Influencer marketing is big business.

In fact, it’s expected to be a $5 to $10 billion market by 2020.

A recent YouGov / Social Media Week study cites 48% of US adults as saying an online Influencer affected a purchase decision, yet only 6% of those people said that an online Influencer was the driving factor in purchase decisions. Even so, we spend a lot of time in the digital and social media worlds talking about Influencers — who they are and who should manage them and how effective they really are for driving sales. And even as we’re having these conversations — in online forums, in the media, in pitches, in client meetings and amongst ourselves — we’re overlooking one of the most important sources of influence, online and off.

Regular people.

It’s not news that word-of-mouth is one of the most effective sales drivers for any business. People trust other people. Ninety-two percent of people trust word-of-mouth over marketing messages, and people pay twice as muchattention to social media posts from friends and family as they do to those of influencers and brands. Yet, as much as we quote these key statistics and give lip service to word-of-mouth, big brands are still investing heavily in Influencer-with-a-capital-I marketing. Let ‘em.

Small business doesn’t have the budget to use Influencers as part of their marketing mix, and may be feeling overwhelmed by the whole thing anyway. That doesn’t mean they can’t take advantage of “small i” influencers.

A “small i” influencer isn’t a celebrity. It isn’t a social media star with 100K+ followers. A “small i” influencer is a real person — a friend, a family member, an acquaintance. A “small i” influencer is someone who reviewed that product on Amazon or left a comment about that boutique hotel on Trip Advisor. A “small i” influencer is someone that is trusted because they are just a regular person. In fact, 72% of people say they are more likely to trust content shared by “normal people.”

There are several ways that small businesses and start-up brands can take advantage of “small i” influence and impact their bottom line.

Grow advocacy. A brand advocate is someone who loves a business or brand and is excited to share it with family and friends, online and offline. A brand advocate may be a super-loyal customer or they may be an employee who is exited about your mission. Brands of all sizes can use brand advocates to spread the word about their company.

E-commerce brands may consider building advocacy through a brand ambassador program, where they solicit submissions from their audience to become their online ambassadors — in exchange for sharing info about products or services online, the ambassadors may receive a small discount, first access to new products, or amplification of their content on the brand’s own social media channels. A brick and mortar store might consider a referral program, where some one who sends two new customers to the store, for example, is given a small reward or discount the next time they come in. A brand advocate should be someone who truly loves the brand and wants to see them to succeed, and the reward should be considered as a nice perk for a loyal customer, as opposed to quid pro quo.

Solicit reviews. Brick and mortar businesses have a love-hate relationship with online review platforms like Yelp, but love them or loathe them, they serve a purpose in our current culture and people turn to them to discover new restaurants, bakeries, salons, and more. So instead of shying away from the online review, ask for it. This can be as simple as a placard near the register asking people to leave a review if they enjoyed the service, a comment on the receipt, or a social media post driving to the relevant review platform. For e-commerce, send a follow-up email asking people to review their recent purchase, on the brand website or a related review platform. Make sure to link to exactly where the customer should leave the review, to eliminate extra steps for them, and increase the likelihood they will respond.

If someone leaves a negative review, don’t freak out. Poor reviews are an opportunity for businesses to address the concern, see areas where they may improve service or product, and potentially turn an upset person into a recurring customer.

Bring on the UGC. User-generated content (UGC) is a great way to get people talking about your brand online. Consider asking people to use a specific hashtag for your company when sharing images online. A brick and mortar with a long history I the community may consider running a contest where they ask people to post images of their location over the years, using a specific hashtag or tagging the company in the social media post. And in this age of Instagram, don’t forget that appearance matters more than ever — quirky or cute touches in your space invite photos, geo-tagging (where someone places the photo at your location) and brand hashtags.

An added benefit of UGC is content for the brand’s own social media channels and website. Always make sure the credit the person who took the photo.

Regular people FTW.
The average person is connected, online, to 400+ family and friends, which means that every “normal person,” “small i” influencer sharing something about a brand has the potential to reach and affect the purchase decision of over 400 people, not to mention the friends of friends who may see the post. Brands of all sizes can use these tactics to increase word-of-mouth recommendations and advocacy for their business and see an impact on their bottom line.