How To Identify & Test New Niches For Your Influencer Program

March 26, 2024
10 min
Ryan Prior
Head of Marketing, Modash
Rugile Paleviciute
Head of Brand Partnerships & PR at BURGA
Dmitri Cherner
Influencer Marketing Expert
Fiona Macpherson
Head of Influencer Marketing at Wild
... and
more expert contributors

The potential pool of influencers you could partner with is likely much bigger than you think.

And if you can widen your pool of options, then you’re much more likely to find great, untapped partners. People that your competitors haven’t found. And who aren’t crazy expensive.

Here, I’ll help you think through (and test) which influencer niches might work best for your brand. Using examples from other brands & influencer marketing pros.

Let’s get one limiting belief out of the way, first…

The most obvious niches aren’t always the best

Tourlane, a travel company, told us that travel influencers aren’t their best performers.

Bitpanda, a crypto trading platform, told us that crypto influencers aren’t their best performers.

If you’re trying to figure out which “niche” of influencer will perform best for you, think beyond your immediate product category.

For example, if you’re a beauty brand, this is the wrong line of thinking:

❌ I have a beauty product, so I need to work with beauty influencers.

This is the right line of thinking:

✅ My ideal buyers are women aged 35-45 in [location]. Who reaches those people online?

(We’ll get more into how to identify these groups of people soon.)

And to be clear – I didn’t say, “The most obvious niches are never best.” Sometimes your best creators will be the obvious ones – every influencer program is different. It’s just about expanding your potential recruitment pool and testing.

Why the most obvious niches might not be best

I’ve got three examples here to articulate the point.

Maia Pedro (Influencer Marketing Team Lead, Bitpanda) shared his experience with crypto influencers. He found that:

  • There’s a lot of audience overlap – most creators reach the same people
  • There is little diversity in those audiences (mostly white males)
  • The truly great creators are very expensive
  • And their competitors have already worked with most of them too

Georgia Humphries (Influencer Marketing Team Lead, Tourlane) shared her thinking on why travel influencers might not work best for Tourlane.

She considers that people who follow travel-focused accounts might simply have too much travel content in their feeds.

Georgia Humphries
Influencer Marketing Team Lead, Tourlane
That audience wants to be constantly inspired by beautiful pictures & beautiful destinations. But they don’t have that purchasing want or need.

Compare that to a mom who doesn’t usually post travel content, then takes a once-in-a-lifetime trip with her family. And shares the whole thing on socials, raving about the provider (Tourlane) along the way. That doesn’t blend in like the typical travel inspo.

Here’s one last example to articulate my point, and then we’ll move on.

In a previous role, Rugile Paleviciute (now Head of Partnerships at Burga) promoted a health & fitness app with influencers. You can see where this is going. Fitness influencers were not the top performers.

Rugile Paleviciute
Head of Partnerships, BURGA
People who follow fitness & sports-related content usually have it all figured out. They didn’t need our product to help with healthy living.

Instead, Rugile thought about who else would reach her target demographic.

“Our target audience was women in a specific location, aged 35-45. I thought about what other hobbies those people would have and tested influencers in gardening, knitting, flower pressing, etc.”

One of the most successful collaborations from that approach was with a gardening YouTube channel. The creator tested out a low-carb meal plan from the app and grew all the fruit & veg needed for the meal plan over 6 months. He released a YouTube video showcasing the harvest, shared his experiences, and inspired his audience to try out the app & meal plans.

That kinda stuff wouldn’t happen if Rugile was stuck only looking for fitness influencers.

Alright, you get the point. Let’s move on to *how* you can figure out which niches to test.

How to identify & test new influencer niches

As a reminder:

To expand your potential recruitment pool, focus on your ideal buyer. Not only your product category.

Here’s what you can do to execute on this idea (we’ll go into detail below):

  • Set up some guardrails for influencer selection
  • Brainstorm niches that fit our target market
  • Figure out how to identify creators in those niches
  • Start testing

Here we go!

1. Apply audience guardrails

We want to expand our potential recruitment pool, but we still can’t collab with just anyone.

Before we get into identifying specific niches, let’s apply two simple guardrails that will apply universally to influencer selection.

a) Choose influencers who reach your target demographic & target locations.

b) Choose influencers who are trusted by their audience (look for quality engagement).

Note that the second guardrail automatically excludes faceless accounts (like dogs, memes, and news). There should be a real person who you can build a relationship with.

Any influencer niche could be on the table as long as those two boxes are checked.

2. Brainstorm relevant influencer niches

I promise this is the last time I’ll say it:

The influencer niches you test should be based on who reaches your ideal buyer. I’ll assume you already know who your ideal buyer is.

But who reaches those ideal buyers?

You can brainstorm this in a ton of different ways, but here are 4 angles that might lead to some inspiration.

Think about your:

Audience hobbies: Take Rugile’s example above. What else is your ideal buyer likely to be interested in? Running? Chess? Fishing? Horror movies? Gaming? These are really easy to translate into influencer searches.

Audience life stage: The need/want for some products can be triggered by milestones in life. For example, are your ideal buyers looking for their first jobs? Are they single? Pregnant? Childless? Just bought a house? Use these “identities” to look for creators.

Let’s say you sell furniture. People who have recently moved house are likely a great segment. You could look for influencers who created content around buying a house (e.g. search hashtags like #moving or #homeowner).

Brand values: If you have important brand values, perhaps you can find creators that share your value and reach your target audience. For example, Wild (a refillable deodorant brand) recruits around 200 new influencers every month, and “sustainability influencers” are one of their top-performing niches.

Product benefits: What benefits does your product provide, and who needs those benefits? For example, Metabolic Meals sells healthy pre-prepped meals. The benefit is saving time while staying healthy. Health & fitness enthusiasts are the obvious group. But moms are another — busy moms who don’t have time to cook something healthy and delicious for their kids. When Metabolic Meals realized this, they partnered with different influencers to reach each audience — from athletes like Allison to moms like Sharon.

Remember: don’t go crazy. This brainstorming exercise with your team might result in a list of 20-30+ ideas. Unless you have a big team & budget, you can’t feasibly test them all at once. Pick 2-4 of your highest confidence niches and put a meaningful amount of effort & budget into testing them. (More on this in step 4.)

3. Brainstorm how to identify influencer in those niches

So you’ve got a list of influencer niches. How do we identify influencers in those niches?

The easiest way is to use hashtags and bio keywords. For example, if you’re looking for gardening creators, you can search by looking for people who used that hashtag or have the word “gardening” in their bio.

(These aren’t the only ways, but some of the more straightforward ones.)

For each of your target influencer niches, start by making a list to use as a starting point.

Don’t overcomplicate this. Just jot down a handful of hashtags and/or words that might be in your target creator’s bio.

Later, you can use these either by searching directly on Instagram/TikTok, or by applying them in your influencer search tool.

Again, it’s a starting point. Don’t overthink; jot a few ideas down and start. Once you get started, you’ll be able to follow the rabbit hole and get more ideas through trial and error.

4. Start testing

Armed with a list of niches, it’s time to start testing collaborations.

And here’s a big question you might have:

How much of your influencer budget should go to newer experimental niches vs. proven bets?

If you’re really early there might not be any “proven” bets, but you can replace with “less risky” bets. E.g. sticking with the most obvious influencer categories.

I can’t guarantee there’s a magic number, but I can tell you what other brands do. Dmitri Cherner (prev. Head of Influencer at Ruggable, OneSkin) recommends adapting your split based on program maturity:

  • Start with 70% testing / 30% safer bets while you’re launching a program
  • Move to 30% testing / 70% safer bets later once you’ve established your best niches

You can think of it like having a separate R&D budget. Your goal is to find new partners & niches that consistently perform.

Set expectations about testing

It’s important during periods of experimentation to have a conversation with leadership about expectations.

When you’re testing, by definition, not everything is going to work. Fiona Macpherson, who leads a team of influencer marketers at Wild, emphasizes the importance of setting leadership expectations in testing:

Fiona Macpherson
Head of Influencer Marketing, Wild
Some influencer collaborations won’t achieve the expected outcome, and that’s okay. Leadership should expect that, and while the team should be diligent, they shouldn’t be terrified of failure.

You’ll learn with every partnership, and move forward with the influencers who are successful. Efforts quickly begin to compound.

Simply having an open conversation about this will prevent a lot of stress and work later down the line.

With the right success criteria & internal support, the person doing the testing will likely become better at influencer selection than their manager anyway. Being in the trenches doing this every day will fine-tune your gut feeling.

(And gut feeling is way underrated as a decision-making input!)

Do you need paid tools to find niche influencers?

The short answer is no. You can be scrappy and get a solid influencer program off the ground with zero tooling.

Once you’re ready to turn it into a serious channel though, influencer search tools add a ton of efficiency.

If you’re recruiting more than ~5-10 new influencers each month, it quickly becomes a no-brainer. I’ll explain why.

(Even if you’re not ready for a tool now, it’s worth understanding for the future.)

The biggest difference in the process is being able to pre-filter your searches.

If you’re browsing manually on social media platforms, you can:

  • Search however you prefer (e.g. with a keyword or hashtag)
  • Take a first look at the profiles you find
  • If it looks good, reach out & ask for audience data
  • Wait for a reply, then review the data once you have it

It works fine to get started, but gets painful fast. Outreach is one of the biggest timesinks in influencer marketing. Especially if you need to start following up to get replies.

Software lets you apply that audience review step in the very beginning, which cuts out hours of outreach time on profiles that aren’t a good fit. That way, you’ll only go to the trouble of reaching out & negotiating with influencers when you’re confident it’s a fit. Here’s a visualization:

I’ll show you a 60-second summary of how the process would work in a tool (Modash).

(The tool collects public data on every influencer with 1k+ followers on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. That’s 250M+ profiles.)

First, you can apply filters for your ideal audience. Our “audience guardrails”. In this example, we’re looking for an audience who is majority male, and located in Germany.

Second, we can apply filters for the influencer. This is where our “niche identifier” goes (e.g. they’ve used #fishing in a post, or they have “fishing” in their bio).

Optionally, you can also tinker with other filters like size (follower range) or performance (e.g. avg Reels plays, minimum engagement rate). Be careful of being overly restrictive to start with. Start with a broader search, then narrow if you still have tons of options.

Third, review the results. Open up any profiles that look interesting, and see a bunch of audience & performance data in the sidebar. It looks like this:

Modash pricing is publicly available, there’s a free trial, and there are monthly plans (no requirement for annual commitments). Give it a spin. See if it solves niche influencer discovery for you.

Next steps

If you’re interested in more influencer marketing content, I invite you to:

1. Read up on influencer outreach. Finding potential influencer partners is step 1. Step 2 is starting the conversation. I talked to over 50 B2C influencer marketing managers & shared how they do outreach. Read it here.

2. Subscribe and/or connect. You can connect with me on LinkedIn and/or get our newsletter for free. In the near future, we’re covering topics like:

Thanks for reading!

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Contributors to this article

Rugile Paleviciute
Head of Brand Partnerships & PR at BURGA
After running influencer partnerships at Europe's fastest growing companies, Rugile now leads a team of 12+ influencer marketers at BURGA.
Dmitri Cherner
Influencer Marketing Expert
Dmitri has 10+ years of senior marketing experience, building and managing Influencer programs at agencies and brands such as Ruggable, Quince, and OneSkin.
Fiona Macpherson
Head of Influencer Marketing at Wild
After working in Charlotte Tilbury & Farfetch's influencer marketing teams, Fiona now manages a team of 20+ influencer marketers driving revenue through creators at Wild.
Georgia Humphries
Influencer Marketing Team Lead at Tourlane
WIth 8+ years experience in influencer marketing, Georgia leads all things influencer & social at Tourlane. She joined Tourlane in 2021 & scaled the channel from 0 to 4 full-time marketers and up to €700k/month in revenue.

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