YouTube Influencer Marketing: An Overview

Hilary Thompson, Outreach Team Lead

Influencer marketing is here to stay. With the gargantuan rise of all things social media in the last decade, the influencers our customers are watching certainly have a lot of…er…influence on what they consume. YouTube, one of the fastest-growing video channels, is no exception. With more than two billion users worldwide, watching over one billion hours of videos a day, everyone wants a piece of that pie. Advertisers can opt for “YouTube Ads” through the Google Ads platform where their ad is played pre-roll in an auction-like bidding system, much like Facebook offers. It’s a pretty good ad platform—the pumpkin pie of YouTube advertising—reliable, but average reach.

A pre-roll, automatic ad doesn’t have the influence that a host-read, midroll integration, where an influencer is essentially evangelizing your product, has on viewers. We know that most people power through the “Skip” button on those pre-roll automatic ads to get to the meat of the video. But what if your endorsement was in the meat of the video?

Enter YouTube Influencer Integrations. It’s like the Blueberry Cream of the YouTube pie selection—it’s the best of your advertising options—decadent, intoxicating, and rich. These ads can be powerful and effective, but you want to invest your advertising budget in the right places to reach the right audiences—here’s how to identify the right fit for your brand.

Why the Right Influencer Matters

The influencers you choose can make or break your ad. If you are spending thousands on one ad, you want to make sure you’ve vetted your influencer thoroughly. If you don’t, your influencer pie may turn out to be a mincemeat pie when they’re expecting blueberry, and nobody wants that. Below are some guidelines to follow for vetting your influencer list.

Pick Genres That Fit Your Brand

An influencer has a lot of sway with their captive audience. And, in general, most of their audience tends to have a lot in common. History buffs gather to watch history YouTube channels; fashion lovers watch fashion channels. As a channel grows, its host gathers more influence and authority in their subject-matter.

That said, a truly authentic endorsement is important, especially with an on-camera host. When they are looking their viewers directly in the eyes and making an enthusiastic recommendation, authenticity matters. And for what it’s worth, I find that on-camera recommendations tend to be more successful. However, voice-over channels can be effective if the metrics add up, and the host is enthusiastic and engaged.

Prospecting for and Identifying Target Influencers

When prospecting for new channels, I tend to use search filters on YouTube to look for my subject matter. For example, searching for history channels, fashion channels, etc. Look for channels that are relevant to your company and product(s).

Stay Organized, Gather Metrics

Odds are, you are going to vet a LOT of YouTube channels. It’s important to keep them all straight. Start a spreadsheet to track the following metrics for each influencer with these headings:

  1. Channel Name
  2. Channel URL
  3. # of subscribers
  4. Average views of videos 30 days out
  5. Engagement (ratio of views->subscribers)
  6. Contact email (you may need to hunt this down. See this article for tools to find contact information online)
  7. Rates
  8. Notes

One of the most telling metrics is the channel’s engagement rate. When evaluating a channel to see if it fits your brand, it’s important to see how engaged the viewers are. This can be seen in a simple math formula:

average # of views per video / # of channel subscribers

Calculate the number of average views by averaging the number of views across all the videos that are 30 days out. For instance, if video one aired 30 days ago and had 10,000 views, video two aired about 30 days ago and had 20,000 views, and video three aired about 30 days ago and had 30,000 views, the channel’s average views are 60,000/3, or 20,000 views. If they have 40,000 subscribers, their engagement rate is 0.5.

High engagement is important, especially if you are paying a flat rate. It means that the odds of having a high number of views of your sponsored video is greater than on less-engaged channels.

Contacting the Influencer

Once you’ve found a high-engagement channel (an engagement rate that nears 1.0 is best, but anything bigger than .25 is decent) that you think would be a good fit for your ad, the next step is to contact the influencer that owns that channel. In my experience, for every five influencers you contact, you will only hear from one or two. Be sure to follow up a week after your first email if you haven’t heard back—YouTube influencers seem to be very busy. It’s a small wonder why many of them turn to hiring agents.

In your introductory email, you can be brief. Simply state that you are interested in a possible partnership and ask if the influencer offers midroll integrations—also referred to as “on-camera ads,” “host-taped ads,” and “sponsored midroll recorded ads.” It’s important that you get on the same page about what you are proposing.

If they are an experienced host, they will want to know more about your business or product. The majority of influencers won’t pitch ideas to their audience that they don’t believe in. Be prepared to let them try your product or service if you decide to work together.

Lay out your talking points in a straightforward, easy to read, bullet-pointed list. Make sure you let the host know that you want their ad to be authentic, natural, enthusiastic, and in their own voice. Talking points should cover the selling points of your brand or product, with a clear call to action. If possible, add a promotional offer to sweeten the deal for YouTube viewers who respond to the ad.

Provide them a soundless reel of your product to talk over if they can.

Host Interactions – What to Look For

Be sure to watch along the way for what I call “red flags.” A few common ones that I’ve come across are:

  1. Failure to return an email within two to three days.
  2. Completely “ghosting” you for a week or more.
  3. Failure to adhere to talking points given.
  4. Failure to send a preview for approval before an ad goes live.

All of these are red flags that might indicate a poor relationship. Trust your instinct and your metrics (subscribers, average views, engagement rate, etc.). Here is a checklist of questions you should ask yourself before you proceed with a contract:

  1. Engagement – how excited are they about your brand?
  2. Responsiveness – do they return emails promptly and professionally?
  3. Audience – is their audience a fit for your brand? Does the host think so?
  4. On-Camera or Voice-Over – is the host on camera? Or do they speak in a voice-over while video plays? Hosts who make eye-contact are more powerful influencers of your brand.
  5. Third-Party – do they have an agent representing them? If so, be prepared for a higher price and a middle man in all your communication, which isn’t always a bad thing.


A piece of the YouTube pie comes at a price, and you’d be surprised at how widely that price varies. In general, though, the following rules hold true:

  1. Channels with managers tend to be more expensive.
  2. The larger the channel, the higher the rate (despite engagement metrics).
  3. There are pricing platforms available – many can be found here.
  4. Most influencers offer discounts for multiple ads.

There are some general price guidelines for influencer integrations in 2020. Some influencers, and especially managers of influencers, tend to use proprietary pricing tools and may send you a screenshot of what they think their ad’s value is. Take this with a grain of salt.

First and foremost, remember this: always, always, always negotiate. We have saved one client over $45,000 in ad fees across six months just by negotiating rates with the influencer. Always ask for discounted prices for multiple ads. Know that most influencers toss out higher prices at first, and many expect pushback and negotiation.

Contract Best Practices

We’ve realized over time that there are certain non-negotiables that should be added to any great influencer contract. Each brand’s needs and add-ons will be slightly different, though. When finalizing contracts with YouTube influencers for our clients, we now ask for:

  1. Pre-approval of the ad two business days before the ad is to go live. The influencer should expect feedback and possible changes in the script, etc.
  2. One social promotion on the influencer’s biggest social channel (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) announcing the new video and our client as the sponsor for each sponsored video on YouTube.
  3. Demonetizing a shortlist of our competitors (this prevents a pre-roll automatic ad of a competitor playing before a video in which we’ve sponsored an integration—talk about #awkward).
  4. Connecting their Google Ads account to our ads account for use in remarketing and tracking.
  5. Exclusivity – this is optional but can help prevent competitors from advertising within 30 days of each video we sponsor.

Evaluate Performance

If the influencer performs well and delivers on everything you agreed upon, then you’ll want to renew your contract for additional advertising. There are many ways to evaluate performance, and it’s going to depend on the KPIs for your campaign. Calculating your Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) is pretty simple. Divide the price you paid by the number of conversions to get your CPA.

CPA = Price you paid/# of conversions

You may only be interested in brand exposure, though, and if this is the case, you’ll want to calculate your cost per video view.

Cost Per Video View = Price you paid/# of video views

To supplement this, you may want to get additional metrics from the influencer, such as a report about dropoff (how many people actually kept watching the video long enough to see your ad).

Cost Per Video View (including dropoff metrics) = Price you paid/(total # of views -# of people who dropped off before the ad)

In any case, it’s important to set goals and measure performance. Once a couple of sponsored videos have launched, evaluate performance and decide which channels you want to renew for another round of advertising.

YouTube influencer advertising can be very productive. By choosing the right influencer for your brand, establishing key metrics and staying organized, coming to a mutual agreement on what success looks like, and renewing successful relationships, you can have a steady stream of productive advertisements that move your brand forward. Enjoy your slice of blueberry cream with the rest of us pie lovers.

Started your brand’s own YouTube page? Learn the best practices for YouTube so that influencers can link to an optimized YouTube channel.

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