How To Work With Influencers – You Might Be Surprised At What You Don’t Know!
This post is for the brands out there – from small brands and start-ups to huge corporations. Some of you are just starting to navigate the influencer marketing world and may need a little guidance. This is also for the PR companies out there who are told they need more influencers to share their clients’ products. And this is for you guys – the blog readers – who might be curious about how bloggers work with brands.
Influencer marketing has become big business these days. Consumers are becoming more interested in what their favorite bloggers, YouTubers and Instagrammers are sharing, and less interested in traditional or digital advertisements.
Influencers have begun to realize their worth, and as a result, large and small brands in beauty, fashion, travel, tech, hospitality, and almost every vertical have started putting “influencer marketing” into their marketing budgets.
Marketing teams are putting more time, effort and marketing dollars into building relationships with influencers. But for some brands, this is a new endeavor, and they are finding that the old rules do not apply. How do you find influencers? How do you work with Instagram influencers? How do you pitch a blogger? What kind of contract do you need to work with a YouTuber? What do influencers charge? So many questions!
Below are some tips on working with influencers. As a blogger and digital marketing professional, I can see both sides of the industry. I see the frustrations from marketers and bloggers, but for the purpose of this article, let’s focus on best practices for working with influencers. I talked to several leading influencers. Here’s what we want you to know:
Bloggers and vloggers are not the same as actors or models.
Okay, some influencers may also actually BE working actors or models, but in general, most influencers are bloggers, vloggers and/or Instagrammers who have a large number of engaged followers. Those followers buy products that their favorite influencers review or show off on social media because there is a level of trust. They trust that the influencers are being authentic, giving honest opinions, and using the products that they say they use.
When you pay for a blog post or video, you are essentially paying for the blogger’s time and creative skills (photography, styling, makeup artistry, cooking, video editing, writing, etc.) as well as placement in front of their highly engaged audience. This is not the same as hiring an actor to read a script for a video advertisement. You WANT the review to be authentic so that fans will be interested in the product, right? Fans are smart and they can smell an inauthentic review a mile away. That means you need to give creative control to the influencer. By all means, make sure the influencer knows what points you’d like them to get across. Make sure they know how to use the products correctly. Make sure they know which URL to use for the call to action, or which discount code to include. But don’t send them a script or try to control the creative direction – that’s what paid actors are for.
Personalize your pitches.
When you reach out to influencers, a mass email is certainly tempting, but you’ll get the best results by personalizing your emails. Why are you reaching out to a particular blogger, and why do you think your product would resonate with his/her audience? If you’ve been a long-time fan, say it! But don’t lie about it. It’s better to say you found them on Instagram recently and you love their photos if that’s the truth. Do your research and make sure you’re pitching appropriate products for their niche. If they blog only about fashion, don’t pitch truck tires. And it goes without saying, but make sure you spell their name correctly!
“I think we all would agree- please PITCH ME using my name. NOT “Hey doll, Hey Babe, Hey (insert name).” Jamie Lewis – www.makeuplifelove.com
“Please get my name right! It’s on my website and it’s literally in my email address.” Cindy Smith Bokma http://hellodollface.com
“Take a quick glance at my site before contacting me, especially if your pitch says anything along the lines of ‘we love your content’”. Mercedes Epps – www.beyondbeautylounge.com
“Please be direct and straightforward. Please always include your brand name. Don’t beat around the bush about what you want from me and what you can offer.” Sylwia Perri – www.peppermint-lips.com
“Stop saying you’re a long time reader and proceed to pitch me a pair of shoes, a baseball bat, or some other oddity that I never blogged about (I thought you said you’re a fan and long time reader why are you pitching me stuff you know I don’t cover if you’re such a long time fan!).” Isabella Muse – www.musingsofamuse.com
Don’t call me!
There’s usually no need to call an influencer, unless there is a complicated collaboration that needs discussion. For the most part, email is the preferred communication method of influencers. It’s important to get everything in writing to protect both parties, and it’s more efficient too. We live in the digital age – embrace it! I have found that nine times out of ten, if a brand wants to call me to discuss a potential blog collaboration, it means they are unsure of what they want, they want to “pick my brain”, and I almost always never hear from them again. I want to work with companies who value my time. Of course it’s fine to ask an influencer questions about their audience, or which channel might be the most effective way to introduce your product to their fans, but all of that can be discussed via email. I’m not alone in my feelings, in an informal poll, I found that 94% of beauty bloggers prefer to be contacted via email.
“Don’t demand or expect phone calls. It is fine if you want to over something but the reason we email is so we have reference points. It is actually BENEFICIAL for both parties!” Stephanie Louise Telford – www.allthingsbeautifulxo.com
“Don’t call me in follow-up. Please stick to email! A lot of bloggers run their sites on the side – I don’t want to leave a meeting at my day job to tell you “no thank you” on a pitch that I haven’t had a moment to review yet.” Judy Rusk Schmidt – www.Beautyjudy.com
“I am unsure what can be achieved over the phone that email could not also achieve. I also refer back to emails when I am about to post. A lot of times the email pitch or the back-and-forth with the brand mentions key points about their product that I want to make sure and put in the review. I also have young kids at home so it’s not convenient or easy to take a phone call and also seem professional at the same time.” Justina Gemignani – www.justinasgems.com
And remember to agree on a due date for any sponsored posts ahead of time, so everyone is on board with the expected time line. If you’re sending product without payment, you may get a review (or you may not – especially if it was unsolicited), and it will be posted at the influencer’s convenience (one reason why sponsored posts are so popular is that it allows you to have more control over the posting date). A check in to be sure they received the product, and a follow up via email a couple weeks after sending the product is fine, but harassment won’t help your case.
“At no stage is it acceptable, whether your dealings are paid or unpaid, to barrage bloggers with phone calls, emails and texts. It’s intrusive, unnecessary and hugely unprofessional.” Sue Jordan – www.cherrysuedointhedo.com
Offer real value.
Influencers work hard, and many of them blog, vlog or create content as a full time job. For many top influencers, creating content is fun, but at the end of the day, it’s a job that involves a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Earning money via sponsored posts, affiliate links, public appearances, photography for hire and writing assignments is how they pay the rent and keep food on the table.
We may make it look easy, but it’s a lot of work. If you’re reaching out to an influencer to promote your brand, what are you offering in return? Maybe it’s a paid post, or maybe it’s a trade – products or services in exchange for a potential Instagram feature, blog post or video mention. Some influencers will only accept paid (AKA “sponsored”) posts, but there may be times when they are so interested in your product that they won’t require payment. In general, the larger the influencer’s audience, the more unsolicited products they get, and the less likely it will be that they’ll work without pay.
There is no set price for any type of collaboration with an influencer. You have to do your research and get an idea of what influencers in your industry charge. Then base your offer not just on the size of their audience, but their niche, how engaged their audience is, their photography/video style, writing style, location, etc.
If you’re sending product, always send full-sized press samples in the same packaging that you would sell to a customer. Part of the process as an influencer is creating beautiful images to share with fans, so if you send a foil packet of your latest serum, or a lab sample in an unmarked tube, how can we show this off to our audience? If it’s a tiny sample, how can we test it for a length of time to give a real review (other than “didn’t burn my face off after one use”)?
“When I say yes to receiving a sample/samples, please send me the real thing as it’s sold in the store. I can’t use a skin care product from a packet twice and come to a conclusion on it. Packaging is also an important part of the review process.” Cybele Parsignault – http://www.cybelesays.com
“When you offer to send me samples please make sure it is a full-sized product. One time PR sent me a sample size pouch of product (you know the ones you get for free in the magazines). They later e-mailed me asking for the review, three times!! Sylwia Perri – www.peppermint-lips.com
“Please don’t ask me to ‘cover the news’ or ‘share the story’ with ‘no budget at the moment’ or ‘not sending out media samples right now’. Basically, why am I promoting you for free?” Pubali Babi Chatterjee – www.colorsutraa.com
“Stop the ‘do all this work for *possible* exposure’ pitches.” Julie Arnhold – www.collectivebeautyblog.com
“Don’t ask me to spam my readers through social shares for a chance to win a gift card to your site.” www.PolishGalore.com
“Stop offering a “sponsored post” when really it’s for a 20 dollar item only. That’s not sponsored. Lisa Marie Heath – www.cosmeticsanctuary.com
“Stop calling it a collaboration when what you want is for me to jump through a million hoops for free for your $20 product.” Courtney Nawara – http://phyrra.net
“There is no trial post, either you pay or not. You spend the same amount of time and resources. In addition, do not send me email asking me to enter a giveaway for a chance to win your products for review.” Kath the FabZilla – www.thefabzilla.com
Know the FTC rules and follow them.
Within the last few years, the FTC has created rules for influencers and celebrities to follow when sharing information about comped products and services. The rules can sometimes be a bit vague, and have been interpreted differently by different people, but there are some hard and fast rules that everyone must follow. If the influencer is being paid for a review or feature, they must clearly state this at the top of the blog post or social media post (yes even for tweets). In lieu of something like, “XYZ company sent me this complimentary product to try out”, influencers can also put “ad” or “sponsored” at the beginning of each post. If a post is NOT paid, but free samples or free services are given, the influencer must put “prsample” or explain that the products were sent to them at no cost. Again, this has to be at the top of the blog post or social media post. For YouTube videos, the influencer must disclose the relationship verbally and put it in writing below the video.
Another thing to be aware of is Google’s rules for paid/sponsored content. If you pay for a post, an influencer should not include a do-follow link. This is to avoid black hat SEO where companies are buying their way to the top of Google search. Many bloggers are making all outbound links no-follow to avoid Google penalties. Do not ask for a do-follow link. The blogger’s review will still show up in Google searches, and you’ll still get the recognition and click-throughs from the blogger’s audience. Trying to get extra “Google juice” from the blogger in order to boost your own site’s SEO is not allowed.
“Don’t insist I use #ad or #sponsored when you’re only giving me product. Last time I checked my mortgage company won’t accept skincare in lieu of payment!” Stephanie Andrews – www.weheartthis.com
Don’t use influencer content without permission and attribution.
Social sharing is a good thing, but only when the content creator wants his or her content to be shared. If you want to use an influencer’s photo, video or other creative on your Instagram channel, in your email blast, on your website, or in an advertisement, ask permission first.
Many bloggers appreciate a retweet, Instagram share, or Facebook share when they write about your brand. But, always, always, always give attribution. It’s considered a best practice to tag the influencer in posts and include a link to their original content when appropriate. We want you to spread the love, but we also want credit for our hard work.
I was recently sent an email pitch to review a cosmetics line. I went to their website to get more information, and imagine my shock when I saw my very own face cropped and used with a fake name and fake before/after testimonial for the brand! In the photos I was showing off a completely different makeup product – not theirs! Absolutely unacceptable and unethical! This is a situation where I would have never given my consent. It is never okay to search Google for images to put on your website. Those images belong to someone, and they are not free to use without permission.
“Would it kill a brand to actually like or retweet a post?! They love retweets, re-shares, likes, etc., but heaven forbid they share the love.” Isabella Muse – www.musingsofamuse.com
Got questions on any of this? Is there anything I didn’t cover that you’re curious about? Drop me a line in the comments below or feel free to email me! If you need help marketing your product or service to influencers and bloggers, I can help! Visit www.toptiermedia.com for more information.