Influencer marketing provides the opportunity for small businesses to reach a new, highly-engaged audiences. On this episode, Rachel Antony, local Calgary influencer and marketer, explains what types of businesses may benefit from influencer marketing, how to find local influencers, how to properly reach out to an influencer to collaborate, how to set budgets and expectations, and how creative direction is determined. If you’ve never tried influencer marketing, or you’d like to learn more about it, this is the episode for you.
The start of a new year is the perfect time to check-in on your financial status and goals. On this episode, we sit down with Chartered Professional Accountants, Matthew Peterson and Curtis Gabinet, to discuss what small business owners need to know. From dividends and wages, to minimizing taxes, this episode is packed with their top advice.
Rachel Antony is the owner of Poolside Digital, a digital marketing agency helping brands connect with their audience through social media. She is also a blogger and influencer with a passion for writing, photography and supporting local businesses. Rachel is also the host of Poolside Podcast which shares the stories and advice of business owners and entrepreneurs. When she’s not working, you’ll find Rachel working out, spending time with her dog and fiancé and hiking in the Rockies.
Marketing Agency: poolsidedigital.ca
Morgan Berna is the host of Olympia Benefits’ podcast, The Small Business Mastermind. Her background is in marketing, journalism, and broadcasting. Passionate about small business, she aims to create content that inspires and educates listeners.
Rachel Antony: Any business or service or product can benefit from influencer marketing. The only thing you need to make sure of is that the influencer aligns with what you’re doing and it doesn’t just seem random.
Morgan Berna: You’re listening to The Small Business Mastermind, a podcast created help small businesses juggle business, finance, health, and wellness. I’m your host, Morgan Berna.
The Small Business Mastermind is brought to you by Olympia Benefits. If you’re looking to reduce your healthcare costs visit olympiabenefits.com.
Thank you for tuning in to this episode of The Small Business Mastermind. This time, we’re talking to Rachel Antony, a social media influencer and marketer, about how small businesses can leverage influencer marketing. We talk about the benefits of this type of marketing, how it can help you reach a highly-engaged audience in your region, how to properly reach out to influencers, negotiating timelines and budgets, and more. If you’ve never looked into influencer marketing, or want to learn more about it, this is the episode for you. I hope you enjoy it.
Morgan: Hi, Rachel. Thank you so much for joining us today on The Small Business Mastermind.
Rachel: Thanks for having me. I am super excited.
Morgan: Rachel Antony is the owner of Poolside Digital, a digital marketing agency helping brands connect with their audience through social media. She is also a blogger and influencer with a passion for writing, photography and supporting local businesses. Rachel is also the host of Poolside Podcast which shares the stories and advice of business owners and entrepreneurs. When she’s not working, you’ll find Rachel working out, spending time with her dog and fiancé and hiking in the Rockies.
So, I wanted to start off this episode just giving a little bit of context for our audience that maybe does not know — could you explain what an influencer is or maybe just what the term "influencer marketing" means?
Rachel: Yeah. "Influencer" is such a funny word, and it is so funny how integrated it is now, but I remember when it was not a word, and I never used it to describe what I was doing — but an influencer can, in my opinion, be anybody that is sharing information to other people. But, in a more relevant term to what we are talking about, influencer marketing is using people as individuals to share products or services — really like an advertisement — but because it is more personal, it has been shown to be more beneficial to marketing tactics, but that is really what influencer marketing is.
Morgan: Mm-hmm. So, I had seen online in articles saying just not to confuse it with necessarily word of mouth marketing or getting people to just advertise your products organically. It is finding a person who has a specific audience you want to go after essentially, correct?
Rachel: Yes, and having a conversation about the type of content that is being created. It is more, if you are going to compare word of mouth to advertising, it falls in the middle of that, is what I would say. So, it is not as organic as word of mouth, but it is not as set-up and planned as an ad would be.
Morgan: Yeah, awesome. So, you do a little bit of influencer marketing yourself, and you also work with brands on their marketing. Could you tell us a little bit about how you got started in both just the marketing and the influencer side of it, and maybe if you have any specific collaborations that come to mind you want to talk about, too? Again, just help give some context on what you have done.
Rachel: Yeah, totally. So, I started a blog five years ago this summer — and I only started it because I did Communications as my degree, and I was in a Comms class, and the professor asked everybody who had a blog, and literally the whole class put up their hands, and I was like, "Well, I guess I need to go home and start a blog."
Morgan: Yep. I was in Communications, too. Same story.
Rachel: Yeah, it was bizarre. I was like, "How did all you people know that you are supposed to have a blog?" So, that was probably — oh, I do not even know — eight years ago? Eight or nine years ago? So, I had different iterations of the blog. I really liked writing, so I realized that that was a good outlet to get away from papers and university and really just be able to write freely and learn how to write like a normal person since I was not in journalism. I was just used to writing research papers.
So, there is a couple different types of blogs, but five years ago, I was like, "Hey, like, let us do this for real. Let us get a website; we will do a real blog." I do not exactly remember why I thought that that was what I wanted to do or what the influence was for me to start a blog, but either way, I sat down, I came up with the name in five seconds, and then made the URL, did the whole thing. I had started with, like, I was just going to be Martha Stewart and do literally every category I could think of, and then as its evolved, it did not work out to do every category — turns out, you cannot do everything. As I was writing these blogs, I was like, "I have nothing really to say that is important to people," and like I said, this is before the term "influencer" even existed. I was just becoming a blogger. Instagram was not even what it is today. It was not being used in the same way. And so, I wanted to tell other people's stories, and I think it was a little bit that I regretted not going to journalism school that I was like, "Oh, maybe I will pretend I am a journalist and get to know other people."
So, I reached out to a few small businesses in Calgary — a couple of them. The one people know is Local Laundry. So, they had started shortly before I had started this. So, I reached out to them and other businesses to ask if I could just interview them and take a couple photos with their products and share them on the blog. So, that is really how my blog got going, and that was how I decided to focus on local businesses because it was just easy access to them, and Instagram became the traffic driver to the blog. Then, as Instagram evolved into what it is today and more with the influencer marketing, what I was doing and what other people in the space we are doing, we were termed "influencers" not necessarily by choice. I spent a good year trying not to use the term to describe what I was doing, but at the end of the day, it is the perfect word obviously to what I was doing. So, that was really how I got into being an influencer — no, I did not wake up to start the blog to be an influencer. It was just the path that happened based on what I chose to create my blog about. It made it really easy to integrate what I was already doing in promoting businesses in Calgary to turn it into more of an influencer marketing perspective.
Then, on the other side, I also own a digital marketing company, and so, around the same time, I started doing Instagram for other businesses. So, I had friends that owned, like, a t-shirt company or the place I was getting my nails done, and I had featured the salon on my blog as a business, and then we had started chatting, and I was like, "Oh, I can do your social media. Like, I will post for you." This is fun, and same with my friends that had a t-shirt company, I was like, "I can do it. This is what I like to do. You do not have to pay me. It is all good."
So, about the same time, probably about five years ago where I really started getting into that, and it was easy to do my own Instagram, but then also do other people's Instagrams and social media. So, I spent a lot of time learning about it, learning the trends, and figure out how to run it as a business but also to run it as a person and now as an influencer and personal branding — but again, those terms were not something that we were talking about at the time, and it went hand-in-hand, and so that is how I have grown into this pathway. Then, two years ago — almost two and a half years ago — I quit my full-time job to be the owner of my business, and so I have been doing that ever since, and the influencer marketing has been something that I offer clients if they are interested or have been brought on as contracts to different events or clients that just need the influencer marketing because I have the experience of being the influencer, that it helps with putting together programs from the other side because then you get both sides of the business.
People are learning, and there is much more understanding about what is happening, but sometimes, it is a struggle between influencers and businesses because you cannot see from the other side, and so it is hard to understand where each person is coming from. So, that was the long-winded version of how I got here today, but some of the companies that I work with as an influencer — the biggest one, the longest one — is Under Armour. So, I am an ambassador for Under Armour. That happened three years ago. They reached out to me, and that was from just posting about fitness and lifestyle, and I think they were looking for cross-Canada ambassadors. So, I was lucky enough to get in contact with them, and so that has been great. I know what we are going to talk about later down the road, but that one is not paid. I just get, like, a box of stuff every few months with all of their new, like, shoes or collections or whatever they are coming out. The other one that is not paid that is also fairly big is NFL Canada. So, I am an ambassador for them, too, which--
Morgan: Yes, I saw you on the homepage of my TikTok.
Rachel: Yeah, that was really embarrassing, but--
Morgan: That was cool.
Rachel: But yeah, super cool. So, that has been a really fun partnership to not only involve my fiancé in what I do but also just give me something else to post about. So, those are the ones that are just ongoing ambassadorships, which is a type of influencer marketing that you can set up. Then, other companies that I have worked with that people would know are Tim Hortons, ATB Financial, Southcentre Mall, Staples, Strongbow, lots of wine companies. In four years — or three or four years that I have been doing this — seriously, you can hit a lot of companies, but those are ones that I have worked with multiple times and with longer partnerships, so they are worth noting.
Morgan: Absolutely. That gave me a couple thoughts. So, first, when you are talking about when the term "influencer" came about, I remember when that was all happening — and now, these days, you hear that kids are growing up saying, "I want to grow up to be an influencer," and I think it is so funny how quickly that shifted.
Rachel: Yeah, it is wild. I had a girl reach out to me in university. This is a couple of years ago, and she was like, "Well, I want to be a blogger. Like, what do you think I should do?" I was like, "I think you should get a real job." I am like, "I do not know." Like, I did not know that that was like a career path you could choose — but yeah, now, it is a thing because you can make money off of it, so yeah, what a weird thing to aspire to.
Morgan: Then, I was thinking, just for clarification for everyone — so, you are talking about your blog but then also social media. So, when you are talking about your blog, you are talking about, like, a physical website that you have, and then, on the social media side, you are talking about Instagram, Facebook, Twitter — that sort of thing?
Morgan: Is that not how you are using it?
Morgan: Just in case, I know some people sometimes, the term blog gets thrown around these days for all kinds of different platforms. Just clarifying that.
Rachel: Yeah. It is a real website, with a real URL. So, companies thinking about influencer marketing — there are different channels that this can be done on.
Morgan: Yes. What are some types of collaborations a small business could do with a local influencer? Would this only be on the social media side? Would it also be on blogs or even, like, an in-person event?
Rachel: Yeah. Yeah, those are all of them. There are definitely different types of collaborations, and I think part of deciding which one works is obviously what you are trying to promote — and if it is an event, being in-person is obviously the way to go. But, yes, I think you just want to think about what the outcome is and what your business is would make a difference. But, some of the different types, like you said, you can go to events. I have been invited where you have to stay for a certain amount of time, and you have to post about it that you are there to get the hype up for whatever it is — whether it is a restaurant opening, or I went to a Porsche car reveal or something like that, or Market Mall had like a Christmas thing that I say went to that. So, they have different types of events that usually that people can go to later. They are usually a launch or something. That is the best way to do it. But then, also, you are just creating. It looks cool. I really hate events like that — that they want influences there to just post about because you want other people to get FOMO. I am not really into that, but it is a type of how you can bring influencers to your events. If you need more people to show up, then you can invite influencers to come.
Morgan: The timeline is interesting — like, the required time to be there.
Rachel: Yeah. Yeah. So, again, we can get into the budget and stuff because I know this all kind of ties in, but the expectations and the outlines of what is expected can depend on whether or not there is a budget. Usually, businesses, especially now, like I said, people are learning, so they protect themselves by not being like, "Hey, come to this event," and then someone shows up for one second, and then leaves, because that is not really the point. So, that is kind of, I think, where the timeline came around just so that they actually get people there in real life, and it is not just a one-shot thing. Then, the other ones can be showcasing whatever your services. It is hard now with COVID, but going into person, to get your hair done, or to try on clothes or whatever that is, or at a restaurant. The other one is just product placement in photos. If you have, like I said, clothes or whatever it is that you are trying to promote, you can have people just post on their social media.
Then, blogging is really good as well — and I know there is not a lot. There is less bloggers now than there were before because lots of people think that blogs are slowly dying because people are not reading them, but there is a benefit to brands and businesses not only because — not to age some of the people that own businesses — but lots of that generation still read things, and so they appreciate a longer article. I also find that blog posts are more evergreen, and so you can link to them, people can search them — like, SEO lives on forever. They are a little bit longer. You can add more photos; it is much more in-depth. So, obviously, as a blogger, I value blogs — but that is one of the ways it works out for both parties.
Morgan: So you were just mentioning there, going in for, like, a haircut, also going to events. So, influencer marketing really expands to not only products but services as well?
Rachel: Yes. Yeah, any business or service or product can benefit from influencer marketing. The only thing is you need to make sure the influencers align with what you are doing and that it does not just seem random on their feed because the way all marketing works is if people have to see things like seven times or hear things or whatever — and not saying you have to provide an influencer with seven experiences — but if they are talking about, like, hair styling over and over again, and then they show up at a salon, it makes sense — but if you are only talking about fitness, fitness, fitness, and then show up at a hair salon, then the connection is not really there. I think it makes it look less authentic and more like an ad if we are using that scale, as opposed to someone who already talks about the types of things that you are promoting.
There are ways to tie them in, and that is part of the collaboration between a brand and a person, and so that is something you can do — but any business can use influencer marketing because you are just showcasing what you are offering, and the way to look at it is that you want to provide the influencer with the best experience, whether that is a product experience or service experience or event experience that you can offer because people are going to decide whether or not to buy your product or service based on what they are seeing, so you want the influencer to be able to talk about it in the most positive light so that that trickles down to their audience, if that makes sense.
Morgan: Absolutely, yeah. It is pretty obvious these days when the match is an organic or it is not a product the influence or whatever use, and I see more and more people calling people out in the comments saying, "Hey, you mentioned this product. How come you have never shown it again? How come you have never used it again on your stories or on your post?" So, on that note, how can a business find not only an influencer that lines up with their business, but maybe, if they are a local smaller business, how would they find someone that lines up and someone that is in their region?
Rachel: So, it is especially important for brick-and-mortar businesses or ones that need — like Calgary, for example. In Calgary, you would want Calgary influencers with a Calgary audience. The easiest one is if people are influencers — I guess not just all people — but if influencers have tagged you in things, just keep track of that. Keep track of the influencers that are actually using your product or showing up at your restaurant or just tagging you in things. I find that is obviously the most authentic collaboration because they are already using your product, and most influencers — because that is what we do — we understand that we are sharing a product. Whether or not I have bought it or not, I am still going to share it for other people to see if I like it. So, I have gained a lot of collaborations based on that, just like, "Oh, hey. We see you are using this product. Like, do you want to try our next new product that is coming out?" and so it aligns really well.
So, keeping track of who is using your products, I would also look at your competitors or someone in your same space and see if they have used influencers before, and you can, not copy those people, but kind of just see who they are using and check those people out. People do use hashtags, like YYC influencer or Calgary influencer and that type of stuff. It can get a little lost in it, but I always just recommend vetting influencers. There are a couple of ways to determine how authentic people are being, and that would be the comments that you are seeing or the number of likes. Follower count is not very important anymore, but it is important to look at the engagement. You can see the comments that are genuine from normal people, looking to buy the product or service, as opposed to other influencers that are just filling up each other's comments — and I know that is a little bit too detailed, I am sure, for lots of people listening — but just as a note when you are looking at influencers' accounts, just to make sure that they have the type of audience that you were looking for as well.
Also, if you find an influencer that you like or you have worked with before asking them for recommendations of other influencers is a great way to spread your network with people that you do not know, and then they have hopefully already kind of vetted those people, and so they will recommend either their friends or people they know that would be good for your business, so that is a way to do it as well. If you are not necessarily a local company, there are platforms online that have collections of influencers and information. I would start with finding, trying to vet out your own, especially if you are doing a small campaign, that is the easiest way to do it. I would also like if you find an influencer that you like again from either the geotag, like in Calgary or whatever city you are in, or the hashtags, or just other small businesses that have used them, then you can see who they are following, who they are interacting with, and they most likely are following all the other influencers in the city. So, just going through their follower list or seeing who is interacting with their posts so you can kind of find a couple more that way as well.
Morgan: Yeah, I know the note you made about follower counts. I moved to Calgary about two years ago, and I was looking for some local influencers to not only see just like what people were up to in this city, but I wanted to find what is the network, what are the products people engage with here, what are the cool local businesses I should be checking out and all that — and I found when I Googled online and was looking up just Calgary influencers, it was doing it by follower counts, and a lot of those people, you could tell they had either purchased the followers or their audience was not local, so it was a lot of just sort of random, maybe like meme content and stuff. Then, once I actually found your account and then I looked sort of through your list of followers and who you are following to find some of, I think, your friends and just other people, and then it started to open up and make a little more sense, but the follower count can be tricky, so just keep an eye out for that.
Rachel: Yeah, exactly. And then, to just talk about the type of influencers. So, once you found, there are lots, it is easy to find them all, but then deciding who really works for your business or brand, the easy way is to look at their account because you can tell pretty quickly if you align with what they are posting about, or let us say, like, if they are a mom or not a mom, you can kind of figure that out, maybe have a more family-friendly thing you are trying to promote — well, you obviously need someone with kids to promote that — just keeping that in mind, which is common sense, but I feel like a lot of people just reach out without even looking at your account. So, it is important it also makes you look more legit and actually interested if you have spent at least five minutes looking at the account instead of just copying, pasting a message to every influencer that you found. So, I always recommend people just to — if you have the time, if you have, like, a week — keep track of what these people are posting. Like, what are they posting on stories, where they going, what do they do during the day — you can kind of just get to know people in kind of a creepy way, which is obviously what social media is for, but when you are so focused on people, it can feel like you are stalking them, but you get to know the type of people that they are.
Morgan: Yeah. Yeah. So, on that note, then, say, we have now found someone we want to reach out to, they are aligning with us, what is the best way for a brand to reach out so that not only it sounds like a real opportunity for the influencer because I imagine it can sound kind of spammy sometimes and maybe just to make sure that it is going to be a great fit?
Rachel: I think it is probably subjective to an influencer, but personally, I do not need it to be super formal. I do not need an email that is like, "To whom it may concern, we have this great opportunity." That sounds like spam to me. I would much rather a more personable message, but DMs — I think a lot of brands do not feel comfortable DM-ing influencers because that seems really unprofessional — but that is where we live. Like, I will check my DMs way more often than I check my emails. So, if you want to connect with somebody that has also shown you have looked at their account and you found their account, DM-ing them is totally fine.
Usually, brands, or if I reach out to influencers through my client accounts, I will ask for an email to then move it off Instagram into a more professional space — "So, hey, we have this new product," or "We want you to come to our restaurant opening or whatever it is that you are offering. We would love to have you. Do have an email to send you more details if you are interested?" kind of thing — and so then, the influencer has the opportunity to look at your Instagram account because every influencer, before you even work with anybody, you are looking at there in their Instagram account. So, it is easier if it is coming through a DM because then you have a direct access to whatever account or brand that it is. Then, if you are interested, then you can make that decision. Like, "Hey, like, no, I am not interested," and then there is no email or even like, "Yeah, here is my email," and then it moves to the email, so it is kind of filtering out your email before your inbox gets bombarded with all of these collaboration request. So, that is how I recommend doing it.
I think, if you want to just reach out straight through email — all influencers have their emails in their bio as well — if you find that that is more aligned with your business and your brand or your Instagram account, maybe it looks spammy, which you should fix. But if it just does not look the way you want it to look, using an email will also work if maybe your product is not necessarily an Instagram-worthy thing, but it is still a big service or business or whatever, then the email does work. But I think just coming off as personable, you do not have to say, like, "Oh, hey, like, how was your vacation?" Well, we do not go on vacation right now, but, "how is your vacation like a Christmas?" It does not need to be some like a cheesy line, but you can mean like, "Oh, hey, like, I saw you were enjoying the patio on the weekend," or just something to show that you looked at it or like I get because I do a lot of donut things. I get a lot of people that say something about donuts or like, "Oh, hey, like, did you try, like, this brand?" like, it is just like a thing, which, for me, means they actually looked a little bit closer to know what I post about, and so I think having something like that and then explaining what you want — again, this could be subjective — but I like people to get to the point. I do not want to have to have five emails for you to tell me what you want because at the end of the day, you want something because this is a business interaction. So, be friendly about it, but I do like when people get to the point, like, "Hey, we have a new one coming out. We would love for you to experience it. Can we send you some?" If that is what the pitch is, then great. Like, "Can we have your address?" and then it is less emails because nobody needs to spend that much time in their inbox. And so, just getting to the point with what you are trying to get from the influencer without making it sound that abrasive, but that is the best way to do it, in my opinion.
Morgan: Good point about it being a business interaction. I feel like there has been — especially as the term "influencer" was coming up — a lot of sort of language around trying to avoid calling it a business almost, but that is what it is at the end of the day. It is just a business interaction. It does not need to be so complicated. So, once a business has reached out, how do your expectations for a collaboration get set? So, they are reaching out. Maybe they do not know exactly what they want to do with the influencer, but they know they want to work together, who, at that point, starts to set expectations — I guess, what are the next steps?
Rachel: So, I think this can go lots of different ways, and again, it depends on what your end result is with the influence of marketing — which, just as a side note, I think people need to establish that before they reach out to influencers that you are trying to get before — because yes, you can collaborate with an influencer for the creative part of how to do it, but you should not be collaborating with the influencer about what you even want to achieve because that is not the influencer's job, and it makes it all just really confusing if you are not set in what you are trying to achieve with it.
So, again, it depends. So if you are small business — we will go with the example of a small business — again, kind of just explain what it is that you are looking for, and then it is best for you to set what you are looking for as an expectation and then go from there because the influencer can then determine how that falls in with what they think it is worth instead of the brand asking to influence or what they think it is best just to be like, "This is what we were thinking. How do you feel about it?" Then, depending on what the influencer thinks, then you can negotiate from there. So, if you are a small business, you are like, "Hey, we have a new t-shirt coming out. We would love to send you one. Would you be interested in posting a post and a couple stories to shout us out?" So, that is the email, and then the influencer can decide, "Is it worth just the t-shirt? Do I want to do a post in my feed? Is this going to go with my feed? How many stories is too many stories? Do I need to charge?" So, both sides can have their expectations, but I think it is best for the brand to just start it off because it just, like I said, speeds up the process, less emails, this-is-what-you are-looking-for. Then again, before you send that, decide what you are willing to negotiate. So, if you need someone to post on their feed, then you have to be willing to negotiate that because sometimes, like, I have a lot of ones especially if it is a small business or there is no budget, where sometimes, I am like, "That is not going to work on my feed. Sorry." And so then, it is a negotiation for whether you are willing to let that go and just do stories or if that is something really important to you, and then you have to find a different influencer or offer a budget.
Morgan: Yeah, and on the topic of budgeting, how can that be set? Would you again suggest a company comes with something in mind? Is there a way for companies to see what an influencer might be charging, as I do not know if there is often a ton of visibility there?
Rachel: Yeah. So, again, it can all be done very many different ways, but either you can say what your budget is and be like, "Hey, I have two hundred dollars for this. What can you do for me?" kind of thing, or "I have two hundred dollars. Can I get a post in some stories?" That is where you are, and then if the influencer can come back and tell you if that works for their rate or not, since you do not know where you are hitting in their rate. You can also ask for a media kit. So, influencers have media kits just like any press kit with businesses that show their followers and their engagement, past collaborations they have had usually, and then rates. So, some of them include rates, while some of them do not, but you can ask for that, and some of them will have their rates on their media kits so then you can know how much they are going to charge. That can also be a question just to go back for the initial email if you are like, "Here, this is what I was thinking. Do you mind sending your media kit over so I can just look at it?" or whatever.
Most influencers will send a media kit because there is no obligation. It is just like, "Yeah, here is my information. Let me know if you want to work together," or you can align what you are looking for. This is a little tricky with small businesses because you probably do not have an unlimited budget. However, you can be like, "This is what I am looking for. Can you let me know what your rate would be for this, outlined below?" So, then, that gives the influencer the chance to let you know what they would normally charge for that, and then if it comes in with whatever you are expecting, then grade, and if not, you can be like, "Oh, hey, our budget is not that big. Would you mind either reducing posts or changing things up or working with the budget that we have, which is two hundred dollars".
So, I think there are definitely different ways to come at it. The other thing is — which, I think, is obvious, but just to say it — the more that you are expecting from an influencer, the higher the budget is going to be mostly because it is more work. Also, if you are looking for specific creativity, or you are looking for exclusivity, you are limiting them from either their creative freedom, or your limiting them from working with other brands and making business or making money with other businesses, and so, that is just something to keep in mind. As a business owner, everyone thinks that their business is the best business, and why would anyone else want to use something else — but for every email that you have sent, an influencer has got twenty-five other ones that are probably the same business. So, I think just keeping an open mind and being flexible with the influencer and in hopes that the influencer is doing the same for you. So, it is a two-way street. I am sure there are lots of influencers that are great to work with — and I have worked with lots of brands that have not been ideal — but, I think, if everyone comes out and is transparent and has open communication about what everyone is looking for, then I think the relationship and the collaboration would work out.
Morgan: Mm-hmm, and would expectations around results typically be in a media kit as well — like, how many likes you typically get or that sort of thing?
Rachel: Yes. So, I do not know if likes, specifically, but your followers and your engagement rate, which engagement rate is the number of likes and comments and shares compared to how many followers you have, so that is an important metric to look at. You can also ask — so I have had brands and PR companies ask for screenshots of my last post that is usually related to their business, so it is, like, a restaurant post, like, "Hey, can you send me the screenshot of your analytics from your last restaurant post or of demographic?" So, if you want to make sure that they are in Calgary or in Canada, you can ask them for screenshots of their analytics, and obviously, nobody can see them except for the influencer, so that is something that you do not have to feel weird about asking — it is a normal thing.
Rachel: And usually, that would be on a media kit — but, say, they do not have that information or they do not have a media kit, then asking for screenshots is also acceptable.
Morgan: Okay, great. I was going to ask you how far in advance of a promotion a company should reach out, but I imagine this is something, again, that depends — but maybe adding into that, how long would it typically take you to create a post on your Instagram feed for a business?
Rachel: So, I think, on average, people — especially if something is being mailed to you — usually, you have two weeks after receiving the product to create your post. I think that is a reasonable amount of time. I work from home, so I have the luxury of being able to take photos during the day or have access to my photographers during the day, but a lot of people if you had — I mean, again, not now during COVID — but in normal life, you would have to work on the weekends, and so having two weeks at least it gives people two weekends to create the content, especially if you wanted it in the mountains, or you want a video, or something that takes up more time that is not just a shot in someone's living room, then giving them the time to be able to create that is beneficial for both parties. It also depends on if you want to see the photo before they post it or if you want to see the content, so this is something, again, that is subjective.
If you have a budget and you are paying for this post, I highly recommend people have an approval timeline so that you can make sure that what they are posting lines up with what you were thinking and also that the caption says the property messages or whatever it is you are trying to promote, just so that you are not surprised when they post and you are like, "Oh, that is not what I was thinking," and it is your responsibility to take that and make sure that they are capturing what you wanted to, even if you have talked about it and they are like, "Yeah, this is the idea that I am going to do. I think just having that expectation that there is going to be approval at least so you know what is going to be posted, but that should tie into the timeline. So, if you want to have approval, then you should tie that into the two weeks — and so, for example, you could say, "I would like to see your post and caption in two weeks and then you can post in three days, or like a week later," and I prefer when there are actual dates, like, "You need to send me this by June 7th. Can you please post on June 12?" or whatever, just so everyone know what is supposed to happen. I think it can be shorter. I have definitely had campaigns that are shorter, depending on what it is, but giving people a heads-up is just a respectful thing to do, I think, with timeline, and then you do not have to worry about last-minute content being sent to you.
Morgan: Mm-hmm. You had mentioned a little bit ago that you will get some things that you just say are not a good fit for your brand and your feed. What is the typical process like here for creative direction? So, does a company typically reach out and say, "This is the caption we want. This is the photo we want," or is the ball a little more in your court and you say, "This is how I would use the product, so I am going to post that."
Rachel: Yeah. As an influencer, I obviously prefer more creative direction and so I can choose what I want to do with it without somebody telling me since I know the type of photos that I would pick and how I would use this product. That goes back to the brand actually looking at your feed because I have worked with lots of brands where this was not communicated, and I have had some issues with having to reshoot some stuff, more on what they were looking for — but if you are hiring an influencer, specifically them, then you must like the type of content that they are creating, and so you should allow them to create the content how they would do. It is my personal opinion.
However, I do understand that brands also have a brand that you have to follow, and so, lots of times — again, with budget, this is a lot easier because you can ask for more if you are paying them — but, either way, whether it is paid or not, if you send with your proposal or contract or whatever, if you send a creative brief, it helps a lot. So, at least, an influencer can understand where you are coming from. This can include the key messages you want included. I have never had a brand give me a caption to post. I have had a couple friends. I have had that happen to them, and it never goes over well. I think, especially if you are giving some sort of creative direction on the photo or video, then allowing someone to say the caption in their own words is really important, as long as they are hitting key messages — it obviously needs to share what the business is trying to get across, but I think just providing key messages will work.
In a creative brief, you can also include examples of photos that you like. So, if you have a beer and you want it to be on a patio, assuming the influencer has access to some sort of situation like that, then including photos that showcase how a product is being put into a photo, it is really helpful just so the influencer knows where the brand is coming from. I also appreciate if a brand just asks what I was thinking, if I have any ideas and I can also send inspiration to them — and that makes it much more collaborative because, sometimes, I might use a product different than the business ever even thought about or, just as an example, I worked with an alcohol company last year, and what they were expecting was not a rooftop patio but a patio overlooking a view and sitting with my fiancé on this romantic sunset, Italian dinner that I made, which seems outrageous just to tell somebody that that is what you want because that would be an ad. You should hire somebody to just create that look, and I tried to tell her so many times that I live in a house in a construction zone. So, I do not have a backyard. I have a deck that looks onto houses being built like that. I literally cannot create that photo that she wants, so it is not doable. And so, it was a struggle between what they were looking for very specifically and what I could provide with what I have.
Not all collaborations are like that. It is a pain point from my last summer, so it is in my mind still, but it is just something to keep in mind that even if you have this really great image in mind that an influencer might not be able to deliver exactly what you are looking for because that is not how they would deliver it, and that is just something you have to keep in mind because, like I said, then if you really want a specific photo, then you should just hire models and set up the set for it because you really want the influencer to showcase how they would use it because that is what their followers are looking for: real-life examples. Sorry, that was really drawn out from your question, but--
Morgan: No, that gave me some good ideas, for sure.
Rachel: Yeah, and so, influencers, if you just ask for ideas, then they will happily send what they were thinking — but it does help if you have some sort of idea in mind and just so that is communicated so that the influencer does not go to take the photo and they are like, "Wait. What am I supposed to do? Like, what kind of photo is this?" because you want both parties to be happy, and so just having a little idea from both sides keeps everybody on the same page.
Morgan: A key point, I think, I just got out of what you were saying there was remember that you are advertising now to the influencer's audience. It is a new audience. So, if you were looking to just do like a tailored ad and the normal caption logo to your audience, you should just post that on your own channel — but give the influencer credit that they know their audience. They know the kind of content that they will engage with. I guess this is kind of what I was getting from you.
Rachel: Yeah, exactly, and that is included in the caption with their own voice because you can tell when someone has written their caption themselves, and then it becomes irrelevant because nobody is interested in even looking at what the influencer is promoting because it already is too much like an ad.
Morgan: Mm-hmm. Yeah, and it can be very obvious because those people are following that influencer usually with quite a bit of dedication, and they know their voice, and if suddenly they are typing in this complete other way, it is pretty obvious.
Morgan: Awesome. So, if a company sends an influencer free items, is it expected that they will review or post about these items, or is that more of just, there is an understanding there that it is, "Here is something; if you would like, you can post about it?"
Rachel: Again from the influencer side, just being sent something and if you want to post about it is the way that I like to receive those things because then there is no pressure, but from a business side, obviously, you would prefer if they posted about it. I think, the best free things that I have received are the ones that stand out when you get them and that you want to share. So, for example, I shared this on my story — I think it was, like, six months ago. I had some sort of healthy version of a chip company from Montreal reach out, and they were like, "Hey, we have these new flavors coming out. Can we send them to you? We just want to know what you think. So, we just want you to try these flavors. Just let us know. No obligation; nothing. We just want to send them to you," and I was like, "Okay, cool. Sure. Here is my address."
So, they send them, and it comes in this box that has three bags of all of their new flavors, but it also was like a self-care kit. So, there was like a to-go tumbler and a candle and this notebook and pen, and this whole experience of their product, as opposed to just sending — and they do not have to do it. I understand that that takes budget and money to send that. However, it stood out amongst the other free things that I received within that week, and then I posted about it because, like, "Cool, thanks. Look how thoughtful this company is," and then I try the chips and send them whatever I thought, but it was not really about the product — it is more about the experience of the product — and that is what makes it stand out, even though there was no budget, there was no obligation, and there was no anything about it. They were just creating an experience for me so that I would think of their brand in a positive light, and obviously, as a business, in hopes that I would share that experience with other people, which I did — I shared on my stories because I thought it was just something different that brands are not really doing.
I do understand that businesses, like I said, want to have their products posted about, so if that is not something that you can afford or you want to put together because it is labor-intensive to get all that stuff together, I think you can reach out to influencers and send them a product. I think, again, it just goes back to expectations, but you can ask for them to post, like, "Sorry, we do not have a budget, but we would love if you shared this on your social media," and I think then that just comes down to the influencer and how they feel about the product, how they feel it would fit on their feed, because I have got lots of free things that I have posted about because it fits with either its local. As a local influencer and a local blogger, I, most of the time, will post local products for free as long as it fits in with my brand because I do not expect payment from the people in my city because that is the whole point of my blog — it was to support small businesses in Calgary. However, I just think the expectation cannot be there because, like we said at the beginning, this is a business transaction.
So, if I was to just post everything for free, then I am not making any money — and as much as I love free food or free shirts or free skincare, they do not pay the bills. So, I think it is just an understanding and transparency between the brand and the influencer, and you cannot expect someone to post something for free on the platform that they have built in the audience that they have worked hard to build that loyalty without a budget because they are a business —but it does not hurt asking, especially if you just do it over DM's, or just be nice about it. Like, you just want to share this with them — "if they like it, they can post about it" kind of thing. I think that is the best way to go about it because you do not want to create tension or come off as pushy, especially if its free because the whole point of the influence our platform is that they are sharing their thoughts — and if you come off as selfish like that, then what is stopping them from sharing their bad experiences? Well.
Morgan: Yeah, exactly. Not to put you on the spot, but I wanted to see if you had any example of a favorite collab either you have gotten to do or maybe one of your friends with a local brand?
Rachel: So, my favorite collaborations, especially within the last couple years have been ones that are experiences — and again, I understand that this is hard sometimes for brands to pull off — but I would much rather have a cool experience than post a photo and be paid for it, which I know kind of contradicts what I just said. But just from a collaboration perspective, experiences are way more fun, and they allow for more experience of the brand. So, one of my favorite ones was — and they are not in Calgary — but this guy in Nova Scotia owns an outdoor apparel company, and he wanted to spread into Western Canada. And so, he gathered eight influencers — half of them were photographer influencers, and the other half of us were just influencers with the camera — and he came out here, and he brought us all to Canmore, and we stayed at the Basecamp Hotel in Canmore, and it was a three-day mountain excursion thing, where all we were really doing was taking photos of his clothes, which he brought — we got a ton of it. They set up little bags in the rooms, and I am still friends with all the people that I went on that little retreat with even though I was terrified before I went because I did not know anybody.
But it was a cool experience to get to know the owner of the company because he was there, he stayed with us the whole time, and we were doing what we love because the girl who put together the influencer list obviously looked at who each of us were and that we spend time in the mountains. We take photos. So, being able to do that, hosted by a brand, was really cool, and I think it allowed just to experience the brand, get to know him, you make a connection with these people and with the brand, and that was really fun. Even now, I still support him every time he comes out. He does a little meet up, so we do that. I buy his product, and I share it, and I think none of that would have happened if I did not get that experience. So, that was a really cool collaboration from a local small business, and he was like, "This cost money for me to do it, but at the end of the day, he gets brand ambassadors from just the connection and also a whole three days' worth of content that he can post. So, that was cool. What other cool ones have I done?
Morgan: That sounds so fun.
Rachel: Yeah. It was super fun. Experiences are great, and some runs, it is becoming more of a thing. I think, again, just to stand out, and it provides influencers with just a different thing to post about, and so, I think brands are really benefiting from that if they can do it — and I am sure there are some influencers that would rather be paid, and I need payment as well for certain things — but if you can get some collaborations that are more of an experience, I think it makes up for the other ones that are more set-up as photo shoots or just product shots.
But I am trying to think about another cool collaboration. I mean, Under Armour has always been a cool collaboration that is also not local but is doable from businesses that do not have budgets. Just to provide an influence, you kind of become an ambassador and provide an influencer with your latest products or services without expecting anything in return and more just build that loyalty with long-term partnership, as opposed to a one-off because, I think, just thinking about all the collaborations that I have done, the ones that I do enjoy more are the ones that I have built more of a relationship with the brand and the company because I get to post about them more often or hear from them more — as opposed to just reaching out for a one-time thing, which does not seem as intimate.
Morgan: Yeah. Well, and the point is for you to show that you like the products, so if you are getting to use them on an ongoing basis, that makes a lot more sense.
Rachel: Yeah, totally, and I literally cannot think of anything off the top of my head for another example.
Morgan: So, those are all the questions I had for you. Was there anything we missed here that you wanted to touch on?
Rachel: I think people or business owners just need to understand influencer marketing and understand influencers — and like I said, the beginning really understand why they are using influencer marketing. I think any business or service or product can use influencer marketing but does not necessarily mean they should be doing it. If you are just using influencers for the sake of using influencers without a business ROI in mind, then I do not think that it is the right time for businesses, and I think people get caught up and be like, "Oh, I need to use influencer marketing because everybody is using influencer marketing," and if you do not put together a campaign properly or think about the strategy behind it, then I think it is just a waste of time for everybody, really.
Like the example of the chip company, they obviously thought about that and put together a lot of effort to make it a successful campaign, even if they did not have the budget to pay the influencers, as opposed to just throwing something quickly together in hopes that it works out. I also think, like I said, again, but just to reiterate, that having open communication and transparency is key with influencers, and I think building that relationship will also allow the influencer to feel comfortable about being transparent from their end, and usually, "No guarantees, do not come back to me, do not quote me on this." But usually, if you are nice to influencers and provide that type of relationship, then they are more willing to do more for you than you initially asked, so there will be a lot of time where I really like the person on the other end of the email, and they are really helpful, and they want to provide the best experience that they can with what they have, and then I will usually post more than I had initially said just because I want to do something good for them or I want to spread word of their brand because I really like the business or the business owner.
I think everyone is here just to support each other, especially if you are local and small, I think most influencers understand that because we are all technically small businesses and we want the support, and so, I think just reaching out and creating that relationship goes a long way, especially for, like with the apparel company, even though that was a one-time experience, it has been two years since that happened, and I still buy their clothing, and I still talk about them. And so, just creating that relationship and positive experience can last much longer than any Instagram post would.
Morgan: Absolutely. These have been some really, really great points. Thank you, Rachel. I want to encourage everyone listening to check out your podcast if they want some more information on this because you have quite a few episodes about influencer marketing from both the business side and for people interested in being influencers themselves. I am going to have all your info linked. Could you also shout out where people can find you?
Rachel: Yeah, so my Instagram, which is where I mostly live, is @almostffamous, with two F's, and feel free to DM me if you have any questions about any of this — I am happy to answer them. That is my main Instagram. My podcast is called Poolside Podcast. If you search it on all podcast platforms, my business is poolsidedigital.ca, if you are interested in just seeing what I do. Yeah, I think that is really it. Oh, and my blog is franklyray.com since we did talk about that.
Morgan: Frankly Ray?
Morgan: Okay. I will make sure to have that all linked in the description. I could just ask you questions all day, Rachel. Rachel, being an interviewer herself, I feel like we could just bounce back and forth.
Morgan: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming on today.
Rachel: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.
Morgan: Thank you for tuning in to this episode of The Small Business Mastermind and an extra special thank-you to Rachel for sharing all her wonderful tips and advice. To subscribe to the podcast, visit olympiabenefits.com/podcast. You can also find us on Instagram for behind the scenes videos and key-take-aways by searching for The Small Business Mastermind. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and got some ideas from it. That’s all I have for you today, I’ll talk to you again soon.