What the $&!*# is “influencer marketing”?

What the $&!*# is “influencer marketing”?

If you have a small business in the hospitality industry, or are selling a unique line of products, it’s going to happen. One day, the phone’s going to ring (or your email will ping) and you’ll be talking to an influencer. The voice on the other end of the line belongs to someone who runs a website, has a large social media following or does SOMETHING that is related in some way, however obscure, to your business. They’re calling because they want to sample your wares or services. And they want it for free.

Blogging for pay

The world of online marketing relies heavily on the endorsements of these latter-day celebrities. They’re people who have built a huge following of fans who subscribe to their blogs and social media channels because they’re interested in the content, the images, or the interaction that makes blogging inherently different from a static web page. Over time, these influencers have monetised their blogs by accepting advertising, charging extra for premium content, or entering into affiliate agreements with sales platforms like Amazon. The stars of the blogosphere can make an incredible amount of money from both direct and indirect revenue streams.

And that’s where you come in. One of the ways popular bloggers earn a living is by offering to feature or review your product in a blog. They have a captive audience of thousands who will read about you, and the value of that publicity is magnified by the endorsement of the author. Some will ask for a fee, while others will accept a sample of your product or the use of your services in exchange for a review on their page.

Should I work with an influencer?

As with every marketing decision, the answer is going to depend on a careful weighing up of value for money. If the influencer has a large following that you can access for the price of a relatively inexpensive product, then absolutely. It’s the digital equivalent of being mentioned in a magazine article or being reviewed in the trade journals. There are also legendary stories of small businesses going nuclear after their product was picked up by a blogger. The highwater mark has to be James Wright, whose YouTube review of a sweet potato pie got over 10 million views and translated into $2.3 million in sales. (You’re saying who’s James Wright, right?).

Now take a deep breath. You’re unlikely to hit that kind of jackpot, but being featured in a popular blog is definitely worth the price of admission – as long as it’s not too steep. Spending hundreds is unlikely to reap dividends, but a simple exchange is usually well worth the effort.

Buyer beware

Before you leap, take the time to familiarise yourself with the terrain. Review the website thoroughly to make sure there’s no inappropriate content or viewpoints that would harm your business. Use a tool like Open Site Explorer to check out their Domain Authority (general rule of thumb is that it should really be higher than your own). Also ensure that the broad theme of the blog relates to your product or service – readers looking for vegan recipes aren’t going to be interested in your gourmet steakhouse. Finally, ask to see the numbers. There’s no benefit in putting your marketing budget behind a blog that doesn’t have a substantial following – or one that’s paid for fake followers.

Know what you’re prepared to offer

Trading goods for publicity is a practice that’s been around for decades, and has traditionally included a “media offering” for inquiring journalists and reviewers. It’s a simple outline of what you’re prepared to provide in exchange for being endorsed by the influencer. By defining your offer, and sticking to it, you’ll avoid being caught in negotiations that rarely have a happy ending. Influencers can start by asking for a free night, and lead you by the nose through room service, cocktails, massages, and a host of other add-ons that you might be afraid to say no to. Or you may think that they want a sample of your hand-crafted soap, only to find they expect to receive one of every variety. Many small business owners feel that they have to acquiesce to the demands or be stuck with a bad review, and end up paying for far more than the endorsement was worth. Get an agreement up front about what the influencer will receive from you, what you will get in return (right down to number of social media posts) and don’t waver. If they keep demanding, don’t be afraid to politely walk away.


Working with an influencer won’t guarantee you a 5-star review, but if you’re confident about the quality of your goods or services, it’s a great way to get noticed. Word-of-mouth is a powerful weapon in your marketing arsenal and can lead to surprisingly lucrative results. However, do exercise due caution, know who you’re dealing with, and limit the potential for additional demands. Finally, if you have a good experience with an influencer, nurture the relationship. They can be extremely persuasive – and they have lots of friends.

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