Recently one of my old editors, Alecia Hancock, asked me if I would be happy to give a talk for her annual digital marketing summit Change the World. She started this event under her organisation Hancock Creative five years ago. It’s basically a free, full day virtual summit aimed at giving tips on social media and digital marketing education for not-for-profits, social enterprises and worthy causes so they can succeed. It’s really impressive. They line up a whole bunch of people who have been in similar roles and succeeded, or those who are on the other side of the picture – people in the media like myself, who might be bloggers, journalists, editors, influencers, content creators, creatives, photographers etc, to give talks or answer questions from people who want to help grow their not-for-profits.
I met Alecia when she gave me one of my first jobs in journalism writing for health and fitness magazines many moons ago (asking Ronnie Coleman if we could arm wrestle was a highlight 😉 She asked me if I would give a talk about what people should know about when approaching bloggers, content creators, journalists and influencers. Something that would come at it from my personal point of view as someone who also works in the media.
So. I am definitely NOT a talker or public speaker! I much prefer to write. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I hate phone calls, Facetime and Zoom – especially as a severely hearing impaired person. I will almost always miss part of the dialogue, and frantically trying to piece together or work out what the person said is exhausting. I don’t even watch videos that aren’t subtitled. I tried to explain it once to someone and I said that being almost deaf feels like you’re constantly doing puzzles in your head, trying to work out what was ACTUALLY said as opposed to what your (bad) hearing picked up. Not to mention, sometimes having to ask someone to repeat what they’ve just said three or four times isn’t very fun either. I don’t like seeing myself on camera, I don’t even like taking selfies. Wow, that’s a lot of things I hate haha.
But I am always trying to be open to new things that push my boundaries a little, or do things that scare me a little (without scaring me TOO much) and talking on-screen or at camera is one of them. What better way to dip my toe into it a little than with a live, recorded Zoom speech in front of 1,300 people watching around the globe, aye? Let’s go!
I got a bunch of questions during my talk and because of obvious time restraints didn’t get to answer them all. So, for all those lovely people who took the time to listen, here’s a written rundown of my rambling little chat with some answers to your questions woven in, and please feel free to ask me any others in the comments.
HOW NOT-FOR-PROFITS CAN APPROACH BLOGGERS, INFLUENCERS, CONTENT CREATORS AND JOURNALISTS
Over the years, I think I’ve been approached by hundreds of brands, small businesses, causes, organisations, marketing professionals and PRs who are looking for people to help them share blog posts, Instagram mentions or Facebook posts to help spread the word about what they’re doing. (Of all these, I can only take on a tiny portion of them. There are stacks of opportunities, and they’re only going to increase. Last year was the first year that digital advertising spend surpassed traditional advertising expenditure, which is big! Good time to start a blog, people!)
I want to talk to you about how to approach bloggers, influencers or journalists on behalf of your organisations, to spread the word about what you do and to help you achieve the media or social media results you really want by getting journalists, bloggers, influencers and social media ambassadors to become a part of your campaign. I’ve written this for Change the World – which is targeted at non-profits, causes and philanthropic organisations, but some of it would be relevant for small businesses wanting to promote themselves too.
A small disclaimer. I am really honest about this stuff because I feel like it’s better if we are ALL honest about digital marketing, I’m not saying anything to offend anyone. Just because I’m saying ‘this is how you should do it’ doesn’t make it the ONLY right way! This is just my personal experience and opinion – loads of people might disagree with some of these things. And that’s totally fine.
FINDING YOUR AMBASSADORS
So. I’d recommend finding people on Instagram through hashtags – and then look at what kinds of posts they do. So, if you’re looking for influencers or content creators in your city to act as ambassadors for your charity walk or cancer research fundraiser, you could try searching, #perthblogger #journalistperth #perthinfluencer #perthparent, #perthmum #australianblog etc.
Or search hashtags related to your not for profit or cause to find ambassadors. Someone in the Zoom asked how to search for hashtags – you can search for hashtags on the search bar on Instagram (just select ‘tag’ or on Facebook in the search bar, or you can even just plain old Google the hashtags you want, ie: #wajournalist #wamedia #perthhealth etc. Think what some people, who would be great ambassadors for your cause, might be hashtagging with. Maybe #strokesurvivor #breastcancersurvivor #strokeawareness #cfawareness.
Then I’d make a long list of people and cast your net wide! Once you start the pitching process, you’re going to find that not everyone is going to be a perfect fit, so it’s better to have a decent-sized list to start with. A bit like having a house party – people will say no, people will cancel, so you always invite more people than you actually want. But I’m a mother of two little kids now, so I haven’t had a house party in a very, very long time 😉
You can also buy PR lists. These are made for people who don’t have many relevant media contacts yet and don’t know who they should try. This article on Prowly explains it. And just like Berenika explains it in the article, there are good and bad things to buying a PR list. I sometimes get the most random story inquiries about topics I’ve never written about in my life and it’s glaringly obvious the person doesn’t really have a clue what I write about and they’ve probably sent it to a million people. I usually delete those.
Once you’ve found someone who you think would be a perfect ambassador, it’s time to pitch them your campaign idea.
If you’re approaching an influencer you’ve recently come across – follow them first! This probably sounds so unnecessary, but it will show them you have at least looked at their page, and you’re not just contacting them for ‘what they can do for you’…. even though… well… you pretty much are.
Following someone who more than likely puts in a whole lot of time and effort into their account (to the point that hey, you noticed it!) is an easy show of goodwill. I have had so many people contact me wanting x (often something for free) and I go to check out their page to see what they’re about – they’re not following my account despite talking about how much they like it. Following the person you want to work with will set the conversation you’re about to have off on the right foot. Plus, you can always unfollow them later if they’re rude or annoying or take dumb pictures or something. I’m only half-kidding.
FIND OUT HOW THEY PREFER TO BE CONTACTED
Take the time to find out how that particular person you want to approach prefers to be be contacted – email, call or direct message (DM). Some big influencers will also be represented by a talent agency or agent because they get so many inquiries – contact that agency.
I have what I consider a relatively small following and even I can barely stay on top of all the emails, DMs and inquiries. On some days, it honestly takes hours of my day every day just trying to reespond to them all, and I actually just immediately delete so many that I read and know won’t ever go anywhere (that probably sounds mean to anyone who’s not in the media or blogging, but those who are – you know what I mean!)
I wouldn’t really recommend DMing really busy people or people with large accounts. A lot of big accounts – ones that have 80,000, 100,000 plus followers – can get hundreds and sometimes even thousands of notifications, reactions and DMs a day. So there’s a high chance your carefully-crafted pitch, sent by direct message will just get lost.
On top of that, I think a lot of people tend to check their DMs ‘on the go’ so even if they have read yours, something might crop up in their life and they just simply forget to reply – I think most people have been in that situation, whether they have 50 followers or 50,000!
I personally prefer it when someone reaches out to me by email rather than DM, it just seems more professional and it seems to show that they have taken the time to look into what you write about and write you a proper pitch. It also gives that content creator or influencer more time to consider what you need rather than perhaps a hasty ‘no’ or ‘yes’.
Question. Should I approach an influencer I like directly, or should I go to a talent agency and ask them to suggest relevant people for me?
There are good and bad agencies that represent influencers and content creators, just like there are good and bad influencers.
I have worked with amazing PRs and digital marketing experts who I think are worth their weight in gold, and I have, also, unfortunately, dealt with dodgy people I wouldn’t work with again.
In my opinion, if you can, I would approach the influencer or blogger you like directly. Yes, it might take you longer.
But negotiations will generally be easier and cleaner, and most importantly, you’re more in control. YOU know your organisation or community group better than anyone, and you know what message you want to get out there. When you introduce a middle person, it can make things less clear, the message can get lost, you might lose some control because you are relinquishing so much of that control to another party.
When you hire people directly, you’ll also know exactly how your carefully allotted marketing budget is being spent.
THE NAME GAME
When you craft your cause’s campaign pitch to someone, address your chosen journalist, blogger, editor, influencer etc by name.
Even if you are sending out an email to 100 people in the hope you get a nibble, make sure that you address each person by name. You’ll have a much better shot!
Whenever I get an email or a DM that hasn’t addressed me by name (which is right there in my Instagram bio and on my website) I kind of just automatically presume that person hasn’t even looked at my website or feed to see if you actually WOULD be a fit – I presume they’ve blind-sent this same thing to 500 people and responding to them seems like a waste of time. (The exception to this is press releases. These are sent out to hundreds or thousands of journalists in one go and I don’t expect press releases to include a name – and I’ll still skim read them if they’re relevant). But if people are hoping to engage your services for custom work in some way or other, I think starting by name is polite.
If you can tailor your pitch in some way to show that you have actually looked at their website or their feed or read their stories, it’s not necessary, but it can help personalise your inquiry and set you apart from similar emails.
Make sure you have a legitimate email signature, too – one with your full name, contact number and address and socials, if relevant. If I get an email from just a single name, I frequently presume it’s from someone in a third world country doing outsourced work for a large organisation (and I’m frequently correct).
BUDGETING… AND THE CONTROVERSIAL TOPIC OF CHARITY MONEY
A long time ago, which was actually one of the very first times I was approached by a fantastic not-for-profit (one that I had always really liked) to help them with a promotion, I was really surprised when they started talking payment. Payment for my time and involvement and for sharing their latest campaign on my account to my followers.
I guess I was a bit naïve then. I thought, “Oh, I didn’t think causes and not-for-profits would be paying people to share about them? I mean, I’m happy to do it for free!” I was advised to accept the payment – I figured I could donate it anyway – and to treat it just like I would a job. But I still felt a bit dirty, like… is the way it’s always been done and I just had no idea?
Well, just like there are people who would gladly do something like that for free, there are people who will be paid for it. What I got paid wasn’t anywhere near as much as I was normally getting.
But once it began, I ended up being very glad they were compensating me. I had to take time off from other (paid) writing to do what they wanted to do, had to use and organise child care, drive a lot and basically spent hours over weeks working on this campaign. I love that organisation, and was very proud of my work for them, but had to later admit, I put my own time, money and resources into the campaign, fundraised myself and to be honest I wouldn’t have been able to fully commit to it with the same gusto if it was costing me money. So I realised they were professionals who knew what they were doing when they brought up payment in the first place – they were ensuring their success in their fundraising efforts, not wasting their time. And the fundraising efforts from this whole campaign did REALLY well. The amount spend on marketing, to raise far MORE money, was well worth it.
It is just as they say about a business… you have to spend money to make money. And charities are no different. Dan Pallotta gave an incredible Ted Talk called The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong… it is well worth the watch (and it has good subtitles, AND a transcript, for those like me who need their text). He puts it much more eloquently and succinctly than I ever could. Go watch it – people who work for non-profits will already understand it, but I think there are a lot of people (like myself once) who don’t really understand this stuff – and it is such an important part of the conversation. It made me realise that what seemed like a really generous-sized donation to someone like me, can be turned into a really, really BIG amount of funds with considered marketing and the right fundraising campaign.
That’s why some charities often say, “every donation counts!” They mean it. They say that because even your small change can eventually be turned into a lot of money.
When you are a freelancer and you are getting paid for a job, naturally you prioritise it over personal projects or passion stories you’re not getting paid for. Just because we have a job that a lot of people think is all fun and not real work (trust me, I’ve heard it ALL before!) we still have a mortgage, groceries to buy, childcare costs and bills to pay – not to mention other work, in most cases. (When people say to me, “I can’t believe you get all that free stuff” I remind them, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. There will always be something someone wants in return for “all that free stuff” 😉 )
An influencer might have THE BEST intentions to help promote your cause or favourite charity, but by paying a blogger or influencer, you’re guaranteeing that your campaign with them won’t drop off their radar or get overseen – which would be just a waste of your organisation’s time and effort.
I completely understand not everyone might be in a position to even pay influencers or bloggers. But if you are approaching them, even if you have a small budget for acquiring digital leads, it is worth mentioning it in your initial email – they will take you more seriously and people who are being paid for their time will do a better and more professional job for you.
All this said, I don’t mean to dishearten any smaller causes or not-for-profits who might not even HAVE a marketing budget, because there are definitely people who might be in comfortable financial situations who WOULD be able to take on your ambassador role for free, and be more than glad to. So please don’t feel let down if you feel like you don’t have much of a budget. You might just have to look a little harder and be prepared for it to take a little longer.
Whoever you approach, I would be upfront early on about your marketing budget, or lack thereof. It really is true that time is money, both the person you’re approaching, but also your own, which is just as valuable.
How much do people charge for an Instagram post?
So someone asked this question in the conference and this is a ‘how long is a piece of string?’ type of question. It will hugely vary, and there is no right or wrong rate.
Some people will charge less, others more. Some might spend longer creating a post so the cost is higher, others might charge more
I’ve heard a very rough guideline used in the U.S that you can expect to pay a minimum of $10 for 1000 followers – so a microinfluencer with 10,000 followers could technically charge a minimum of $100. In my experience, most will charge more than this. To give you an idea, for brands and big businesses, I personally charge from $300 for a basic Instagram post – but often more if a DIY, styling, photography, or other really specific particulars are required. This article from Wink Models on how much it costs to book an influencer has some pricings that I think are fairly spot-on.
A lot of people also offer small business or not-for-profit rates and some will be very happy to do it for you for nothing. You won’t know until you ask!
NOT A FIT?
So – bad luck – say the person you asked doesn’t say yes, but says no. There’s no harm in asking them if they have a contact or friend who might be a fit instead.
Instagrammers talk to other Instagrammers! My husband teases me for talking about things like karma. But I am a huge believer that what comes around goes around. I completely believe that one of the reasons so many nice opportunities swing my way is because I’m also very happy to swing things towards other people’s way, and I know people do the same for me. I think a lot of people who work in the media (or on social media) are exactly the same way. It’s not all this horrible cutthroat online world people think it is.
DON’T BE TOO RIGID IN YOUR REQUIREMENTS
This might come across as contrary to what a lot of public relations and marketing people would say, but I would say it is probably better to work with MORE influencers or bloggers as opposed to just a few who are doing MORE posts.
I say this because I get so many people (PRs, approach me and who are very, very clear that they want, “we want four posts on Instagram and 15 Stories” as opposed to asking the person what they would be best for their fit. They have their own reasons for doing this, and I’m sure some of these people are spot-on and it IS the best way to attack that particular campaign.
However, as someone with an Instagram account who takes on sponsored content, I think you can definitely oversaturate or annoy your audience to the point they will pretty roll their eyes when they see you talking about something in a post again and that is definitely not what you want, because then it’s a negative association for your organisation or cause.
I have definitely made my own mistake doing this with a brand when I first started using Instagram! (Not a not-for-profit…. but that’s a story for another day! I laugh about it now, but it was pretty awkward at the time).
Generally, the first post or two might perform well, but the third and fourth will likely drop in engagement and not get the bang for your buck you wanted. So in my opinion it’s not just bad for the influencer – it’s not beneficial for the brand or organisation too. Why not spend that money on getting more engagement for your buck?
So rather than asking four influencers to do four posts each, look at branching out and getting 12 influencers to do one or two posts each. Sure, it might take more email admin and time to secure 12 partnerships, but you’ll spread your message wider and I think it will be more beneficial for your engagement and organisation.
What did success look like for you at the beginning of your journey compared to now?
In the beginning I think I felt a lot of pressure to say yes to things and now I’m more choosy because I’m better at prioritising. I’ve also learned what will work and what won’t, and now I have no hesitation in telling a brand or an organisation (politely) that I don’t think we are a match.
Oh – and in my opinion, if a blogger or an Instagrammer tells you they don’t think you would be a fit for each other, it really doesn’t mean they think they’re “too good” for you or anything like that – it often means they KNOW their audience well enough to know they might not get the great result for you that you’re after.
In which case, if I know someone whose audience would fit better, I’ll always pass them on their details, especially if the person asks. So ask nicely. Ok – if not you, do you have any friends? Like I said before, people who work in media all talk!
What captures your attention when people reach out to you as an influencer? Do you have some kind of decision making strategy that you use to help you decide if you’ll be involved?
I think most of the time I go by gut instinct. Like a lot of my friends who also work in the media, I think I have received so many inquiries over the years and usually I trust myself and my first reaction to reading it. I either know ‘yes’ or ‘no’ almost straightaway.
If something doesn’t make you feel excited or “lit up” when you read the pitch or check out their website or social media and see what they do, it’s probably an indicator that it’s not a good match. And if you’re on the other side working for an organisation or a not-for-profit, you WANT someone who’s really into what you’re doing. You don’t want to have to cajole them along. You want their excitement to be authentic, to infuse your campaign and inspire other people to jump on board as well. You want someone who is so into your cause that they immediately start mentally brainstorming what they could do for you. That’s a sign of a good influencer for your organisation.
Please don’t hesitate to drop me a comment if you have any questions. Maya x