Hi, I’m Lucy. I’m a twenty two year-old YouTuber, podcast co-host and fresh-out-the-womb blogger – in most professional circles, I’m considered an influencer. This term came to be because I, along with many other people with a social media following, make a fair chunk of my income through working with brands to help them advertise their products to my audience. They have a product to promote, we come up with an idea of how to promote it, the piece of content is made, shared, and everyone gets paid. Easy peasy, no?
Alas, it doesn’t always work out this way. Considering how new social media is, as you can imagine the industry surrounding it is also particularly fresh. It’s a Wild West, ungoverned as of yet by age old traditions and conventions. In addition to that, a lot of the people who work in the industry don’t follow influencers themselves and so don’t have an understanding of the nuances of the aforementioned Wild West. I totally understand how this has happened – we generally appeal to a younger audience, and I don’t expect everyone who works with us to be eagerly waiting every day to watch Casey Neistat’s latest upload. However, this lack of understanding has led to many, many people’s jobs being a lot harder than they necessarily need to be; influencers being frustrated at the way companies work with them and companies being frustrated with the influencers they work with. So to encourage communication and transparency, here’s a couple of things that I wish brands and agencies – the two types of company we generally speak to when collaborating with a brand – would do when they approached influencers. Some of these may sound obvious, and in parts I may sounds frustrated, so forgive me, but I come across these assumptions time and time again.
- We aren’t stupid/naive/kids in our bedrooms who got lucky. I totally understand that this is an idea perpetuated by the media and that some people have seen through it, but still quite a few people who end up in my inbox write to me as though I’m an air-headed teenager. This is likely also to do with being female – I doubt many women are exempt from being patronised, no matter what industry they work in. I guess that the images that meet the eyes of those who find me are usually selfies or products I like, leading them to conclude that I’m a carefree rich gal who’s never done a day’s work. Sorry about that, I find it hard to exemplify my nuance in an instagram story. But I can reassure you: this is my job! I work on it every day! Generally, if you’re reaching out to an influencer, they’re either a company in their own right or a sole trader with help from agents and managers. Please don’t send me a brief and call it a “cheat sheet”, please don’t assume I don’t know how to come up with a creative and write it up in a proposal for you. Please let me reassure you that along with most other influencers, I’m not stupid.
- Look at our channels before you approach us. You wouldn’t believe the number of times I get asked to make a haul video when I’ve never made one before in my life. They wouldn’t have even needed to watch one of my videos to work out what kind of content I make; just a glance at my video page could have told them what they needed to know. And often, when I propose an alternative idea, the contact comes back to me and insists that they really need a haul video or else they can’t continue discussions. About 10% of video proposals I receive are actual creative briefs with a clear understanding of what I make on my channel. There’s no use in trying to appeal to my audience, which is evidently the demographic you want to reach, with an inauthentic video that wont make sense on my channel. Five minutes of research could make a huge amount of difference to our initial interactions, and potentially save you a lot of time if I’m not actually the kind of influencer you thought I was.
- If we’re making something for you then we need to get paid. Gradually this is becoming more and more standard, but I still receive multiple emails a day asking me to work for free. Freelancers with creative jobs have been asking for this time and time again, and just that small recognition that a fee will be involved shows that you understand that we are a) a business and b) a valuable person who can help you get your project done well. You’re paying for our time, our expertise and our reach. Oh, and also – complimentary products are not payment and don’t function as a replacement for it. Follow the rule that if everyone else in the process is getting paid – employees, other freelancers contracted to help, etc. – then the influencer needs payment too.
- Don’t expect us to teach you how to work with influencers. Recently I’ve been in multiple meetings where I’ve been asked to advise a brand on how to build a campaign, find creators and work with influencers. My knowledge, like anyone else’s, is valuable, and pretty much anyone who is an influencer is also an expert on the ways you can work with them. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of helping you is really exciting to me, however I would expect to get paid in return for giving you specific advice on your strategy. Many influencers also operate as consultants for this very reason; they have a lot of knowledge and are happy to share it, but understand not to undersell themselves. We want to open this world up more and help brands to work with us but please don’t ask me to come to a meeting in the guise of already having a project lined up when you’re really just looking for a free consultant.
I hope that those four points have contributed to a greater understanding of influencers’ roles in putting together a piece of branded content. Ultimately, we are creatives – we’ve been crafting our own spaces on the internet for years and years and are happy to help brands find the best, most authentic way of reaching our audiences. But I think the emphasis here has to go on authenticity; without genuine understanding between brands, agencies and influencers, the content will not make any single party happy, including the audience. Hopefully as understanding of influencers grows, the quality of sponsored work and collaborations will also improve and everyone will be a happy bunny.