“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Whereas this question might have induced answers like ‘doctor’ or ‘accountant’ in days gone by, you can be sure that plenty of kids these days would respond with: “I want to be an influencer.”

This bold new career path, the perks of which are too numerous to mention, is now one seemingly pursued by anyone with a camera and a mild creative flair. Via a barrage of selfies and creatively styled shots they exert their influence, coercing their merry bands of followers to sign up for whatever brand they’re quite obviously being paid to endorse.

Despite the blurry definition of what influencers do and precisely HOW they exert said influence, many brands are now shelling out exorbitant portions of their marketing budgets to these social media stars for the privilege of the occasional selfie or curated flat lay. God forbid the proverbial bandwagon should pull out of the station without all aboard.

For those of us with slightly more thankless occupations, the thought of scoring a cool R5,000 for snapping an Instagram pic (yes this is a REAL figure) is beyond incomprehensible. But in a world saturated with advertising initiatives, is this actually a marketing strategy that can pay dividends?

Whilst it’s certainly hard to justify the kinds of spend being allocated towards influencer initiatives (a picture may be worth a thousand words, but a thousand rands?), there are plenty of savvier ways in which brands can leverage these persuasive people for business gain.

So how do you go about sourcing an influencer that’ll boost your brand without bankrupting your marketing department? Here are a few tips to get you started:

Start small

Of course every brand wants to be endorsed by someone with a Kardashian-eque following, but in some cases, this can in fact do more harm than good. Not only will high-end influencers likely be signed up with plenty of other brands (thus diluting yours), but you can also be sure they’ll demand a pretty penny for their services. Sometimes, it’s the less obvious influencers that strike a better balance for your brand, as their influence is often more authentic, given the fact that they don’t hop into bed with any brand that comes their way. By really ‘owning’ a smaller influencer, you’ll be able to create legitimate brand ambassadorship, and further equity whilst at the same time growing your followership.

Audience engagement

It’s important to remember that followership and influence are not the same thing – you might have 4 million fans, but if you’re not doing anything to actively engage them, you may as well be talking to a brick wall. Plus, followers can be easily bought when you’re earning upward of R5k per post. So before you sign with an influencer, make sure to scrutinise their engagement figures, paying close attention to responses and retweets. Yes you want a big audience, but an invested audience is in fact a far more attractive proposition for a brand looking to make a social statement.

Brand Fit

Influencers come in various shapes and sizes, not all of which are well suited to your brand. So whilst a renowned ‘fashion-insta’ might make a good fit for a retail brand, they’re probably going to come off a tad insincere if they’re rattling on about fast food that they clearly don’t eat. Remember, your audience is probably more sussed than you think, and they’re going to see straight through you if you try too hard to wrap your brand story around the influencer’s. Authenticity is key when it comes to hitting it big on social media, so make sure that the people you choose to weave into your narrative make sense to those on the receiving end of it.