‘How do you attract sponsored work?’ is one of the question I’m regularly asked on Instagram. It’s also a question that I’m never quite sure how to answer.
I don’t do a lot of pitching and I don’t have a huge amount of followers. But, I do feel very lucky to have had relatively steady stream of work, that means I’m able to work from home, around family life.
Which is why I decided to do a bit of digging to find out how brands decide who to work with and how we can make ourselves more attractive to brands (unless, of course, you have no inclination to work with brands at all. In which case, this post probably isn’t for you).
In this interview, I catch up with Mumsnet’s Head of Influencer Marketing, the lovely Amie Shearer, to talk all things Influencer marketing. Her insights are really fascinating, and I hope you find her thoughts and advice useful. I certainly have!
So, my first question is – could you give a brief background, your family life and your job at Mumsnet?
I have one five year old daughter and we live with my partner (who is far more domesticated than I am in almost every way) in one of the leafy shires just outside London. We both work full time and rely on my mum a lot to help with school pick-ups, etc.
I’ve worked in marketing for eight years. I started in app development then moved into brand guardianship and campaign management where realised my real interest lay in the social and online campaigns. When I was unexpectedly made redundant on maternity leave I started freelancing as a social media manager to keep my CV ticking over and to contribute to the bills – I was that stock image woman sat at the kitchen counter, mobile pressed between her ear and shoulder on a conference call praying the feed would last the call to keep the baby quiet! I was also writing my own pregnancy and parenting blog, getting to know the community, how PRs and SEO agencies were starting to work with bloggers. Given my marketing knowledge, I clicked pretty quickly that this could be done so much more effectively and was likely to be ‘the next frontier’ in marketing.
Fast forward five years and I’m now Head of Influencer Marketing at Mumsnet. My day to day is split into two main tracks. The first is network facing: researching new creators and chatting with our members (usually on Twitter), exploring what’s next in terms of how we grow that network and add value for our members (such as this ASA guidelines troubleshooting video last year). The second is commercial facing: developing new creative ideas for creators and brands to collaborate on with us, planning new deals with clients, speaking at industry events, and exploring new and interesting ways to work with influencers. I’m also one of Mumsnet’s main presenters on Facebook and YouTube, which usually results in me pulling funny faces on camera, much to everyone else’s enjoyment!
Beyond that, I’m usually dashing for the school run, swimming lessons or one of many birthday parties (Why does a five year old have a better social life than me?). But on my long commute into London I’ll be scrolling Instagram or reading a book and on Sunday afternoons I play roller derby. I also bake (and actually had a free from baking blog at University back in 2010 before it was cool!).
Can you give us your take on the influencer market and why it’s so attractive to brands right now?
Marketing and advertising is led by consumers. I think consumers had become almost desensitized to advertising by the early 00s. So by 2010 this magical word ‘content’ had appeared with so much promise of how marketers could re-engage their now incredibly passive consumers. They were going a bit mad for it – I remember YouTube inviting my team to a ‘What is content?’ training day way back in 2011 and everyone was panicking, ‘We need to harness content! We need to figure out how to make the most of this new content marketing thing!’ Influencer marketing is a natural extension of that, it’s simply a form of content marketing.
Influencer marketing has ‘enjoyed’ that same flury [read: panic] over the past couple of years with brands and agencies jumping on the bandwagon, trying to catch the wave. It’s a bit ‘monkey see, monkey do’ in that sense. It can also be cheaper than traditional advertising routes and generate the same or better results, which is obviously really enticing for brands. When done well, influencer marketing is hugely effective. We know it can make products sell out, brand awareness rocket – having the right influencer on your side can make or break your product launch.
But I think there’s a bit of a misconception that it’s perhaps a way of getting around traditional marketing qualms. And that’s where the issues we’ve seen over the past year or two have arisen – ads not being declared, influencers recommending competitor brands within weeks of posts going live and not quite knowing where to draw the line.
Can you tell us a little bit about the influencer recruitment process and how you decide on who to work with?
Step 1: Agree the brief
We agree the brief with the client including their desired target audience, level of budget committed to the campaign, campaign KPIs (how they’ll be measured and what success looks like) and the content plan.
Step 2: Find the influencers
Almost every brief is put out to tender with the network via our weekly newsletter on a Friday (and on Twitter) with as much detail as we can. Members are then invited to essentially opt into a brief by filling in an online form, answering some questions relevant to the brief such as why they’d like to work with this brand and why their content will really sing. We also double check things like if they’ve worked with a competitor recently or relevant demographic info like how old their kids are.
We like to be as transparent as possible in these briefs, including an idea of the fee available. If we advertise a brief with a fee of £200 we know the level of influencer we’re likely to attract and have responding vs. a £1000 fee. The client will also be aware of what level of influence they’ve bought into with the budget they’ve committed so there should be no disappointments or surprises for anyone involved.
Step 3: Create a shortlist
Recruitment drives usually close on Mondays and the team starts going through responses. Sometimes we have hundreds, sometimes we have 25 it completely depends on the brief. We like to put a reasonable shortlist in front of clients, so for a campaign requiring x10 influencers they may see 20 names. So depending on how many apply depends on how long the shortlisting process stakes.
We start by eliminating anyone who simply doesn’t meet the immediate criteria (e.g. if the campaign require swipe up on Stories, anyone under 10k Instagram followers is automatically deleted from the long list). We have a data platform behind the scenes which allows us to monitor our members’ channel performance (e.g. average impressions and engagement per post) and see your audience demographics. We also track all our campaigns in this platform, so we can see members’ past commercial performance too. Anyone left on the long list following the initial eliminations we look at their profile on the platform to check their audience is right for the brief, check their past performance, etc. Engagement rate is crucial at this stage – if you’re below industry averages we simply won’t put you in front of the client.
FYI, the majority of agencies – at the time of writing – are using this RivalIQ report for benchmarking, however, we actually hold our influencers to a higher benchmark as the calibre of influencers on our network is generally higher than this. This makes it steep competition.
Step 4: Confirm who’s working on the campaign with the client
We will often make recommendations within the shortlist, but the final say of who works on the campaign sits with the client themselves – and they don’t always take our recommendations! Once they’ve let us know their final choices, we then contact the creators to double check they’re still interested and available and away we go!
What do you think makes one influencer more attractive to work with than another?
What’s important varies depending on the campaign objectives. For instance, if we’re looking to drive brand awareness, we’re going to choose people with a higher rate of impressions per post. But if we want to drive sales then it’s all about the high engagement rates – and if we’re on Instagram likely you’ll need over 10k followers so we can utilize swipe up as well as that’s far more likely to drive click throughs than any other platform at the moment.
I won’t lie – for a lot of agencies and brands that follower number still counts for something at face value. But once you scratch the surface – and thankfully, increasingly more and more of them are actually digging deeper than this – it’s the average impressions per post and the engagement rate that really counts. The industry is wising up and knows if you have 100k followers but you’re only reaching 2% with each post they could reach the same number of consumers with a small influencer and make their budget go a lot further.
The content itself is also really important – your photography style, whether there’s spelling mistakes, where your SEO authority lies. Sometimes your content just isn’t the right style, and that can’t be helped. It also means they’re probably not the right brand for you, so I wouldn’t get too hung up on it.
What makes a great collaboration and makes both you and the brands you represent want to work with influencers time and again?
First and foremost, did your content deliver the campaign KPIs? If you hit your impressions or engagement benchmarks that’s a good start! The quality of your content, how well it translates the key messaging into your own style – how authentic (that old buzz word!) you can make it.
It’s really, really worth flagging that how you conduct yourself, your professionalism, your ability to meet a deadline – all that basic stuff goes a long way. My team have discounted influencers at the shortlisting phase even if their content delivered to benchmarks in the past because they’ve simply let us down too many times and we can’t take that risk when we’re working with clients.
If you could get influencers to change/understand one thing, what would it be?
Their worth – and be realistic about it.
We’re seeing more and more blog posts with creators discussing how much influencers should be being paid. The industry needs an open discussion about this and we need to start standardising how we pay creators for everyone’s sake. But creators can’t simply demand the same as a fellow creator because they’ve been told it’s the going rate. You need to be realistic about the value you can prove and provide.
For example, Blogger Mildred says she should be paid £XXX for an Instagram post because that’s 1% of her following, yet her engagement rate is devastatingly low. Meanwhile, Blogger Nell has fewer followers overall but a 15% engagement rate meaning that she actually reaches more people per post than Blogger Mildred. We’ll work with Nell over Mildred every time as a higher engagement rate suggests a higher level of influence with that audience, meaning the campaign is more likely to convert (whether that’s awareness, sales or another objective). (And in this example Mildred isn’t worth the £XXX she’s quoting as her fee.)
Also, for many creators the world of marketing is completely new and we can tell a mile off those who have media, publishing or marketing experience – this is even more the case when we come into contact with someone who hasn’t ever worked in a professional environment before. My top tip would be to read industry news and swot up on business skills 101. Take a course if you can (HubSpot does some decent free online courses), offer a skill swap with another influencer who can show you the ropes, read The Drum, Campaign, Digi Day and start to understand the wider marketing world in which you function. It will pay dividends in the long run.
What advice do you have for influencers who would love to start working with brands?
Get to know your stats and get comfortable using reporting tools like Google Analytics, Instagram and Facebook Insights. Whether you’re working via an agency or direct with brands if you can’t report on your campaigns you simply won’t be able to keep up with what the industry expects. Data is key to success.
Do you have any insights on the future of influencer marketing and what changes do you think we can expect to see in the industry over the next few years?
I wrote an article on LinkedIn at the start of 2019 talking about what trends we were likely to see this year, which I still stand by.
Thinking more long term, I think it will be really interested to see how the influencer landscape shifts as social networks become more closed and personal over the next year or two. Snapchat has often been a secondary platform for creators – particularly in the parenting space – because of its limited functionality. It’s harder to broadcast yourself when you can only reach 32 people in a closed group at a time and can feel an inefficient use of time. But Facebook is going the same way (slowly, slowly) pushing everyone towards Groups in the last year and away from Pages, and we already know than Gen Zs are less interested in broadcasting themselves and more interested in having a closed circle of connections.
I haven’t got the answers to this I’m afraid but for creators who are in it for the long haul, they should already be thinking about how they’re going to continue to maintain a loyal and engaged fan base (whether you have 1000 followers or 100,000 that’s exactly what they are) and create a more personalised experience for their followers, which is what they’ll come to know and expect from how personalised social platform will become.
Join the Mumsnet Influencer Network for free for your chance to work with great brands, become a presenter on the Mumsnet YouTube channel and meet a supportive creator community sharing knowledge and top tips daily and follow Mumsnet Influeners on Twitter for the latest updates.
For more advice on using social media, read my interview with Kutova Kika.