Partnering With Social Media Stars to Make the Most of Your Marketing

As a small brand or retailer, it’s tougher than ever to stand out on social media.

Consumers, weary of the advertising deluge on social networks, are getting choosier about whom they follow on social channels. And mega-retailers boasting huge marketing budgets post original content numerous times a day, effectively gobbling up major swaths of the so-called attention economy. 

But many experts say there’s a way to level the playing field: influencer marketing, the practice of pairing brands with social media celebrities to create alluring, organic-feeling content.

The concept (which is really a modern riff on celebrity endorsements) is simple. But it’s become a key strategy for many trendsetting brands, including Birchbox and Madewell, that regularly team up with high-profile social stars for brief, targeted campaigns.  

Influencer marketing’s high return on investment—and easy scalability—makes it a potent tool for small brands, says Sarah Karp Ward, an influencer marketing consultant based in New York City. “Studies have found that millennial and Generation Z consumers trust social media influencers more than they do celebrities,” she says. “[Pop singer] Ariana Grande and a YouTube blogger could be using the same product, and they will trust the YouTube blogger more—they see right through celebrity endorsements.” 

The YouTube generation has spawned a new celebrity hierarchy—good news for small retailers, who would typically be priced out of working with a famous actress or pop star. 

We asked Ward for her tips for retailers looking to up their influence online:

Start Small

If partnering with social media personalities is new to your business, Ward suggests starting small. “The most budget-friendly way is to incentivize [a potential partner] with product,” she says. Another way to approach partnerships is to “activate a bunch of small guys”—local bloggers and social media personalities who may not even require compensation if your brand is, in turn, sending followers their way. Who in your area is already following your brand and also boasts a large following? 

Consider Outsourcing

If your initial forays pan out, consider teaming up with bigger fish for campaigns. But know that “individuals with hundreds of thousands of followers often demand high prices,” says Ward. At this stage, she suggests contacting a third-party influencer agency—one that already works with scores of top social media influencers and has experience producing lucrative, ongoing partnerships. The time it takes to strategize and manage a successful influencer campaign can be significant. State your goals for any campaign upfront: “Go in saying, ‘This is my budget, this is my goal,’ and take it from there,” says Ward, who recommends talking to a few agencies before deciding on one.  

Set Up Systems

Whether you’re going it alone or working with a consultant, it’s important that you see all posts before they go live. In 2013, the Federal Trade Commission issued guidelines for disclosures online that made it illegal to create and post a sponsored post that wasn’t marked as such. The easiest way to follow this rule? Make sure “#sponsored” is in the caption of every post. “Everything you expect your influencer to include in every single post needs to be in a contract,” Ward says. “Because if it’s in the contract to do certain things and they don’t, it’s on the influencer, not you.”