How to Boost Your Startup's ROI with Influencer Marketing

Updated on February 15, 2017
Shane Barker profile image

Shane Barker has been a digital marketing consultant for 15 years, with a recent emphasis on influencer marketing.


As a startup, you have a long list of challenges to overcome. You want to experience success, but you may have some budget limitations preventing you from investing the desired funds in marketing.

So you’re looking for ways to yield high returns on whatever you invest. And that means you need to choose a channel that offers multiple benefits, including brand awareness, brand trust, and conversions.

This is where influencer marketing enters the picture. Often known for their ability to drive engagement and conversions, influencers can help you achieve your marketing goals without excessive spending.

In fact, marketers can earn an average of $6.50 for every dollar they invest in influencer marketing [1]. Here are some of the best ways startups can use influencer marketing to boost their ROI:

1. Choose Influencers With High Engagement Rates

Some startups may make the mistake of only focusing on an influencer’s following before launching an influencer marketing campaign. They want their campaign to have maximum impact on a maximum number of people. So they choose to work with influencers who have massive following.

Sure, it may sound great to have your campaign noticed by millions of followers at a time. But the truth is that the audience may not always be engaged enough to take action. It’s not enough to just “be seen” without people taking an action afterwards, whether it’s making a purchase, or signing up for a subscription.

This is why you need to focus on engagement rates during your influencer research, before you even look at number of followers they have. The more engaged an audience is, the better the possibility of having them take the next action.

What to Focus on When Searching for Influencers

  • Relevance – The whole point of working with influencers is so you can reach a relevant, and receptive audience. And you could be looking at a higher ROI if your first focus is on whether or not the influencer is relevant to your business, product, or niche. For instance, you can promote gaming and tech products through influencers who specialize in the gaming and tech niches because they have influence on an audience that’s interested in video games and tech products.

    You can make use of relevant keywords and hashtags to search for influencers in your relevant industry. Whether you conduct your influencer search on social media platforms or influencer marketing platforms, you’ll need to use relevant terms to find relevant influencers. For example, to find beauty influencers you can use keywords like “beauty,” “makeup,” and “skincare.”

  • Engagement – Once you find influencers who are relevant to your campaign, look at their ability to engage their audience. Even if they have millions of followers, they may only be getting a few thousand likes, comments, or shares for their posts. At the same time, some influencers may have a massive following, and still drive a lot of engagement with their posts. If you’re using tools like BuzzSumo to look for influencers, you will need to look at the metrics like retweet ratio, reply ratio, and average retweets to determine their level of engagement.

Screenshot of BuzzSumo search results
Screenshot of BuzzSumo search results | Source
  • Reach – After you’ve determined which influencers are relevant for your audience and have high engagement rates, you can then look at their following size. From the shortlisted potential influencers, look for those who have a bigger following than others, and prioritize them for your campaign. By doing this, you’ll ensure that your campaign engages your audience, and yields high brand visibility as well.

2. Build a Community of Micro-Influencers

Another excellent way to promote your startup for a high ROI is to work with micro-influencers. Preferably, start a campaign leveraged by a whole community of micro-influencers who have sufficient influence in the relevant industry.

Micro-influencers may have a much smaller following than A-list celebrities and top influencers. But there are plenty of reasons why your startup can benefit from working with them.

The Main Benefits of Working with Micro-Influencers:

  • Cost-Effectiveness – Influencers aren’t as expensive as top celebrities but some of the most popular influencers may still charge thousands of dollars for a single sponsored post. In the case of micro-influencers however, you could have a sponsored post promoting your product for a few hundred dollars. This cost-saving factor is crucial, especially if you’re a startup business working on a limited budget.

According to [2], top bloggers, (with 500,000+ monthly blog impressions), charge $1000 to $5000+ for one sponsored post. Micro-influential bloggers, (with 10,000-50,000 monthly blog impressions), on the other hand, charge $175-$250 per post. So you can build an entire community of more than 10 micro-influencers for the price of one top influencer.

  • Engagement – Micro-influencers are popular for their ability to engage an audience. In fact, they have a much higher engagement rate compared to their macro-influential counterparts. Studies conducted by Markerly [3] found that Instagram influencers have a lower engagement rate as their following increases. This means that influencers with a smaller following tend to have a higher engagement rate.

Markerly chart comparing Instagram comment rate with followership
Markerly chart comparing Instagram comment rate with followership | Source

This high engagement in micro-influencers could be due to a number of reasons. For instance, micro-influencers might have the ability to produce more engaging content. Another possible explanation could be that it’s much easier to manage interactions with a smaller following and micro-influencers may even have the time to respond to comments and interact with fans.

  • Trust – Many top celebrities have had their fair share of sponsored posts and promotions. So anything they promote may be viewed with suspicion. The same can be said for top influencers, who still have their followers’ love and attention but may no longer have the same level of trust as they once did. In the case of micro-influencers, however, they still have the benefit of maintaining a high level of trust with their followers.

    They don’t do as many promotions as other influencers, so anything they promote may seem authentic. Additionally, micro-influencers are considered to be experts in their respective fields. So people view them as individuals who know what they’re doing especially when it comes to the niche in which they specialize. This adds an additional sense of trust, which could prove to be beneficial for you since you’re a startup that needs to establish trust with your target audience.

An excellent example of this is how personal care brand Kimberly-Clark worked with thousands of micro-influential mom bloggers [3]. The idea was to promote their line of family care products like Kleenex, Cottonelle, Viva, and Scott, which were available at Walmart. The influencers activated for the campaign were selected mainly because they were excellent content creators and Kimberly-Clark needed people to seamlessly integrate the brand’s products into their personal stories.

Each of the influencers created a unique content implementing the brand’s products. For instance, blogger Natalie Wright of Natalme created a blog post providing readers with a tutorial for creating Christmas trees using the brand’s paper towels [4]. Overall, the campaign yielded 343 million social impressions with more than 25,000 clicks to the coupon site.

Natalme blog uses Kimberly-Clark products to come up with creative content
Natalme blog uses Kimberly-Clark products to come up with creative content | Source

3: Generate Buzz through Influencer Events

If you have an upcoming event planned to celebrate something, make sure you include influencers amongst your VIP invitees.

Maybe you’re launching something new, or you’re celebrating a milestone. Whatever the event may be, you can promote it with the help of influencers. The influencers could update their fans about the event, share their experiences, and build hype around your celebration. This will not only generate buzz around the event, but also generate brand awareness for your startup.

An influencer event could also be an excellent way to strengthen your brand-influencer relationship. By having them be a part of the event, you’re telling them that they are part of the family. In other words, you’re investing in the event so you can build a stronger bond with the influencer. And when there’s a genuine love between the influencer and a brand, it helps maintain authenticity in the campaign and promotions.

This tactic can work even if it’s not a huge event, as long as you manage to engage relevant influencers the right way. For example, ROLI promoted their line of MIDI controllers by inviting influential musicians over to their studio. Popular musicians like Rachel Sermanni, Snarky Puppy, and Jordan Rudess participated in their “SoundHive Sessions”. These events were small, yet worked perfectly to promote the products, because the influencers were relevant, and the brand provided a platform to showcase the product in action.

4. Have Influencers Promote Discount Codes

Some influencers may demand upfront payment for their sponsored posts, and follow a per-post payment method. But you might want to avoid following this type of compensation in order to avoid overspending.

Let’s say you partner with an influencer, and pay them a few hundred bucks to create a post featuring your product. Unfortunately, the influencer doesn’t manage to generate enough sales from the post. So you’re basically spending several hundred dollars for something that doesn’t yield returns.

If high ROI is one of your main goals, the best way to go about your influencer partnerships is to have influencers promote a unique discount code. You can create a unique code for each influencer, through which you can track which influencer is generating the most sales. And then you can offer a percentage, or a few dollars for every sale they generate. You can also use their performance data to see which influencers you should continue leveraging, and which of them aren’t really ideal for you.

This way, you won’t be paying the influencers unless they deliver results. And you’ll be compensating them only based on how well they perform. Lord Timepieces focuses its marketing efforts on discount codes promoted by Instagram influencers. Each influencer has a unique 10% discount code in tune with their Instagram handle, which they then promote to their followers.

 Influencer @lolypopp3 posing with a watch from Lord Timepieces and promoting a discount code
Influencer @lolypopp3 posing with a watch from Lord Timepieces and promoting a discount code | Source

5. Turn Influencers Into Actual Fans

Consumers can smell fake promotions from a mile away. So if your influencer marketing campaigns seem overly-promotional, you may end up losing out on potential sales as opposed to driving conversions.

This means that one of the biggest goals for startups is to turn influencers into true fans of their products or services. Fans will then be able to detect the authenticity behind the reviews, opinions, and promotions; which may urge them to make a purchase. Plus, the influencer will be more enthusiastic about promoting what you have to sell.

Try sending them samples of your products, and request their honest opinion. You may have your work cut out for you if the product you’re selling is really innovative and out-of-the-box. But this isn’t always the case. To get influencers to try your product, turn them into fans, and have them review the product. Make sure you start out by approaching them as humans.

Thorough research of influencers can give you a better idea how to approach them about your promotion request. But try to avoid sending them samples out of the blue, as this might work against your favor. Personalize the way you communicate with them, and take the time to research their personalities. See what their interests are, and what kind of promotions they normally do.

Dagne Dover managed to sell $40,000 worth of handbags in just three months by connecting with fashion bloggers in New York. The bloggers loved the bags, and gave glowing reviews. The bags were sold out within eight months of their pre-order campaign. They continue to work with relevant bloggers in different cities in the U.S., such as Belle of Capitol Hill Style, who wrote an honest piece detailing her love for the handbags from Dagne Dover.

Capitol Hill Style gives a glowing review of the Dagne Dover bag
Capitol Hill Style gives a glowing review of the Dagne Dover bag | Source

Besides this, you can even do it the other way around, and turn fans into influencers by introducing a referral program. You can offer earnings to your biggest fans when they recommend you to friends and those friends make a purchase. This offers you a large-scale promotion opportunity, as you’ll be activating customers who are already huge fans of your products.


These are some of the top tactics to help your startup yield higher returns on your investment with influencer marketing. As you can see, there are some tactics that require a little bit more investment than others. If your budget leaves you with limited options, you could skip those strategies, and optimize your influencer marketing campaign with the more cost-effective options. Got any doubts, or ideas to share? Leave your comment below and let’s talk about it.






This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers


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      • iamradiantrose profile image


        3 years ago

        Great information! I love the examples you provide and you explain the use of influencers very well! I learned a lot from your hub. Thank you!


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