In the past five years, digital marketing has opened the door to a whole new world of strategies and tools for small businesses. In this recent Digital Drop-In webinar, Sarah Benoit and Justin Belleme dive into Instagram and influencer marketing, and talk about how to leverage both for the greatest effect. A big thanks to David Gwaltney for compiling this blog post based on their conversation.

The Evolution of Instagram

With over one billion active users, Instagram is quickly becoming a social media requirement for most businesses.

Instagram Business accounts have many special built-in features, including tracking insights, contact buttons, shopping, and in-app advertising options. All business accounts also have an inbox, similar to Facebook Messenger, which gives you direct contact with your followers.

We highly recommend that you dig into Instagram Stories. Stories let users post photos and videos that disappear within 24 hours. This timeline creates an ephemeral quality, and an implied urgency (catch it while you can!), which can lead to higher rates of engagement.

In 2018, Instagram updated its algorithm to focus on relationships and timeliness. The app also added Instagram TV (IGTV), which allows for video content up to an hour long. The ‘Explore’ page has also been updated, and shows curated content tailored to the individual user’s interests.

“Recommended Posts” are a great opportunity for your brand to show up for users who are not following you. Engagements, such as likes and comments, are a strong indication to the Instagram algorithm that a post is worth sharing, and these high performing posts will automatically be placed in the appropriate users’ feeds.

As with Twitter, hashtags are important for discovery in Instagram, and you can use up to 25 per Instagram post. Hashtags help ensure that your content is seen by the people looking for it. There are some good free tools out there that you can use to find and analyze top Twitter and Instagram hashtags, such as, for example. ( is a good one for Twitter, but doesn’t monitor Instagram hashtags).

When it comes to using hashtags on Instagram, know your purpose. Target audiences that care about and value the same things that your brand does. Remember: relevancy is key. Above all, Instagram is a really exciting tool, so have fun with it!

Getting Started With Influencer Marketing

Influencer Marketing is when brands enlist social media influencers to help promote their products. Influencers are thought leaders with a personal brand, and they typically have a focused topic area. Influencers use online channels to build and talk to their audience, and almost always have a large following through social media, blogs, YouTube, or podcasting. Influencers can range from having less than a thousand followers to having millions of followers.

Just as in business, there are multiple types of influencers. B2B Influencers (Business-to-Business) are typically industry thought leaders or niche consultants. Seth Godin is one of the leading B2B influencers, specializing in the marketing field. A B2C Influencer (Business-to-Customer) is often more in the style of the lifestyle blogger or YouTube producer. Kylie Jenner is an incredibly successful example of this style of influencer.

Finding Influencers

Marketers must first establish a relationship with influencers whose audiences overlap with their target audience, and then devise compensation for an influencer to run campaigns to promote their product.

It only takes one successful influencer working with your brand to build a solid foundation. Often, if an influencer enjoys working with you, they will introduce you to their network of other influencers.

To find the right influencers, begin with a search for blogs about your products, services, or industry. BuzzSumo is a helpful tool in this search. Do an Instagram search using hashtags. Investigate your competitors and partners to see who they are working with, and reach out.

In evaluating potential influencers, consider the size of their social following. Often, an influencer has one main network, be it Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube. Look at the engagement metrics. Now, determine the overlap with the brand audience. Just because an influencer has one million followers does not mean they are the best fit for your brand. An influencer with 20,000 highly engaged followers in your niche will be far more effective than an influencer with one million unengaged followers and little audience overlap.

Influencer Outreach Strategies and Compensation

In our experience, the best method to reach influencers is through a personal introduction. If an introduction is not possible, the next best method is direct email outreach and then social media direct messages. You are trying to build a real relationship, so face-to-face meetings, either in real life or through video conferencing, can be incredibly useful to build that rapport. Always follow up and stay organized.

What is fair compensation for an influencer? This often depends on the product and campaign. It is becoming standard to offer complimentary products or experiences. For instance, in one of our most highly successful campaigns, influencers are offered a free cruise in exchange for a certain amount of bookings. Another method is results-based compensation where the influencer is given commission on any sales generated through their efforts. A flat retainer, where you pay the influencer a monthly fee starting as low as $200, is an effective way to create a paid ambassador relationship.

Remember, the key is to build your influencer program over time. Start small, and grow with your influencers. As the influencer further grows their following and networks with other like-minded influencers, introductions will naturally occur. As long as you are nurturing the relationships and providing a good experience to the influencers, growth is inevitable.

Want to learn more about digital marketing? Join us for our monthly free Digital Drop-In webinars, attend a bootcamp in Asheville, or enroll in the full JB Media Institute curriculum.