So What's the Deal with Promoting and Working with Brands via Social Media?
One very interesting part of being a blogger is working with other brands to promote their products and/or company. It's so exciting to work with other brands and to further your reach and gain new readers but there are a lot of different things that can happen when you start up a partnership. I've been asked a few times, more recently now than before, about how I've come to work with certain brands so I wanted to share my personal experience with representing brands, being a gear tester, etc.
I would like to start off by saying that these are my personal experiences and you may have worked with the same brands and had different experiences. I am not a big-time blogger, and I don't have a ton of experience with working with brands (about two years) so take all my advice with that in mind. I research every brand before I work with them to ensure they're a good fit for me as well. I just want to share my experiences and what I've learned because I feel like a lot of bloggers and influencers (I do not consider myself an influencer by any means) on social media are so hush-hush about how they started working with companies and it's so irritating to me! Blogging and social media are not my career but for some of you out there, you may really want to make a living off those things so I think it's important to share my experiences in case it helps one of you. So lets get started with the good (if you want to skip to the not so great, scroll down to the next heading and I answer questions at the bottom!).
The Good Experiences:
I've worked with many brands that I absolutely love and they have treated me SO well. The first brand to ever reach out to me was Turtle Fur and they asked if I could test some of their winter gear, write some reviews and promote their products on my social media. I ended up falling deeply in love with their neck warmers (if you know me you know I love my neck warmers and I may have even thrown you a few too). They clearly outlined that they were sending me products in exchange for an honest opinion and social media promotion. To this day I still love that brand and recommend them any chance I get.... so you should check them out too haha!
Another brand/company I LOVE is The Outbound. Being an explorer for The Outbound feels like being part of a family and it's been one of the most rewarding experiences I've had as a blogger thus far. The Outbound brings you on as an Explorer and you write up adventures for their website, write stories and help promote their brand in exchange they send you free merch and feature you on their Instagram that has over 695k followers which helps you gain followers on social media. They also hook you up with brands to work with and you get discounts for certain brands they work with. Not only is their website/app so useful for exploring the outdoors, the guys behind it are such good people and they take time to know every single explorer and make you feel like part of a bigger community. The Outbound is hands down my favorite brand I've ever worked with and if you don't know who or what The Outbound is, check them out ASAP!
Two other brands I've worked with very recently are Trailfoody and HydroBlu. Both brands sent me products to test and then asked in return that I promote them on social media and write reviews. They both found me through social media via my Instagram page. I even did a fun giveaway with Trailfoody too! Both brands have been great to work with.
I've had a handful of other partnerships and they have all been positive, fun experiences! As much as I'd love to go through all of them individually, I don't want this post to be too long so lets move on...
Okay, The Not So Great Experiences...
About a year ago I was approached by an outdoor retailer to be a gear tester for their website. I shop the website almost as much as I shop REI (and still do btw, they're a great company) and I jumped at the opportunity. At first it was great, I got a lot of fun gear and was so excited to test it. But then it took a little turn for the worst. The rep I was working with pushed me to get reviews up way faster than I was able to. I told them at the beginning of the agreement that I would test the gear and have pictures within 30 days because I have a job and I'm not running around hiking 24/7. The girl grew irritated I wasn't posting reviews quicker but how do you test gear in 30 days or less? My tent reviews on this website were published months to YEARS after the purchase to ensure I tested them thoroughly and had a well-rounded review. On top of the wanting quick, inaccurate reviews, I wasn't allowed to post any negative reviews. Uhhh what?! I found this out because I got a piece of gear that straight up, sucked. It didn't work the way it should've (it was something for fly fishing) and I wrote an accurate review highlighting how shitty the gear was. My rep scolded me saying I couldn't post negative reviews and I needed to find some positives aspects for the gear and if I had to post something negative I needed to blame myself (i.e. didn't use it for the right reason, etc.). I stopped testing then and there. I couldn't deal with the idea of lying even if I was getting some fun gear (and so was Michael btw, they sent him some cool stuff too). What I learned was to be very wary of gear reviews on their website!
My worst experience working with a brand/company went down a few months ago; I became a brand ambassador with a brand that also sells gear and right off the bat I loved their mission of planting trees in Africa to help farmers. Unfortunately from the get-go the company was sketchy with their "ambassador program." They asked ME to purchase their gear to review but at a heavily discounted price (50% off). I thought it was a little weird but it was a new experience and at 50% off, their hammocks were cheap so I went ahead and got one. They also gave me a promo code to distribute to my followers and whenever it was used I made a certain percentage of the profits. What really made me realize it wasn't a true, legitimate ambassador program and instead just a smart marketing technique is that they didn't give me anything in return and they accepted everyone into the program. There were literally thousands of ambassadors, which I found out after I was added to their Facebook group. Once I realized they were recruiting anyone and everyone just to make people buy their products, I was outtie. (But kudos to them, it's a v smart marketing technique) Also, they promised to use your pictures of their gear and they never did. Oh, and I wrote a few blog posts for them and they took all my pictures and edited them? Like put HORRIBLE dark filters on my bright images and totally transformed them. I don't know who runs that program (also an issue I had) but you never take other peoples pictures and edit them... Needless to say I don't work with this brand anymore. I felt like a customer, not a member of a team and I definitely felt used. Beware of scams like this (I'll talk more about spotting a scam below in the questions).
Well, those are a few of my experiences with working with other brands. As you can see, a majority of my experiences have been totally awesome and almost all brands out there want to have symbiotic relationships with the bloggers and influencers they work with. There have also been a handful of brands that have asked to work with me but I've turned down because my vibe doesn't really align with theirs (example: a company that makes backpacking food but the food isn't USDA Organic or GMO free, two things I care about when it comes to food), or if I don't think there would really be any benefit for me. Also, if I feel like I won't have time to really invest in promoting a products because I have too many other things going on, I'm very candid and let the brand know that so they don't have false expectations.
Q: How do you know if the brand that wants to work with you is legit or a scam?
The relationship should be symbiotic, meaning you should both benefit from the partnership. If the brand is trying to make you buy their product, ask that in return they promise to feature some of your photography on their Instagram, pay you for your promotion or ask if you can guest write a blog post if they have a blog attached to their website that they make an effort to promote. If something feels off from the beginning, you're most likely right, but have a candid conversation, while staying professional, and voice your concerns. Most companies will go out of their way to treat you like a team member and make you feel involved in the process.
Q: How do I become and Outbound Explorer?
Haha I get this one a lot! It's pretty easy. Go to their website, www.theoutbound.com and create a profile for yourself. Start writing fun, outdoorsy based blog posts or upload your favorite adventure. You can also interact with the community by reviewing hikes and starting your own lists of adventures you'd love to tackle. It's based on involvement so just be very involved. If you're a rad person and love the outdoors, they love you!
Q: How much can I/do you get paid to do this kind of stuff?
For me, the pay is mostly in compensation for gear and having my content promoted on social media accounts with large followings. In some instances though, I have been paid if people use my promotion codes or if I post Instagrams featuring the companies gear. While I don't want to disclose how much I have made working with other brands I will say it's not a lot. Like, I definitely could not quit my job and sustain my lifestyle off this blog. That's not to say you can't though! I don't treat this blog as a full time job and therefore it isn't, but if you wanted to make blogging or being an influencer a full time job and had the drive you could absolutely make a living off of it! (I'm just not the greatest person to ask about it, sorry!) Make sure you have a clear mission statement and you work hard to post on social media 4-5 times a week and interact with the community.
Q: How can I get noticed on social media?
Social media is extremely useful for growing your brand. I would suggest using hashtags (don't roll your eyes, they WORK) and interacting with your community. When someone follows you, you don't necessarily have to follow them back but go check out their profile and give them a few likes on some of their pictures. When people comment on your content, respond to them, even if it's a short "thank you!" Also, go to other pages like yours and interact with other people. Let them know you love one of their shots or if you have questions about what gear their using or where they are, slide into their DMs (lol just laughed saying that) and ask them! Tag big accounts on your pictures and use their hashtags so they can easily find your content. Big accounts love featuring great photography, so also make sure you have great quality images. And BE ORIGINAL! There are also pages that will promote your content if you pay them to. A lot of times these pages will message you to let you know that they will promote your content for a price. I haven't ever done this, but if this blog was my full time job I would consider that to increase my reach on social media.
Q: How did you get brands to work with you?
So when Turtle Fur approached me they found me through my blog because I had recommended their product in a post I wrote, "Fall Hiking Must-Haves." They saw that I already wore and loved their gear so they asked if they could send me a few things fo' free and if I could post on social media.
Everything else has happened organically through Instagram. Brands will reach out to me through social media and establish collaborations. My advice is just to post as much as you can and interact with your community! It will all happen organically (for me it took about two years). You can reach out to brands too and ask to work with them! I've never done this but I have read and heard that brands are more than willing to have people test their products and get some social media attention. When reaching out to another brand just always remember to be professional and makes sure you're reaching out to brands that you love and genuinely would recommend and promote whether they wanted you to or not. Let them know why you love their products and what you'll do in return (write reviews, post on social media, etc.). Also do a bit of research. If you reach out to a brand and say you'd like to promote their gear on social media, say why. Do you love the durability of their product? How they make it? Or do you love their company and how they're trying to make eco-friendly products? You'll stand out if you demonstrate you really know the brand and genuinely care about working with them.
Also, work hard to promote the brands you work with. When companies go to your page and see how much work and dedication you've put into promoting other products they will notice and want to work with you! No one wants to work with a half-asser.
Also I want to add here that not all the gear/products I post on Instagram have been sent to me. In fact, a very small amount of gear I review is sent to me and I buy A LOT of my own gear and test it because that's what I love to do. I test gear regardless of whether or not it was sent to me especially if it's a piece of gear I love and want to tell other people about.
Q: Is starting a blog or a separate Instagram channel most helpful to start getting connected with brands?
I love this question! I've actually never been asked this before so I had to think about it but my answer would be, definitely yes. Originally my Instagram account was my hiking adventures and my personal life mixed together and it didn't have a clear direction for my content. I eventually made the decision to delete all my personal content and focus that account on my adventures and since then I've gained more followers and people know what they're getting when they follow my page. I feel that you should first sit down and write a list or statement of what you want your Instagram to accomplish. For me, I want to share adventures with people, especially in Virginia, but I also want to take people along with me wherever else I go. I try to steer clear of other things I love like clean eating and working out unless I can somehow incorporate that into the outdoors (i.e. workouts to get you in shape for your first backpacking trip or healthy snacks to take on the trail). Keeping the focus on the outdoors helps curate a space where people can come for a specific reason.
Stay on Brand
Okay this isn't a question I just noticed I talk a lot about your "brand." When you start your Instagram treat it as a brand. Everything you do should align with your brand. My advice, which I've already stated, is to write a mission statement or objective for your brand, Instagram and blog if you have one. You want a clear, concise objective to keep you on track and when people interact with your page, they understand exactly what it is they're interacting with. Also, utilize the analytics on Instagram, if your Instagram isn't set up as a business account, switch it ASAP. The app will tell you when your followers are most active, who is interacting with your content and so much more. Look, I only have about 4,500 followers on Instagram which is nothing but I've worked with a handful of brands anyways. I'm not an expert by any means but I must be doing something right if brands want to work with me although I don't have a huge following base. Also while we're on the subject of followers, DON'T BUY FAKE FOLLOWERS! For the love of your God, stay authentic. The appeal to buy out people to follow your account can be really attractive but trust me when I say you'd rather have 10 followers that genuinely care about your content then 100 that don't interact with your content at all.