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How to work with influencers more effectively

May 13, 2018

a scrabble board

Brands are clamouring for influencers to help spread their message. Marketing budgets are fragmented to include digital content across a range of platforms. PRs have a tough job targeting traditional media and then this new group of opinion-formers comes along in a competitive landscape which shifts like sand.

When I started my blog eight years ago there was no such thing as an ‘influencer’.  But over time, as brand collaborations became a way of generating income for content creators (and a new generation of influencers entered the sphere with this as their end goal).  As a result, there’s a lot of advice directed at influencers on how to contact PRs and brands that result in a working relationship. But I’ve found less information from an influencer perspective.

So how do brands and PRs connect and collaborate with online influencers in a way that benefits both parties and leads to all end goals being met? This is my personal experience from a food and travel angle, plus I’ve asked some top content creators in the UAE what they think.

I’d love to hear from PRs, brands and influencers alike. Please share your perspective (in the comments) and add to the conversation.

If you came here for food and travel, I hope you’ll enjoy this window into an ever-changing new industry.

Scrabble letters, a cup of tea and a notepad

So how do you nurture a loyal band of collaborators who reply to every email, share content in a meaningful way and come to events with enthusiasm? Here are a few ideas…

9 ways to work with influencers more effectively:

1. Research

Take time (and it does take time) to look at what the person posts. By really getting to know them you can determine which influencers you should be working with.
Look at their engagement (not just the number of followers), read the comments, inspect their content. Is there is a repetitive list of the same followers with three word comments just saying how wonderful everything is, or are there real, invested conversations?

And look beyond the number of followers. Audience does not equal influence.

2. Build a relationship

PRs may talk to journalists, but influencers live in a digital world. Foster a relationship there. I don’t think a PR has ever left a comment on my blog and only one or two interact with me on Instagram.

Take time look at what they post. Engage with them on Twitter or Instagram build a relationship. Work for the long term, so when you do get in touch with a request they will already know you and are more likely to respond favourably.

Factor in the changing nature of the industry and approach influencers in a very different way to journalists…

3. Tailor

There are two strands to this one. Ask the influencer what they would like from the experience or collaboration. Contact your potential partners and find out what it is they’d really like in an ideal world. Target with things they actually want to do (for a better take up). If it’s too much you can meet somewhere in the middle.

To quote Kate Baxter of Be More Hive from a recent episode on the Blogtacular podcast, who often sees sign off on quite traditional PR strategy approaches that don’t work on an influencer level:

..something that is adapted from an approach that they might traditionally have used with print press which is not really the approach that you can take with influencers. Each influencer, whether that be a blogger, a vlogger, or someone who purely has an Instagram account with 100s of thousands of followers, they are their own person who retains complete editorial control over absolutely everything they do and so they are the person who makes the decision on every single aspect of the content they are creating and that also putting their own personal viewpoint across in that content in a way that traditional print media doesn’t.

The second aspect is that at events or on media trips there is often one amazing set up, view or experience – but you then get the same identical coverage from all the people there. By finding out what the influencer (and therefore their audience) would like you can tailor elements so they have bespoke, unique and more impactful content.

4. Personalise

No matter how enticing the offer or interesting the proposition, being addressed as ‘Dear Blogger’ is so off-putting and causes the hackles to rise. I’d rather someone just said Hello than get lumped into one homogenous influencer morass! (I’m sure the ‘Dear Editor’ press releases get short shrift across the board too).

I received a parcel the other day with my name handwritten on the outside, a mock-up of a passport containing stamps to all the countries I’ve visited in the last two years and a postcard with an image of me on it (yes they’d stalked me on Instagram). Not everyone has the time or budget to personalise an invite to this degree, but it definitely made me feel very special and almost duty bound to attend the event when it’s announced.

5. Don’t send press releases

Even for journalists, according to Janet Murray, press releases are generally ineffective. Even less so for influencers – most of whom share things from a personal perspective (and if the release is just reproduced online, I’d question the value to, or engagement of, any target audience). My inbox is inundated with so many emailed releases that I created a rule which puts them straight into one folder so I can scan the headlines and delete quickly. Sometimes they do contain something which I want to share but it’s in a format that makes it too time consuming and difficult so….

6. Send shareable content

Everyone wants useful, information, entertaining shareable content for their platforms. Often a press release will highlight something that my audience would be interested in. Two pages of detailed information in a release and a high res image that I have to download usually gets put straight into trash.  To make it shareable I suggest one or two lines communicating the main point (less than the 250 characters that Twitter demands ideally), a lo res image that is in a format for social (in size and content – no line ups of executives in suits please) plus a link to the rest of the info so people can to find out more. Social tags and relevant hashtags would also help the client gain exposure. If I want to know more I’ll reply to the email.

7. Use one method of communication

You receive an invitation by email, check your Instagram messages*  and there it is in duplicate, then the phone rings about the same event. Responding or even deleting takes time. It’s worth finding out the preferred method of communication from your list of influencers (you could do a quick survey and store in your database).

*For instance, I include my email in my Instagram profile as Instagram messages are time-consuming to manage (you can’t bulk delete and have to respond on your phone) – I presume influencers with a huge following have a VA to assist with this.

8. Interact

Likes and comments are the currency of the digital world. Brands, in the main, assume that the influencers will do all the work and completely miss the point of amplified reach through sharing user-generated content. It’s staggering the amount of times that a brand fails to respond to being tagged or using a hashtag (that they have asked you to use). Whether an official collaboration or not, you put out a post and it’s tumbleweed.  Brands will benefit from being seen to be commenting on feeds, and joining the conversation. There’s a reason why it’s called ‘social’ media.

9. Manage expectations

Both parties should agree in writing everything that is expected before the initiative. A request after the event ‘can you just post this on your Instagram feed’ when this was not part of the agreement undervalues the time, effort and effectiveness of the influencer’s work. Again it’s about understanding what goes into the content creation. If unsolicited freebies are sent to an influencer, it is up to them whether they post anything (or nothing). If goods, trips, experiences are received with assent then a realistic amount of coverage should be agreed.

Scrabble game, cup of tea and phone

Three content creators share their personal viewpoint

I asked “What are the areas that frustrate you or could be much more effective when PRs approach you (and ultimately achieve a tangible benefit for the client)?” Here are the replies (unedited).

Samantha Wood, founder of impartial restaurant review website and curator of dine around experiences

“The list is endless but here are my top three pointers:

  1. The first golden rule of any type of media engagement is for the PR to understand the social media platforms of the person they are engaging with. Having been a PR for 17 years I know the value in building relationships. Read my website including pages that explain my editorial policy and advertising/ partnership activations – and review my social media channels. I get very frustrated when PRs pitch to me yet have no idea that my business is digital only, let alone having read it. For instance, a PR might invite me to review a new restaurant – yet not having read my site, they are unaware of my no freebies anon policy.
  2. Pitch suggestions in line with the type of content/ different sections of my website. Personally I prefer email correspondence and perhaps Twitter for short and sweet ideas. I don’t like being pitched on IG or FB – or even worse WhatsApp. If I have a good relationship with the PR, I am happy to take a phone call to discuss the pitch.
  3. Do NOT send me press releases or download links unless I have requested hi-res photos – PRs are wasting their time and mine. My inbox is flooded every day with PR requests, which I don’t have the time to read. A menu, plus two or three bullet points of the restaurant/ food concept’s USPs in the body of the email is all that I need – plus some good low-res images to help paint a picture.”
lady in a restaurant

Samantha Wood

Rupal Bhatikar of Foodie n Fabulous food and travel blog

“My biggest pet peeve with PRs has always been the lack of research into the bloggers niche. It hugely benefits brands to work with people who would add value to a campaign if their audience/content is relevant to the brand. Being a food (recipe) & travel blogger, I get ridiculous number of restaurant/spa/lifestyle invites that are completely irrelevant to what I do. It is not enough to send a blanket email to anyone and everyone, due diligence is critical. It is also as important for them to expect transparency from the influencer side – sharing stats critical to study if campaigns have actually been effective. Similarly, using #sponsored and disclosures should be a given considering how much time and money is at stake and PR’s should be working only with legitimate influencers who actually follow these ethics/conduct. That is the only way going forward this industry can be regulated and work better for all parties involved.”

Lady in restaurant

Rupal Bhatikar

Naomi D’Souza – Leading Instagrammer and blogger

“I personally think the first step is, empathy. PRs must know it takes a lot of time to blog – managing a website plus creating quality content, editing pictures after a review and most importantly being able to come up with a creative tactic to promote a specific brand every single time.

I understand it’s mostly the client and not the PR who come up with deadlines and requests, but I do feel it’s the PR’s responsibility to spread knowledge on what bloggers go through just to create one piece of content. If things are rushed up the quality gets compromised that further ruins the bloggers personal brand, this even ends up ruining future potential collaborations.

There are a few PR agencies that understand the effort taken by bloggers but I believe it must be talked about more.”

magazine page

Naomi D’Souza

What’s next for PR and influencers?

My aim in writing this is as a constructive way to achieve greater results in a partnership together; I do not underestimate the hard work that goes into PR especially in a competitive and ever-changing business landscape (especially as, with a career in marketing communications, I see both sides of the fence). I’m sure that some PR and brands are shouting at the screen right now saying “but you have no idea about x”.

Recommend giving the Blogtacular podcast a listen. It’s about finding good examples, learning how to do it right and setting some industry standards.

How do we move closer together in collaboration to achieve the aims of both sides? Maybe we should have a huge meet-up where we all get together regardless of who or what company we work for. Let me know in the comments.

Scrabble board, cup of tea, phone

Pin this to read later

Found this useful? You might like 10 things learned from 5 years of food blogging, What is Blogtacular and why you should attend and How a photography challenge could improve your Instagram

  1. May 14, 2018 1:35 am

    Interesting. There are so many aspects to blogging to say the least.

    • May 14, 2018 10:17 am

      Indeed Lulu – and it’s a constantly shifting arena.

  2. Jane M permalink
    May 14, 2018 10:07 am

    The biggest turn off for me is when PRs or brands contact me and ask me to do something for the without providing anything in return. (And I’m not talking about money). So many people just email and say “Hey, can you promote this?”, but they don’t provide any content or context, no ideas of how they would like to work together, nothing.

    They want me to come up with the ideas, create the content, promote, all with zero effort on their part.

    So, before contacting an influencer, ask yourself, how can I make it easy and beneficial for them to get involved in this campaign? Make that clear in your initial email or your request will get deleted right away.

    • May 14, 2018 10:21 am

      That’s very short-sighted and self-centric of them. Why would you compromise you brand and take up your time doing so? If someone has genuinely built a relationship with me and it’s something my audience would be very interested in I might consider it, but I guess you are not talking about that.
      I don’t get that approach so much, but I do get invites for a coffee and a chat about ‘an opportunity’ – which always means getting involved in promoting them and no thought about adding value for my readers or any of my own objectives (and always unpaid). I’ll let you know if anyone uses this phrase genuinely – but it’s been 100% so far!

    • June 8, 2018 7:50 pm

      I second that! An email out of nowhere, with no connection to you, asking you to promote something “just because” is always annoying.

  3. The Real Geordie Armani permalink
    May 14, 2018 10:16 am

    Great article MCP. I think we will see a huge drop in so called influencers now that the have to pay approx 30K to get the necessary legal certification to do so. I am with you on the press releases, I only read the ones that I have a relationship with the sender.

    • May 14, 2018 10:24 am

      Well yes – this may not even be a thing in the UAE after June. I am writing my standard response now – “sorry can’t do anything with you at all!” As someone who generates no income at all from my blog which is a passion in my spare time, not a business, I can’t justify investing those sums for the odd free trip or cooking class! I do think – especially after listening to the Blogtacular interview – that this is something that is an issue worldwide though.

      • May 14, 2018 10:27 am

        I do think disclosure laws to ensure transparency are well overdue though. Another Blogtacular podcast was an interview with the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK who have acted when regulations are not followed. It was super interesting – focused on ensuring that people consuming the content are absolutely clear about what is being communicated.

      • The Real Geordie Armani permalink
        May 16, 2018 3:46 pm

        Same here, I make nothing full stop these days so won’t be investing in a license either.

  4. May 14, 2018 11:57 am

    This is such a valid article Sally, thanks for taking the effort! There has been a shift in the focus of PRs, while they do consider bloggers and influencers very important in their coverage, they still don’t get the fact that each blogger has a different audience and a particular invite/pitch may not add value to a blogger as well as their client. I have also found that as a PR agency grows in size, their staff isn’t even aware of what a blog or a website is about. Blanket emails are the biggest turn offs. Having said that, not every blogger or an influencer has a strict rule for adherence to deliverables. I would have loved to hear from Rupal’s end – her perspective from the Marketing side of things. There’s still no transparency or ethics regarding disclosures. Digital content creation is a different medium… a very powerful medium, but it’s still new and evolving, and it’s interesting to see where we are all headed. Cheers!

    • May 23, 2018 6:55 pm

      Thanks Ishita – such a thoughtful and considered reply. Those blanket emails are the bane of my life. Feel I’m drowning. As you say though, interesting times. Where will it all lead to? Thanks for taking the time to add to this discussion.

  5. May 15, 2018 2:49 am

    Great post Sally 😊

    • May 23, 2018 6:56 pm

      Thank you Laura. Are you on the receiving end of media approaches?

  6. eatdrinkstaydubai permalink
    May 16, 2018 12:20 pm

    Love, love, love this article. So many nuggets of information, and points to ponder. Although PRs are often maligned, they really are ‘stuck in the middle’ and perhaps it’s tough (as it always is for 3-way relationships, ask Camilla……) but they are getting paid to do work after all. Just take it back to value, and ask how one is measuring value – either for their client, or the blogger/influencer.

    What’s concerning is how toxic the influencer term is becoming, because it’s almost a business model for someone to follow to claim freebies rather than focus on serving. Perfect example being is the farcical #Bloggergate hotel scandal; when an influencer is trading their bona fides for benefit I think it stinks (personally).

    Like follows like though, so those faking freebie blaggers will gravitate towards equally shaky PRs/clients etc. Cream always rises to the top, and that’s why this article is so awesome and typifies ‘genuine’ influencers.

    Big hugs, spread the love,

    S 😄🇦🇪

    • May 23, 2018 7:00 pm

      Thank you so much for commenting. I don’t envy PRs being stuck in the middle – but just as a blanket approach to publications doesn’t work, building tailored relationships with ‘influencers’ is even more important. I agree about the freebie baggers – if they add no value. I actually think the hotel thing reflected worse on the hotelier than the person writing. She put across a proposition, a stay in return for coverage – he could have just said no. Journalists have been put up for free or a media rate for years and they are not vilified. Having said that, it’s easy to spot those who set up their blog in order to get free stuff. If they add no value to the reader then the impact is negligible. Cheers for the view – much appreciated.

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