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6 Ways to Work With Influencers Without Sponsorships

While many people believe that influencer marketing is solely reserved for large companies with enormous resources, it may be surprising to know that it often requires no budget. Many brands have pioneered influencer marketing as the main driving factor behind their e-commerce success, and some have done this at zero cost. Influencers have a great ability to improve companies’ branding, credibility, media coverage, social media following, website visits, and sales. Some of them now include the largest accounts on YouTube (think popular YouTube gamers like PewDiePie who has an astonishing 111M subscribers) or a variety of niche accounts in specific industries (examples of this are patient and doctor influencers working).

With influencer marketing predicted to continue growing at 12.2% to $4.15 billion in 2022, small brands can collaborate with influencers to help market their product and services, and they can do this at little to no cost. Here are 6 ways brands can work with influencers without sponsorship:

1. Influencer Product or Service Gifting

One of the easiest ways in which brands can work with influencers without payment for their posts is through product or service gifting. They can utilize their inventory and offer influencers an exchange where an influencer provides a certain amount of social media coverage. A pro tip is to always approach influencers by suggesting that you would like to offer a gift without highlighting the exact parameters of an exchange. This way, many top influencers may answer your request as they don’t feel “pushed” to reciprocate without an uneven trade. Uneven trade occurs when an Influencer’s Instagram feed post costs more than the product or a service itself.

The brand should always be cognizant that influencers receive dozens and sometimes even hundreds of brand pitches a day, as is the case with many top influencers. For this reason, being extra friendly and relaxed about the terms of the collaboration will allow the brand to signal the influencer that they are interested in more than just a quick “shoutout” and instead are looking for a long-term collaboration.

Berina Karic, an influencer marketing specialist at Top Influencer Marketing Agency, also suggests to politely follow up once the items have been received. Her advice is to check in with the influencer to ask them if they received and liked their gift, and if they wanted to exchange anything. This type of friendly interaction is likely to score huge points and get the brand featured.

2. Influencer Trips

A brand can organize a trip and host multiple influencers and receive ten times the amount of coverage for the cost of transportation, food and lodging. For example, a brand can host five influencers to travel to a particular destination and use this time as an opportunity to create content for the product as well as publish multiple posts reviewing the items or a service. This PR strategy is used by many luxury brands where they have top influencers create many posts promoting the brand for a chance to travel and hang out with other influencer creators. Influencer trips also provide an ability for a brand to develop close bonds with influencers offering brand’s an opportunity to turn some of the best performing influencers into brand ambassadors for further product social media posting.  

This strategy was pioneered by social first brands like Revolve, where they would host multiple top influencers to exotic locations in exchange for 10-15 in feed posts and dozens of daily story videos while tagging the brand.

3. Influencer Events

For those brands that are unable to organize trips, influencer events may present a more manageable type of partnership where influencers can post multiple pieces of content in exchange for attending the event. A brand can organize an event in their office, restaurant, or other fun spaces and provide gift baskets for influencers to experience the product or a service in person. The internal team can also meet influencers face-to-face and explain the benefits of the product directly while allowing influencers to photograph or film the brand’s demonstration. A pro-tip is to offer a unique and Instagrammable setting where influencers can take photos beneath decorative brand logos or share beautifully decorated table settings with their own personalized napkins or reservation tags. 

4. Partner Brand Collaborations

Brands can split the cost of hosting an event or an influencer trip by reaching out to other brands and sharing their influencer campaign opportunity. Many non-competitor brands are especially open to this type of partnerships as they receive full benefit of the collaboration for a fraction of the cost while not having to endure full efforts of managing a large influencer campaign. They can participate by including their products in gift baskets or by offering a space, hotel accommodations, travel, or other type of service depending upon which industry they specialize in. Brands can even go so far to have multiple partners participate and create extraordinary influencer experiences that provide extensive amount of coverage for all parties involved. 

5. Influencer Product Borrowing

For those brands that are unable to gift items, especially when an item is expensive or is a one of a kind, they can suggest a borrowing type of collaboration. This type of partnership would involve an influencer creating content using an item, returning it after the shoot has been completed, and then sharing the item on their social channels. Many top PR firms use this strategy for photo shoots where they lend pieces to editorial teams in top media only to request those items to be sent back once the shoot has been completed. This works well when an influencer is looking for props or exceptional pieces to include as a part of their new content.

6. Influencer Media Partnerships

If a brand is unable to gift or even borrow an item, they can partner with influencer via mutual media partnerships. This involves a brand securing media coverage via press release, interviews, or other type of mentions, and then including an influencer in their story as a part of cross promotional effort. The brands can negotiate the terms of the collaboration beforehand, and then have the influencer share the media article on their social while tagging the brand.

No matter the size of the brand, working with influencers can prove to be a cost-efficient way to advertise a business and improve branding, sales, media coverage, and a social media following. Brands can utilize creative strategies to ensure win-win partnerships without breaking the bank. By exploring different type of influencer exchanges, a company can determine what strategy is most effective and then continue building their marketing efforts around the winning partnerships.  

Amra Beganovic

Ms. Beganovich is the CEO and founder of Amra & Elma’s. She is a top influencer with over 1 million followers across her channels. She has been named as a top digital marketing expert by Forbes, Business Insider, Financial Times, Entrepreneur, Bloomberg, WSJ, ELLE Magazine, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, and many more. She develops and manages advertising campaigns for Fortune 500 companies, including Johnson & Johnson, LVMH, Procter & Gamble, Uber, Nestle, HTC, and Huawei.

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