Sunday, 25 September 2016

5 Things To Check Before You Collaborate With A Brand on Instagram or Anywhere

Instagram is a major source of income for a lot of people right now, I'm loving the innovative ways that people are marketing products and services through all these social platforms, but there's a danger that with individuals managing their own collaborations, things can turn sour if neither party are experienced enough to make sure all bases are covered - this isn't meant to scare you off from collaborating with brands and beginning to earn an income (or maybe even just some free make-up!) from your carefully-curated Instagram feed, just a checklist of things to make sure you know before you agree to anything.

If you get approached by a brand looking to send you a product, or do a paid collaboration, you need to be sure you are going about it the right way and asking the right questions. Both of yourself, and of the brand. I’m going to share some tips that should be useful when you reach this stage, please feel free to share your own tips and experiences in the comments below, I’d love to hear them!

1.       Are they legit?

Key point. I’m constantly getting requests for the Influencers that we represent to endorse products or web-based services that turn out to be something they are not. If you have to sign up to a platform and enter your bank details – do your research. Some platforms are very legit and they offer a streamlined way for Influencers to pick up exciting jobs with major brands, who quite often only use this method of reaching bloggers – but some are not, or actually have an underlying ulterior motive. This isn’t meant to put you off, or cause too much worry, but there are companies less than legitimate that go around offering paid collaborations just to get you to sign up to a platform, and then you have to wait for a brand to select you – there was never any paid collaboration, the agent just wants to get people signed up to make their platform more appealing to brands and agencies that have their pick of 100 identical ones. I personally don’t recommend signing up to anything – if a brand wants to work with you, do it directly or through an agency that represents you (more on that later) Don’t be fooled into signing up for multiple platforms that aren’t going to do anything at all – they are using you to attract brands and you’ll very likely not receive a penny. If this happens to you, feel free to send me an email with the name of the platform, I will be naming and shaming companies that do this in future blog posts.

2.       Do you think your audience will be interested in the product?

Something seriously devaluing Influencer marketing is people will do anything for cash. I’ve seen legitimately incredible content creators go down this road more than once. They get a few big jobs, then nothing happens for a while, then they are approached by a company that doesn’t fit in with their aesthetic but they do it because they’ve quit their day job now and need the money. As soon as your audience call you out for promoting a product that doesn’t fit with who you are, you have totally devalued yourself and you’ve immediately reduced your earning potential – the whole appeal of Influencer marketing is that more than X amount of people trust your feed to be authentic, that’s why they are following you. Do everything you can not to lose their trust and if this means turning down collaborations that aren’t quite right, don’t be afraid to do it - it will add value to you as a brand overall.

3.       What exactly does the brand want from you?

If they want to send you a product, are you obligated to review it in a positive way? This is different to a company sending you a product for you to try with no obligation for you to create content around it. You need to be very careful with what you agree to when you are writing emails or communicating via DM’s.  I would suggest steering clear of companies that specifically request a positive review – this is a very grey area when it comes to native advertising and with the laws on disclosure for paid collaborations (and in this context, ‘paid’ means either a financial or product reward) set to change before the end of the year, you could be causing yourself serious issues in the future. There have been some very high profile cases of people being paid to do positive reviews and not disclosing that the opinion being shared wasn’t necessarily their own. Keep yourself legit and be sure you are being honest with yourself and your audience.

Be sure to check the brands disclosure policy. Agency advice would be that you disclose everything that you are paid in any way to create or post with the hashtag #ad and I don’t think there’s any reason why you shouldn’t do this. Be honest with your followers and they will become a more loyal community.

4.       Will the brand be using your photos on their own social media feed?

This is a very important question and one you should ask early on. If you create content for a brand, and they pay you, this does NOT automatically mean that they have the right to use your images featuring their product. This is a concept called ‘Usage’ and they should be paying more if they want to use your content in this way. When you first start communicating with the company, ask them this right away. You should expect to get paid more for campaigns in which the company will be sharing content created by you on their own accounts. Another grey area here, because some apps allow ‘regramming’ or resharing of Instagram content, but make sure you know exactly where your content is going to be used and if you are going to be credited for it. It maybe that the opportunity is a great one and you are happy to be featured on their feed - but there’s nothing stopping the company sharing your content and not crediting you. This is obviously more worrying if your face isn’t in the images, but even if it is, it’s good practice to know where your content is being used and for how long.

5. What expectations does the brand have, 
How will they deem your involvement a success?

Influencer marketing, like most forms of advertising, is a numbers game. It starts with how many followers you have, what your engagement percentage is (I'll be doing a post on working out your engagement rates this week - don't forget to follow me on Bloglovin' so you get updates!) and moves quickly on to how many likes and comments you get on individual promotional posts. It's worth finding out from the brand offering you products or cash - how many sales/engagements/downloads do you need to generate for them to be satisfied with the collaboration? 

Something to bear in mind when you are talking about this. The benefits of Influencer marketing extend behind the initial 45 minute flurry of activity on an Instagram post. Building brand awareness is a key factor and it's something that is much less measurable with traditional metrics. If you want to build ongoing relationships with brands, think about working on a number of posts featuring their products over a period of time. For a six month collaboration, you can expect significantly more money and there's a defined period for your involvement to have an impact - plus it will be much easier to evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign overall. Upsell yourself by suggesting this route to your interested collaborators - especially if a single post campaign seems to have gone better than their expectations, it's an ideal time to pitch yourself as a great ongoing investment for them.

Don’t feel worried about asking brands these questions. Legitimate brands who want to build successful relationships with Influencers will be happy to discuss these things - they need to ensure they are getting as much bang for their buck as possible. 

But, if you are worried, think about hooking up with an agent. Legitimate Influencer agencies are the best way of ensuring you are valuing yourself correctly, they'll do all of this work for you leaving you to do what you started this venture for in the first place - creating amazing content about things that you (hopefully) love. I'll be posting more about this in the coming months, but if you are getting approached once a fortnight or more, it's probably time to get someone involved who can manage interested parties - they'll take a fee, but you'll get significantly higher overall payments  and exposure to brands that never would have found you otherwise. 

As I said, I'd very interested in your opinions and what questions you have found important when starting a relationship with a brand. There's a lot of secrecy and misinformation surrounding Influencer marketing and I'm hoping that I can use my blog as a platform to change that - you thoughts on any aspect of this would mean a lot to me :)

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Automated Posting Applications Are Ruining Instagram

Hashtagbot, Instasumo, Tweetfavy...the list of applications that promise to add to  your Instagram following has grown steadily in the last year. In the early days of Twitter, I remember being mildly surprised by Magpie's ability to post automatically to my feed, a series of sponsored tweets from categories I had selected. Things have progressed since then and you can now schedule likes and comments for both Twitter and Instagram that relate to hashtags or accounts you have selected. It doesn't take very long to set up, and there's a range of options that are designed to make the automated engagements seem as natural as possible.

I've been using TweetFavy for about three months now. It started with a 14 day trial, I set it up to like or retweet any tweet with certain hashtags. As I'm looking to grow my following to be able to reach bloggers and social media experts across the UK, I chose hashtags that relate to the major UK-based retweet accounts such as @ukbloggers1 @lovingblogs and @bblogRT. It keeps track of all the engagements that it produces and with a bit of adjustment of the ones that weren't converting into followers as much, I've gained 300 followers, an inbox full of automated messages and the occasional reply to a retweet that I've made from an actual person.

I paid to have TweetFavy on an ongoing basis - aside from the occasional retweet of something overly political that's been tagged for reach rather than relevancy, it's worked really well, so when I realised I wanted to grow my Instagram account too, I looked for a similar service. As soon as I did, I realised that a lot of the people that comment on and like my pictures are already using something like this. If I look at my three most recent pictures, I'm pretty certain that most of the comments are automated. They tend to be really generic, slightly out-of-context comments like "This is first rated!" on a picture of my son, or "Great shot!" when I've regrammed a meme. The more I looked into it, the creepier I found it. You can set it up to comment on people you follow and their content at random, as well as hashtags and people you have tagged.

I've come to the conclusion that actually, I'd rather my interactions on Instagram were real. I don't want a bunch of comments from people that haven't actually looked at my images, I want to be reaching out to people, growing an audience of engaged, interested followers and interacting with them in the comments section of my posts. If the person posting the comment hasn't even seen the  picture, I don't think they should be telling me it's "Superb!"

Growth comes from engagement - not everyone has the time or inclination to spend hours scrolling and making comments, but I truly believe that the top Instagrammers (by which I mean, everyday people and not celebrities or brands) have risen to the top because they have put time and effort into authentic interactions - in fact, not just interactions, but conversations.

While using a platform to post for you might seem like a time-saving plan, I'd like the average Instagram user to think twice. I believe these type of platforms are devaluing the engagement metrics that brands and Influencer agencies use to determine which social media stars would be right to employ as a promotional tool. Brands need to know that an Instagrammers following are actually interested in their content. Real people, posting real comments and questions are very valuable to brands, events and Influencers. As soon as there is a question as to whether the engagements an individual is receiving are real or automated, the value of a collaboration goes down for both parties.

This is an issue for everyone who hopes to use their Instagram stream as a source of revenue. From the major 'Inspiration' accounts resharing content from across the web to the average user who is posting purely for fun, likes and comments are the whole point. If you suddenly found out that most of them are coming from a bot, would they still be as important to you? They definitely aren't for me. I want to know that interactions are coming from someone who has seem my content and wants to interact with me about it, not because I've used a hashtag that one of these automated posting algorithms has picked up.

I'd love to know your thoughts and feelings on this. At the moment, these platforms are legal and allowed to link with your account on both Twitter and Instagram and you are not required to disclose if you are using one. I don't believe that Twitter is as important as it was five years for making money through social media, and because the interactions that are generated through Tweetfavy are primarily retweets, it doesn't feel as cheaty. Maybe I'm being naïve and other people out there feel the same way about these applications for Twitter. All I know is, I won't be looking for an automated engagement creation platform for my Instagram any time soon - I want to build a community of people who I can talk with, share ideas & brainstorm ways of making the best use of social media tools- this can't happen if every other comment is being posted by a robot.

There is already a serious lack of authenticity in so much of the content that I see on Instagram, from recent scandals involving celebrities not disclosing payment for positive reviews, whitening toothpaste being advertised by starlets with very obvious veneers, individuals suddenly claiming they have always, always, always used a certain brand then suddenly sharing content for a major competitor a week later. Instagram is an exciting and engaging platform that offers so many opportunities for brands to reach out to a new audience - I've recently got addicted to Boomerang (loops a very short video backwards and forwards for sharing on Instagram, it's really fun) - if the community isn't careful, it risks becoming a soulless, robotic arena full of automated programs exchanging platitudes. I don't want a future where my Instagram username is having conversations on my behalf, it's way too creepy.

What do you think about automated posting platforms, can it be a positive thing for social media as a whole or has it already gone too far?

Real people only: Follow me on Insta here.

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