A Guide to Working with Online Influencers

6 September 2016

By Jackie Nourse

What is an influencer?

In an online world that is constantly budding with countless forms of new media, the rise of the “influencer” is in full effect. But, what exactly is an “influencer”?

© ATTA / Juno Kim
© ATTA / Juno Kim

In short, an online influencer is a content producer who has his or her own audience. This may include bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers, vloggers, photographers, Instagrammers, Snapchatters and more.

The most important difference to understand between journalists and online influencers is that the former produces content for someone else’s publication, i.e. writing a story or shooting photos for a magazine and getting paid for it by that magazine, while influencers publish content to audiences that they have created on their own platforms or social channels. Influencers are not necessarily interested in finding “the next big story,” but instead create content around the things they feel will best resonate with their audience.

Why work with an influencer?

It’s all about reaching a target audience. We know that independent online publishing and social media platforms can be used to attract and maintain large audiences, and brands have an unprecedented opportunity to put their product or destination in front of these audiences in a trusted way they can't achieve on their own.

”Working with influencers is all about advocacy. When the right influencer spreads your message to their followers, there is an impact being made that most brands and companies cannot make on their own. By working with influencers, you are activating enthusiasts to serve as partners to share your message in a trusted way with their networks. To do this most effectively, find influencers who can add their own value to your brand - whether that’s trust, evangelism, or making an emotional connection - and activate the right ones who can speak out passionately on your behalf. Then develop long term relationships by making the right influencers your ambassadors.”

-- Nathaniel Boyle, Podcaster and Founder of Holocene

Tips for working with influencers

1) Know who you want to work with and why.

Before you sit down with an influencer, check out his or her website. If a media kit is available, request it and review it to learn more about that person, his or her style of work, audience demographics, and options (and sometimes rates) for potential collaborations. This essential information will set the foundation for whether or not an influencer is a good fit for what you have in mind to accomplish.

"Find out their strengths and focus. Start a conversation and build a relationship first, then start to brainstorm ways to work together based on your needs AND the strengths that the influencer adds to the puzzle.”

-- Elena Sonnino, Blogger at Live. Do. Grow.

Remember, it’s not all about story ideas; it’s about what we will find that will inspire us and resonate with our audiences, it’s about the our strengths, interests and personality, the production medium, the platform content, and the overall compatibility of the relationship.

2) Find an influencer with an engaged, established audience.

Successful influencers have captive, loyal audiences. Most of us have built these audiences through many years of commitment, consistency, and frankly, being good at what we do, such that our audiences keep coming back for more. We do this through engagement and production of great content. Our followers see us as friends, they trust our judgment, they want to do the things we do, go the places we go, sometimes even wear the clothes we wear.

If it's just quantity you're after, then there are more traditional routes for simply getting eyeballs on your product. What influencers have to offer is a richer level of audience engagement that can be cultivated like a relationship. In this way, the influencer acts as a sort of conduit for authenticity, bridging a trust gap that inherently exists between a company and a target audience.

The longer the influencer has been in the business, the more likely you are to find success in your collaboration.

“Never work with anyone who has been doing it less than two years.”

-- Gary Arndt, Photographer at Everything Everywhere

3) Find an influencer whose audience matches your target market.
Influencers can tell you who makes up their audiences. We know who follows our content, very often by name, and we can share these demographics with you. For example, my platform attracts mostly women ages 18 - 35 from the U.S. who have at least a college education and like to travel. Knowing what your target audience looks like and matching it with that of an influencer puts you one step closer to a successful collaboration. You can find this information by requesting media kits.

4) Recognize the creativity and self-sufficiency of influencers.

Influencers are their own creative editors. Our content and audiences have been built over time through trial and error and learning what works best for our platforms. It’s safe to assume that our followers appreciate us for our honest, unique voices and our creative approaches to producing content.

Give the influencer space to bring ideas to the table. We do what we do because we are creative. We have ideas, we know what works best with our audience, and we know what we’re good at. Allow us to propose these ideas and to be creative and above all, honest; this is where the audience’s trust is earned and kept.

5) Set aside a budget to work with influencers.

It’s important to understand that influencers don’t magically get paid by their own platform to produce, publish, and promote a piece of content to their beautiful, hard-earned, loyal followers. If their platforms are making money, they are likely earning it through advertising, sponsorships, brand collaborations (influencer marketing) or other forms of everyday hustle.

While every case is unique and negotiable, many successful influencers won't work for free or in exchange for free travel. As an example: In traditional marketing, brands can buy advertising in a magazine to access that magazine’s readership; the magazine expects the brand to pay for that space in its publication. Likewise, if you want to get in front of an influencer’s loyal, trusting audience, which also happens to be your target market, you can expect to pay for it, especially if that influencer is using her unique skills to create new content around your product that will be published on that platform. There is no standard rate, as there is no standard influencer.

Finding the right influencer to work with tends to be one of the greatest obstacles for brands or destinations. We come in all shapes and sizes with multiple mediums for producing content, and it takes time to get to know us, just as it takes time for us to get to know you. Start by learning what activates the enthusiasm of an influencer by doing a brief study of her work, and if you see potential, proceed with an introduction requesting a media kit, and then follow up with ideas and communication. Make sure you align with an influencer in authentic ways, and it could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Jackie Nourse is a member of the ATTA’s Adventure Media Advisory Group and is a lifestyle adventurer and multimedia traveler. She writes at Traveling Jackie and is the founder and host of the top-ranked The Budget-Minded Traveler blog and podcast. Find her at @travelingjackie and www.TravelingJackie.com.