By Emily Suess

Influencer marketing focuses on targeting your marketing efforts to key individuals or groups instead of catering to your entire target audience. In other words, instead of trying to reach everyone with your message, you focus on identifying those people with the most influence and direct the majority of your marketing efforts toward them.

In theory and in practice, key influencers carry your message to the rest of your audience. One of the benefits of marketing in this way is that it saves you time in the everyday implementation of your marketing plan. Here is how to do it.

1. Identify Top Influencers for Your Business

To get started with influencer marketing, you have to first identify the people who serve as your brand advocates. These people are active on social media and blogs. Through word of mouth, their reviews reach a wide group of consumers looking for advice that will make them smarter consumers.

So how can you tell an influencer from a brand fan? The main difference is reach. An influencer will have a significant following and an impact on the actions of others. Look for these signs to locate top influencers in your industry:

  • Influencers have thousands of social media followers.
  • Followers are active, meaning they like, share, retweet, and comment on content.
  • Influencers have active blogs and post on a set schedule without fail.
  • Blogs have a large number of subscribers.
  • Blog posts are shared hundreds of times each.

2. Know Where Your Influencers Hang Out

Monitor social media closely to find out where your influencers are hanging out. Research hashtags, set up Google Alerts, and use tools like Twitter’s follow recommendations to find when and where relevant influencers are most active. Then use that information to build an influencer marketing plan, targeting your posts so that they are visible when influencers are most likely to see them.

3. Build Relationships with Influencers

Reward your top influencers and build relationships with them. While you probably want to avoid directly paying influencers (it may diminish the weight other consumers place on their opinions and reviews), you can help them with content development.

For instance, you might approach an influencer and say something like, “Hey, I noticed that you recently reviewed one of our products. We’ve got a new item coming out next month, and I was wondering if you’d like the opportunity to review it before it hits the market.” In this way, your influencer gets exclusive content and you can start building buzz ahead of your product’s launch.

4. Expand Your Influencer Network

The marketplace is always evolving, with new influencers entering all the time. Expanding your network of top influencers also expands the larger target audience you are able to reach. The work of identifying influencers is ongoing, and you should continue to add groups and individuals to your list.

Of course, one of the drawbacks of influencer marketing is that bad news and negative feedback related to any of your products or services can travel far and wide. As with any other type of marketing strategy, you must constantly monitor feedback and tweak your plan accordingly.