The following blog post was contributed by Sahana Ullagaddi. Sahana leads the marketing campaign strategy and demand generation efforts for the Klout business at Lithium. She’s passionate about digital trends, creativity and people. Say hello on Twitter, and feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.

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Influencer marketing is a powerful way to share your brand’s message with a niche audience. Not only do consumers respond to the recommendations of those they trust, but an influencer has the ability to create a larger impact than advertising. They can provide a real-life demonstration of their experience with your brand, resulting in authentic visual marketing. But engaging with influencers can be tricky and audiences are quick to recoil if an influencer has an agenda.

How can you connect with the right influencers for your brand, while motivating them to spread your brand’s message?

1. Choose influencers wisely.

This seems obvious, but it’s challenging for many brands. The first temptation is to go after big names and those who have huge followings (and who can blame us, as marketers we’re used to thinking in terms of maximum reach).

The danger in this is that Big Name Influencers have large followings, but those followers do not typically share much in common, other than an affinity for the influencer. Most won’t pay too much attention or give much credence to a Big Name Influencer’s mention of a brand. Perhaps we all remain a bit jaded by “celebrity endorsements” knowing the celebrity is paid to recommend a brand.

One thing we know: Inauthenticity kills trust.

The influencers you want are those who value the trust they build with their audience, have a niche following of people that care about a topic related to your brand, have a high level of engagement with their followers and post more than just promotional content. One way to find these influencers is through Klout.com, which tracks a person’s influence among social networks and also identifies the topical expertise they are known for amidst their followers.

2. Invest in the relationship.

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You want to develop trust with influencers, not just one-time promotional engagements. This takes a bit of a different mindset for many marketers. We’re used to paying for ads, and being so crunched for time on product campaigns that we have little chance to do more than ensure we’ve bought the best creative we can. Building trust requires time and investment.

You need to take the mindset that you are cultivating a relationship, not a transaction. While it’s tempting to choose only well-established influencers, keep in mind that by helping up-and-coming influencers become more influential, you will gain their loyalty throughout their entire career. Select a mix of emerging and established influencers and create a plan to get to know them and help them build their brand as they build yours. This might take the shape of sharing their posts and visual content, featuring them on your blog, introducing them to those you know who might help them build their reputation, giving them credit for ideas, including them as guest speakers at your conferences, etc.

3. Make them shine.

The premise of influencer marketing is that you provide a benefit in exchange for the influencer promoting your brand. We recommend that you do not pay influencers financially. However, they do need to be compensated in ways that matter to them. One complaint influencers express is that brands provide them with incentives or perks that they have very little interest in. This goes back to building that relationship and knowing your influencers personally, so that the perks and incentives you provide are a good fit.

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One of the best rewards for influencers is to endorse them. One of the best ways to inspire influencers to share your brand’s message is to give them brand experiences. This may take the form of VIP events with early or exclusive access to pre-launch products or services, invitations for beta testing, samples of products with an invitation to create user-generated content (for example, inviting influencers to share a photo or video of them using your product or discussing their experience), and bringing the influencer in as a “consultant” on your marketing team. Be creative and remember that authenticity, trust and mutual benefit are the keys to a successful influencer marketing program.

P.S. – If you liked this post, you may also enjoy our free eBook “Customer Loyalty: It’s Earned Everyday.”