Curious about startup influencer marketing? Your startup can leverage influencers' authentic and engaged audiences, and this article shows you how.
Startups don’t have it easy. You’re a small team and you’re just starting out. You face competition from not just other startups and small businesses, but huge brands who have famous names and massive teams on their side.
For the department—or individual—in charge of marketing at a startup, it might seem like most marketing initiatives are too expensive, risky, or out of their league.
But that’s wrong! There are various marketing strategies that startups can harness to get great results on a budget, and influencer marketing is one of them. So keep reading if you want to get a startup influencer marketing roadmap you can use to guide your own influencer campaigns.
What sets startups apart?
Startups are generally small and new companies. Your startup might have a team of only a few people who have to wear various hats in their day-to-day. This is similar to small businesses, where the owner may also be the CMO, the operations manager, and more.
But, unlike small businesses, startups usually have investment capital behind them and tend to grow more rapidly. This makes it more likely they’ll explore different marketing initiatives to see which best helps their company keep growing. It also means they can probably invest a bit more into influencer marketing.
Why should startups do influencer marketing?
Startups need to grow. This means they need to attract leads, engage them, and convert them into users or customers. While doing that, startup teams also need to do a million other tasks (trust me, I know). Influencer marketing can help you attract people to your company while also generating other benefits.
Attract qualified leads
There are many ways to attract leads to your brand, but you have to think about what type of leads you want to attract. Influencer marketing is a great way to bring qualified leads to your startup.
Influencers have audiences who love their content and trust their opinions, and they can leverage that trust for your startup, too. When you select the right influencer—someone whose audience you know will love your products—it’s a great way to bring qualified leads to your startup.
Promote brand awareness
Even when they don’t convert to leads, you still want people to know about your brand. Influencer marketing helps you generate that word-of-mouth awareness that’s so valuable to new companies.
Imagine if you’re scrolling social media and see your favorite influencer talking about a brand. Maybe you don’t explore it at that same moment. But later you see it pop up somewhere else and think “Hey that’s the same company Influencer X was talking about the other day.”
The more you’re able to create these experiences, the closer you are to your startup getting recognized as a leader in its industry.
Market without busting your budget
Another reason to do startup influencer marketing is that you can run this strategy without spending loads of cash. Budgets are important, and startups might be using their marketing budget to test various strategies and validate which ones work.
As for startup influencer marketing, if you work with nano- and micro-influencers, you can connect with highly authentic and engaged audiences without breaking the bank.
Generate content about your brand
Plus, when you work with influencers, you’re not just getting those leads. You’re also getting content, which has its own value. When influencers create content about your startup or its products, you can repurpose that later on for paid ads, website assets, testimonials, and so on.
Toronto-based startup Alder reposts content that an influencer created about them.
Build up your SEO
Startup influencer marketing can also help a startup’s SEO strategy, too. The links that influencers post help redirect traffic to your brand. And since those links come from people whose profiles are relevant to what your startup does, you gain authority in the eyes of Google, too.
10 startup influencer marketing tips
Follow these 10 tips when doing startup influencer marketing for your company.
1. Understand the influencer marketing campaign lifecycle
Influencer campaigns usually follow the following steps. For those who have done other types of marketing campaigns, there’s not too much mystery here.
- Define your campaign’s objective, scope, and target audience.
- Do influencer discovery to find profiles that fit with the above.
- Reach out, negotiate, and close the deal.
- Track published content and its performance results.
- Analyze your results and draw conclusions.
When you finish your campaign, the conclusions you draw will help you validate the strategy or not. If you decide to use influencer marketing again, you can also optimize your future campaigns based on the results of the first one.
2. Choose the right tools for the job
You’ll need some tools and services to do influencer marketing, such as:
- A discovery tool to find influencers
- An email client or mail merge provider to send emails in bulk
- A tracking platform to monitor results
- A way to ship products and a way to pay influencers
There are loads of paid tools on the market, and some are really expensive. If you’re a startup, you probably don’t have an infinite budget. And if you’re doing startup influencer marketing for the first time ever, you probably don’t want to make a huge investment before validating the strategy.
Thankfully you can make an influencer campaign work using free and reasonably-priced tools and services. Our own platform, Heepsy, offers a free plan that includes a search engine with over 3M Instagram influencers, and filters like location, category, and audience authenticity to help you find the right ones.
Heepsy’s discovery tool showing the profile of an influencer from the fashion category.
For emails, you might want to consider Yet Another Mail Merge, an add-on for Google Sheets and Gmail. On its free plan, you can send up to 50 emails a day, which for a startup, should be sufficient for contacting influencers.
For tracking, shipping, and payments, you can probably use whatever systems you already have in place, like Google Analytics, PayPal, Shopify, Stripe, etc. To supplement, you can always ask influencers to share their data, too. For example, it’s fairly common for influencers to share Instagram insights about the branded content they publish.
3. Know how to find the right influencers for your startup
It’s important to understand what to look for when you start searching for influencers. Any influencer you work with should:
- Align with your brand’s mission and values
- Share your target audience
- Know how to create the type of content you want
- Have healthy performance metrics
It’s important for startups and influencers to align. The influencer’s personal brand should be related somehow to your startup’s brand. For example, if you’re a startup with an app for learning other languages, you’d want to find an influencer who works in the education and/or travel industries and who’s passionate about learning languages.
It’s important they share your target audience too. This makes sure your message reaches the right people. Use an influencer discovery tool or ask the influencer for their media kit in order to verify this.
You should also check that an influencer can make the content you want. If you want Instagram Reels, it’s better to collaborate with someone whose profile already includes some.
Finally, you should double-check that what you see on an influencer’s profile is for real. Audit their engagement rate and check for fake followers before collaborating with anyone.
4. Go small for maximum impact
As I said just above, your goals for finding influencers should be engagement, authenticity, and relevance to your brand. And an influencer can tick all three of those boxes without having millions of followers.
There are various influencer tiers, organized by audience size, to choose from. For startup influencer marketing, focus on nano and micro-influencers.
Nano and micro-influencers have relatively small audiences—under 50,000. But they generally have the highest engagement rates and the most authentic audiences of all types of influencers.
Plus, they’re not very expensive to work with. For micro influencers expect to pay somewhere between $100-1,000 per post, depending on if they’re at the bottom or top of the micro range. Reels or TikToks will be a bit more expensive.
5. Trust influencers’ creative process
Audience trusts influencers because they’re able to present themselves as experts in a niche while still remaining authentic and relatable. Influencers win the audience over with their content, which they usually put a lot of time and effort into.
So when you collaborate with an influencer, don’t try to manage their creative process. Understand that they know their audience better than you do. You’re going to get better results if you give them creative freedom. This way, they can create genuine content that integrates your startup in a way that speaks to their audience.
6. Consider a blog partnership
Most people think of influencer marketing as content purely on social media. But that’s not always true. Sometimes, and especially for startups, a blog might be the better route.
Try finding influencers who are also bloggers and asking them to review your product. Or, you could offer to guest post on their blog. This tactic is especially useful for startups who have complex products that aren’t easily explained in short social media content. If the blogger is also active on social media, they might also post a link there to the post about your startup.
Moreover, you strike up a personal relationship with the blogger and you get a boost for SEO. SEO is another great way to attract people to startups, and the links that influencers include in articles help Google know to pay more attention to your site.
7. Trade free stuff for good reviews
If you can’t afford to pay influencers for their content, consider compensating them with free products or services. This is also sometimes called product seeding. If you head down this path, it’s best to stick with nano-influencers or small micro-influencers.
You send them free products. And they post a review on their social media page. You could also ask them to leave a review on a review site, or give you a quote to use as a testimonial on your website.
8. Try out a social media giveaway, contest, or takeover
There are loads of things you can do on social media, and whenever you collaborate with an influencer you should ask them what they suggest.
A giveaway can drive follower growth and engagement for both the influencer and your brand. It’s a good way to generate buzz and get your name out there.
A contest is another great idea to do that. Plus, depending on how you frame your contest, you can also get user-generated content (UGC) for your brand. Contests are fun and give the audience a chance to participate in the conversation with your startup.
Or, attract an influencer’s audience to your profile with a takeover. Hand over the reins of your social account to an influencer to let them give their perspective on your startup and its products. Depending on where the influencer’s located, you could even invite them to your offices to film their takeover with your team.
9. Use affiliate links
Affiliate links bring a few benefits. First of all, the influencer gets a commission for each sale, lead, or other agreed-upon conversion they get for you. You can also throw in a discount code that they share with their followers to incentivize sales.
Second, affiliate links help you track which influencers are the most effective at driving sales. This shows you who to work with in the future.
10. Optimize your influencer partnerships the same way you would your product or other channels
If your startup is anything like mine, your team is constantly experimenting with new strategies, killing some, and validating and optimizing others. We’re always told to find out what works, and then make it work better.
My teammates and I to ourselves, all the time.
Influencer marketing is no different. When your campaign ends and you analyze your results, you’ll draw some conclusions about what worked and what didn’t. The influencer from New York City brought in more sales than the one from Boston. You didn’t get as many clicks as you expected, but you got way more impressions.
Reflect on your campaign and use your learnings to optimize your startup influencer marketing going forward.
Influencer marketing helps your startup stand out. Startup influencer marketing can help you garner brand awareness, build brand trust, create engagement, attract leads, drive sales, or all of the above!
And if you don’t have a big budget, you can still take advantage of this strategy. Create a plan, work with nano- and micro-influencers, and remember to always analyze results and make the necessary tweaks for next time.