Influencer marketing has been growing rapidly over the past few years and according to experts, it could be between a $5 and $10 billion market by 2020. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country have made careers as influencers, yet many brands forget that being an influencer isn’t just about promoting products for fun, it’s a business.
We sat down with our good friend Gabi Valladares, the brains behind By Gabriella, to understand more about this marketing strategy from her point of view as an influencer – why brands decide to implement these programs, how they can scale it to deliver a significant return on the investment and a few major no–no’s when working with these folks.
Give us a little intro of yourself! Who are you, how did you start your blog, what do you cover, what are you passionate about?!
Hi, y’all! I’m Gabi Valladares and I’m a blogger, social marketer, and photographer in Atlanta, Georgia. I started blogging 8 years ago (whoa, sounds so much longer when you say it) when I was one of the newest Boston residents. I’m passionate about connecting with people – I guess you could say I’m a people person. Does it carry less weight when you say it about yourself? Either way, I love connecting with people and connecting them with new food recipes, cocktails, travel guides, and the like. In fact, those are my favorite content pieces to work on – especially travel!
Influencers have grown in popularity over the last ten years, but even more so in the past few. What does the term influencer mean to you?
It’s always funny when someone asks if you’re an influencer. It feels odd responding with “yes, I’m an influencer.” However, that’s the generally accepted term these days. Being an influencer means sharing, honestly, content that influences others to take an action. That action could simply be learning about a new product, jotting down a few spots for their own travels, or making an actual purchase/conversion. It means that others are listening to you – what you think, how you feel, and the recommendations you make. Personally, this is why I only work with brands that I truly love and support. I couldn’t imagine sharing a post about a product/service/company that I wouldn’t be using otherwise.
Brands often assume influencers will just promote their product just because they think you should like it. Tell us really how brands should work with influencers, what can they expect? After all you’re running a business just like them.
Some brands (again, some – not all!) underestimate what influencers can do for them. They assume all we do is throw up a quick Instagram post and like magic, they’ll have clicks to their profile, site, etc. However, we can do a whole lot more! We’re photographers, writers, columnists, and community managers. Of course, the partnership needs to be beneficial for the brand that’s hiring said influencer, yet it’s important to not take advantage of them. We talk to each other (the influencers), so we often know which brands are treating the influencers they’re collaborating with properly – and which ones aren’t. Be sure to create a collaboration that makes sense for everyone – especially the influencer’s community! They’re who you’re trying to reach anyway, right? So, design a campaign that makes sense for your influencer, and fits within their existing work and content. You want to stand out, not stick out like a sore thumb.
I love that you mentioned how the collaboration needs to make sense for everyone! Can you dive a little deeper into the idea of just being hired to promote a product versus being hired to collaborate? I think many brands forget it is so important to collaborate with influencers versus just paying them to be a third–party vendor.
Influencers are hired to do a job, but I’m a firm believer that with a little extra effort to design a campaign that’s mutually beneficial and/or makes sense for both parties, we can make those campaigns even better. I love when brands are open to hearing influencer concepts. Take, Delta, for example. I was stunned when Delta reached out to collaborate. And, instead of asking for a review of their latest route, they started a conversation about what content would make sense for me in order to weave Delta into the story in an organic way. It’s still some of my favorite content, to date!
At what point should brands consider working with influencers? Talk to us a little bit about the importance of having a fully baked plan to engage with influencers. I would imagine just a one and done project isn’t as effective as a fully thought out campaign, so how does a brand go about identifying when and why they should engage with influencers like yourself?
Brands can work with influencers at all budgets. I’d suggest starting out with micro–influencers. They’ve got a smaller (and most likely), more engaged community. Plus, you may want to try out the whole influencer collaboration thing a few times to really work the kinks out before putting thousands/hundreds of thousands of dollars behind collaborations. You’ll want to feel comfortable with the outreach, workflow, and really – the whole process. I like to look at it this way: Influencer marketing is as simply a new form of the most effective marketing: word of mouth. Brands are working with influencers because they’re sharing their (hopefully honest) opinions with their community. It’s not a one–to–one interaction anymore, it’s one–to–hundreds/thousands/millions. Why wouldn’t you want to get your brand out in front of all those people? The most important thing to consider is whether you’re finding the right influencers. Vet their following – did they purchase their followers (yes, people do that and it’s really unfortunate)? Are they posting about a bunch of your competitors? Do they share content that’s in line with your mission? Figure out what’s most important to you and start building that list!
You mentioned how brands should vet an influencer’s following, but I would imagine that it is just as important for you (or other influencers) to vet the brands that pitch you too. How do you vet the brands that come to you? What do you look for in a brand collaboration? What are the things that turn you off from a brand (besides being expected to work for free!)?
I vet the brands by the quality of their product/service, what their mission is, and how I can incorporate it into my life. I only recommend brands via my platform if I’d suggest them to a friend or family member. If not, I pass. And, things that turn me off are when brands aren’t open to hearing how we could potentially make the campaign stronger. I’m not talking totally changing their concept, but rather pitching them an additional element or recommending switching things up a bit because I know it will make the most sense for my community. So, that’s another occasion when I’ll have to pass on the collaboration.
A lot of brands solely look at influencers with large audiences, why is it a mistake to overlook influencers with smaller audiences?
Micro–influencers are so valuable! They typically have a smaller community size, but they’re typically really engaged. Here’s a tip: as your community size grows on Instagram, your engagement decreases. So, while you may have 200K followers, your organic posts may only be seen by 10K of them (numbers are approximate). Don’t let influencer marketing scare you away if you have a small(er) budget. Get your name out there and see what’s feasible based on the influencers/micro–influencers you’d like to be working with.
Talk to us about why we see #ad or #sponsoredpost with a lot of the content we see on Instagram? Sometimes as consumers we see influencers promoting things without these tags, is that something that is determined in a contract? Does it vary case by case?
All influencers that receive compensation in exchange for a post are required, by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of the United States to disclose their relationship with the brand. It’s a form of advertising, kind of like those ads you’ll see in magazines that seemingly appear to be organic content – that’s why those pages feature a disclaimer at the top along the lines of “this is an advertisement”. Same with influencers! If we’re gifted a stay, a meal, a product, etc., we need to openly disclose that relationship.
Now for some fun stuff – any brands you’re dying to work with? Where do you get your inspiration from? Who are some of your favorite influencers?
Yes! Warby Parker, always. They’ve been my favorite brand for years – I even wrote my master’s thesis on them! And, tourism bureaus. I’ve had the really fun opportunity to collaborate with the Cambridge Office for Tourism for the past few years and it’s been one of my favorite partnerships! I’d love to continue working with other tourism teams around the world. As far as influencers go, Blair of Atlanta–Pacific is my favorite. Her style is impeccable – she’s my go-to for inspiration! And, on the lifestyle side, Danielle Moss. I’ve been a fan of her for years. I love that she keeps her content so real and relatable. Plus, she’s just downright kind.
How has your brand used influencer marketing? Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!