Anyone starting out on their Instagram journey dreams of a day when they can start charging for their posts. While that time is ultimately different for every influencer, many agree that you can start charging for your posts with 1,000 followers (and sometimes even less!).

Paid sponsorships are not only great for some extra cash in your pocket (and can even turn into a full-time job), they’re also a great external validation and motivator to put more work into your Instagram, creating higher-quality content and being able to purchase more tools of the trade to scale your page. At any other time, I would absolutely say, “Know your worth, then add tax.” But as this is being written, times are not normal. And that is why I think it’s really important to be building relationships, not transactions, with brands right now as we rebuild from COVID-19.

A Cautionary Tale

I was recently made aware of a blogger with a not-insignificant number of followers (in the tens of thousands), who posted in an influencer discussion group that they were tired of posting restaurant photos for free, and were seeking advice on how to go about asking restaurants to pay them for posting their food on Instagram. Most US-based restaurants, especially the ones in big cities like New York, are struggling to keep their doors open and are operating on razor thin budgets – or even taking losses – in this new environment. Many don’t even have the overhead to do an in-kind media collaboration, much less pay for something.

While group members quickly explained circumstances to the blogger, it was already too late. In the Internet world, when you post something – even in a closed message group – that message can get out. A restaurant owner found out about the message, shared it with a group of 50 reputable restaurants in the blogger’s area, and the blogger was blacklisted.

So, What Should We Do Instead?

It’s absolutely understandable to want to be compensated for your work, especially when sponsorships are (part of) your livelihood. Here are some thoughts I have about reaching out to brands for partnerships right now:

  • Be willing to invest in the relationship at the beginning. Just like brands remember when someone bad-mouths them or is difficult to work with, they also remember when someone goes above and beyond, especially in a time of need. If you’re at the beginning of the relationship, throw in some extra promotion for free. There is no out-of-pocket cost for posting another photo on Instagram. While you should do it without expecting reciprocity, that extra effort could be the difference in the client choosing you over another influencer when business picks up or it might even mean larger projects in the future.
  • Shoutout brands that you already use and love! A quick way to get accepted into an ambassador or sponsorship position is to already be a loyal user of that company’s product. By showing them some authentic love, un-prompted, you up the chances of them discovering you and turning it into something more.
  • Be willing to take “No” for an answer. Another recent story involved an influencer arguing with a small business, demanding they send free product in exchange for posting. Not only is actively arguing disrespectful, it can also kill opportunities for collaboration later on, because you’ve shown that you don’t respect boundaries. Just like the restaurant example, this type of incident can also make the rounds and kill your prospects. Just do a quick web search of “influencer free wedding photos.” Showing respect and a little patience can go a long way. I’ve politely accepted a “no” on initial contact, only to have the brand reach out later, asking me to work with them because they were now ready to proceed. Don’t burn your bridges.

If You Must Take Paid Partnerships

If you cannot afford to do anything but paid partnerships for the time being, that’s okay, but you definitely need to be careful. Here are some ideas for what to do if you’re still looking for paid partnerships:

  • Check out influencer marketplaces. Brands pay good money to have their influencer campaigns featured on marketplaces, and the benefit of finding companies on influencer marketplaces is that you know they are actively searching for influencers! Some of my favorite influencer marketplaces to get collaborations from are:, Popular Pays, and Heartbeat.
  • If you must reach out to brands outside of marketplaces, do your research. Make sure that the brands you reach out to aren’t significantly hurting at this time. For example, mom and pop bakeries may not be the best idea right now, but a franchised fast food joint may be more likely to do an influencer partnership with you, simply because they have more earning power. Now is also a great time to look at what kinds of brands are doing well. Tech companies specializing in work-from-home, non-perishable goods, and delivery services are booming right now, meaning the likelihood of them having partnership availability is much higher.

If you’re a blogger or influencer, are you reaching out to brands for paid partnerships right now? Why or why not? I’d love to hear from you.

A photo of an influencer in the middle of a desert road

As a small business, influencer marketing can be a quick and easy way to get your product in front of audiences who may not have known about you before. However, when many companies begin their influencer marketing, they go into it without having a solid idea of what a good influencer for their campaign is, simply accepting everyone that asks them for a free product. In order to assess whether or not an influencer is good for your campaign, ask the following questions:

  1. Does that influencer represent my buyer niche?
  2. Is the influencer using “cheats” to inflate their following or engagement?
  3. Is their photo quality representative of something that I would want to post on my page?
  4. Can I afford the influencer if they ask to be paid?

1. Does that influencer represent my buyer niche?

An influencer is not going to convert if you do not have a good knowledge of your current customers. One mistake I made when I was initially recruiting influencers for a campaign was I was targeting the correct niche, but the wrong age of influencer who would be purchasing the product. Once I began pursuing older influencers with an older following, I went from having single posts with no conversions, to influencers who posted with double digit conversions – and no change in follower count or engagement rate.

2. Is the influencer using “cheats” to inflate their following or engagement?

It can be relatively easy to figure out which influencers have fake followings and engagement with a little bit of looking. Social Blade is a great place to figure out whether or not an instagram profile has a fake follower account, because you can see their daily follower/following stats. If there’s an uncharacteristically large surge in followers on one day, or you see consistent following and unfollow amounts in the hundreds, then you can hedge your bets on that account using bots to increase their following or paying for their following.

Another quick thing to notice is whether or not they have an uncharacteristically large amount of comments on their posts for their following (say 1k followers with 100 comments). That could indicate the use of engagement pods, which is another way that influencers artificially inflate engagement.

3. Is their photo quality representative of something that I would want to post on my page?

Definitely check out similar influencer content on their page to determine if their quality is worth recruiting them. If they’re simply taking selfies with the product, this may mean that they’re less skilled at photography shots or do not have good camera equipment. As an influencer myself, I had to learn this the hard way.

Make sure your influencers know how to take advantage of lighting, photo editing apps, and tripods so that the posts that they make are good enough for you to repurpose into your feed. I would go so far as to say that the photo quality of an influencer’s page is more important than follower count, because there are things that you can do (like whitelisting) to promote influencer posts that do not require a high follower count for conversions.

4. Can I afford the influencer if they ask to be paid?

This question is also highly based on the MSRP of what you are offering to influencers for collaboration. If your product retails for $500, then it’s more likely that people are going to be willing to do in-kind partnerships. Conversely, if you’re only going to send $20 worth of product, then you can prepare for influencers to ask to be paid. Especially for higher-quality photos and content, many influencers charge for posts.

That being said, most influencers are going to usually upsell themselves at their first quote. To figure out whether the price they’re offering is fair based on their following, search this Instagram money calculator. I regularly use this when I’m negotiating with influencers for payment.

What other questions should brands be asking to evaluate influencers? Let me know in the comments. If you are currently working on revamping your influencer marketing strategy, send me an email – I’d love to work with you!

All of us have lived through economic downturns before (unless you were born in 2010), but none of us have lived through a global pandemic. Some economists have said that not only were we overdue for an economic recession, but with COVID-19 being a “black swan” event, they have no idea exactly how the rest of the year – or the years to come – will unfold.

Studies have shown that brands (and thereby influencers) who continue advertising during tough times end up faring significantly better than companies who withdraw and cut their marketing budget. For example, during the Great Depression, there were two main cereal brands: Kellogg’s and Post. They each had very different strategies: Post cut their advertising budget significantly and Kellogg’s doubled their ad budget. By the late 30’s, Kellogg’s profits had grown 30% and they became the industry leader they are today.

This is why remaining relevant as a brand is more important than ever – and if you’re an influencer, consider yourself a brand as well. Many social media accounts, whether they are businesses or creators, are taking hiatuses from their Instagram accounts at this time. This can be for a lot of different reasons – lack of content, the need to detox from social media, needing to prioritize other things, or simply lacking the motivation to post at all. All of these reasons are valid, but they come at a cost – you potentially lose your social media market share.

I recently took a week-long break from Instagram to focus on myself and other professional pursuits, as well as to see if people would still follow me and engage if I wasn’t posting new content. I went from gaining an average of 40 followers a day to actually losing followers. And that was after just 48 hours of not posting and engaging with other accounts. After the week was up, I went back to engaging and posting as before, but my engagement took a significant hit – my impressions were significantly lower, mostly due to a decrease in hashtag views.

It all comes back to staying relevant in tough economic times. With more people on social media for longer periods of time, NOW is the time to amp up your digital advertising strategy! How can you provide value to your followers during this time? Can you keep them informed about what your brand is doing to help out during the crisis? Can you distract them with funny or entertaining content? Can you inspire them to try a new recipe or hobby? Consumers and businesses will remember how you responded during the COVID-19 crisis. What do you want them to think of when they hear or read your name?

Are you going to be a brand that brings your community together and engages, or are you going to stay silent, potentially facing the consequences of not posting during this hour of need?

If you’re interested in upping your Instagram game, feel free to shoot me an email and we can set up a time to chat!

Part of growing your Instagram, either as an influencer or as a brand, is developing a tight-knit network of blogs that you follow and with which you interact regularly. Even though Instagram’s “Suggested” tool has been around since 2016, few people realize how easy it is to find lookalike accounts with similar demographics, follower counts, and interests with just the click of a button. Not only can you use the feature for networking and following purposes, but if you’re a brand looking to scale your influencer campaigns organically, this is a quick way to do it.

Here are three easy steps to mastering the Suggested tool:

  1. Find a “baseline” blog. This blog is key to the “Suggested” tool working as well as it can. If you’re looking to increase your network of followers, start with accounts that already read your blog or with which you’ve engaged in the past. For example, I’m a food blogger, so I’d look for a blog that has a similar follower count to mine (10k-15k), that posts photos similar to mine, and with which I already engage often. If you are a brand doing this for an influencer campaign, then look for accounts that appeal to your target demographic or choose a the account of an influencer with whom you have already done a successful campaign.
  2. Click the “Following” number on their page and scroll to the “Suggested” tab. You will then get a “suggested” list of 30 accounts that the Instagram algorithm considers to be “lookalikes.” From there, you can check these accounts to make sure they’re the type of account you want to follow or recruit for an influencer campaign. Results aren’t always perfect and you may run into some accounts that aren’t quite what you were looking for, so make sure to double check the quality of each account before mass-following all 30 accounts. It also helps to like and constructively comment on a few of their posts to begin engagement, regardless of what you’re trying to do with the Suggested tool.
  3. Want to go even further? Go to the “Suggested” tabs of the “Suggested” accounts! This is a bit of a crapshoot because the more degrees of separation you get away from your baseline blog, the more quickly you will find yourself in different niches that may or may not be relevant to your brand or goals. That said, if you’re a brand looking to recruit a large number of people over a period of time, or if you are interested in branching out over multiple niches, it can be a super quick method to discover more types of accounts that might be interested in your content.

Have you used the suggested feature to grow your Instagram before? I want to hear your thoughts!

An image of a phone with the instagram app open over a notepad with a pen.

In the past 3.5 years that I’ve been on Instagram, and the 2.5 that I’ve spent aggressively growing it, Instagram has drastically changed. Many of the strategies used in the past, like follow/unfollow, have become increasingly difficult to do, with the platform cracking down on bots, as well as the number of actions you can do every hour. Nobody has completely cracked the Instagram algorithm, and it seems to be changing all the time.

So how do people grow their account and get more likes and follows right now? It seems pretty elusive, but here are some quick and easy tricks to get your account seen by more people!

  1. Want more people to engage on your post? Engage on theirs! This seems like a really simple idea in theory, but many people look at Instagram as something that you can just set and forget. Accounts, especially larger ones, remember people who consistently like and comment on their posts, especially when it’s more than just a “Nice pic!” I’ve noticed that when I write 4+ words on their post, especially a question, people are more likely to check out my recent posts as well.
  2. In that same vein, don’t forget to reply to comments on your posts! An easy way to double your comment count? Respond to every single comment that you have on your posts. Even better? Respond to all the comments after you have a new post up. The people who commented will then see that you have a new post up, and they’ll be more likely to engage!
  3. Check out relevant hashtags to your blog and click “recent.” Then, from the recents page, give a like and a thoughtful comment to the most recent photos. This is the most effective with hashtags that have at least 1 million hits (which means you have a large variety of accounts to choose from). For example, my go-to hashtag for this is #foodblogger.
  4. Check out blogs with similar follower counts to you, and see who follows them. Easiest way to figure out the types of people who would be interested in following you? Find lookalike blogs (hint: check out blogs that are famous in the hashtags you use) and then click their “followers” list. From there, engage on those accounts – a like, a comment, or a follow could result in the same (or even more) for you. A trick for this also is to go to repost pages like @bestfoodfeed and find followers with similar locations to you and engage on those pages.

And one thing to NOT to do: Don’t make following and engaging feel like a transaction. I cannot tell you the amount of times I get messages in my inbox saying “follow for follow?” or comments that say “You should check out my account!” Writing these types of things automatically sends the message of “I am desperate and I am only in this to build my following.” The only way to really build an authentic following is to engage authentically. That means no caveats, no favor asking (unless you know the account well), and no shameless self-promotion on other people’s accounts.