Unless you work for a supermarket, pharmacy or retail giant, chances are you’re facing pandemic-related budget cuts. Marketing is often the first to be told to do more with less. This can be discouraging, especially given that 2020 was supposed to be the biggest year in influencer marketing history.

In many ways, it still might be. While the pandemic may have canceled exotic influencer trips, store opening parties and on-location photo shoots, it’s accentuated the importance of authentic influencer relationships and influencer-generated content.

Screen time has skyrocketed. People are socializing and shopping from their phones more than ever. But to survive long-term stay-at-home orders and encourage people to shop e-commerce, marketers need new ways to create content and expand their reach.

For brands, if there is a silver lining to the quarantine, it’s that influencer marketing is experiencing unprecedented growth, sophistication and creativity. According to Traackr data from over 30,000 beauty and fashion influencers, mentions of TikTok on their Instagram feeds increased 99 percent in the first month of quarantine.

Everyone, influencers included, is trying out new content and formats. Whether brands are tapping into organic advocates, scaling ambassador programs or leveraging influential creators to produce quality content for their own social media platforms, getting content and formats right will take a data-driven approach to influencer selection.

With that goal in mind, what follows are six tips that sophisticated influencer marketers swear by — all of them ways to avoid costly mistakes and achieve greater impact with every dollar they invest.

Brands can enhance influencer vetting with audience insights

No mistake is costlier than investing in the wrong people — especially when brands have less to work with. With millions of potential creators available, it’s essential to screen out the individuals who are least likely to create impact for a brand.

Brands can leverage data to screen-out misaligned partners by reviewing the audience demographics and audience quality for every candidate. In the way of due diligence, they should look for answers to the following: Is the influencer’s audience quality high? Do their followers demonstrate an affinity with the brand? Do they reach audiences in the right location, age group and gender?

A laser focus on content performance drives ROI

Assessing the quality of influencers’ historical content means asking whether they earn high engagement when they post about a brand’s product category (i.e., hair care, skincare or makeup). Have they performed well for the brand or its competitors in the past? How does their sponsored content perform compared to their organic content?

Often, brands will uncover top-performing creators who may not have the reach of a typical macro influencer, but who can generate similar engagement. By focusing paid content collaborations on the highest-performing influencers at every tier, brands will create more return on investment.

Working with and building up organic advocates creates close partners

If the best time to build an advocate or ambassador program was five years ago, the second best time is now. And, if an influencer is already posting about a brand, they are likely to want to work with that brand, even if they can’t secure a lucrative contract right away.

As such, brands can set up alerts to find influencers who are organically mentioning them already, and then spend time building relationships with those individuals. By supporting their content with shares and comments, and finding ways to showcase them on channels — and by brainstorming how they can create content with them from a distance — both brand and influencer gain a stronger working rapport.

Performance-based contracts help control fees

When negotiating compensation, brands can lead the conversation with data. Instead of blindly relying on rate cards or media kits, brands can negotiate fees based on historical performance. Compared to traditional CPM models, brands should take an engagement-driven approach to compensation, such as calculating fees based on past engagement that has been generated on content mentioning the brand or category.

Measuring impact beyond one-off campaigns focuses teams on the right moves

When budgets are tight, it forces brands to look more closely at the impact of every dollar spent. Too often, influencer marketing is measured at the campaign level alone. If a team is working with fewer resources, it’ll need to track how each influencer is performing across all campaigns.

To assess impact, brands can track cost-based efficiency metrics such as cost per post (CPP), cost per engagement (CPE) and cost per view (CPV) so they can see how each campaign, strategy and influencer performs. It’s not just about doing more, but making sure the team is doing more of the right work. From influencer vetting, relationship-building, compensation negotiation and cross-campaign measurement, the key to influencer marketing ROI is a data-driven process that enables marketers to take control of influencer spend and focus on the relationships that matter most to the brand.