As the creator of the blog Style Bee and the Instagram account @LeeVosburgh, I write about responsible style and thoughtful consumption and share brands I love. I also started the 10×10 Style Challenge, My Instagram account, which has been active since 2013, has grown into a wonderful community of over 46,000 engaged followers.

For several years at the beginning of my career I was using Instagram as a means to share my blog content and direct my readers to new posts. That’s still a big part of what I use it for. But, as my following has grown, I’ve had opportunities to work on Instagram collaborations and projects exclusively (not just as part of bigger blog based campaigns).

As an Instagram influencer, I receive enquiries from brands several times a day. This is great, but it takes a pretty special set of conditions to pique my interest—partly because my business is focused on a niche market (responsible fashion) and partly because I’m very particular about what I share with my followers. It’s taken me five years to build up the audience I have and I genuinely value their trust in my opinion. Any brand partnership I take on has to align with my (and my audience’s) values, taste, lifestyle and editorial calendar!

Like any other business partnership, the partnership between brands and influencers should be carefully considered and thoughtful. Read on to find out my tips for brands who want to work with Instagram influencers—what to do and what not to do in order to build successful campaigns and long-term working relationships.

1. Do your research

I get it, time is precious. But, it always shows when a brand representative has done their research and actually knows what my brand and I are all about.

Try to be as thorough as you can when first exploring influencer options and make sure the ones you’re reaching out to are a good fit for your brand. This might take longer initially, but will lead to better suited partners, saving you time in the long run.

Here are a few questions to keep handy as you research:

  • Does this influencer’s brand align with mine in terms of values, aesthetics, and personality?
  • Is their photography of the style and caliber you want your products associated with?
  • Are the brands and products they have previously worked with similar to mine?

Another tip: Put more value on an influencer’s online integrity than on the number of followers they have. Having 10,000 devoted followers is way better than 60,000 bots that were paid for. Ask yourself:

  • Is this influencer’s content high quality?
  • Are their captions thoughtful and well written?
  • Is their audience engaged?

These are all things that take time and effort and can serve as a good indicator of how they’ll be to work with. Even if the influencer has fewer followers than your brand’s account they may be able to send lots of new followers your way.

Also consider how often they’re posting sponsored content. Personally, I try to keep my brand partnerships and sponsored content well spread out. When an influencer has sponsored posts back to back to back there’s a good chance they’re not terribly discerning when it comes to the brands they work with and their audience will notice too.

2. Introduce yourself thoughtfully

Most influencers will be happy to hear from you and much more inclined to reply to a message that’s been thoughtfully written, not copy and pasted. Keep it short and to the point about why you’re reaching out. Talk about your brand and how you’re interested in working together.

Initial contact via direct message is OK, but I usually prefer to hop over to email when it comes to digging into the specifics of a project. Plus, sometimes I don’t check DMs from new contacts so I won’t see it until days later.Y our best bet when making initial contact with an influencer? If there’s an email address or contact info in an influencer’s profile, that’s the best way to get in touch.

Even if I don’t have room in my calendar or it’s not a good fit, I’m always happy to hear from an interesting new brand or independent designer because it could always lead to projects down the road.

Just don’t send out a mass email. This may seem like a given, but I’ve lost track of how many of those emails I’ve received. The truth is that it’s immediately obvious when a DM or an email has not been sent personally. For me, those types of initial contact will rarely get a reply. I’ll often immediately decline or delete them.

Earlier this year a marketing rep from Elizabeth Suzann, a responsibly produced clothing line based in Nashville, TN, reached out to say hello and express their interest in participating in the Spring 10×10 (a style challenge I created and host every season). Instead of diving right into what they wanted to see from me they outlined why the challenge was important to them, how the brand could support the community I’d been working to grow and ways in which they’d be open to giving back to the participants.

I could tell right away that they had really considered the possibility of working together in a meaningful way, not just to get eyes on their products, and that this was going to be great for everyone involved. The collaboration went ahead and was one of the most enjoyable and well-received ones I’ve worked on to date.

3. Plan to pay your influencer partners

Of course, your product or service might be amazing, but keep in mind that it takes years of consistent and dedicated work to build up a loyal audience on social media. Your brand stands to benefit from this hard-earned and well-established trust.

Not to mention, it takes time to communicate and plan, produce images and/or videos, edit, caption, and share and promote content in a unique and meaningful way. Even before I was blogging full-time I stopped accepting gifted product in exchange for a post 99% of the time.

The bottom line is that free product won’t pay the rent and the work is worth real dollars if it’s going to generate sales for a brand.

Rates are variable depending on followers, engagement, the project and the individual influencer, but can often be negotiated. Sometimes Instagram influencers with less than 10K followers might be more open to gifted product in exchange for a post as they’re looking to build their audience.

But what if your brand has a small budget? No problem. Sometimes I (and other influencers) will work on a commission or affiliate basis instead of a flat rate fee. If the influencer you’re looking to work with is out of your price range, you can also try to find similar creatives who have fewer followers and find out what their rates are.

4. Embrace a lack of creative control

You know your brand well and likely have ideas about how you want it represented online, but keep in mind that you’re working with this influencer because you like their content. You want a unique take on how your brand fits into their lifestyle and how it will resonate with their audience. So, my tip? Try to keep the art direction to a minimum.

Personally, the best partnerships for me, in terms of audience response, are when I’ve had some time to experiment the product and have complete autonomy over how I share it with my followers. These posts always feel more genuine than if I have a scripted caption or predetermined content. My audience responds very positively to authenticity, and I’m sure it’s the same for other Instagram influencers.

Feel free to share some visual references of what you’re looking for or point out some posts of theirs that you like. Mention any hashtags you’d like incorporated, especially if they are branded hashtags.

That said, it’s always pretty obvious when a sponsored campaign goes out and a bunch of Instagram influencers are posting very similar images. Audiences can tell that these campaigns are heavily scripted and are likely to recognize the lack of authenticity. The more it feels like the brand or product is really a part of an influencer’s life, the more successful your campaign will be.

For example, I had an opportunity to style and feature a piece from the Velvet by Graham Spencer Resort collection in January 2018. At the time I had a trip to Mexico coming up and asked if we could extend the post timeframe in order for me to share the product in a warm setting. They thought this was a good plan and sent the product (a lovely embroidered top) my way to shoot and style.

I shared the top on my Instagram feed in both a flatlay format and in an outfit post, along with my Mexico Trip stories and received lots of great feedback from my audience. Several followers also noted that they’d ordered it for their own upcoming vacations too!

lee vosburgh

lee vosburgh

5. Ask for a Story too

With the Instagram algorithm being what it is, it’s important to use every available touchpoint within the app during a campaign. Make sure you negotiate to have an Instagram Story included along with a post on the influencer’s feed. Not only can your influencer partner link directly to your product or website (if they have over 10K followers), they can also collect valuable data about Story interactions like how many actions were taken and how many people viewed the story.

Personally, I was a slow starter when it came to Instagram Stories, but now I actually prefer them over my feed as a way to interact with my followers, especially when it comes to campaigns. I can tell a broader “story” about the product, show it “in action,” have personal discussions, be a bit more playful, and make it even easier for my audience to access items.

For instance, Boot Rescue is a Canadian based line of shoe care products that make it quick and easy to clean shoes and leather goods (if you’ve spent a winter in Ontario, you know how important that is). They approached me to share their all natural Boot Rescue wipes and, after testing them out, I felt they’d be something my audience would love to learn about. I’d received lots of questions about how I care for my leather footwear during the winter, so I suggested creating a tutorial series on my Stories (in addition to a post on the feed) which would include a demo and mention of the product as well as lots of other information about shoe care steps.

The series was a huge hit with my audience and both the brand and I were really happy with how it turned out. I’ve since saved the tutorial to my highlights!

Pro tip: Be sure to use your own Stories and feed to share the collaboration too! It’s always great when a brand partner directs their audience to my account during the campaign period. It shows our followers that we’re really collaborating and let’s both sets of audiences intersect.

lee vosburgh

lee vosburgh

6. Share feedback

This last step often gets overlooked by both parties involved in Instagram influencer campaigns. It’s so easy to be done with a campaign and on to the next thing. But, it’s helpful to share feedback after a project wraps up.

If you’ve collected data from the campaign such as new followers, sales, site traffic etc., pass that along to your influencer. In turn, they should be able to pass along any data that you wouldn’t have been able to track, such as post saves and reach, Story interactions, and impressions.

This information allows you to evaluate the campaign better and understand what to expect going forward. It also gives the influencer useful insight into how their work converts to sales, so they can strategize for future campaigns.

Also, did you enjoy working with this influencer? Let them know! Did you feel something could have gone differently? It happens, and of course, that’s important to share so everyone can improve going forward.

If you’re really happy with how a collaboration went, consider pitching another project down the road. Personally, I’m always inclined to work with brands I already have an established relationship with before collaborating with new ones. Plus, the calendar fills up quickly, so it’s good to get on the list for a new season of campaigns ahead of time.

These tips should help you navigate your next Instagram Influencer campaign or project. Thanks for reading and for supporting the creative and talented folks on Instagram!

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