The Startup Founder’s Guide to Influencer Marketing

May 16, 2017

Influencer marketing is a must-do strategy for many of our clients. Speaking from experience, it’s a super-effective way to promote content, gain backlinks and drive brand awareness with new audiences.

While our more established clients have the budget to pay for influencer partnerships, our fintech and finserv startups usually require a scrappier, lower-cost approach. Fortunately, organic (i.e. unpaid) influencer strategy is actually one of the easier ways to get everyone in the company involved in marketing—including uber-busy founders and C-level employees.

Whether you’re a financial marketer or a startup founder/CEO yourself, you may be wondering where to start. Here’s the approach we use with our clients to get founders in on the influencer action.

First, what is influencer marketing?

If you’re already familiar with the term, you can skip to the next section. But a lot of startup founders have understandably been focused on other things, so a brief explanation may be in order.

To quote the experts at TapInfluence, “Influencer marketing is a type of marketing that focuses on using key leaders to drive your brand’s message to the larger market. Rather than marketing directly to a large group of consumers, you instead inspire / hire / pay influencers to get out the word for you.”

Basically, influencer marketing is the practice of getting people/entities who already talk to your target audience (bloggers, journalists, authors, companies) to promote your products, services and content to those people. An oft-cited example is a Kim Kardashian-eque celebrity sharing an Instagram photo of her favorite alcoholic beverage/hair-growth vitamins/denim brand. When Kim tells her audience to buy something, they do it in droves.

However, as a financial startup, your influencer marketing will work a bit differently (sorry, Kardashian fans). For one thing, you probably don’t have the budget to pay a huge celebrity to hawk your wares. Second, as a financial company, a set-up like this is usually a brand mismatch. For the most part, you’ll want to skip the ingénues and focus on influencers who have some kind of expertise—and captive audience—in your space.

Founder influencer marketing: 5 essential tips

Okay, so you’ve bought into the influencer marketing thing, and you’re ready to learn how founders can help. Here are a few level-setting tips that everyone needs to know up-front.

  1. It’s all about relationships. There’s no fast and easy way to execute an influencer strategy. Just like sales and PR, it requires building relationships with real people over time. Founders should be aware that it may take a while for your actions to bear fruit.
  2. Keep your goals in mind. Here’s what you’re trying to achieve:
  • Entice influencers to promote your company’s products/services/content to their audience via articles, blogs, social media, podcasts, etc.
  • Get influencers to link to your company’s site and/or blog, which increases your site traffic and adds SEO value.
  1. Give value to get value. Getting an influencer’s attention requires giving them something first, such as:
  • Follow, retweet and mention them on social media
  • Quote them on your blog
  • Comment on their blog posts
  • Special offers, such as early/exclusive access to your product, invites to events and discounts/free stuff
  1. Put a process in place. Founders are busy people (an understatement, I know), so it helps to set up systems and processes for regularly interacting with influencers. We usually recommend scheduling time to do it on a regular basis (for example, every morning for an hour or on Monday afternoons).
  2. Be responsive. Make sure you’re aware of when influencers are mentioning/reaching out to you on social—luckily, there are plenty of tools and notification settings that make staying on top of this pretty easy.

Founder influencer marketing: A Step-by-step “how-to”

Step #1: Identify influencers

Spend some time up front compiling a list of potential influencers to target. For founders, it usually helps to start with people you already follow on a regular basis. Are there blogs, publications or writers you read each morning on your commute? Do you subscribe to any email newsletters or listen to podcasts? Are there people in your space (not direct competitors) who you admire?

As a reminder, influencers can be:

  • Bloggers
  • Freelance journalists
  • Customers
  • Industry experts and analysts
  • Business partners
  • Internal team members or experts
  • Celebrities (I put this one last on purpose – these people nearly always require payment)

Your list can start small and grow over time as you uncover new opportunities. Also, don’t feel confined to just the financial industry—the most important thing is that your influencers are people and companies you genuinely want to connect with.

Step #2: Prioritize influencer list

You only have a limited time to spend, so you need to know where to focus your efforts.

How to evaluate an influencer

How many social media followers/subscribers do they have?

  • Check Twitter followers first. Twitter is often a leading indicator of their overall audience, so it’s easiest to focus your efforts there.
  • There’s no minimum number of followers to target—obviously bigger is better for amplification purposes, but up-and-comers with lower follower counts will often be more open to sharing your stuff for free.
  • Use your gut—you can always un-follow them later.

Do they cover topics related to your product/services?

  • For example, let’s say your company operates in the realm of personal finance, fintech/business and investing. Influencers who talk about these things will likely be interested in what you have to say.
  • Choose influencers who feel authentic to you individually. For example, it may feel more natural for you to follow Jean Chatzky vs. a blog about couponing.

Are they philosophically aligned with your brand?

  • Read the About Us section of their website and a few of their blogs/articles. Do they talk about things that are related to your product? Do they seem excited about the newest innovations in fintech? Do they fit the profile of the target audience you’re trying to reach?

Have they highlighted, mentioned and/or linked to your competitors and/or other brands in your space?

  • Set up Google Alerts for your competitors’ names—when they get mentioned by a site, you may want to add that site to your influencer list.

Step #3: Follow and listen

Take an hour to follow your chosen influencers on Twitter. Just Twitter. Why? Because you don’t have time to follow them across multiple platforms, and Twitter is usually a catch-all for most of their content. Plus, it’s easier to mention and message influencers on Twitter than other social mediums.

After you’ve followed your chosen influencers, you’re ready to “listen,” which basically just means reading the stuff they tweet about. You can use a tool like Hootsuite to create a newsfeed of your influencers’ tweets, or simply use your Twitter feed if you don’t want to learn a whole new tool. Twitter also allows you to create private and public lists, which makes it easier to separate your influencers from the other folks you follow.

Step #4: Engage

Now for the fun part! This can take a little practice and will probably feel awkward at first, but you’ll be a pro in no time.

Engaging simply means responding to what influencers are saying. For example, if someone tweets about a blog post they wrote, you can:

  • Retweet it to your audience using the “retweet” function (this will notify the influencer that you retweeted their tweet).
  • Retweet it to your audience with a comment, for example “Check out these great tips on automatic investing from @soandso” (compliments never hurt).
  • Respond via Twitter with feedback for the author.
  • Comment on the blog post with your perspective or a question for the author.
  • Write your own blog post on the same subject, reference the original blog and its author, then direct message the influencer to let them know when the post is live (you’ve given them free promotion and a link to their site, so they’ll often respond in-kind).

You can probably see how all of these things serve to a) get you and your company on the radar of that influencer and b) give the influencer something of value, paving the way for them to give you something of value, too.

You can also engage high-priority influencer directly. For example:

  • Check their site for a contact email, if not use inMail or a Twitter direct message.
  • Can you offer them something of value, like early access to your product? Can you highlight them on your company’s blog?
  • Make it personal – mention an article they wrote that you like, etc. Tell them you’d love to walk them through your products or services to see what they think.

Step #5: Rinse, repeat and join Snapchat

Just kidding. It’s best to master one platform—in this case mostly Twitter and maybe some LinkedIn—before you worry about the others. You’re busy running a company—let your marketing team ‘be everywhere’ for you.

As for tracking success, your biggest goal right now is to get into a regular cadence of listening and engaging with influencers, even if it just means retweeting the articles you like once a week. You’ll be surprised how many Twitter followers you’ll gain organically with minimal-but-regular effort. Over time, as you connect with influencers on a personal level, your company will reap the benefits in terms of mentions and links.

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