5 Things to Check Before Working with an Influencer
Influencer marketing is a great way to get your brand out there, but it's important to make sure you're both definitely going to benefit from the collaboration.
As someone who sees both sides of the influencer marketing process (I also run a lifestyle blog where I work with brands regularly), I've got an interesting perspective of each side's goals, and the pitfalls each can run into. It's great to see more and more brands and smaller businesses embracing this relatively new form of promoting their products, but it's easy to get caught up in follower numbers and miss a few key elements that could mean the difference between a successful campaign with a good return on investment, vs one that returns very little.
What is an 'influencer'?
The term is relatively new and generally refers to someone who has an online audience and has the power to influence peoples' buying decisions (ie. an online 'celeb', if you will). This includes bloggers, Instagrammers and YouTubers, as well as people with followings and communities on other social media platforms, but these are the main three that most people mean when they refer to 'influencer marketing'.
The term 'influencer' is quite open though, and can technically apply to both someone with a small niche sphere of influence, as well as someone like Kylie Jenner who has millions of followers and an enormous amount of influence and buyer impact.
Ways you can work with Influencers
Influencers work hard to build large followings and audiences in their niches, so if you find an influencer with an audience that matches that of your ideal customer, working with them could be a great opportunity for you to get your brand in front of the right people! Working with brands and businesses is how influencers make money, and below are some of the things they can often offer in exchange for gifted items and/or payment:
- Sponsored blog posts/Instagram posts/YouTube videos
This is where you can pay the influencer to write about a certain topic on their blog or talk about it in their latest YouTube video (it might be about your business or product, or something closely related!), or pay them to post a photo of an event, product or experience. This sponsorship usually requires that they must link back to your website or social media accounts, and occasionally requires them to use certain hashtags too.
- Reviews and 'unboxings'
You can send an influencer your product and ask them to review it on their blog/YouTube Channel/social media, or even ask them to 'unbox' the product live over Instagram or in a video too. This is a great way of building excitement and getting real-time, authentic reactions that appeal more to their audience (aka your target customers).
- Affiliate programs & commissions
This is a great incentive to get influencers to promote your product! If you can provide them with an affiliate link or a way of getting a % commission for every product sold to their audience through them, it can be very effective as they will want to mention the product more so that they can earn more money. Large companies like Amazon, Argos and Booking.com (for example) run large affiliate schemes, but it's perfectly possible for small businesses to set these up with tools like Tapfiliate or LeadDyno.
- Brand Ambassadorship
Similar to the above, the more you can get influencers really involved deeply with your brand, the more likely you are to have a successful collaboration, because they will be more invested. Becoming a Brand Ambassador usually means they have an opportunity to get commissions, as well as free or heavily discounted products, in return for the influencer fulfilling a set of guidelines, which may include posting about your brand a certain amount of times per month, including a your brand's Instagram handle in their Insta bio, or adding a 'badge' to their website.
- Advertising space on websites
Many bloggers offer advertising space on their websites, either within their posts or in the sidebar. These can be effective when they are highly relevant and well-designed to be as appealing as possible, but can come across spammy so it's important to invest in the design itself just as much as the placement to make sure you actually get click-throughs from it!
- Competition/giveaway hosting
Perhaps you'd like to run a competition or giveaway for your brand to get your name out there? Influencers can help build momentum and bring your contest to a new set of eyes. It's a great way for both you and the influencer to build your followings.
Sometimes influencers will offer the chance to do 'mini-sponsors' for something like a shout-out in a Podcast or YouTube video, or a mention on Instagram. It's just a cheaper way of getting your name out there but takes less effort for the influencer (usually these are only worth doing with bigger influencers).
Why You Should Be Careful
Being an influencer seems like a pretty epic job right? No wonder everyone wants to be one! It takes hard work and years of dedication to build an engaged audience and following, but sadly there are people out there who want to try it as a 'get rich quick' scheme or as a way to 'get free stuff'.
From buying Instagram followers to inflating blog traffic stats, some people are happy to scam companies out of money and free products because it's been easy to do in such a young, upcoming industry. Brands and businesses are now becoming more aware of these practices, but I thought I'd share my tips to help you stay savvy too!
5 Things You Should Do BEFORE You Collaborate with an Influencer:
1. Ask for a media pack or information about their audience
Obviously finding out their follower numbers, traffic stats and YouTube views is important, but just because an influencer has a large audience doesn't mean that if they share your product/business you will automatically get sales.
They could be completely the wrong type of people who have no interest in what you are promoting. This is bad for you (you've wasted money/product) and the influencer (their followers will get sick of irrelevant content quickly), so always ask for as much information about their audience/following as possible! Most good influencers will have a media pack with their stats/analytics data, including audience demographics, so asking for that is a good start.
Remember that website traffic stats and video views aren't everything. Huge numbers can come from anywhere, and it doesn't necessarily mean the audience is high quality. Meanwhile, blogs, Instagram accounts and YouTube channels with smaller followings can be hugely valuable if their audience is really engaged and/or in a very specific niche.
2. Check their domain authority (DA)
When working with bloggers, it's important to check up on their website's Domain Authority! Domain authority is a ranking between 0 and 100 that shows how powerful and trustworthy a website is; the ranking is based on website age, website size and website popularity, and dictates how well they will be ranking in search engines. For example, a relatively new blog that hasn't had a chance to grow and get popular yet is likely to have a DA of less than 10, whereas a more established blog who has grown in popularity and the trust of search engines over a few years might have a DA between 30 and 50. Super high authority news-blogs like Business Insider or Forbes, for example, have DAs in the 90s.
Why is this important? Domain Authority has a big impact on your SEO. If a site with a high DA mentions your business in a blog post and links back to your website, Google sees this as a good quality link that shows your website is trustworthy (it must be if such a high quality, authoritative site is linking to it, right?) and this will have a positive impact on your own Domain Authority and search engine ranking.
Therefore, it can be really beneficial to work with bloggers who have DAs that are higher than your own! To find out a website's Domain Authority, you can download the free Moz toolbar extension. When you enable this and search a website in Google, it will show you the Domain Authority under each listing (as well as Page Authority, which matters less in this context).
That being said, lower Domain Authority websites shouldn't be totally discounted. Sometimes younger blogs that haven't had time to grow their DA yet can still have highly engaged audiences in narrow niches, and can be beneficial to work with for exposure purposes. Again, it's important to understand their audience in more detail before you judge the numbers!
3. Look at the length of posts and/or quality of previous collaborations
You will have probably had a read through the influencer's blog posts, watched their YouTube videos or scrolled through their Instagram as a basic way of gauging the quality of their content, but have you had a look at previous campaigns and collaborations they've worked on? This will be a much better indication of the type of content you can expect for your own brand.
With blog posts, lengthy articles are generally better (as long as they are high quality). It means the blogger has taken time with the content to research and provide their readers with something of value. Search engines also MUCH prefer longer, more in-depth posts. As a stipulation of paying a blogger for a sponsored post, it's quite common for brands to request a minimum word count of 500 words as this is generally the minimum cut off for a good length post.
4. Check their Instagram engagements, not just followers
This is so important but something that not many brands seem to check up on! Follower numbers on Instagram don't actually mean ANYTHING. Anyone can buy a few thousand followers to enhance their online presence, but these followers won't be engaged, won't be of a relevant niche, and may not even be human! Therefore you also need to check:
- Follower to following ratio
One popular type of tool for gaining followers quickly on Instagram is 'follow/unfollow software'. You can basically pay a bot to automatically follow as many Instagram profiles as possible in the hope that as many of them as possible follow you back. You can tell if someone has done this if they are following a lot more people than are following them (eg. has 12,000 followers, but is following 30,000 people).
- Average likes per post
Again, you can tell if someone has bought followers or has a low quality audience if their average likes per post (I recommend taking the average of their last 3 posts) are extremely low compared to their follower number. For example, if someone has 12,000 followers but is only getting 40 likes on each post, that is a pretty poor percentage. Meanwhile if someone has 3,000 followers and is getting 300 likes on their posts, it means they have a really high quality, engaged following, and are actually worth more for a brand to collaborate with than the person with 12k followers!
A good % range to look for would be between 2% and 10% (any higher than 10% is pretty rare!). For comparison, Kylie Jenner's percentage is around 3.5%.
Unfortunately that's not all - it is possible for people to buy likes from fake Instagram accounts as well! While I believe this is quite rare, one way you can try and stay savvy for this is to have a look at the comments the person is getting on their posts. This really only helps with larger accounts where the ratios are very clear (eg. someone who has 80,000 followers and lots of post likes, but only one or two comments per post may look a bit questionable!), as with smaller accounts with less followers there's a smaller % of those followers who will take time to comment, so it's harder to judge this.
5. Make sure they are sticking to Google and ASA rules & standards
This applies to all digital influencers and is so important! I've written before about legal guidelines for bloggers in more detail, but I'll outline the key things below as well. If you are working with an influencer, you MUST check that they will comply with Advertising Standards Authority guidance and Google's rules on link schemes. If not, both parties are at risk of hefty fines AND penalisation in Google's rankings:
- If you are paying for a sponsored blog post, the influencer must include a disclaimer in the post
This is usually a short sentence displayed at the beginning or end of the post stating that 'This was a paid collaboration with X brand, but all words, images and opinions are my own'.
- If you are paying for a sponsored YouTube video, the influencer must declare it clearly
They should display a disclaimer sentence like the one above within the video description, but most YouTubers now also include 'Ad' or 'Spon' in the title of the video too to be extra clear.
- If you are paying for a sponsored Instagram post or story, the influencer should mark it as a 'paid partnership'
Instagram launched this new feature a while ago to make it extra clear when posts were being paid for as advertisements. It's really simple for influencers to do (full instructions here) but as a brand you can request they do this as some smaller influencers may not know about the feature yet.
- If you have given a freebie in exchange for a review/blog feature/Instagram post/YouTube video, the influencer must also clearly declare it
Even if you haven't paid the influencer and you have just given them a free product or gift, they must still declare that they were sent the item for free, because it still counts as compensation/incentive in the eyes of Google and the ASA.
- If you have paid for a shout out or mention, the influencer must clearly declare it
Similarly for sponsored content, even if you aren't paying for a full post and just a shout out, it still needs to be declared because it can still influence peoples' decisions and they have a right to know that it's an advertisement.
- If you have given them an affiliate link, they must clearly state that they benefit from purchases via that link
This usually just requires the influencer to include a '*' after the link anchor text, and below write something like '* indicates an affiliate link' or '* This post contains affiliate links where I get a commission if you purchase the product'.
- In blog posts, affiliate and paid-for links should be 'nofollow'
We know that link building is an important SEO tactic (as discussed in the Domain Authority section above), but paying for the influencer to include a link to your website in their posts is seen as a manipulation of Google's algorithm (aka a 'Link Scheme'), and if caught, both your website and the influencer's website could be penalised in the rankings. To avoid this, brands should never ask for links in exchange for payment or incentives, and bloggers should make sure all affiliate links and paid link requests have a 'nofollow' tag (this tells search engines not to follow the link).
Blackhat PR and SEO companies flood the inboxes of bloggers all the time with link scheme requests (see an example below), so make sure any PR and SEO companies you hire do not take part in these practices either!
- Any adverts/badge graphics placed on an influencers blog that are links should also be 'nofollow'
Placing an advert or a 'badge' on a website with a link back to your site is fine, but should be used as a way to gain awareness and get clicks from visitors, and not a way of link building. Bloggers should also tag these links as 'nofollow' to avoid being marked as a link scheme.
- If you have provided a pre-written article that promotes your brand for a blog, the influencer must declare it as an advert
Again, bloggers get these 'guest post' requests all the time (I get at least 3 a day!). Some are genuine businesses that want to get their name out there, and some are using it as a link scheme. If you want to guest post for blogs as a way of promoting your brand, make sure the blogger declares the post as a promotion/advertisement.
As you can see, one of the main things to remember when deciding on whether to collaborate with an influencer is that size isn't everything. Traffic stats, follower numbers and YouTube views are less important than making sure their audience is high quality and are actually the right people to be interested in your brand.
As well as this, Domain Authority is an important consideration when working with bloggers, and it's always imperative that the legal side of any collaboration is covered too!