Mike Allton's Quick Start Guide To Becoming A Brand Influencer
Ok, so you’d like to become a brand influencer, eh? That’s great! Let me start by sharing two admissions about the tongue-in-cheek title of this article:
First, the only reason why I called this “Mike Allton’s” was to make it clear that it’s based on my personal experience. I am not driving a Lamborghini and selling you a $97 system for you to achieve the same. It’s just a fun way to share the answer to a question I’ve been asked a lot.
Second, there’s nothing quick about this.
If you know me, you know I’ve never written a quick anything, so buckle up for a long, thorough post. And since we’re all friends here, I need to also point out that becoming an influencer is not a quick process either.
But, before we get too much into that, let’s stop for a moment and make sure we’re all on the same page as to what an influencer is and what it means to be a Brand Influencer.
At its core, being an influencer means that you are connected to other people who trust your opinion on one or more topics, and can potentially be influenced by that opinion. Which means we’ve stumbled on one of the truths about influencer marketing, which is that virtually everyone is an influencer, regardless of how small or large their online audience is.
Understand that about yourself. You are an influencer already.
So what does it mean to be a Brand Influencer?
That’s when a business chooses to partner with you in some way to help them reach your audience and leverage your influence over them. That may be a formal, paid position, or it may be an informal, cooperative venture.
And we see brand influencers all around us every day.
From celebrity spokesmen to bloggers who receive free product to test and review, there’s a massive and growing economy around the use of sociological and psychological influence. I often talk about how social networks are a sociological micro-culture and here’s another perfect example.
If you have a following on social media and share information about a particular product or service, you’re exerting Social Influence.
- Typically this will be manifested as Conformity - when people who are following you want to be more like you so they pay attention to what you talk about, how you conduct yourself, and express interest in your suggestions and recommendations.
- Less common will be Compliance - when someone believes they need to do something because you told them to, and considers there may be a social reward for compliance (or punishment for non-compliance.
- On rare occasion the nature of the influence will be Obedience - when someone considers you an authority and assumes your suggestion to be that of a command to be followed.
(I don’t even have that level of influence over my own children, so I wouldn’t know what that’s like.)
In most instances of social influence, the influencer will share and endorse a particular product, and in so doing, either through inference or statement, share a benefit of that item. Perhaps it makes them look better (i.e. clothing) or feel better (i.e. CBD) or work better (i.e. social media management).
The more influential someone is, not only will they have a greater audience, they’ll also have a greater capacity for encouraging conformity through their posts. Keep that in mind because if you want to develop professional influencer projects, you will need to work on both aspects.
The more cognizant you are of your social influence and, specifically, your capacity of encouraging conformity, the more effective you will be at psychological influence.
At this stage, you’re now focused on helping your audience to achieve satisfaction according to Maslow’s hierarchy. Here you may employ Motivation, Perception, Learning, or Attitudes & Beliefs.
For instance, you might choose to broadcast a Facebook Live that demonstrates how to use a particular online tool that you’re an affiliate for. You’re combining your personal influence with cognitive learning to encourage viewers to consider making a purchase.
Armed with that basic information on what it means to be influential and a brand influencer, the rest of the article will be easier to understand.
My Background in Influence
Personally, I’ve been a brand influencer for many years. From the moment I signed up for my first affiliate account in 2007, I was representing someone else’s business and using my influence to encourage sales.
But just about anyone can sign up to be an affiliate, so it’s not that experience that you’re here to glean.
Over the years I’ve worked hard to develop relationships with the brands in my industry (social media marketing). I’ve been given free access to key tools and services. And I’ve been paid to partner with brands like Hubspot, Twenty20, Thinkific and Agorapulse. In fact, after being a paid brand ambassador for Agorapulse for a while, I was eventually hired full time as Brand Evangelist to help manage our entire ambassador and affiliate programs.
That’s what many of you have seen over the years and why you’re here now. You know I’ve worked with some of the top influencers and brands in my space and now you want to know how to do the same. So let’s dig into that.
My Your Quick Start Guide To Brand Influence
Whether you already have a sizable audience or are just starting out, the overall process is similar.
Step One - Demonstrate Authority
First, you demonstrate authority in your industry. This might take the form of educational blog posts, like me, or live videos, or social posts. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in! If you’re a food blogger, then you demonstrate authority by sharing gorgeous, mouth-watering images and recipes of the food you’ve created. If you’re a fashionista, your Instagram feed should be filled with beautiful imagery.
Sharing content is how you will grow your audience and demonstrate that you have the capacity to be an influencer.
Step Two - Establish a Platform
Second, as a correlation to the first step, you have to establish a platform. I love using this term that Michael Hyatt has so excellently espoused - this idea that wherever you build an audience and demonstrate authority through content, that’s your platform. It can be a website, of course, but can also be an email community or social media following, or some combination of the above.
Wherever and however you choose to build a platform - make no mistake, it must be built in order to be a brand influencer. And while there are other places and ways that you can build a platform, blog traffic, email subscribers and social followers are the tangible and measurable means by which brands can and will determine your tacit influence. So those are what we’ll discuss most throughout the rest of this article.
Stop for a moment and consider these first two steps. Are you already creating great content related to your brand and industry? Are you already building an audience of interested fans and followers? If so, great! Then you already have a sense for how these steps work. If not, that’s OK! Just understand what I said at the outset - this part takes time. I’m not sure exactly when my first real brand partnership took place, but it was most certainly after years of creating content and audience-building.
Step Three - Narrow Your Focus
Which brings me to my third step, and that’s to narrow your focus. Just as with content creation, having a narrow focus on what products and services you may choose to be an influencer for will actually help you.
Imagine for a moment that you want to be an influencer on Instagram and sign contracts with businesses to post about their stuff. Sounds great! But if one day you’re posting about chocolate and the next day you’re posting about printers and the day after that you’re talking about an app to live stream, can you see how confusing that might be for your audience? And since brands understand that, they’re going to be less interested in working with you. Savvy brands want to work with influencers who have a refined and demonstrated relationship to their industry and target market.
(Which, incidentally, is why I ignore the almost-daily emails asking me to participate in social media campaigns for things like Pet Food or Shampoo - they’re ridiculously off-brand for me and destined to fail.)
Give careful consideration then to the content you choose to write and the brands you may potentially work with. I find it’s best to write out the topics, industries, verticals and target audiences and then make sure that everything I do falls within those carefully outlined lanes.
Once you’ve gotten this far, it’s time to have some fun working with brands! So how does one get started?
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR HOW TO WORK WITH BRANDS AS AN INFLUENCER, THIS IS IT
Step Four - Start Partnering
If you’re really lucky, or well-connected, your first brand partnership will be one where the brand identifies you as an influencer and reaches out to you. Obviously we can’t expect that to happen and, odds are, if you’re reading this article, that hasn’t happened to you yet. So let’s proceed to develop those relationships intentionally.
- Identify potential partners in your niche.
- Become a well-educated customer.
- Write/post about them online.
Wait, Mike, where’s the money? I’m coming to that, Judy.
Like every other job or business, becoming a professional Influencer requires that you first learn the ropes without compensation. Now, don’t worry, there are plenty of other ways you can make money with your content without getting paid endorsements. But you’ll use these posts and experience to begin to develop relationships with the brands you talk about and potentially spark other opportunities. Consider this time spent like going to college. You’re there to learn and, ultimately, achieve a degree which demonstrates your competency. Your published work will accomplish the same thing (only faster and cheaper!).
The next phase is to seek out partnerships that, again, may not have any monetary compensation, but you can ask for free products or services. You might reach out to a tool provider and suggest that they, “Provide me with complimentary access to the Pro plan of your tool and I'll take the time to publish a thorough review.” Again, if the business is savvy and understands the power of influencer marketing, they’ll jump at the opportunity!
Once you've done that a few times, not only will you have a cadre of free products or perhaps even tools to help your business, you'll have a library of "sponsored" reviews that no one else knows you didn't charge for. (Note that these are sponsored posts, even if no money changed hands. If you received discounted or complimentary benefits as an incentive or result of your activity, that’s considered an “Ad” by the FTC and must be disclosed.)
You can then point to those posts and have the metrics readily on hand to justify getting paid what you think future posts should be worth.
Because ultimately you don't want to charge based on your time to create the content. An article review is more than that. It's:
- Promotion and publicity for the brand
- A backlink for the brand
- Support for the brand from an influencer
So today, my sponsored articles cost 5x my hourly rate and they're well worth the investment.
I recommend creating a templated letter in Evernote that you can customize and tweak for each brand you’re reaching out to. I’ll share some details of what to include in a moment.
A key point throughout this process is that your goal should be to form a relationship with each brand, not make a quick buck. What has set me apart over the years is the relationships I’ve formed with brands and influencers alike. Time and again, opportunities arise for me to work with people on fun projects. Some of them are paid and some are not, but they’ve all contributed to and led to a successful career and a dream job.
I talked with Mike Allton about how to get sponsored collaborations approved.
Who better to ask than someone in a company that works with influencers.
Since then I have landed THREE opportunities! - Yvonne Heimann
Influencer Tools & Best Practices
When you’re ready to start reaching out to brands, the first “tool” you need is your own Media Kit. This is a page on your site, or a PDF file, that breaks down the details of your influence for a prospective brand to consider. At a high level, you should list all of your channels that make up your platform and your current audience size.
DO NOT artificially inflate the size of your platform (i.e. social followers) in any way, shape or form. Buying followers or being deceptive about the size of your audience will only lead to disillusioned and disappointed brands who, at best, will refuse to work with you again and, at worst, may demand refunds and reparations. Instead, focus on growing your audience organically and be content to work with brands who are happy to employ influencers with audiences like yours - even if that categorizes you as a micro-influencer.
You can also include here any partnerships you’ve worked in the past, which is why it’s a great idea to have done some free work.
Definitely include examples of how you might work with a brand and, if applicable, pricing.
Now, whenever you’re contacted or reach out to a brand, you can link to or include that Media Kit. Not only does it provide the initial information they’re looking for, it demonstrates yet again that you’re a professional and are experienced working with brands.
What other tools can you use that might help?
Well for sure, have Google Analytics in place on your website so that you can easily pull out the traffic numbers and any other key metrics. If you’ve published content as part of influencer campaigns in the past, you’ll want to note how some of that content performed, specifically.
And on that note, you can use Buzzsumo to measure the social activity for any URL in your site. So you can pull exactly how many Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter shares a particular post might have received.
When it comes to social posts themselves, do make sure that any time you share a link that you use UTM Parameters and establish what those will be with the brand you’re working with beforehand. They need to know what Campaign, Source and Medium tags you’re choosing to use so that they can track that activity in their Google Analytics.
Now, let’s talk social media.
You’re going to want to use a social media management tool like Agorapulse to post and schedule all of your social media activity whenever possible. With the exception of Live Video, you can plan and queue and schedule the posts in advance and set them up with Agorapulse. This gives you two tremendous benefits:
First, with that content scheduled in advance, you can view and even print a Social Media Calendar that shows every post. It’s going to be a lot easier for you to see how well you’re covering and distributing that content on those channels. And it’s something you can share with your brand partner! Again, when you’re organized and professional from the very beginning, brands will note that and be impressed. Brands want to work with influencers who know what they’re doing and can be relied on to execute properly.
Second, when you’re setting up those posts, not only can you configure the UTM Parameters within Agorapulse, you can also “label” each of those posts. Say, for instance, I was going to do a campaign for Thinkific. When configuring a set of tweets, I might add the label “ThinkificCampaign” to them. After the campaign is over I can then go into my Agorapulse reports for each social channel and see the post distribution by label. You can also then pull performance of hashtags, by post, and more!
One trick I love to use with Agorapulse is to set up a new Queue Category for such campaigns. Queue Categories are just specific sharing frequencies with custom dates and times. So, for instance, suppose my hypothetical campaign for Thinkific was going to run two weeks, and I had committed to tweet every other day. I could set up a schedule to share posts on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 2pm each day. Then, while creating the tweets, I can simply add them “to the queue” and don’t have to try to recall what day and time I scheduled the last tweet for. I can even create the tweets in a spreadsheet, have them approved by the brand, and then bulk upload into Agorapulse!
When it comes to email, I prefer to use Wishpond, and love that I can also incorporate various popups, bars, and landing page campaigns - even contests - all integrated together.
Just as with Social Media, make sure that you’re including UTM Parameters in any links that you email out.
Where Do You Go From Here?
One of the questions you likely have at this point is, “how much can I charge for influencer campaigns?” Like a lot of online marketing, this is a really broad, grey area. Since some new and micro influencers will participate in campaigns for little to nothing, and major, established influencers will easily pull in 6-figure contracts, what you can charge will depend a great deal.
As you’re thinking about fees, consider how much time and effort you’re putting into a campaign, and what your brand partner can expect to get out of it. That will help you to create a pricing structure that’s in line with expectations.
It’s also good to have friends and colleagues whom you can talk to and compare notes. So one last piece of advice I want to leave you with is to follow and connect with other influencers in your space. They’re likely not competition at all, but rather an excellent resource. In fact, in my industry at least, some of my best friends are peers and colleagues. We form Mastermind Groups together to share and advise and even collaborate.
In fact, it’s likely that some of your best brand partnerships will come from collaborations or referrals from friends in the business.
Think through all of the steps I outlined above, and if you still have questions, let me know in the comments below!
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By Mike Allton, Content Marketing Practitioner
Mike is a Content Marketing Practitioner - a title he invented to represent his holistic approach to content marketing that leverages blogging, social media, email marketing and SEO to drive traffic, generate leads, and convert those leads into sales. He is an award-winning Blogger, Speaker, and Author at The Social Media Hat, and Brand Evangelist at Agorapulse (formerly CMO at SiteSell).
As Brand Evangelist, Mike works directly with other social media educators, influencers, agencies and brands to explore and develop profitable relationships with Agorapulse.Follow @Mike_Allton