Kamari's Note: I got into the PR/Marketing game at a weird time. People were starting to write blogs - myself, included - and brands were starting to send them free stuff. Fast forward a decade, and the entire thing has blown up and people are becoming millionaires all around us. So, I decided to share some quality opinions about how to navigate this world with a little truth. This is part one.
Sidebar Context If You're New To This
Online influencer: Someone who has amassed a substantial following of humans across social platforms, such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter, and developed a personal brand strong enough to inspire action in their followers.
Brand: An established business (Flat Tummy Tea counts) that pays influencers to get their following to act, or more specifically, buy their product.
Brief History of Influencers + Brands: Back in the day, brands would send influencers their products for free (or provide free services), in hopes influencers would blog about it. Then, influencers got smart and started charging brands for those blog posts - in addition to the free product or service they were already getting. Good luck finding a savvy influencer who will write an ad for your product for free. Speaking of ads, suddenly, Twitter and Instagram came on the scene, creating endless quick, visual and affordable ways for brands to pay influencers to write about or showcase their product or service. Instead of waiting for an influencer to write a 250 word blog post for the brand to edit and pay for, influencers began posting brand-produced pictures and 140 character quips on their social platforms.
Now, in the golden age, You Tube vloggers came along with the creative copywriting and video production skills of any top Madison Avenue advertising agency. Party done. As self-made experts in hair, makeup, tech, fashion, food, beverages, lifestyle, religion, sex, and pretty much every other area of life popped up in their corners of the Interwebs with beautiful homemade content, they began to radically scoop up jobs. Media jobs. Production jobs. Brand management and creative direction jobs. Long story short, bloggers came on the scene like Beyonce in ‘98 and the game has never been the same.
No one is ready for what I am about to say. While some Americans have the nerve to be worried about immigrants taking jobs, online influencers are the ones who are actually taking everyone’s job.
As terrifying as that sounds, it’s actually a great time to be alive if you’re a fiercely creative content creator. It’s also not too bad a time to be marketing your business grassroots style (read: in a very affordable way).
To make the magic happen, it simply takes a savvy understanding of The How: how to score smart brand partnerships if you’re an influencer, and how to leverage influencers the right way if you’re a brand.
Today, we're going to talk about how to score brand partnerships if you have a blog, Instagram account, platform, or something in between.
The How for Influencers: Scoring Brand Partnerships that Pay
Have a bomb ass, strong POV.
If I had a dime for every fashion influencer I follow, I’d be able to buy an ice cream cone. Maybe. That’s because the fashion influencers I follow are few and very niche.
If you’re shocked to see “niche” and “fashion blogger” in the same sentence, listen up.
Just because your content focuses on a topic that everyone is talking about, doesn’t mean it has to be what everyone is talking about. For example, I love The Fashion Bomb because it covers fashion with a focused lens on multicultural designers and the African American influence on the fashion industry. That’s very different than, say, Brooklyn Blonde - who I also follow, but for different reasons.
When you create a laser focus for your brand (within an already defined subject matter, like, say “fashion”), you immediately do two things: (1) attract an entire little world of thousands - and sometimes millions - of people who care about that one specific tiny aspect of the industry and (2) attract brands who are looking for influencers that are the “perfect fit” - an influencer who covers their niche exclusively and really well.
Every minority fashion designer, stylist, and brand who aims to target AA women who love high end fashion knows to go to Claire of The Fashion Bomb, because she’s created a very clear niche within the fashion vertical. Find your own bomb ass point of view, and you’ll also find your own little pot of gold.
Get your engagement up!
We all know that in the blogging world, engagement is worth just as much as money, because (some say) engagement converts to dollars. For the savvy brand that is paying you, engagement is the fastest way for them to understand whether or not your personal brand voice is strong enough to actually inspire action in your followers. So, if your followers are not liking, commenting or sharing your stuff, it’s time to get your engagement up.
The fastest way to do that, of course, is to re-evaluate your personal brand voice. Do you have a strong POV that connects to a very specific tribe (see above)? Can you identify what makes your platform different from everyone else in your “lane” (i.e. your lane could be food, fashion, or whatever it is you’re an expert in)? If you can’t answer these questions, it may be time to get crystal clear on your brand so your audience can really begin connecting.
Network like it’s ‘99
Ok, don’t put on a ill-fitting boxy suit and kitten heels - unless, of course, you’re doing it in a trendy type of way. Do, however, go out of your way to actually meet and get to know people who work in the marketing department for the brands you really want to work with. At risk of oversimplifying it all, many brands are more likely to hire influencers when they’re easy to find. And the easiest way to for a brand marketer to find an influencer is to, well, actually know them.
Of course, don’t create friendships with brand people in creepy ways, but next time you find yourself at Create + Cultivate or at a PR event, make a point of introducing yourself to someone on the marketing team of the brands that are in attendance. Then, offer them a little *free* value (snap a picture of their product activation and share with your followers, Instagram-live an interview with the marketing person on site, etc.). Free love goes a long way. And if I had a dime for every time I hired an influencer to do work for a brand because I personally loved them and they were always willing to support the brand… well, I’ll stop with that analogy. You get the point. Build bridges.