers learned that Cuyana loves leveraging user-generated content (UGC) and is willing to give away free product in exchange for content. Those interested in partnering with the brand would post frequently to those hashtags. Cuyana’s hashtags, #fewerbetter, and #mytotestory, have now generated a total of over 3,000 posts.

We ran a similar social campaign, inviting our users to share how they use Bitly with #BitlyNetwork. The campaign was been a great way for us to identify VIP users who we can then interview for a use case feature or partner with to run a webinar.

Here are some other channels that we’ve found successful at Bitly:

– Searching through hashtags (For us, we look through branded hashtags and industry hashtags such as #BitlyNetwork, #NewBitly, #CustomerExperience, #SocialMedia)
– Posting HARO queries
– Seeing who our existing influencers follow
– Asking influencers to recommend friends after we’ve completed a project together

2) Quality Over Quantity?

Don’t be tempted to partner with an influencer just because they have a lot of followers. As the research from Markerly shows, popularity doesn’t always equate to engagement. That being said, both macro and micro influencer partnerships have their place.

Celebrities and industry thought-leaders are natural candidates for influencer marketing campaigns because they’ve established a strong personal brand and loyal following. Brands can partner with these influencers to activate a parallel community, just like how L’Oreal partnered with beauty v-logger Michelle Phan a few years ago.

Micro influencers on the other hand, are more so your average person with follower bases between 100,000 to 200,000, or even 10,000 followers or less depending on the scope of the campaign.

Instead of activating one larger influencer, brands instead team up with 30 to 40 smaller influencers for the same amount of budget. As a result, these campaigns convert at an even higher level.

“We’ve seen some ‘micro-influencers’ on certain campaigns get up to 25 percent engagement [on their content],” says Chico Tirado, Markerly’s Chief Revenue Officer.

Consumers might find micro-influencers more relatable, turning to them for product reviews and third-party validation before purchasing.

At Bitly, we’ve taken the approach of looking at engagement and content quality more than follower count.

Here are some questions we like to ask:

– Does this influencer already post content that our users would find engaging?
– How many followers are commenting on the posts? What does this ratio look like in proportion to the number of likes?
– What are followers saying? Are they responding to the captions?
– Does the influencer respond to comments? If so, how are they responding?

3) Ask For Referrals

If you’re dedicating a bigger budget towards an influencer marketing campaign, you’ll want to make sure you can prove ROI before jumping in.

Think of influencer campaigns as a job opportunity. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to do some thorough research. On the flip side, many influencers partner with brands as a full-time career or a side hustle. They take partnerships seriously and often have their work history featured on a portfolio or on LinkedIn.

Take a look at the potential influencers’ portfolio to see what brands they’ve worked with in the past and maybe even ask industry friends if they’ve had experience working with them in the past.

Influencers are often more than happy to recommend friends that would be interested in collaborations. Chances are, influencers you’ve worked with in the past have friends that post similar content or share a similar aesthetic. Things like Twitter Chats, Instagram feature accounts, and Facebook Groups make it easy for influencers to network with like-minded influencers.


4) Be Human

As a marketer and a micro-influencer, with a little over 3,600 followers on Instagram, I have a bit of perspective on outreach from both ends.

Influencers often receive quite a few partnership requests a week, if not a day. While I may not be a Hollywood celebrity, I also receive a handful of requests for Instagram partnerships every week. To avoid getting lost in the mix, be strategic about how you reach out, what you say, and when you reach out.

First, I’ve found that email is the easiest way to communicate since there will likely be a few things to follow up on throughout the course of the campaign. Most influencers include an email address in their bio or on their portfolio, so look out for an email if you can. If not, you can direct message influencers and ask to take the conversation to email.

When you reach out, personalize the subject line and your ask. In the past, the Bitly team’s found that “You’re Invited!” drives high open rates for us because it implies a sense of urgency.


You can also kick off the message with a sentence about why you decided to reach out to them. Take a look at the last post or two that the influencer shared. For example, if they posted a photo of coffee and you’re a coffee bean company, you can say something along the lines of this:

“I saw from your profile that you really like your cold brew! We’re just launching a new nitro coffee this month and would love to invite you to partner with us in promoting it.”

Last but not least, good old flattery also goes a long way. I love when brands say that my photographs caught their eye! Influencers love when brands notice and appreciate their aesthetic, because it means they will likely have more creative freedom when it comes to executing on the project.

5) Keep It Short And Sweet

Influencers live and breathe social media. They’re used to a world of 140-character counts, disappearing content, and instantaneous gratification. To keep them engaged, be direct in your communication.


As a general rule of thumb, keep your email above the fold (the part of the page that’s visible without scrolling) to avoid influencers losing interest from having to scroll. I always try to write emails within five sentences or less. Always bold the important details such as date, time, or a major initiative or product you’re pushing.

Here’s the format we tend to stick to at Bitly:

– Why you’re interested
– Who you are and what your company does
– What this partnership would involve (date, product, etc.)
– Perks and benefits (freebies, payment, exposure, etc.)

If an influencer writes back that they’re interested, you can then send along more details in a contract. A partnership agreement helps align expectations and deliverables. This contact should flesh out more of the legal details such as creative control, ownership, and payment.

6) Spice It Up With Visuals

As an influencer, I always appreciate when a brand attaches a campaign brief. It gives me a sense of the product and the aesthetic, such as color, mood, and theme.

One major watch brand that recently reached out to me included a few paged brief that included photos previous influencers had taken of their product, sample captions, as well as a selection of the potential products they would send me. Immediately, I was able to see that the brand was looking for photos that reflected an active lifestyle.

Being armed with all of this information made it much easier for me to identify a location to shoot. Within a few hours of receiving the deck, I had already planned out each of the shots I would style and post over the course of the next few weeks.

Playing The Long Game

Phew! That felt like a lot, didn’t it? And identifying influencers is just the first step in the very long road to turning influencers into advocates.

The good news is that you can pretty much rinse and repeat these steps until you’ve found a rhythm that works best for your brand.

Cast a wider net when you’re just building out your influencer marketing program. This will give you a better sense of which channels work best. Then, once you start seeing some pick up from influencers, focus on nurturing those mediums. Once influencers know that you’re on the lookout for partnerships and know how to get in touch, you might just start seeing some inbound requests too.

And that’s the first step to building loyal brand advocates: building up genuine excitement around talking about and representing your product.

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