Among the top 20 hated words of the last decade, “Influencer” weighs in pretty heavily, eliciting mass eye-rolling and snarky commentary…and that’s even from other influencers themselves!
Influencer has been a “job description” that has caused a lot of backlash and confusion and with the growing number of stories of people abusing their influence, it’s not hard to see why. Last year alone we were “blessed” with media stories that showed influencers blegging hotels to let them stay for free, one influencer took dramatic pro photos of her bike “accident” and one of my personal faves, a group of influencers accepting a fake diet drink that had cyanide in it, forcing followers, again, to reevaluate whether they actually trust the people they follow.
We see, on the daily, people showing highlight reels of their lives, punting product after product, and we feel a huge disconnect. And we also see brands sending gifts to influencers who you would never put together. It’s been a mess.
What is an influencer exactly?
The history of influencers is a lot older than we may think. Originally, brands would use celebrities, well-known public figures – and they still do – yet the rise of social media has allowed everyone to work their status up to that of “Content Curator” and “Trend Setter”.
An Influencer is someone who has the power and public authority to sway opinion, offer insight and promote, preferably organically, a product and brand.
Influencers in social media are people who have built a reputation for their knowledge and expertise on a specific topic. They make regular posts about that topic on their preferred social media channels and generate large followings of enthusiastic, engaged people who pay close attention to their views. – Taken from www.influencermarketinghub.com
Why do we even care?
The marketing landscape has changed dramatically from the days of radio ads and a flyer in your newspaper. Having a real, attainable person to speak convincingly on your product is a brilliant way of giving your brand a personal feel. I do not believe we are done with influencers, this medium of “selling” is only going to get stronger and it’s self-weeding out the fakes…but there is still a long way to go.
Last weekend, I did a LIVE interview with a very prominent mommy blogger and parenting influencer, Chenel from Raising Wildlings. I asked, via my Instagram stories, for people to send me questions that they would love to ask an influencer. The catch was that they didn’t know I was interviewing Chenel. Some of the questions were brutal, no jokes, and a number opened up great discussions. From what we chatted about, and from what I have garnered over the past 4 years of being a parenting and lifestyle blogger/influencer and working as an influencer and media manager, has given me strong, but not infallible, insights from both a brand perspective and an influencer perspective.
Why even listen to anything I have to say? I’ve been blogging for 4+ years and also own a communications business that predominantly deals with influencer management – I’ve worked on big campaigns managing media names such as ProVerb, Unathi, Pearl Thusi and Lira, and helped smaller businesses team up with the right bloggers for press drops and product releases. Seeing both sides has helped me gain a lot of respect and understanding for both parties.
So here are my top five key tips for surviving the influencer industry as both a brand and an influencer.
1) Know who you are
Have an elevator pitch for yourself. This is a brief, yet enticing synopsis which all businesses, brands, bloggers and influencers should be able to state when asked “so who are you/what drives you?” Whether you have a blog and love to write about the daily grind of parenting, or if you just want to keep it Instagram-based and share your beauty routine, know why you do it and what people can expect of you.
When you have a clear definition of your niche and what you stand for, this helps you to align yourself with the right audience and brands. It’s far easier to align yourself with the best brands and people when you have this knowledge and it’s the same for businesses; If you create natural, eco-friendly products, you know that you will need to create a community based on mutual respect of your values and you should be choosing an influencer who feels the same.
I get hella irritated when I see someone punting natural skincare as the best thing for their kid and the next week, they’re using Dove Baby. That, to me, doesn’t speak authentically. I understand the argument that many have regarding sharing products that you think your audience will appreciate BUT, the difference between traditional marketing and influencers is that you are a personal authority and your strength is in your voice and your preferences. This is not to say that you shouldn’t feel encouraged to try new brands but do it from a place of accountability. This gig isn’t about getting all the freebies.
2) Be clear in your communication
A few years ago many bloggers will have started their blogs because they wanted to have an outlet for their writing. Now, blogging/influencing has become a lucrative business opportunity and I have no qualms with that. Feed your family, pay your bills, hustle for that influencer life but do it in a genuine manner.
In 2019 we all addressed the importance of specifying whether something was sponsored/gifted/trade exchanged because it’s now the law. A lot was said about influencers who never declare whether something they are punting was actually bought or given and the uproar was very much warranted but sometimes misguided. If an influencer is living an authentic and genuine online life, anything they promote, whether they bought it or were paid to speak about it, would be something that fits them. If they got paid to talk about it, wonderful, they can now pay some bills. However, where the majority of the issues arise is when someone receives a gift, or a campaign to punt something that is absolutely not what would be associated with them and it all looks highly suspect. Again, it comes down to point number 1.
So what exactly are the types of influencer/blogger collaborations and their accompanying terms that you need to know?
A Gift – brands often send influencers gifts in the hopes that they might share it with their audience. A gift is NOT a definite way to get publicity because it is essentially a present. The very definition in the dictionary is:
Gift: a thing given willingly to someone without payment.
STOP SENDING GIFTS THINKING YOU DESERVE SOMETHING IN RETURN.
If you’re the type of person that gives Christmas and birthday gifts and expects payback then I’m’a pray for you.
Sometimes a brand you have a lovely relationship with will send you gifts (Pure Beginnings does this to me all the time and it makes me cry), they really don’t expect anything, but it’s such a personal touch that you really want to share. Do so, with glee, but you need to state that it was a #gift
A Trade Exchange – When two parties exchange their trade for a mutual partnership i.e, product for photos or product for exposure. This is a tricky one to navigate because it’s sometimes hard to get the balance right – how do you measure the reach of an influencer? And if it’s a trade based on product, is that product worth the effort that you put into your social media platforms and your blog writing? Again, know what you are worth before you say yes.
A Sponsorship – When an exchange of money for your services is given. This means that the content you share on your platforms has been paid for by someone.
When wanting to work with someone, even if no money crosses hands, have a written agreement in place. I cannot stress enough how misconstrued things can get if you rely on the wrong terms.
3) Understand your worth and how it can benefit others
I’ve seen influencers being paid R20k for one instagram post and one instastory because the brand could see that their reach and follower engagement would give them more return than wasting money on a magazine advert or a radio plug. The more your followers engage with you, the more you can see a tangible return on what you share online, the more your worth in the influencer market grows.
When you know exactly what you can offer a brand, when you believe that what you can give would work well with a certain product, approaching a brand becomes so much easier. Sure, they could say no, but it wasn’t because you slid into their DMs asking for free cookies for their kid’s birthday party in exchange for a blurry photo.
Likewise, when a brand approaches you and asks for a blog post and social media combo in exchange for a can of soda, you can tell them which bus to catch.
4) Don’t bleg
There is a huge difference between contacting a brand with a pitch that offers mutual benefits and sliding into someone’s DMs to flat-out beg for a product.
Being behind the scenes for a few local companies, I have been astounded by the number of bloggers that I personally know who will follow the brand and then, on the same day as following, send a DM that reads “Hey, I just love following your feed, How do I go about getting some *product* from you that I can post about”. Aside from the blatant opening lie, these people haven’t given me a viable reason as to why this relationship could work.
Know your worth. State the deliverables. Build a lasting relationship.
5) Grow a thicker skin
This can be a brutal industry to be a part of. Not only are you often fending off trollish behavior, but you’re going to be bombarded by beautiful images and highlight reels that can easily make you feel as though everyone is living their best life. The overwhelming need to impress, to look like you have it all together, is not something you should be ascribing to because you don’t need that added weight. Other people’s expectations of you do not need your attention.
The blogging and influencer landscape is beautifully diverse and we need ALL the varying voices. If you want to be successful in this industry, you’re going to have to hold tight to your truth…but don’t be afraid to learn and evolve along the way.
Did I miss anything?
I would love to know your thoughts on this post – have I left something important out?