What is Influencer Marketing? A Comprehensive Guide to Working with Influencers

As of late 2022, statistics show that 4.48 billion people around the world are on social media. Among the users who engage with their friends and family, keep up with the latest memes, and follow their favorite celebrities, there’s a major pool of people who turn to social media to guide them in purchasing decisions.

That’s why social media marketing has become a highly strategic way to reach, entertain, and sway target consumers. With a majority of the population tuned into platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, YouTube, and more, the only way to stay relevant and discoverable is to get your brand content in front of the right audiences, on the right platforms, at the right time.

And the best way to optimize your visibility in online social spaces is to partner with influencers!

Influencer marketing image of a woman holding a phone while also working on a computer.

A Guide to Influencer Marketing

Below, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to influencer marketing (what it is, how it works, how to use it to bolster your brand’s success, and why you need to incorporate influencers into your marketing strategies).

So, if you’re unfamiliar with influencer marketing or if you want a refresher to strengthen your strategy development, this post is perfect for you!

What is Influencer Marketing?

Influencer marketing is a social media marketing strategy in which brands collaborate with popular and engaging social media personalities to promote their products and services. The partnership usually presents itself as the influencer creating sponsored content featuring a brand’s product or service in a way that educates and encourages their audience to take action.

What Does it Mean to Be an Influencer?

There are two key characteristics that redefine a typical social media user as an influencer: the size of their following and their ability to influence the purchasing decisions of their audience.

Foundationally, advertising is about capturing attention and maintaining it long enough to convince an individual to make a decision (whether it be purchasing a product or service, joining a mailing list, or even following a social media account).

Influencers leverage the attention and loyalty of their audience, which they earn organically through posting consistent, authentic, quality content.

Essentially, influencer marketing gives your brand automatic access to an engaged audience and an endorsement from the person who’s an expert in communicating and resonating with that audience.

Types of Influencers

Below, we’ve put together a simple guide to different types of influencers, defined by their following:

While influencers with higher follower accounts create the potential for more exposure, micro and nano-influencers tend to have higher engagement rates – meaning those influencers have a higher percentage of influence over their followers.

What’s the Difference Between Celebrities and Influencers?

The difference between celebrities and influencers is in how they cultivate their following. Influencers gain followers based on their direct engagement with a specific niche or interest and how they share that engagement online (blog posts, Pinterest boards, Instagram posts, TikToks, etc.). Celebrities don’t have to put out traditional social media content to attract and maintain a following because the foundation of their following comes from another, primary focus (music, movies, TV appearances, professional sports, etc.).

A black woman and a while woman sitting at a desk with microphones and a ring light in front of them recording influencer content.

How Influencer Marketing Works in 5 Steps

Now that you know what influencer marketing is and what defines an influencer, it’s time to talk about how influencer marketing works.

Five Fundamentals of Any Influencer Marketing Strategy

Step One: Campaign Brief

The foundation of any social media marketing or influencer marketing strategy is the campaign brief. This is where you – the brand – define your objective, key performance indicators and clarify what a successful campaign means to you.

Step Two: Audience Research

Once you know exactly what you’re trying to achieve with your campaign, it’s time to conduct audience research. What are current customers saying about your products, what other content are they engaging with, and what topics and tones resonate with them?

The answers to these questions will help you choose a direction for what content you want to create and where you should post it to maximize visibility and impact.

Step Three: Influencer Discovery

When searching for an influencer to represent your brand and promote your products, you’re going to want to search for someone who aligns with your brand goals and whose audience is interested in what you’re trying to sell. Sometimes these two things don’t align: you might find an influencer who is prominent within your niche, but when you inspect what content their followers are engaging with it might not always align with your brand.

For example: imagine you’re a luggage brand and you’re interested in partnering with a prominent travel influencer to promote a new line of bags. The travel influencer is popular for their travel content, and luggage is a key element of travel, so it looks like a perfect fit. However, when you look at the influencer’s engagement, you discover their followers primarily interact with their fashion content, and their posts about travel essentials (like luggage) don’t receive the kind of engagement you’re seeking for your campaign.

Influencer discovery is more in depth than finding someone who posts content related to your brand. You’ll want to make sure you choose someone who successfully interacts with the audience you want to get your products in front of and has a real chance at swaying those users in your favor.

*More on this in the How to Find Influencers to Represent Your Brand section below!

Step Four: Influencer Brief

Once you’ve identified and recruited influencers for your campaign, you’ll want to create a contract and an influencer campaign brief. Both documents will establish clear parameters and expectations for the partnership.

For marketing purposes, we’ll focus on what to include in your influencer brief:
  • A brand bio
  • Campaign overview and goals
  • Key product and brand messages (what to include in the content)
  • A list of platforms you want the influencer to post on and relevant deliverables
  • Content prompts
  • Theme outlines
  • Brand watch-outs
  • Sharables like links, hashtags, and accounts that should be tagged
  • Blog post directions
  • Image directions and sample photography
  • Deadlines
  • Content review process and payment process
  • Exclusivity and licensing requirements
  • FTC disclosure guidelines

Step Five: Quality Assurance and Progress Reporting

Whether you decide to run an influencer marketing campaign in-house or you decide to partner with an influencer marketing agency, you’ll want to create a flexible strategy that allows you to optimize the impact and ROI of any content created.

Quality assurance checks should happen at least once before and once after content is published, with space for revision. Your reporting strategy should be frequent (bi-weekly, weekly, or daily), enough so that you can use the data to adapt your campaign strategy for the best results.

Bonus Content: For a more detailed breakdown, read Create a Winning Influencer Marketing Strategy.

Want help with your next influencer marketing campaign? Contact us today!

A camera set up on a tripod recording a man sitting on a couch behind it.

How to Use Influencer Marketing to Grow Your Brand

A key factor to an influential influencer marketing campaign is authenticity and organic collaboration. The main reason influencers have become a trusted source is because their base content is relatable and real, meaning they don’t set out to talk at or sell to their audience.

Influencers share authentic glimpses into their lives – whether it be their entire lifestyle or their engagement with a specific niche or interest. Users trust what they see, and that’s why when the influencer they look up to endorses a product that seamlessly fits into the interests they share with their followers, their followers are more likely to make a purchase.

Audience loyalty comes from a foundation of trust. The dedicated followers who listen to their chosen influencer’s advice, the followers you – the brand – are trying to target with your partnership, know when their influencer isn’t being honest. Campaigns that don’t feel organic or realistic won’t resonate with target consumers. That’s why you want to make sure you’re working with an influencer who can organically incorporate your brand into their content and you’ll want to strike a balance between prescriptive guidelines and creative freedom.

Here are 3 Tips on How to Provide Effective Content Feedback to Influencers and a quick guide to what it means to Create Authentic Branded Content.

Now that you understand how to collaborate with influencers, here are a few ways you can use influencer marketing to grow your brand:

  1. Increase traffic to your website with influencer backlinking
  2. Increase brand visibility through influencer tagging, branded hashtags, and mutually beneficial engagement between your brand and your chosen influencer (commenting on each other’s posts)
  3. Develop your social media following: the exposure an influencer can contribute to your brand already has the potential to increase your following, but you can also run campaigns with influencers that require users to follow the influencer and your social media accounts
  4. Boost sales by facilitating influencer campaigns that promote products (whether they’re customer favorites or new launches)

Why is Influencer Marketing Effective?

Influencer marketing is so effective because 61% of consumers trust intimate recommendations (from friends, family, or influencers) more than celebrities and brands themselves.

The fast-paced nature and mobile accessibility of social media content is what makes it a more desirable marketing platform than traditional advertising. Thirty to sixty-second TV ads have been replaced with five to fifteen-second Reels and TikToks. Instead of watching a favorite celebrity recite a scripted endorsement, users can see their favorite influencers use a product and share their honest, in-the-moment review.

Bonus Tip!

Most influencers will share unsponsored opinions about their favorite products as they organically appear in their content. Unsponsored endorsements create trust and they create a window for brands to see how their products could be represented within that influencer’s content. One of the easiest places to start when scouting influencers is to see if there are any who already follow your brand and use your products. This increases your chances of gaining the attention and agreement of the influencer and the content will feel that much more organic.

How to Find Influencers to Represent Your Brand

Influencer discovery is an exciting part of the influencer marketing process. There are three main ways that you – as a brand – can scout influencers for influencer marketing campaigns.

  1. Organic Search
  2. Influencer Marketing Platforms
  3. Influencer Marketing Agencies

How to Organically Search for Influencers

If you decide to discover and connect with influencers on your own, then you’re conducting an organic search. We’ve touched on this a little bit already, but an organic influencer search means you/your marketing team are searching social media platforms to see where your target audiences are and what influencers they gravitate toward.

Since you aren’t working through a platform or agency, you might not know for sure if the influencers you discover are vetted and authentic. You’ll want to do a fake follower check (which we’ve broken down guidelines for in How to Find Authentic Influencers for Successful Influencer Marketing) to make sure any kind of collaboration would be catering to an actual, engaged audience. You can also spot-check their account engagement by looking at the number and nature of comments on their posts. Are users leaving dry “that’s great” and “cool pic” comments or are they asking involved questions and getting dedicated responses from the influencer?

What is an Influencer Marketing Platform?

While organic searches are how influencer-brand partnerships were initially developed, social media and influencer marketing have come a long way. To combat inauthentic influencers with fake followers, networks like influencer marketing platforms and influencer marketing agencies have emerged to automate the discovery process for you.

More specifically, an influencer marketing platform is a software system developed to help marketers discover influencers. These searchable databases make it easier for brands to target influencers with certain follower counts, follower engagement rates, brand collaboration experience, niche engagement, geography, and more.

Once you discover an ideal influencer for your influencer marketing campaign, you’ll have to connect with them and cultivate a relationship.

What is an Influencer Marketing Agency?

Influencer marketing agencies, like Sway Group, play a more involved role in the influencer marketing campaign process. A full-service agency will work to connect your brand with a vetted, professional influencer and facilitate a mutually beneficial partnership from start to finish.

An agency can offer more than access to influencer statistics. An experienced influencer marketing agency should have already cultivated a relationship with the influencer. Their direct line of communication can save you time and resources when it comes to catching the influencers attention and developing a brand-influencer relationship. At the advice of the agency, the influencer is more likely to accept a collaboration (in the same way that you can trust an agency to vet and select targeted influencers for your brand, the influencer can trust the agency to recommend legit, beneficial partnerships).

Additionally, the team overseeing the influencer marketing campaign might consist of social media experts who can refine your campaign strategy and act as a two-way advocate, making sure your needs and goals are received by the influencer and making sure the influencer’s needs and ideas are understandable for you.

Woman standing in a kitchen behind an island with delicious desserts, creating influencer content about food.

What Do Influencer Marketing Agencies Do?

Dedicated, full-service influencer marketing agencies will host a vast and varied network of professional influencers and offer a team of social media experts with the knowledge and experience to facilitate a successful influencer marketing campaign from ideation, to launch, and results reporting.

Influencer marketing agencies are great for any brand looking to optimize their influencer marketing strategy. However, they are especially beneficial for brands that are new to influencer marketing or want to outsource the influencer recruitment and collaboration process to a trusted team without expending too many of their own personnel.

Here is a list of some of the functions a full-service influencer marketing team can execute for your brand:

  1. Influencer management professionals will connect with influencers directly to get to know them on a human level and vet their potential for campaigns. When it’s time to pair influencers with brands, the agency will have enough basic and in-depth information on each influencer in the network to deliver targeted lists that best fit your brand needs.
  2. A creative team assigned to your influencer campaign will factor in the latest social media trends to make sure any content created is both engaging and relevant.
  3. The agency’s marketing experts will consider your requested deliverables and create a strategy to adapt content across all social platforms relevant to your brand needs to ensure the largest reach for the campaign.
  4. The agency can track the campaign, adapt the strategy, and advise the influencer to pivot when necessary so that the campaign can meet shifting demands throughout its duration.

Why Influencer Marketing is Important

Social media and online marketplaces are oversaturated with content, making it harder than ever to stand out. Optimizing your own website and social media content will only get you so far. One of the best ways to establish your online presence, and your brand, as an authority within your industry/niche is to secure quality backlinks. On social media platforms, this comes in the form of tags. Online, this looks like influencers linking back to your brand website – whether it be sharing the link to a product, to a landing page, to a company blog, etc.

In addition to increasing brand awareness, we’re entering a new age where the tastes and interests of target consumers are shifting at large. Traditional advertisements aren’t as effective as they used to be, and with the proliferation of mobile devices, social media marketing is key to staying relevant and discoverable. And to increase your chances of actually being discovered in online social spaces, you have to incorporate influencer marketing into your digital marketing strategies.

The Emerging Generation of Consumers

The “emerging generation of consumers” is a phrase you’ll see a lot as you research up-to-date marketing strategies. This phrase refers to a younger generation that is gradually reaching the age where they can make independent purchasing decisions.

To catch you up to speed, we’ve created a quick guide to consumer generations below:

Baby Boomers

Right now, this is the oldest consumer generation being marketed to. Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, during a surge in births following the end of WWII. Currently, Baby Boomers are still receptive to traditional advertising, though some are finding their way into the age of technology!

Generation X

Generation X was born between 1965 and 1980 during the sexual revolution and women’s liberation movement. Generation X is the “brand-loyal” generation (they are more likely to open store credit cards and join rewards programs).


Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996 and became the largest generation after the Baby Boomers, making them one of the most lucrative generations to cater to. Having grown up alongside the internet, Millennials can be reached online, and they aren’t as brand-loyal as Generation X. The marketing tactics that appeal to Millennials also appeal to Generation Z.

Generation Z

Gen Z is the emerging generation of consumers. Born between 1997 and 2012, the youngest of this generation are now entering their tween and teenage years. Gen Z cares about authenticity, which is why influencer marketing has skyrocketed.

Having grown up with the internet, Gen Zers believe the world is at their fingertips, and with the world at their fingertips they’ve had to figure out who they can trust to get the most honest information about the things they want to know. Traditional outlets sensationalize information, whether it be the politically slanted news or a 30 second advertisement about an otherwise simple product.

As a result, Gen Z has turned to social media and flocked to experts within the different niches they’re interested in. A trusted expert/influencer now has the power to sway this generation toward one product over another, and that is why influencer marketing is essential to any brand marketing strategy.

Key Takeaways About Influencer Marketing

Hopefully, this comprehensive guide to influencer marketing has helped you get a full picture of what it’s like to work with influencers and why your brand should.

The beauty of the internet and online social spaces is that brands can share their products and services with more people than ever before. With companies in every industry posting content online every day, it’s important to take a strategic approach to how you position and market your brand online.

The internet is constantly shifting, which makes it hard for any one company to do the dedicated work of creating quality products and keeping up with the latest digital and social media marketing trends. That’s why agencies, like Sway Group, exist: to automate the process for you so you can focus on what you do best!

Work with Sway Group

Sway Group is a full-service influencer marketing agency. We’ve been connecting brands with influencers for more than 10 years and have a network of over 30K professional influencers for you to choose from.

When you develop an influencer marketing campaign with Sway Group, you gain access to vetted, high-quality influencers and a team of experienced social media experts. We will help you conceptualize an influencer marketing and/or digital advertising strategy that shares the best of your brand in the most efficient and influential way.

If you have more questions about influencer marketing or would like to start working together now, fill out the quick form below.