As an agency owner, your clients expect you to be the expert that guides them start-to-finish through the murky waters of marketing. These days, that includes facilitating influencer partnerships.
However, if you’re new to the world of influencers, it can be hard to know how to go about making a deal. Who do you ask? What do you offer? What should you expect from the influencer? How do you know if you’re getting results?
To answer all your questions, we sat down with Erika Wiens (better known on Instagram as @erika.aanne). Erika is an influencer who has worked with companies of varying sizes and verticals, including The Sheraton, Sony Pictures Canada, Canadian Tire, Dufresne Furniture, Aritzia, and Hillberg and Berk. She also frequently collaborates with small, local Canadian businesses such as Jackson Rowe, Just for You Day Spas, and Elle’s Closet Boutique and Beauty. Referring to her vast experience, she gave us the low-down on all the behind-the-scenes logistics of working with an influencer.
Why influencer marketing makes sense for every vertical
First questions first, you may be wondering if influencer marketing makes sense for your clients.
According to Erika, the answer is almost always yes.
“I do think there's an influencer for everything,” she nods, “I mean, I've seen car companies do rentals with people for the weekend just to showcase their vehicle. I've gotten to stay in hotels, eaten at restaurants...I mean, I'll be looking through my phone, I'll see someone is at a restaurant and think, ‘Ooh, that'd be yummy!’ That's influencer marketing right there, right?”
In other words, if the service or product can be experienced and documented, there can be an influencer for it. And it’s just that casual, non-commercialized, personal connection with an everyday person that constitutes influencer marketing’s biggest strength.
“I think what influencer marketing is bringing to the table is a genuine, more authentic message,” Erika explains, “It’s real life people using these products! We're past the age of cheesy, silly commercials where it used to be, ‘Oh, that looks interesting, but let's just get back to the show.’ No one's even watching TV anymore. Even on Facebook, as soon as a video ad pops up, you're just immediately going, ‘How do I skip this?’”
“Now I can be talking [with my followers] about spas and say, ‘You should check out this one.’ And they think, ‘Oh, I trust Erika. I know her. Why wouldn't I go there?’”
Influencer marketing is also one of the cheaper ways to get the word out about your client’s business - and if you hit all the right notes with the right influencer and the right audience, the ROI can be 11x higher than internet banner ads. In fact, some influencers (especially smaller ones, or those particularly motivated to promote local businesses) will cut deals that involve simply the exchange of products or services for their promotion efforts, meaning it’s a great option for clients with small budgets.
How to start your influencer search
While there’s a bit of a stereotype that influencers are exclusively young, fashionable females taking pictures of their meticulously styled homes and outfits, this is far from a complete picture.
Watch any YouTube series, read any blog, or listen to any podcast and it’s very likely that at some point, you’ll be exposed to some sort of product placement or brand shoutout. Which raises an important point: while considering potential influencer partnerships don’t forget to look outside the Instagram box.
Think about existing content that your target demographic is already into. Perhaps there’s a YouTube channel of car reviews that’s popular. Or a cooking blog written by an amateur chef. Or a series of video reactions, makeup tutorials, taste-testing, interviews, or history lessons. Existing content that relates to your client’s vertical, whatever that may be, is a good place to start.
That being said, the content doesn’t necessarily have to align quite so directly. Perhaps you’re promoting a hip, new local barbershop and you know that your target demographic is educated, professional males aged 20 to 40. Rather than finding barbershop-related content, consider podcasts, Instagram accounts, blogs, or YouTube channels that are popular with the target demographic, regardless of the subject.
As Erika said, there really is an influencer for everyone and every vertical. You might just need to get a bit creative to find the right person. Here’s a few steps you can take to start narrowing your search:
- Become active on the social media platforms where you’d like to see your clients’ campaigns.
- As you connect with people in their target demographics, you’ll start getting recommendations for the channels that demographic is following. Start following these channels too to get a better idea of the influencer and the kind of content they produce. Over time you’ll get a feel of whether or not they align with your client’s brand.
- Think about your target geographical area. If you’re marketing a local in-person-only boutique, it doesn’t make sense to approach an internationally recognized YouTube star from across the ocean (and the partnership would cost too much anyway). Zero in on influencers who are living in/focused on the same area that your client caters to.
How to approach an influencer
Perhaps you’re at the point that you’ve identified a few potential partners. Now what? How do you get in touch?
To get in contact, the most straightforward way is to simply send the influencer a direct message through Instagram, or through their website if they have a multi-platform presence. Remember, influencers want to form partnerships, so most will have made the contact process clear and easy for those who want to get in touch.
Some more established influencers, like Erika Wiens, will have an agent that they will connect you with to work out the particulars. Still, even if you are passed to someone else, approaching the influencer directly is still a very acceptable first step.
As in most business deals, it’s important to approach with enthusiasm, but you also don’t want to come in too hot. You may want to mention something specific you appreciate about the influencer or their feed, but also be sure to make it clear that you’re approaching for more information on a potential deal. According to Erika Wiens, there is often some room for negotiation on terms, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you feel is reasonable throughout the process.
Be aware that the influencer may say no, and that’s okay!
“While there's an influencer for everything, it also means that there are things people won't do,” says Erika.
Personally, Erika won’t share anything that would feel inauthentic or hypocritical for her to promote, or something she’s tested and didn’t like. This is very common amongst influencers, and shows just how seriously they take their recommendations. It also means that when you do partner with one, you can trust that they’ve built a brand that their followers believe and are loyal to.
How to ultimately decide if an influencer is right for you
Before taking the plunge and drawing up a contract, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is my client’s target demographic following this channel? (Remember location, age, gender, education, etc. as factors)
- Does this influencer have an amount of followers that makes sense for my business client? (1,000 minimum for a very small, local business with a low budget, but preferably 10,000 or more).
- What is the influencer’s engagement?
- Does this person’s feed align with my brand image? (Remember to check through posts THOROUGHLY. Occasionally influencers may post controversial remarks and opinions, and you don’t want to needlessly offend current or potential customers.)
Though some of these questions can be answered simply by looking at the influencer’s profile and feed, the rest can be answered with the following resources (which can be requested in your first contact with the potential influencer partner):
The media kit
“A media kit is kind of like a resume/calling card,” Erika explains, “It's what I put forward to businesses. I always include a little blurb about me. It'll also have some photos on it. Personally, I'd probably have a photo of fashion, because I like doing fashion, probably my kids to show the whole family angle, and then a home decor post or something that I'll make sure was a campaign. So for example, I worked with Dufresne and could include my dining room table post with them there, and then have the accompanying stats.”
Media kits will also often include some sort of pricing list with all the types of posts and packages the influencer offers. Know that this list doesn’t mean that you can’t set up something personalized or a bit more out-of-the-box with the influencer, but it does give you a better idea of what your investment will cost and may give you some content ideas that you hadn’t considered before.
As for the listed price, feel free to negotiate, but be prepared that not all influencers (or their agents) are willing to be flexible on this front. Still, some are, so it doesn’t hurt to try.
When it comes to stats, while influencers will often include the number of followers they have, you may need to ask specifically about their engagement data if that’s something you’re interested in. And it probably should be; just because a person has 100,000 followers does not mean 100,000 people will see your post. In fact, on occasion, going with an influencer with a lower amount of followers may actually yield better results if their engagement stats are way higher than an influencer boasting more followers.
By finding out engagement stats, you are finding out how many people (on average) are liking the influencer’s posts, or how many of them are viewing their Instagram stories. On YouTube, this may be how many views their videos are getting. Knowing more about your influencer’s stats can help you have more realistic expectations for the results of the campaign; however, as Erika explains, engagement can be a tricky beast.
“Some people include their percentages of engagement. I do not because I feel like it's kind of like when you put at the bottom of your resume, ‘references upon request’. If you would like to ask me for my percentages, I will hand them over, but I'm not going to just toss them in there.”
Erika’s reason for this is simple: engagement stats can be very low and therefore discouraging for potential partners. However, if you go in knowing that 5% and lower is the norm for posts, and the ideal target for Instagram stories is 5-10%, you can enter into negotiations more prepared for the reality of the situation.
Many companies have a stipulation that they won’t work with an influencer unless their engagement is at 5% or more, but even this number is quite difficult to hit. Just because an influencer’s numbers are lower than this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not a good choice for you, however; remember that an influencer with 50,000 followers and 5% engagement will still give you 2,500 people who actively engaged with the campaign. You may even get some free exposure if some of those 2,500 followers share the initial post with their followers as well.
The mood board
While the media kit should cover most of the questions you have on the logistics of sponsoring a post (or several posts), perhaps you haven’t had time to follow an influencer for months on end to determine whether or not they have the right look and branding to align with your business. In this case you can request a mood board to see what they would have in mind for you.
If you’ve followed the influencer for quite some time and have a very good feel for their style and the types of posts they do, requesting a mood board may not be necessary. It’s really up to you as to whether you’d like one or not.
How to handle an influencer approaching you
Occasionally your small business client may have an influencer or influencer agency approach them asking about a partnership. While some small businesses are turned off by someone approaching their business, often asking for free products and services, advise your client to pause and think a minute before they reply to the influencer’s inquiry.
Occasionally the one approaching you is an influencer’s agency, rather than the influencer directly. This can be a good sign, as you can generally have a bit more confidence that the influencer you’re working with is a professional who’s built up some social media cred already. However, an independent influencer can still be a valuable partner, and may be cheaper than someone backed by an agency.
Treat the pitch like a job interview; if the influencer seems to have put thought into it, are demonstrating that they’ve researched your company, and seem like a good culture fit, they may be presenting you with a great opportunity!
If the influencer has succeeded in generating your interest, simply use the same process and criteria you would use when approaching an influencer yourself to determine whether or not you want to proceed with the sponsorship.
Making the deal
Generally there will be a contract signed between the two parties, just to make sure that everyone’s clear on what is expected. If the deal is just a casual exchange of gifted products or services, there may not be. If the goods or services are higher-end, or there’s a promotional event involved, then it’s more likely. If there’s money involved, there definitely will be.
As the one hiring the influencer, usually it’s your job to draw up the contract.
“Sometimes the contracts are super simple and it's literally like, ‘Erika will post this. This is the product. This is how much she's getting paid. Here's the date, sign.’” says Erika, “The contract I currently have with a big business is very extensive and it covers anything and everything. For instance, I can't resell the product, things like that.”
Feel free to cover as many bases as you feel is necessary. If you’re just starting out with a small deal, likely you won’t need something too involved. As you grow and start developing larger partnerships, you may want to consult with a lawyer.
Make sure you include any creative stipulations you have. Erika says a common one is “no selfies”, or the request that the photo be taken by a professional photographer, but if there’s anything else you know you’re picky about, make sure it’s been discussed and is included here. That being said, remember that the influencer knows their followers, has built an authentic and cohesive brand for themselves, and too much outside interference may end up hurting rather than helping your posts with them.
What should you expect to pay an influencer?
Unsurprisingly, the price of sponsorship will vary depending on how many followers an influencer has. Think of 10,000 follower brackets, then contact several influencers (both in the same brackets and differing ones) to compare and determine what is the best and most realistic option for your client. Remember to factor in engagement, as well as geography and demographics when making this decision.
As mentioned above, with smaller influencers or those dedicated to supporting small and/or local business, you may be able to make a deal based solely on providing free products or services. Occasionally you may not even have to make a deal; if you send a message to an influencer asking if you can send them something, they may post about it without any further prompting from you.
However, be sure that the product or service is one you’re confident in; if an influencer is sent something with no promotion deal in the works, there’s nothing holding them back from giving a bad review if they try it and don’t like it. Many of them probably just wouldn’t post anything in this case, but know that it’s always a possibility (see almost any of the YouTube reviews from influencers who receive PR boxes. There’s almost always at least one product in the box that they’re not a fan of).
The other factor that will determine price is exactly what you’re asking from the influencer. If you are promoting smaller items and services and just want a one-off post, that will be one price. But if you’re marketing larger items, often companies will form longer and more extensive sponsorship deals.
“When I worked with Dufresne, they gifted me a dining room table, chairs, and a carpet. So that was a big collab,” Erika recounts, “That lasted from November, December, January, February, March, and I was required to post, I think like every other week for them, which was easy. But it does depend. For Endy, I think most of us who work with the Endy brand are on a four-month contract. And we post once a month. There are ambassador programs people too, which is usually every month you're posting.”
In summary, there is no set-price or set-package for hiring an influencer. Get in contact with several, look at their media kits, look at past sponsorships they’ve done, and try to determine which is best for you.
One final note: it is generally seen as a breach of influencer-sponsor etiquette to request that payment be based on analytics or apparent success of the campaign. The influencer is going to put in the same amount of work and effort for every campaign, and furthermore, you’re not just paying them for the work they do for you, but also for all the work they’ve done to build their brand and following. The success of the campaign therefore has a lot to do with who you’ve chosen, the products and offers you’ve given them to advertise, and the alignment of the influencer with your target audience. These are all things you can control in your selection of the influencer, and the material you give them to market.
Remember, if you have the budget for it, you can also try out smaller sponsorships with several influencers at once. Time may tell which ones bring you the most business, or you may find that there’s a benefit to having multiple partnerships simultaneously. Like an advertisement on multiple channels, or billboards in multiple locations, it’s a good idea to spread your reach.
What should you expect from an influencer during the campaign?
First of all, you should expect to see your sponsored posts! You and your influencer will likely make up a schedule (could be as rough or precise as you like), so you should know when you should be keeping an eye out to see what they post about you.
Generally your influencer will know what their followers want to see, and if you like their general style and aesthetic in their other posts, you can be fairly confident that you’ll like what they post about you without a preview. However, if something goes up and you’re not satisfied with it, feel free to contact the influencer and ask for adjustments. Make sure you do it the second you see the post though, because if you do it a day or two later it’s too late. The post has already been seen by most of the people who will see it, and it’s not really fair of you to ask the influencer to do another one at this point. It’s more or less just asking them to give you two posts for the price of one.
You should make sure the influencer has remembered to include links to your website, any promo codes you may have agreed on, and the right details to any events/promotions you may have going on or coming up. Most influencers are professionals that cover all these bases without any checking up, but it can be good to confirm that everything you wanted mentioned was indeed said.
Finally, while this is not something that’s on the influencer’s plate, make sure you don’t forget to share their campaign on your own social media accounts and pages!
How can you tell whether or not your campaign was a success?
As briefly mentioned above, one of the ways that small businesses and influencers partner for sponsorships is for the influencer to be given a discount or promo code. On your end, you should be monitoring how often the code is used, as well as the days and, initially, the times. You might be surprised; sometimes promo codes that are mentioned by an influencer can be used even months later. Keeping track of the code’s use both initially and over time can be a great help in determining your ROI.
The other thing you should be keeping tabs on on your end is site traffic. While not everyone may make a purchase on their first visit, influencers are incredible for building brand awareness. There are numerous small companies that have built their entire businesses just on having their names mentioned so many times across this modern-day grapevine.
(If you have a major spike in site visitors, yet not a huge spike in sales, this needs to be dug into. Perhaps your website is clunky and not very user-friendly? Perhaps your product isn’t aligning with the demographic you thought it would? All very important questions to be flagged.)
Finally, if your client has a physical location, you can tell them to simply ask customers how they found out about their product or service. Even without influencer marketing, this can be a great way to find out which channels are bringing your client the most business.
When the campaign is finished
Once your campaign is over, you can send a message to your influencer requesting all of their stats and data from your posts. This is the norm, and most influencers should comply quite quickly. They may even send them before you ask.
Because influencer marketing is such a uniquely personal form of marketing, it’s important to close the relationship well. Feel free to give constructive feedback, but always frame it positively. Remember, if you end up giving the influencer a sour taste in their mouth, the partnership may come back to bite you. However, in most cases the opposite happens.
“A lot of the boutiques I'm working with, I actually worked with before I had my agency,” Erika says, “So I have solid relationships with them. It's kind of funny because sometimes with these businesses, you actually become friends. So I [may be looking through their Instagram] stories and send them a message, ‘Oh my gosh, I love that sweater,’ and they'll reply with, ‘Great! I'm sending it in the mail for you.’”
If the campaign went well and you were happy with the results, keep tabs on your influencer, keep engaging with their posts and promoting their content, and feel free to contact them for future campaigns. Or, as in the case Erika mentioned, you may just sometimes send them a free product or service.
If you’re treating the influencer well, they’ll generally return the favour. And once that relationship of mutual respect and appreciation has been established, and you both feel a bit more casual with one another, you can both benefit from your exchanges more quickly and easily.