Ecommerce Influencer Marketing: From Zero To Profitable Collabs

July 19, 2023
13 min
Ryan Prior
Head of Marketing, Modash
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This is an actionable guide to getting influencer marketing off the ground at an ecommerce brand.

You won’t find fluff like “what is influencer marketing”, or “why is influencer marketing important”. Instead, you’ll figure out things like:

  • Which type of collabs should you prioritize?
  • What’s the most important criteria for selecting influencers?
  • What’s the fastest way to find & shortlist influencers?
  • What do you actually say during outreach to get replies?

Let’s start with mindset for month one.

Your first month is about learning

If you’re just starting your ecommerce influencer marketing program, be prepared for some experimentation. Chances are you won’t hit profitability right away.

Rugile Paleviciute is Head of Partnerships @ Kilo Health, the second fastest growing company in Europe. Here’s her advice:

“With your first campaign(s), your goal can’t be ROI. It should be learning.”

Sometimes brands do hit profitability in month one. It’s possible, but you won’t nail everything the first time. You need to get a feel for the process. Testing and iteration is required, just like Facebook ads or Google ads.

“You can’t decide whether or not influencer marketing works within a month.”

Set your expectations, and get in the right mindset right from day 1. You need time, effort, and testing – just like any other marketing channel.

Your goal is to find long-term partners

There are some exceptions*, but typically, the process I’d recommend looks like this:

  • Find influencers
  • Run initial one-off collabs/campaigns
  • Analyze your results
  • Convert the best ones into long-term partnerships

Out of the first 50 collabs, you might find just a small handful of perfect-fit creators who can really sell your products. Be prepared to do lots of discovery, with the ultimate goal of finding long-term partners.

*Interested in the exceptions? Read: Long vs. Short Term Influencer Collabs.

But *how* exactly should you collab with those influencers in the first place? What do you do? What do you ask them to do?

How to collaborate with influencers

Mature ecommerce influencer marketing programs like Farfetch, Myprotein, & others use a mixture of:

  • Commission-only affiliates
  • Brand ambassadors
  • Product seeding
  • Pay per post

Each has their place, and their pros/cons.

But… How do you know where to start? If you're at an early stage, you can’t do everything at once.

Always start with an affiliate program

Commission-only compensation is the dream for brands. Infinitely scalable.

The problem? A lot of creators aren’t open to commission-only partnerships (for various reasons).

Even so, you should start here regardless. Here’s why:

1- You need the opportunity to add performance-based elements to other collabs (more on this soon).

2- Your existing customers & fans can discover the program and get started on their own. Once set up, it’s very low effort to maintain.

Now, where next?

If you have more time than money, use product seeding

Product seeding is a low-cost method to get influencer generated content and start new creator relationships.

If you’re unfamiliar, the (simplified) process is:

  • Send small creators a free product, no strings attached
  • Some will post about your product, some won’t
  • Recruit the most engaged creators onto performance-based partnerships
  • Optionally: ask (or pay) for permissions to repurpose the content (e.g. Meta ad creatives)

The cost is just the cost of your product & shipping, plus maybe some software costs for finding influencers & sending outreach emails. The biggest cost (creator payments) is removed.

And then the secret sauce. Those creators who do post? Recruit them onto a revenue share model. Incentivize them to try harder to sell your product -- and to post more beyond that initial thank-you/unboxing post.

If a creator already posted once, then the chances are that:

1- They do *actually* like the product, and

2- They’ll now be more open to posting again with a revenue share commission-only model

Your success rate will be higher this way vs. starting your cold outreach with a commission-only offer right from the start.

Seeding has downsides too, though…

Sponsored posts are more reliable if you have a budget

Seeding is quite time-intensive, with no guaranteed results.

You need to deal with a high volume of different creator relationships – of which many may not lead to anything long-term. You also have to deal with logistics, and keep track of who posts & who doesn’t.

Not to mention, it’s not viable for higher value products.

When you offer to do sponsored posts instead:

1- Your outreach will be more successful. More creators will respond to your emails (because you can offer $$$ up front).

2- You guarantee the set of deliverables. No more crossing your fingers hoping for an Instagram story to pop up.

The results are faster, and you’ll likely have to do less outreach/recruitment overall.

Then, time to reapply the secret sauce. On every sponsored post collab, offer a performance-based element.

The biggest argument against sponsored posts is that the creator gets paid the same regardless.

They can do a mediocre job, or put in maximum effort, and compensation doesn’t change. You can overcome that problem.

Pay for base deliverables to remove risk for the creator. They’re at least getting paid for the time they put into creating content & posting.

But when you enable a performance-based element, you incentivize the creator to go further. They can post more than you agreed upon, and be rewarded for it. They can optimize their ability to drive traffic over time, and increase their earnings.

If it’s a great fit, they’ll keep posting for rev share even after you stop sponsoring posts.

How to find the right influencers for an ecommerce brand

What makes the “right” influencer?

When selecting creators to partner with, the audience is more important than anything else.

Reaching the right people in the right locations is #1.

Everything else comes after.

The (simplified) selection process in flow chart form looks like this:

1. Audience → 2. Performance metrics → 3. Content fit

Audience is straightforward.

Performance metrics: engagement rate, follower growth rate, fake followers, etc. To go the extra mile – you can ask for previous sponsored post performance including Story link clicks.

Content fit: does their content resonate with your target market? Does it fit with your brand’s style/vibe?

Now, onto the methods for actually finding creators.

Searching for influencers with dedicated software

I’ll show you in <2 mins how ecommerce brands (from startups, to Victoria Secret, & everyone in between) use Modash to find influencers. I promise it’s the best, most scalable, data-driven method.

Modash gathers public data to create a database of every creator on Earth with 1k+ followers on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. No matter what/who you’re looking for, they can be found in Modash – you just need to play around with the filters.

Let’s say you want to find Instagram influencers for an ecommerce brand.

Audience is still going to be your #1 selection criteria, but let’s start by filtering out some profiles:

  • 2%+ engagement rate only
  • Contact email is available
  • Apply a follower count (if you’re new to this, start with smaller creators – e.g. 5k-50k followers)

Then, pick one method of identifying accounts within your niche. I like bio keywords. For example, if you’re a fashion brand, looking for creators who simply have “fashion” in their bio is a great start for narrowing down the results.

Don’t combine bio keywords with filters like hashtags, keywords, or topics (you’ll see these once you land in the platform) – just try one at a time.

Now, apply audience filters to find your target demographic. Modash has “percentage granularity”, which means you can specify the strength of a filter. For example, “Only show me creators who have at least 20% of their followers in the USA”.

Note: Initially, start with fewer filters, and less aggressive percentages. Using a keyword in bio will already reduce your results significantly – and you don’t want to miss creators that could be a good fit by being too tight on criteria. Run your search, and then if you still have thousands of results, you can go back and start narrowing further.

There’s some trial and error here. Adjust filters one by one, try different filters, follower ranges, bio keywords, audience percentages, and so on.

Open a profile to analyze their audience & performance

You’ll get a list of every creator who matches your search. Clicking on any profile gives you data like their:

  • Fake followers
  • Engagement rate
  • Top audience cities & countries
  • Audience age & gender breakdowns
  • Top content
  • … and more

All without having to reach out and ask them to send screenshots of their Instagram analytics. Neat!

You can try searching in Modash for free, no credit card needed.

Searching without dedicated software

There are other completely free ways to find influencers. They cost more time, and you’ll be working with less data. But, it’s a viable way to get started on a shoestring budget.

The most common ones are:

  • Look for influencers among your customers & followers manually
  • Search directly on Google (e.g. “vintage fashion influencers”)
  • Search directly on social platforms (e.g. by hashtag)
  • Set up an ambassador program landing page to invite inbound applications

If you have zero budget right now, Modash also has this free influencer search tool, which allows 5 searches per day with limited filters.

Persuading creators to promote your product

Shortlisting creators you want to work with is the easy bit. Now you have to get in contact, pitch a collab, and have them say yes.

These are the top reasons why people fail here.

1. Not sending enough emails (and follow ups)

Marketers aren’t used to cold outreach. Being ignored or rejected is uncomfortable. If you want serious results though, you just have to put on your sales hat, knuckle down, and increase your volume.

Build bigger lists, send more emails.

Follow up 3-5x, and incorporate DMs into your follow-up sequence if you don’t get an email response.

And if they still don’t engage? Try again in 6 months – don’t give up forever.

2. Weak personalization during outreach

Personalization is everything. Creator inboxes are filled with garbage, even at smaller follower counts.

Take Nikola Sokolov’s advice: you cannot use templates (or AI) for personalization.

This guy’s company sends one million emails per month to creators. And he still doesn’t let his team use templates. They have full-time roles dedicated solely to email personalization.

Here’s an example that beginners think is personalization, but in reality could be sent to almost any creator, and is utterly ignorable:

Hi Jane,

I stumbled across your profile on TikTok and was blown away by the quality of content and the amazing detail you go into for every post.

[Company pitch here]

Getting someone’s first name and a generic insincere compliment is not enough.

Here’s an example of actually good personalization:

Hi Jane,

Your peace lily care guide came up on my FYP today. Great idea to use liquid fertilizer in spring -- totally going to try this myself 🙂.

Are you open to sponsored collabs currently?

I'm John from John's Plants; we sell all kinds of houseplants (including peace lilies) that I think your audience will love.

Can I send you more info about what I have in mind?

Key points to take note of:

  • The sender has clearly actually seen the creator’s content
  • The products are clearly relevant to the content
  • It uses a “soft ask” (all you need is a “yes”, and the conversation is started)

3. A weak offer

A free toothbrush doesn’t cut it anymore.

Empathize with the creator. What are you asking them to do? Does it make sense? Is there really a worthwhile upside for them?

It’s not a true partnership unless both sides are benefitting. Just take a minute to consider what you’re asking of creators.

Tracking your results

Let’s touch on measurement.

First things first…

You will never attribute 100% impact

Attributing ecommerce sales to influencer marketing will always be a pain in the butt.

Most marketers would say that influencer marketing actually drives as much as 1.5 - 3x the revenue impact that they can prove. This study estimates that only 25% of influencer-driven purchases are done through trackable links.

That said, here’s three things you can (and should) do to measure your influencer marketing.

1. Utilize “standard” tracking methods

The most common ways to measure influencer marketing are to use:

  • Unique discount codes per creator
  • Unique landing pages per creator
  • UTM links

Any of these are a good starting point for tracking.

If you’re using promo codes or landing page URLs, make them memorable. E.g. “RYAN10” instead of “XPOPALJN”, or yoursite.com/ryan/.

2. Correlate increases in brand traffic

Given that most content formats don’t actually allow a clickable link, you’ll find that a successful influencer collaboration often causes a spike in brand searches.

Take a look in your analytics at direct traffic, or traffic entering through the homepage. And/or take a look at your Search Console data, and look for an increase in branded Google searches. If there are spikes, see if they correlate with the date(s) that influencers posted.

3. Just ask your customers

Self-reported attribution (i.e. asking “how did you hear about us”) has its flaws, just like any other attribution method. But, it contributes to the overall picture and “gut feeling” of whether or not your collabs are driving revenue.

Collect influencer content

All the creatives that influencers post online is a goldmine. Just the value of the content itself (without the influencer’s audience/reach) should be considered a part of your influencer marketing ROI.

Whether it’s 3 pieces or 300, you want to save it all ready to utilize later.

That might be for repurposing (use creatives in paid media, or on landing pages?), reporting, to analyze what’s working – or anything else. Whatever the reason, the first step is just having the content available in one place.

At a small scale, you can do that manually with screenshots & Google Drive folders. As you grow, you’ll need software to automate.

Modash has an influencer monitoring tool that does this. If you’re already using Modash for finding influencers, it’s no extra cost.

How it works:

1- Specify which creators you need to collect content from

2- Specify how to identify which content to track (e.g. posts that contain certain hashtags, tags, keywords)

That’s it. Modash will automatically pull everything (even Stories) into the dashboard, with insights about which creators have posted (and how many times), plus reach/engagement data per creator.

3 killer examples of ecommerce influencer collabs

1. Farfetch x Tim Dessaint

Platform: YouTube

Collab type: Sponsored video, plus affiliate links

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkEd0fsWfB0

One of YouTube’s strengths as a platform is the ongoing distribution. On Instagram & TikTok, it’s much more likely that a post will die after the first couple of days. On YouTube, the lifespan is much longer.

Here, Farfetch sponsored Tim’s video – that’s step 1 to guarantee the video happens in the first place, and tap into Tim’s subscriber base.

Adding in the affiliate performance-based element is step 2. It gives Tim even more incentive to work hard on this video, and sell the products to the best of his ability. He knows this video is going to keep getting recurring views for months (or years) after the upfront fee is gone – and that can be monetized with the affiliate links.

Next, let’s look at ecommerce examples with smaller creators too.

2. Wild x Sam Bache

Platform: Instagram

Collab type: Product seeding → ambassadors with affiliate commissions

Link: https://www.instagram.com/p/Cugn7sWx6Lp/

Deodorant brand Wild are using an effective combo of seeding plus commissions.

They’re recruiting high volumes of micro influencers to promote their products. @samfbache is one example.

Beyond simply sending the free product, Wild adds in a personalized discount code & gives performance-based commissions – which incentivizes more effort, and more posts.

Wild’s ambassador programme page also gives us a good example of adding low-cost incentives for recruiting affiliates. They offer extra free products and exclusive access to new products & offers.

That’s something of value that most brands can easily add in to reward commission-only creators.

3. Obvi x Mallory Dougoud

Platform: Instagram

Collab type: Product seeding → ambassadors with affiliate commissions

Link: https://www.instagram.com/p/CoC2GKjqcaP/  

Collagen brand Obvi is another successful example of using high volume seeding plus revenue share.

Here’s one creator, @mallorydougoud (~25k followers) who received products from Obvi:

Obvi’s co-founder gives an insight into their seeding strategy on LinkedIn:

Like Wild, Obvi are then recruiting creators onto performance-based brand ambassador programs utilizing discount codes. See: Obvi’s brand ambassador page.

Something else smart Obvi are doing is incremental commission tiers. From a base of 10%, creators can increase their commissions to 25% based on performance – a good incentive to get posting.

Get more influencer marketing campaign examples here.

Time to get started

Don’t overthink it. The best way to learn and get on track to influencer marketing profitability is to just start.

Search for influencers, knuckle down, and send some outreach emails. Once you have that first bit of traction, it’ll feel motivating, exciting, and everything starts to come together.

And if you want a faster, data-driven method to find those creators – try Modash for free. Remember, you can find literally every public creator profile on Earth. Just gotta find the right filters!

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