I can still remember the feeling of excitement I got as a new blogger when the first e-mail from a brand popped into my inbox.
It was from a local skincare company asking to send me some goodies to try out. Even though it was just product for review (and likely was being sent to 200 others), I was over the moon, mostly because someone had organically discovered my little slice of the internet (huzzah!). Since then, my daily life as a blogger has involved interaction with brands, sifting through press releases and event invites and collaboration pitches. It seems that every time my blogger friends and I get together, we inevitably chat about who we’re currently working with, what brands we’d love to hear from, the random pitches we get and most of all… what are brands ACTUALLY looking for in bloggers? Like actually, WHAT DAFUQ.
Luckily, I’ve been on the other side of things so have some insight into the weird and wonderful world of brand/blogger relations. For years I worked on the PR + marketing teams for Contiki, researching and selecting influencers (both Canadian and international) to go on trips around the world. I worked with incredible YouTubers like Lilly Singh and Ben Brown, as well as epic Instagrammers like Alex Strohl and Elise Swopes, just to name a few. Over the years, I had some wonderful experiences with influencers (the emotional shot of a YouTuber filming his teary goodbyes to his Contiki group – yesssss) and some not so great experiences (a YouTuber who threw a fit because the internet was down on an island in Thailand during a monsoon – nooooo). I learned exactly what brands look for in bloggers and influencers… because I was the one doing the looking.
So then, what the hell ARE they looking for? Well, although there are plenty of factors that go into partnerships between brands and content creators – and although each situation is unique – there are a few things that every good brand looks for in an influencer relationship…
A good brand fit
Numbah one. There’s literally no point in a brand working with a blogger if their core values aren’t aligned. Like a beer company working with someone who doesn’t drink alcohol. Or a luxury hotel brand working with a backpacking travel blogger – the brand message just isn’t going to reach the appropriate audience. And if a brand DOES approach you but isn’t a fit, don’t be persuaded even if they are offering a hefty budget – you could lose out on future opportunities from other brands who are turned off by a lack of authenticity.
Brands will always say ‘Reach isn’t everything’, but there’s no denying that it comes into play – at the end of the day, they want their product or service to be exposed to as many people as possible. That being said, don’t fall in the trap of those ‘Get More Followers’ apps – good brands will clue in if your engagement-to-follower ratio is skewed. If you’re struggling with reach, try these three ways to organcally grow your following:
- Collaborate with fellow bloggers/influencers – you’ll tap into a whole new audience by being featured on their platforms.
- Don’t stretch yourself thin over too many channels – focus on one or two that showcase your content best. If photography is your thing, Instagram is your best bet. If you’ve got a vibrant personality, let that shine on Youtube or in 140 characters on Twitter. And if you create how-to, service-oriented content, Pinterest’s search engine is your best bud.
- Engage with other blogs/accounts. Leave comments on content similar to yours – it’s an easy way for people to find about about you and click through to engage with YOUR content. Which brings me to my next point…
This is huge, and often much more important to brands than reach. Brands want to see that your followers and readers are actively engaging with you, commenting on posts and giving positive feedback on the product featured. Are you responding back? Are your followers referencing the brands that you mention in the post? Are they tagging their friends? These are the things that brands will look for when choosing blogger partners, and in many cases, will give preference to someone with small reach but amazing engagement over another with massive reach and weak engagement (engagement pods do NOT count as strong engagement, friends). If you’re struggling with your engagement, try asking a question at the end of each post to initiate conversation with your followers.
Basically… who the hell is reading your shit? Your readership and following make a big difference to brands, especially when it comes to location. At Contiki, we would send influencers on trips all the time – the Canadian office would look for influencers with a big regional following and our global office would look for influencers with a diverse reach. If you don’t have Google Analytics set up on your blog or Business Insights on your Instagram, hop to it – it’s an easy way to get an estimate of the people checking out your content at any given time. Brands will often ask what your demo split is, so keep an updated list of country, city and gender ratios.
A Unique Perspective
Whatever you’re shooting, whatever you’re writing, whatever you’re filming – chances are, someone out there is doing it too. How many times have you seen an artsy shot of a latte? Or an overhead of some girl’s legs with a random smattering of accessories around her? Like, a bajillion times. And I’m not saying you can’t grab inspiration from fellow creators – the difference is in the way you tell the story, the unique voice you put on your content. THAT’S what brands are looking for. If Instagram’s your game, opt for a witty caption over a boring ‘Love these jeans’ statement. If your blog is your pride and joy, use it as a means to tell a story of a product/service as it fits into your life, rather than as a review. If content is king, then originality is the muthaeffin’ queen.
Breadth of Content
What I mean by this is simple – how much of your content is sponsored and how much is organic? Although interested brands will look at who you’ve worked with in the past, they’ll also look at HOW MANY brands you’ve worked with. If every post you publish looks and sounds like an ad… girl, bye. Brands aren’t looking to work with walking advertisements – they’re looking to work with creators who have a story to tell and a loyal following with or without branded content. I would suggest that maximum 20-30% of your content be paid material – so if you’re doing 12 blog posts a month, limit 3 -4 of them to being sponsored content.
At the end of the day, the most important part of any brand partnership is finding someone who is easy to work with. No one wants to work with a blogger that has a reputation in the biz for being an entitled crazypants (I have worked with those people and they’re THE WORST). Be gracious. Be professional. Be responsible. Respect deadlines. Know the brief and adhere to it. Lose the attitude. If you’re a pleasant person who can get shit done on time and to scope, you’ll get repeat gigs and gain a good reputation throughout the industry.
There are a few other heavy hitters like affordability, aesthetic, and flexibility.
Bloggers: what things do YOU struggle with when it comes to working with brands?
Brand peeps/PR pros: what other things do YOU look for in bloggers?