Influencer Marketing: What Is It and How to Build a Solid Strategy

Erika Varangouli

May 09, 202316 min read
Influencer marketing guide


Influencer marketing is a big deal.

From Instagram and TikTok to YouTube and other platforms, brands are collaborating with popular individuals to reach their network of followers and promote their products and services. As the popularity of social media has rapidly risen, so has the investment and interest in influencer marketing.

But there’s far more to this infamous tactic than you might think, and approached in the wrong way, influencer marketing can waste budget, or, in extreme cases, be brand damaging.

In this guide, we will help you to navigate this popular tactic and build a solid strategy.

What Is Influencer Marketing?

Influencer marketing is the collaboration between businesses and individuals who have large and engaged followings online.

Brands work with these individuals (known as influencers because of the influence that they have over their followers in the social-first world that we live in) to reach their networks of followers to promote their products and services. 

Traditional advertising is becoming less effective, and even many online channels are starting to stagnate due to a rise in ad blocking and changes in consumer behavior. 

In many ways, influencer marketing is the digital version of our offline peers’ influence on our purchasing habits. It is only human nature that we make considered purchases that are informed by what friends and family members have recommended or experienced.

And Psychologist World does a great job of explaining this as social influence, saying:

People feel the need to be informed by accurate information, and when they lack confidence in their own knowledge, they turn to others in the hope that they will provide them with the correct information. By accepting this information, regardless of whether it is accurate, the person is subjected to social influence.

Psychologist World

We also see this talked about as social proof. 

As a marketer, you can use influencer marketing to reach new audiences and drive increased brand awareness, website traffic, and sales. The tactic involves finding suitable influential individuals and incentivizing them to tell their followers about you.

The reality is that you probably come across influencer marketing collaborations every time you log onto social media.

Have you ever noticed that a popular account that you follow on Instagram, let’s say, has hashtagged their post with #Ad? 

Instagram Influencer example

This is influencer marketing in practice—a collaboration between a brand and an influencer to promote a product to an audience, raise awareness, and increase brand affinity.

The tactic often gets confused with other types of marketing, partly due to a crossover between different approaches, but to really understand what influence marketing is, you need to understand how it differs from other approaches. 

Influencer Marketing vs. Word of Mouth

There is ultimately an overlap between influencer and word of mouth marketing, simply because both tactics are based around getting other people talking about your business.

Where these differ is in the relationship that exists between the business and the person who is spreading the word and doing the talking.

Influencer marketing typically involves an incentive (financial or otherwise) given to the influencer by a brand. The influencer is telling their followers about products or services because they have been compensated for doing so, either with money or goods. 

On the other hand, word of mouth marketing happens when people tell others about a business because they want to share their experience.

The outcome is similar—one involves compensation; the other doesn’t. 

Influencer Marketing vs. Affiliate Marketing

It is not uncommon to see influencer marketing confused with affiliate marketing, especially because both incentivize third-parties to promote an offering.

The main difference between these two tactics is that affiliates are typically paid a commission when a sale is made, and influencers a flat fee that isn’t tied to sales.

Affiliates get paid only when a sale is made; influencers are paid regardless of the outcome of a campaign. Semrush even offers its own affiliate marketing program: the Semrush Affiliate Program. Our program allows affiliates from all different sectors, from content creators to agencies, to earn a commission.

Plus, we support you from day 1 with dedicated account management, training materials and resources to promote Semrush and generate revenue.

Influencer Marketing vs. Advocate Marketing

Another common confusion, the difference between influencer and advocate marketing, and it is easy to see why.

While influencer marketing involves incentivizing those with influence over an audience, advocate marketing is more about using brand advocates and leveraging their voice of customers to amplify your message. 

Advocate marketing is a lot like word of mouth marketing, but you are encouraging brand advocates to tell your story and reward them for doing so, creating a real connection between brands and customers. 

In many ways, it is the same as influencer marketing, but the real difference is that advocate marketing revolves around existing, happy, customers telling other people.

The Influencer Marketing Statistics You Need to Know

Before we jump into looking at how to put together a solid strategy, here are some of the standout influencer marketing statistics you need to know:

  • Businesses are making $5.20 for every $1 they spend on influencer marketing. (Influencer Marketing Hub)
  • 80% of marketers find influencer marketing effective. (MediaKix)
  • 70% of teens trust influencers more than traditional celebrities. (Digital Marketing Institute)
  • 60% of influencer marketing budgets are set to increase in 2020. (BigCommerce)
  • The influencer marketing industry is on track to be worth up to $15 billion by 2022. (Business Insider)
  • 49.6% of influencers state their followers care most about authentic content. (

Influencer marketing is a big deal, and as a marketer, you can no longer ignore it as a tactic if you are not already using it. 

Understanding the Different Types of Influencer

Despite what you might think, an influencer isn’t just an influencer, and you must know what these different types are so that you can put together a successful strategy.

You often hear platform-specific influencers talked about, be that Instagram Influencers, YouTubers, or others. But their platform is, really, just the distribution channel for their content.

To really understand the different types of influencers, we need to look at micro-influencers and celebrity (macro) influencers. 


In recent years, many smart marketers have realized that there is a lot of value to be had in leveraging ‘normal’ people to promote their products and services. Around this, the investment in micro-influencers boomed. 

In 2018, Forbes defined this group if influential individuals as the marketing force of the future.

Micro-influencers aren’t celebrities, just everyday social media users who have built up a following of like-minded people, and usually have between 1,000 and 10,000 engaged followers.

But engaged is the key point to make here. 

While micro-influencers’ followings may be smaller than celebrities, their targeted audiences are engaged and interact with content that these content creators put out. It is cheaper for a brand to collaborate with a micro-influencer than a celebrity, and while the reach won’t be as high from a single collaboration, it is far more targeted to a key audience. 

Celebrity (Macro) Influencers

Celebrity (or macro) influencers are those big-name stars with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of followers. 

Working with this type of influencer makes it easier to reach large numbers of individuals and associate your brand with big-name stars. However, it is expensive, making the barrier to entry far higher for many businesses.

Working with celebrities isn’t for every brand, but the most successful strategies will often look to balance both types of influencers for maximum impact. 

Nano Influencers

While perhaps not spoken about quite so much, nano influencers also exist, those with less than 1,000 followers but who are in a very small but highly engaged niche. 

Effective Platforms and Formats for Influencer Collaborations

When planning an influencer marketing strategy, you need to start thinking about the most effective way to reach your target audience through someone else’s following.

Collaborations happen with influencers on different channels, and no two strategies should be the same; it helps to understand the most popular and effective platforms and formats that are being used on each.

Let’s look at just some of the most popular platforms where brands are collaborating with influencers. 

  • Instagram
  • TikTok
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Snapchat
  • YouTube
  • Blogs

Which of these is most effective very much depends upon the individual influencer and your audience. We will look at choosing the right platforms shortly. 

The Rise of Influencer Marketing

We have already seen that the influencer marketing industry is set to be worth $15 billion by 2022, which is up from $8 billion in 2019.

Despite current popularity, the industry is set to continue to grow at a phenomenal rate, and there are no signs of it slowing down—largely as social platforms continue to evolve and new platforms arise (the most recent being TikTok) allowing further opportunities to drive awareness with influencer collaborations.

But even if we look at interest on Google Trends, we can clearly see that this continues to rise:

influencer marketing trends graph

In fact, comparing the growth in interest for influencer marketing with content marketing really shows just what a big deal the tactic is:

influencer vs. content marketing interest graph

Influencer marketing works; if it didn’t, brands wouldn’t continue to invest so heavily in it. But just why should you be using it as part of your marketing strategy?

Why You Should Be Investing in Influencer Marketing

When a business invests in a new marketing channel, there needs to be a clear return on investment, and here are some of the main reasons why it should be a tactic you are using:

  • Traditional ads are declining in effectiveness, whereas influencer collaborations continue to become increasingly successful. This is largely due to the fact that consumers prefer social posts to traditional ads and engage with them in a totally different way. Seeing an influencer collaboration doesn't feel like you are being advertised to in the same way.
  • People buy from people, and influencer collaborations help you show a human side to marketing and add authenticity to your campaign. We are all becoming immune to advertising, yet increasingly receptive to products promoted by influencers who we admire. 
  • With most marketing channels, effort and responsibility are one-sided. When working with influencers, they also want your campaign to perform well, as this can lead to repeat work and collaborations. They are proud of their platforms and want every partnership to perform.
  • Especially younger generations trust influencers and their product recommendations and promotions way more than celebrities and others who endorse products, and marketers can make the most of this. After all, why invest in collaborating with someone who your audience doesn’t trust?
  • You can find highly target influencers in pretty much any niche, meaning you are able to reach your exact customer demographic with targeted campaign promotions. 
  • Influencer marketing is a fantastic way to reach new audiences who are actively engaging with content and can offer a cost-effective way to quickly increase brand awareness of products and businesses. 
  • Despite what many say, you can clearly measure the ROI of influencer campaigns in the same way as you can other channels, meaning you can shape ongoing investment based on the returns that you see. 

How to Build a Solid Influencer Marketing Strategy in 6 Easy Steps

If you haven’t considered using influencer marketing to grow your brand, we hope this article has changed your mind.

But how do you go about building a solid strategy that drives a strong ROI? 

1. Set Your Campaign Goals

As the first step to crafting a successful strategy, you need to set your goals; if you don’t know what success looks like, how do you know what has and hasn’t worked?

Success from influencer marketing campaigns looks like different things to different businesses, but regardless of what this ends up being, you need to ensure that you are using SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant & Time-bound). 

If you invest in a collaboration with one or more influencers, what do you want to get out of it?

Common goals that are used include:

  • Reach. If you are looking to raise awareness of your business’ products or services to new audiences, reach may be a great goal. After all, if your influences are targeted, a focus on reach can be a great way to maximize the number of people who become aware of your offering.
  • Traffic. Another goal might be to increase the traffic to your website as a result of a collaboration—both direct and as a result of an increase in brand searches on Google. 
  • Sales and Conversions. At the end of the day, most marketing campaigns have the ultimate goal of making money. Due to the way you can track a campaign, it is definitely possible to run a campaign that has a goal of driving direct sales. Using discount codes can be a great way to incentivize quick sales while also allowing performance to be tracked back to an influencer. 

Different goals work for different brands, but by defining yours at the start of a campaign, you can build everything else around it. 

2. Define Your Campaign’s Target Audience

Influencer marketing is only effective when your business is being promoted to the right audience.

Get your target audience right, and you will be set to benefit massively from a collaboration. Get this wrong, and it can not only be a waste of time and investment but could also be embarrassing.

Influencer marketing is not about reaching a big audience and simply hoping that some of those who see it are interested, far from it.

The pure nature of the tactic and the tools available mean that you are able to market to very specific niche audiences, but you need to know who this is.

Don’t forget that you can be very specific; you don’t need to, and probably shouldn’t be, trying to target your whole audience with one campaign or collaboration. Instead, focus on segments of those who will be highly engaged.

Keeping goals in mind, identify who it is that you want to target, understanding specific demographics. 

3. Define Your Campaign Messaging and Brief

Just as you need to know your audience and goals, before you start reaching out to influencers, you need to identify your campaign’s messaging. This can differ significantly depending upon the goals and purpose of collaborations.

  • Are you looking to raise awareness around the business as a whole to new audiences?
  • Promote a new product launch to those who are maybe already familiar with the brand?
  • Highlight a new service feature?
  • Drive direct purchases around a sale? 

Campaign messaging should closely align with goals, but until you have a scope for your campaign, you will struggle to map out a successful strategy.

Focus your efforts on putting together a campaign brief that clearly communicates both your goals and what it is that you want an influencer to collaborate with you on; the clearer this is, the more effective you will be in landing those highly valuable collaborations.

4. Set a Budget

One of the most common mistakes to make is not setting a budget. 

And let’s make one thing clear; almost all influencers (even micro-influencers) will want compensating for their efforts. The days of collaborations happening solely around gifted products are largely over. To work with those highly engaged influences, you need a budget (as well as products or services to gift).

When setting an overall budget, you need to keep in mind the split between compensating influencers and covering the cost of products or services.

You don’t want to be going into negotiations with influencers (or even reaching out) until you know your budget. Without one, you will struggle to scope out a plan for approaching these.

To set a budget, you need to have answers to questions like:

  • What is the main goal? Reach or return?
  • How many influencers do we want to work with?
  • Which platforms are our audience active on?
  • Is our priority engagement or reach when it comes to audiences?

At this stage, you will probably want to understand roughly what it costs, on average, to work with influencers across each platform. And thanks to stats from WebFX, we can reveal these to be:

  • Facebook: $25 per 1,000 followers
  • Instagram: $10 per 1,000 followers
  • Twitter: $2 per 1,000 followers
  • YouTube: $20 per 1,000 subscribers
  • Snapchat: $10 per 1,000 followers
  • Blogs: $60 per 1,000 visitors

Once you have a budget set, you can figure out how to use it most effectively. 

5. Find the Right Influencers and Reach Out

Depending on your campaign goals, you need to decide whether you are going to work with celebrity (macro) influencers as part of your campaign or whether you are going to work solely with engaged micro-influencers.

Both have their place in different strategies, and there is no right or wrong approach. However, when it comes to finding influencers to collaborate with, the path is very different between macro and micro-influencers.

If you are looking to work with celebrity influencers, you almost certainly need to approach them through an agent. with an example being the Ministry of Talent that represents a whole host of influencers. It is very rare that they will be handling their own collaborations.

Most reading this article will be looking to work with micro-influencers, and the good news is that you can often effectively scope these out and approach them yourself.

But how do you find the right influencers?

You can start by analyzing hashtags and determining who your competitors are working with, but the most effective way to find the right people to work with is by using a dedicated tool that has been created to help you do just that.

Some of our favorites include:

With Influencer Analytics specifically, you can search for influencers by channel or keyword. As well as see data on influencers’ metrics.

Here’s how you can easily find the right influencers for your needs.

Let’s say you want to run a YouTube influencer marketing campaign and need creators and celebrities to promote your products.

Start by going to “Influencer Discovery” and selecting YouTube.


Click “Filters” in the top-right corner.


Then set your preferences for subscriber count, category, pricing, country, etc.


You’ll see a list of results based on your criteria.


You can also click into each influencer’s profile to see additional data as well as contact information.


Note: For a deeper dive, unlock other helpful data like channel quality and account activity as you review influencer accounts.


And as you search for influencers, save them to a list to review later.


And once you have identified a number of influencers who you think could be great to help you to meet your campaign goals, we recommend hooking these up in Social Tracker from Semrush Social. By adding these influencers as ‘competitors’, you can quickly and easily see their top-performing content.

It is important that you are able to understand in more detail what sort of campaigns are generating engagement for these influencers, to ensure that you can collaborate with them in a way that their audience finds the most engaging.

When it comes to reaching out to discuss working with influencers, it all comes down to how you position your brand and campaign.

Mikhail Alfon does a great job of talking you through this in a recent Semrush Weekly Wisdom video:

Youtube video thumbnail

6. Track Your Campaign’s Performance

You have a few different options when it comes to tracking the performance of your influencer marketing campaign. 

If you are looking to monitor activity across the posts, you can do this by assigning a hashtag for each influencer to use alongside their posts on social platforms; this makes monitoring and engaging with campaign activity a lot easier.

You can also use Prowly’s Media Monitoring tool to find and report on mentions from influencers and their audiences across the web. This will help you add further insights to your campaign analysis.

Prowly Media Monitoring

To track traffic and sales, you want to give each influencer either a custom tracking link or coupon code so you can directly assign a return to each individual influencer and calculate the ROI based on their specific fee.

You may also want to request stats from each influencer, making this part of the agreement, so you can understand the true reach and engagement from each collaboration.

The more you know about the campaign’s performance, the better-informed decisions you can make about future collaborations. 

A Note on Disclosure

If you are working with influencers and either gifting products or paying a collaboration fee, you need to understand the importance of disclosure.

Last year the FTC posted updated guidelines on how influencers should disclose paid collaborations. Here are some highlights:

  • “The FTC works to stop deceptive ads, and its Endorsement Guides go into detail about how advertisers and endorsers can stay on the right side of the law.
  • If you endorse a product through social media, your endorsement message should make it obvious when you have a relationship (“material connection”) with the brand. A “material connection” to the brand includes a personal, family, or employment relationship or a financial relationship—such as the brand paying you or giving you free or discounted products or services.
  • Telling your followers about these kinds of relationships is important because it helps keep your recommendations honest and truthful, and it allows people to weigh the value of your endorsements.
  • As an influencer, it’s your responsibility to make these disclosures, to be familiar with the Endorsement Guides, and to comply with laws against deceptive ads. Don’t rely on others to do it for you.”

While it is ultimately the influencer’s responsibility to ensure all paid collaborations are disclosed, as a brand working with them, you should ensure that these rules are closely followed. 

Always be prepared to have open conversations about the way in which an influencer plans to disclose your collaboration, and take the time to understand the guidelines and how these continue to change.

The FTC is responsible for the guidelines in the US, and in the UK it is the ASA.

Influencer marketing is perhaps the fastest-growing channel right now. It opens up a whole host of opportunities for brands looking to drive targeted increases in awareness and place their products and services in front of new audiences.

If you are not using this strategy as a way to drive growth, it should be a serious consideration. After all, if your competitors are using it, there is a chance you will fall behind. And if they are not, you could gain a significant competitive advantage by doing so.

By putting together a solid strategy, you can work with influencers to reach the specific audience you want to get in front of, track progress, and understand what is contributing towards achieving your goals. 

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I am responsible for building meaningful connections between Semrush and the SEO community. To achieve this I create content that is helpful, brings new insights and adds value to the community. I am also a public speaker, regular webinar host and awards judge. Mainly fueled by caffeine and music.