How to Move Out of the Influencer Marketing Friend Zone

The influencer marketing world was dominated by the gifted method for many years. Influencers were thrilled to be getting free product and would happily post to their account in exchange. But with the evolution of the influencer role and the number of brands now hopping on the train, Influencer has become a true profession, one where money can be made, enough money that many influencers have left their day jobs. The number of followers that it usually takes in order to make leaving your 9-5 a viable option is around 50k, but that isn’t to say that you can’t earn a decent buck long before you hit this number.

When you are first starting out, building your following and dipping your toes into sponsored content, it is quite the norm to be doing these posts as gift only. There is nothing wrong with this and is totally the norm, especially for the 0-2k follower range. Especially when you consider the sheer number of Instagram users (1 billion active monthly) and the % of those that have substantial followings (60 million accounts have between 10-50k). At this point, collaborating with brands on a gift basis probably feels like you are having your cake and eating it too. Everyone, even Oprah, likes free stuff. But as your following grows and sponsored content becomes more feasible, pretty soon you won’t be wanting to do this for product only. At the end of the day, things can’t pay your rent (especially since it’s very taboo to sell of any of the gifted items) and you are really providing huge value to the brands, value that should be recognized and honoured.

Good news is that just because your relationship with a brand starts out on a non-paid basis, this doesn’t mean it can’t evolve. Here’s how to move out of the friend zone into the paid collab world:

Go above and beyond.

Right off the hop when starting with sponsored content, make it part of your MO to give the brand more than they ask for. Did they want 2 posts and 10 images for their own channels? Add an extra mention in a story and send them 12 images. Showing them that you are genuinely trying to help them achieve their marketing goals gives them the warm & fuzzies and makes them want to re-hire you in the future. It also makes it feel like more of an authentic relationship to them, rather than just something you are doing for the pay day.

Be easy & pleasant to work with.

Even if you aren’t being paid in the beginning, treat your collaboration with professionalism. For a brand, their product has monetary value (they paid for it after all) so even though no money is changing hands, they do still feel like they’ve given something and have expectations to how you treat the effort you put forth. The brand has chosen to work with you because they love what you are doing on your own channel or love your ability to capture great moments, so coming forth with suggestions is always welcome. Keeping in mind that the brand often has directives from higher ups that need to stick to certain creative requirements, so don’t take offence if your ideas are tempered, but it’s nice for the brand to feel like you are genuinely trying to get the most for them out of the campaign. Be nice, above all. No one wants to work with a prima donna.

Demonstrate how you’ve brought them value.

It’s a good idea once a campaign is over to send a follow up thanking the brand and sending some of your post specific metrics. Don’t just rhyme off how many likes & comments you received, they can do this themselves. But highlight the engagement and conversation with interested consumers that you had. Show them a few screen shots of DM’s that came to you as a result of the posts. Show how you really acted as a true ambassador above and beyond simply adding the post to your feed. If you are using for your collabs, brands will automatically receive insights into the value you have added (all the more reason!)

Be responsive.

If you are actively working on a campaign, you need to be very timely in your responses to emails & messages. Realistically, it shouldn’t take you more than a few hours to get back to them, at the very longest 24 hours. If you are having issues of any sort related to the product, ie. wrong fit physically, turns out to be off brand for you, whatever the issue is, be up front about it. You are an important part of the brand’s business, whether you are being paid or just gifted, so respect the intention behind the relationship. Problems can always be remedied but it’s best to be open and on top of them, rather than avoiding them hoping they will go away (they don’t).

Ask for it!

Just like most things in life, you only get what you are brave enough to ask for. Depending on a number of factors, you could get paid as much as $100 for every 10,000 followers you have. (This number per 10k tends to increase substantially around the 100k follower mark.) Don’t be concerned that you will turn the brand off by asking to be paid for your campaigns. If you are regularly working with them, producing great content and can show them how you are worth it in terms of the posts metrics, then proof is in the pudding. They may not have budget for paid campaigns at the time, especially if they are a newer brand, so walking away from the partnership may have to happen. Politely letting them know that you are no longer taking on any gifted campaigns but to keep you in mind when they have finances available is the best way to avoid burning any bridges.

On we show you which campaigns are gifted only or paid so you can choose which campaigns you apply for or know ahead of time if you receive an invitation. We believe in the value of both forms of campaigns but above all, we value you, the Influencer, and the amount of work that goes into producing amazing content.

If you consistently give more, show your worth, are a kind & considerate person and make sure to ask, we know you can increase your #paid content.

Do you have any good tips or personal experience transitioning from gifted to paid campaigns? Leave them below!

Have more questions? Feel free to email us at [email protected]!