Francis Trapp is the CEO of Brandnew IO, the influencer network that connects brands with the world’s most influential users to deliver campaigns on Instagram and Pinterest.
Instagram recently announced they now have over 300 million users and that they would soon introduce verified accounts and any people or posts that don’t follow Instagram’s community guidelines. Last month, the “insta-rapture” occurred with some losing as many as one million followers at once. As a result, the purge sparked various debates about the business of buying followers and the overall value of influencer marketing.
This debate is nothing new, but it is often centered around influencer marketing as it relates to brands. We rarely hear of the flip side as told from the influencer’s perspective, that is: How do you balance influencer marketing with personal branding and how do you choose the brands to work with? Some influencers have managed to make a living off Instagram, simply by using their influence to promote brands in an authentic way. One prime example is Michael Schulz, a former user experience architect who quit his day job to do freelance influencer marketing, lending a creative hand to brands he believed in.
Schulz (@berlinstagram) now works with social native ad platform Brandnew IO to create custom and creative campaigns and leverage his influence of nearly 400,000 followers. He’s worked with Brandnew IO for campaigns including Universal Pictures and Spotify, and his latest undertaking is bolstering Europe’s vibrant hostel market to draw in young, urban target groups for Generator Hostels. Within a month, Michael grew @GENERATORhostels’ account from 1,500 to 4,000 followers, organically.
“I’ve been a member of the Instagram community since 2010 and quickly became a suggested user just by posting creative and engaging content that was organically appealing,” said Schulz. “Full-time influencer marketing is a creative, ever-changing environment and my experience yielded some helpful insights valuable for anyone interested in influencer marketing.”
Don’t confuse numbers with influence
Numbers lie in that they don’t immediately add up to influence. As a member of the Instagram community for more than four years, Schulz dedicated himself to visual campaigns that result in a win-win situation for both the brand and Instagram audience.
“I seek to ignite the imagination of my community with captivating photos and stories, while also increasing exposure and providing direct feedback and user reach for my client brand,” said Schulz. “I believe that brands’ campaigns can incite the community’s creativity, but only with organic engagement and compelling incentives.”
Many influencers are in a rush to obtain followers by any means necessary, and taking this shortcut won’t get you far with brands who understand the clear difference between audience and influence. Their main goal is to move consumers closer to a point of purchase, so your goal should be focusing on creating quality content and understanding and engaging your audience – then your numbers and your influence will grow.
Only work with brands that are a good fit for your personal brand
Once you’ve built your followers and influence, brands will come knocking – but it’s important to be careful about which door you choose to answer.
“I’m very careful about what brands I choose to work with, and only work on campaigns that I know are a good fit for my personal branding style. After all, this is a relationship – not a one way street,” said Schulz. “I once worked on a campaign for a European car and received some negative feedback from my followers, which taught me a valuable lesson: No matter how many brands you work with, your account is your personal brand and your relationships define your reputation.”
Fight for your right to be creative
Sometimes brands can get very caught up in the advertising piece of Instagram; and as a result, forfeit creativity. Michael built a rapport with his Instagram audience through creative and engaging campaigns, and it was important to him that he fight to maintain that.
“Originally, I was against doing promotions on my Instagram, but I changed my mind when I realized there is room to be creative,” said Schulz. “I saw opportunities to incorporate my personality and expertise into Instagram promotions, rather than just post a product placement shot.”
Find these opportunities and be prepared to show, in detail, how your creativity will produce the desired results for the brand you’re working with.
Craft concepts that fit naturally in the community
For Generator Hostels’ photo campaign, Schulz created an original hashtag, #WHILEINBETWEEN, to encourage Instagrammers to take photos while traveling from the point of departure to their destination and vice versa. He got Generator Hostels’ staff involved to share city snaps, event photos, behind-the-scenes footage and photos of the staff, which let the audience know how involved the brand was.
The contest launched with a buzz, and people instantly liked the topic and started creating and tagging photos. Within one month, the photo contest generated more than 5,000 submissions and the client’s account grew from 1,500 to 4,000 followers. The winner, without being asked, even created her own photos mentioning that she enjoyed her experience. The hashtag #whileinbetween became so commonly used that Schulz decided to launch a separate account to curate favorite photos of the almost 10,000 hashtagged pictures.
“What made our contest so successful is thorough research of the client’s focus, the current content stream and identifying key differentiators from similar campaigns,” Schulz said.
Countless branded photo contests on Instagram fail simply because they are artificially imposed and not accepted by the Instagrammer community. Many brands and agencies lack insights on the characteristics of Instagram: They don’t understand that users don’t want to share and post anything just to win something, because social media identities are carefully crafted self-portrayals. To execute a successful photo contest, it is most important to identify existing trends within the social network and lean into it. With the right expertise and knowledge, it is possible to create a buzz on Instagram and achieve great results.
Is it worth it?
“The short answer is yes,” said Schulz. However, he agrees that getting to the point of full-time influencer marketing is work. Nevertheless, it’s possible if you are consistent, collaborative and creative.
“A great influencer is one who creates great content, really takes on what is said in the campaign brief and cares about delivering a good campaign and making the client happy,” Michael said. “What makes it ‘worth it’ for me is connecting with brands I actually care about in a way that’s mutually beneficial.”
Brands are always trying to understand their consumers, and influencer marketing provides a way to do just that, while offering Instagrammers an opportunity to collaborate with brands and include other consumers in the process.