20 Things Every Brand Needs to Know About Working With Influencers

by Charles Manning

On Monday, The Daily and Coterie hosted an influencer panel at the Javits Center with moderator Aliza Licht in conversation with Danielle Bernstein of WeWoreWhat, The Stripe’s Grace Atwood, stylist William Graper, and The Daily’s own acting events director, Alex Dickerson. The candid and lively one-hour discussion capped off day one of the Coterie trade show and focused on how brands can best work with influencers to maximize their marketing dollars. The esteemed panel spoke about what they look for in a partnership, how they measure success, and the dos and don’ts of branded content. Below, are 19 of their most precious pearls of wisdom — a must-read for anyone looking to grow their business in today’s hyper-competitive and often overwhelming social media landscape. 

Aliza Licht, Grace Atwood, Alex Dickerson, Danielle Bernstein, William Graper (Andrew Werner)

1. Long-term partnerships reap greater rewards than one-off paid posts.
Danielle Bernstein: “When I started my blog, I was getting gifted a bunch of clothes and I would wear them on my blog. Then, I was paid to wear the clothing on my blog. Now, it’s a little bit different because instead of doing one-off posting, we’re really looking for these marriage-like partnerships that are more ambassador programs, where I’m signing a three-month to one-year contract with a brand, and I’m committing to post for them monthly, weekly, or whatever we agree on — a series of Instagrams, Instagram stories, events, whatever it may be. It’s really about marrying into a brand and creating those longer-term partnerships that will really mean something to my followers.”

Alex Dickerson: “Don’t do something that’s a one-off. It’s not gonna work. There’s not going to be a big loyalty and retention there and you’re not going to see anything. If you’re paying a lot for it, you’re going be disappointed with the investment. Whereas if you dedicated a little bit more budget and strategy to it, at the end of the day, you’re going to get a lot more.”

Grace Atwood: “I had a one year contract with L‘Oreal. I loved it because every month I was doing different content across multiple platforms. So every month they got a blog post, a few Instagrams — there weren’t stories at then — and I did some Snapchat stuff with them. It just felt really authentic and my readers got very used to seeing their products there. And then it also started on the blog to trend for SEO. I was talking about their product so much that I got pushed up in Google’s rankings.”

Danielle Bernstein: “I would say one of my best partnerships was a one year contract that has been renewed three times with FIJI Water. Super random, right? It’s water, but I was able to integrate it into my lifestyle through my workouts and through travel — the importance of hydrating — it was so easy for me. It became the water brand of my office and I would have people contact me everyday with a picture with a FIJI Water like, ‘I was in a deli and I thought of you and I bought a Fiji bottle because of that.’ I was the original FIJI Water girl for a long time and still am. I still work with them. That was such an easy, successful, great contract that they saw return on their investment, hence the renewal three times.”

2. Posts on Instagram stories are often more successful in terms of converting sales and ROI than traditional grid posts.
Danielle Bernstein: “Instagram stories have proven to be extremely successful for brands because they include a swipe-up link and a tag. Also, you really get to see it in a video-content way, which I think is so important and displays the product that much better.”

3. Embrace comedy as a means of attracting new consumers and creating more genuine engagement.
William Graper: “Comedy is a way in, because at the end of the day, a lot of people are intimidated by fashion.”

4. You chose the influencers you are working with for a reason — because you liked their vision, their point of view, etc. — now you need to trust them to know and do what they think is best.
Danielle Bernstein: “You’re hiring me because I am my own creative director. So, yes, I love to hear from brands, what they want for suggested content, suggested verbiage, etc. I want to hear what you guys are looking for within the post, but then you have to kind of put the ball in my court and trust that I’m going to put it together in a way that I know will resonate with my readers the most and will sell.”

William Graper: “The most frustrating thing is being micromanaged along the way because it really saps the creativity.”

5. Make sure you provide your influencers with a creative brief. Creating it will help you nail down exactly what you want and it will give the influencer something concrete to reference and interpret.
Grace Atwood: “I just worked with a brand and they just gave me eight examples of Instagram content that they loved — things from my feed that I had done in the past, things from other influencers — and I was like, “Oh great, now I understand your vision”  and the whole thing went seamlessly.”

6. Just because an influencer has a lot of followers, doesn’t mean they are going to have a high rate of conversion. Many influencers still buy their followers, or might have an audience that is following them for reasons other than product recommendations, so it is important that you do your due diligence to maximize your ROI.
Danielle Bernstein: “The power of conversion is so important, and yes, not everybody with a large amount of followers will convert to sales. So, if you can, as brands, reach out to other brands that you know have worked with  particular influencers and ask for that information.”

Aliza Licht: “It’s not just about who person is and how many followers they have, but who is following them. A lot of times, if a girl is always in a bikini, that audience is going to be 90 percent male. It just is. So, if you’re selling women’s clothing, you might want to think about that.”

7. Need help finding the right influencers for your business? Try Fohr or HYPR.
Grace Atwood: “There are so many influencers out there. There’s somebody for everyone. It’s just finding them. A platform like Fohr allows you to filter by city or by an influencer’s core demographics. So say you want 40-year-old influencers in Minnesota, you can find them!”

8. Get your own social media in order before you start dropping a bunch of money on influencers.
William Graper: “There’s no point in spending a bunch of money on an influencer to create content for you if that content is going to live in a feed of relative garbage. People care, when they go to your page, that it looks like you have a point of view. Figure that out first and then find the influencer that works best.”

9. At the same time, if you hire an influencer to create branded content for their own feed using your products, don’t assume that the content they create can or should necessarily live on your feed as well.
Grace Atwood: “Sometimes, what works for my audience isn’t gonna look good in the brand feed.”

10. Don’t be afraid to invest in micro influencers, especially when creating an influencer program that includes influencers with larger followings.
Danielle Bernstein: “I want to stress how much I believe in the power of a micro influencer. They have a great demographic of consumers and reach a very specific audience, especially for a young brand. If you can’t afford to work with someone like me, micro influencers and even nano influencers, which are influencers with 1,000-15,000 followers, I think, could be a great option. For my own brand, I’ve seen more sales from some micro influencers than from some of my friends who are macro.”

11. When forming a longer partnership with an influencer, make sure to work into the contract a point at which you can reassess the relationship if needs be.
Danielle Bernstein: “In some of my longer-term contracts, if it’s a six-month contract, sometimes we have a three-month point where we can revisit it and if it’s not working out for either of us, then we decide to terminate it together. But if I do one or two posts for a brand, and if they maybe didn’t see as much return as much as they wanted to, there’s always flexibility. I’ll throw in an extra few stories. I want to make my clients happy. If I didn’t feel like I did the best job, or it was on a day where the Instagram algorithm was messing up everything and not as many people saw it as I know could see it, then I’ll always be flexible and throw something in there.”

12. Gifting is a great way to promote your brand, especially if you are a new to the market or new to social media.
Danielle Bernstein: “Gifting to 50+ other of my influencer friends and having them post and tag has been hugely impactful for my own fashion brands.”

13. At the same time, don’t send products to influencers without asking first. And don’t expect that just because you send something to someone, they are going to post about it without you paying them. Maybe they will post about it. Maybe they won’t. That’s the risk you have to take if you aren’t willing or able to pay for placement, but you increase your chances that they will simply by asking them if they are interested in receiving free product from you before you start sending it out.
Grace Atwood: “Please don’t send gifts without asking first. I get boxes of stuff that I just don’t want, and I feel so bad about the waste on the environment, but also what do I do with this? I live in a small New York apartment.

Aliza Licht: “Don’t send product without asking but also don’t send product and say, ‘Can you post this?’ It is a real business. And by the way, I don’t think any of you all do anything for free. No one is doing anything for free unless they decide they’re doing something for free. I think that’s a really important takeaway before we go to Q&A because a lot of people don’t understand that. They’re like, ‘Oh my god! Just send them to some influencers. They’ll post it.’ Maybe. Maybe not.”

14. Partner with influencers who are already tagging your brand.
Grace Atwood: “If they’re already talking about you, that’s such low hanging fruit!”

15. Embrace difference and “imperfection.”
William Graper: “Using a diverse cast of people, using less perfect photos, using the outtakes, using the more amateur stuff, to me, reads more authentic. Most brands I’m styling are bringing in a cast of people who are diverse — not perfect and off-putting — so that when you’re going through the feed, you’re seeing someone who looks like you.”

16. Don’t limit your efforts to Instagram alone.
Grace Atwood: “I’m really focused right now on growing my podcast, my email newsletter, and my blog, because those are the things I can control. As brands, you guys should feel the same way, because at the end of the day, every day Instagram changes something, and it’s so hard to grow. I think Instagram is definitely important and we all need to be on there, but focus on the things you can control.”

Danielle Bernstein: “I have started to diversify the content I’m putting on different platforms. I have a podcast and I’m working on other things that are not just my Instagram, because Instagram could go away one day, and then what would I have? So I still work on my blog. I actually just relaunched it. It’s still important to produce content for all these different platforms.”

17. Authenticity is key.
Alex Dickerson: My favorite moment was once when Danielle [Bernstein] stole these crazy little midi rings off me and posted a pic of them in the back of a cab. She put it on her Instagram and they sold out in a matter of hours. The brand was freaking out.

Danielle Bernstein: “It’s not like everything I post is paid for. Let me stress that. I mean, if I discover a new brand when walking around Coterie and I’m like, “shit this is cool,” I’ll grab their email and post about it for free. It just really depends on my level of passion for it. Also, I won’t work for a brand that I don’t like.”

William Graper: “Obviously, every brand wants to sell and they want to be seen, but do what’s right for your brand. For instance, don’t do a podcast if that doesn’t feel like you. At the end of the day, if it doesn’t work for you, people are going to feel that and they’re not going to bond. It doesn’t matter how many influencers you pay, you won’t have ROI. So I think doing what works for your voice and your brand and not trying to do it all.”

Aliza Licht: “My rule of thumb is I have to feel passionate when I post. I have to be moved to post. If I feel like it’s an obligation, I do not post. That’s how I’ve always been. I think that when you start to feel like something is obligatory, then it’s never gonna be authentic. The content’s never gonna feel good, never gonna perform, and you should just bag it.”

18. Financial terms are always negotiable, but be realistic about what you’re asking for.
Danielle Bernstein: “I have a rate card, so one post is worth a certain amount, but listen, everything is negotiable. If you’re going to do five posts versus one, there’s a different price for that. I would say just have flexibility in mind and don’t be scared by the initial rate card.”

William Graper: “Be realistic about what you can afford as a brand. If you can’t afford Kim Kardashian, you’re not getting Kim Kardashian. Everybody wants the pinnacle of what an influencer is, or the pinnacle of celebrity, or the best stylist, best model. But if you can’t afford it, it is better to work with someone who is excited to be there than someone who doesn’t really want to be there, who’s taking a reduced rate and doesn’t really want to do the job.”

Alex Dickerson: “Approach influencers like real people. Say, ‘I want to work with you. I have a budget of x. What can we do together?’ If they like the brand and they like the approach, they’re probably going to want to work with you. At the same time, I can’t just walk into Gucci and say, ‘I love that belt. Here’s 25 bucks.’ It’s not gonna happen! But just be honest and direct.”

19. Honor the terms of the agreement. Don’t expect extras not outlined in the contract.
William Graper: “Be honest and upfront about what you need from the influencer rather than asking for more after the deal is done. It never really sits well with either party and then there is contention and the relationship and the work suffers.”

20. Staying on top of all this stuff can be really hard, even for seasoned pros, so cut yourself some slack.
Danielle Bernstein: “There are days that I don’t post and I feel bad about it because I almost feel like I have the responsibility to my followers, but you’re only human and your followers will forgive you for that. Knowing that you don’t have to be doing it all at once is also important.”

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