How to Build A Brand on Instagram with Influencer Marketing

Whether it’s promoting a scholarship fund for Latino law students or selling a new energy drink, marketing on Instagram should be an integral part of any social media strategy. The image-based platform now has 800 million users, 70 percent of whom use it to search for brand-related content.

“The frequency and popularity of content, as well as the high levels of engagement on the part of Instagram users, is what makes Instagram a great place to promote small business,” says Kristen McCormick on ThriveHive. Instagram is a particularly important tool for cultivating a Generation Z customer base. According to Owlmetrics, surveyed Gen Zers checked Instagram an average of 11 times per day, much more often than they engaged on Facebook or Twitter.

Because of the sheer volume of advertising they are exposed to, Instagram users tend not to respond favorably to aggressive product promotion. One of the challenges of launching a new marketing campaign, therefore, is getting the message out to an audience who doesn’t know or trust the brand yet. That’s where influencer marketing comes into play. Rather than building a customer base from nothing, use bestselling author Tim Ferriss’s strategy of reversal and start with the end goal in mind: a customer base someone else has already built.

An influencer is simply an Instagram user who has an established audience and can therefore promote a brand more effectively than a business can alone. Of the marketing professionals surveyed by eMarketer, 88 percent rated influencer marketing as either “effective” or “extremely effective” at raising brand awareness.

“Instagram influencers can help build a massive audience from scratch in a relatively short period of time- while potentially generating a lot of sales just by featuring products on their profiles,” says Raghav Haran in an article for Oberlo. “Messages will get through to those target customers, all without coming off as too ‘salesy’- a marketer’s dream.”

Influencers are most willing to promote brands that align with their own businesses, interests, or philosophies. If one wanted to sell energy drinks, for example, it would make sense to partner with an athlete, a fitness guru, or the owner of a brand of activewear. To find niche influencers, search relevant keywords and hashtags on Instagram or use analytics tools like Ninja Outreach or Snapfluence.

Because most endorsements from influencers are paid, choose players carefully. “When an influencer has a high engagement rate, it means their followers are paying attention and taking action on their content,” says Stephanie Gilbert in her article for Later.

While some posts go viral with an engagement rate close to 20 percent, an engagement rate of two to six percent is what should be expected.

When it comes to the number of followers, more isn’t always better. Kyla Brennan, CEO of influencer referral agency HelloSociety, tells Adweek, “When it comes to celebrity accounts, who have maybe millions of followers, nobody actually believes that a celebrity is a real fan of a product they’re trying to sell.” In contrast, micro-influencers, or accounts with fewer than 30,000 followers, have 60 percent higher engagement rates, and their increased efficiency per engagement makes them more cost-effective than influencers with more followers.

As with any business venture, be on the lookout for scammers. Gilbert notes influencers normally follow up to five percent of their total following; higher percentages or massive numbers of likes and comments are a sign someone is using comment bots and growth hacks that boost their number of followers but don’t contribute to brand loyalty. Look for comments that answer questions or provide content-specific feedback that can’t be automated. Regardless of other factors, if an influencer’s content isn’t up to snuff, they’re not worth the time and investment.

Gilbert says rates vary widely from one influencer to the next; 67 percent of influencers in a recent poll charged $250 or less per post while another 27 percent charged between $250 and $1,000. While most influencers charge a flat rate, others will charge per sale or lead generated. Although it may be more expensive, consider purchasing the usage rights to the content they create so that it can be repurposed for use on a website or other social media platform.

Even if the marketing budget is small, businesses may be able to offer an influencer a trade. Jenn Chen on SproutSocial suggests paying influencers in products or services, providing special discount codes to their followers, or running a collaborative contest. Think of ways that both parties can benefit from the partnership.

Influencers can promote brands in a variety of ways, but good, old-fashioned reviews are extremely valuable. “Just as online users are more likely to buy a product based on friends’ online recommendations,” says Kevin Rowe in Forbes, “reading a review from an influencer you follow is usually more compelling than a review from an unknown person.” For greater authenticity, encourage influencers to leave honest reviews that mention a couple things they didn’t like as well as what they did.

When paying for someone to market products, savvy entrepreneurs want to be sure to get their money’s worth. Use a tool like Bitly to create trackable links that influencers can paste into their bio and image captions to measure how much traffic their posts garner.

By leveraging the promotional power of Instagram influencers, brands can increase their following by leaps and bounds.

How are you using influencer marketing? Let us know in the comments.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.