No matter how many followers you have, you’ll never be as cool as Marlon Brando in the 50s. This Hollywood icon is know for — among other things — popularizing the trend of wearing undershirts in public. Thanks to his stage and screen performances in A Streetcar Named Desire, he gave the tank top a legendary boost in sales practically overnight (and his character Stanley gave them a unfortunate but lasting nickname). But those days were just the beginning of influencer marketing.


Influencer marketing refers to attracting mass publicity through mentions from popular and respected people within an industry. While in the past it’s traditionally been movie stars, athletes and musicians, today the power has shifted to social media leaders. And what a power they yield — just look at these statistics compiled by TapInfluence:

  • Influencer marketing has one of the best returns on investment (ROI) compared to all other channels: 11x higher than traditional advertising.
  • For every 1,000 impressions, ecommerce sites make an average of $285 in incremental sales.
  • Almost half of all people (49%) say they rely on influencer recommendations before making purchases.
  • Teenagers consider YouTube vloggers 17x more engaging than other celebrities.
  • 40% of everyone surveyed admitted to purchasing something online after seeing an influencer mention it on social media.

The question is not whether influencer marketing works — it does! The question is, how do you get these people-in-power to even notice you, let alone vouch for you?

That’s what this article is all about. Today, we’ll explain 4 steps to a working with influencers starting from scratch… because the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

1. Find the Best Influencers for You

It’s not about finding people with the most followers. More important is finding who has the most pull over your target shoppers… but that’s a much harder metric to measure. You’re better off doing some digging of your own, and here are three ways to help you unearth the perfect influencer for you.

See who’s using your keywords and hashtags. Assuming you put ample time into your own keyword/hashtag research, if you find someone who uses the same ones, chances are they attract the same audiences you’re looking for. Conduct searches to see who the leaders are for your hashtag and keyword families.

Explore new social media channels. You may have carved a niche for yourself in Instagram, but what if the bulk of your target customers use Twitter? Branch out into as many social media channels as you can and find the top influencers in each.

Digital marketing tools. Tools like BrandnewTribeRevfluenceNeoreach and our personal favorite BuzzSumo collect all the data you need for influencer marketing so you don’t have to. You can see which influencers perform best, categorized by social media channels, topics and more. Read our complete review of BuzzSumo now to see what exactly it does and how it can help you.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of target influencers, you’re ready to start approaching them. But be careful — it’s not also as easy as stepping up and saying “hello.”

2. Build Rapport on Social Channels

Influencer marketing for ecommerce requires both finesse and social skills, and you don’t want to screw up your first impression. Before contacting your influencers directly, it helps to establish a rapport over time beforehand.

You build rapport with influencers the same way you do with everyone else on social media: likes, comments, reposts, tagging, etc. If you have a blog, you can even mention or feature them (as long as it’s not too gushy).

Remember that the best influencers are also business-people, and their business lies in social media. Every time you engage with them it helps their “brand,” and good influencers will always take notice of people who help them. That’s the best way to get them to recognize your name for when you cold message them later.

Don’t put them on a pedestal or kiss their butt though. Remember that they are a prospective business partner, so too much flattery will undermine your end goal. Rather, just treat them like a normal person. Interact with their posts as you would your friends; just do it regularly and with consistency so that you make an impression on them.

Source: Redbubble

3. Give Them Free Gifts

After enough time engaging with their content, you’ll eventually need to introduce yourself directly. One of the best ice-breakers for this is to offer them a free gift of one of your products. This strategy works on a few different levels...

First, if they have one of your products in their hands, it makes it highly more likely that they’ll write about it. You can’t expect them to go out and buy it themselves, so giving it to them for free ensures they at least have it in their possession.

If what you’re selling is as good as you say (and you’ve correctly chosen an influencer in your industry), then they’re want to post about it. “Discovering” new products for their fanbase is an influencer’s bread and butter, so it actually helps them.

Next, you’re starting off your potential partnership with clearly defined goals. “Here’s our product. If you like it, write about it.” There’s no ambiguity there, nor is there pressure. A lot of influencer relationships fall apart due to vague terms and misunderstandings, so start yours off with honest and direct communication.

Last, everyone likes free gifts! Even the most cynical influencers will feel at least a little grateful, and that positive connotation increases your chances of them actually writing about you.

One important note about gift-giving for influencer marketing: make it clear that you don’t expect anything in return. In other words, it’s okay if they don’t write about you. This is a gift, not a bribe. If you talk about it like you’re paying them off, it will have a negative effect.

If you’re having trouble wording your direct message, try using templates as a starting-off point. We recommend the ones from Kaloyan Yankulov’s online ebook The Ultimate Guide to Ecommerce Link Building, pp. 62-63.

4. Discuss Collaborative Campaigns

Did they like your product? Did they post about it? Did it increase sales? If so, congratulations! You’re a successful influencer marketer. But don’t hang up your hat just yet — you can still take it further.

The apex of influencer marketing is a collaborative campaign, one in which both parties are invested. If you enjoy working with your influencers, mention one of the below partnerships to take it to the next level.

Commission. If you ever wonder how fashion bloggers make a living, it’s through commission and affiliate programs. Offering influencers a cut of any sales they send your way is clear incentive for them to promote you. Just beware of the usual affiliate pitfalls.

Joint Promotions. Commission isn’t always an option for all online stores, but joint promotion can be just as good. Create a promotional venture that involves the influencer, such as:

  • a special coupon code for the influencer to give their followers
  • donate products for a contest hosted by the influencer
  • use the influencer’s social channel for entry into a contest (i.e., comment on one of their posts to enter)

Sponsorship. At the end of the day, money always talks. You can flat-out pay the influencer to mention your brand, use their likeness in your own promotions, or even photograph them using your items for your on-site product photos.

Creative collaborations. Often influencers get their status by being good at what they do. Tap into their talent by giving them creative power. You can have them curate a special collection of products and market it as “the so-and-so collection,” or cut right to the chase and have they design an exclusive product just for you.


Promotion in the digital age is almost unrecognizable to twentieth century tactics. Today, influencers hold a lot of the power, so working with them just makes sense. Just remember that they’re business people to, and proposing a business relationship can benefit them as much as you. Never approach it like they’re doing you a favor!

Matt Ellis

Freelance Content Creator
Matt is a freelance online content creator, specializing in eCommerce, content marketing, and web design. For over a decade he’s been sharing his industry knowledge through ebooks, website copy, and blog articles, just like this one.
Matt is a freelance online content creator, specializing in eCommerce, content marketing, and web design. For over a decade he’s been sharing his industry knowledge through ebooks, website copy, and blog articles, just like this one.