How Sperry’s ‘Micro-Influencers’ Reach Impressive Heights for Little Cost on Instagram

They share photos with the brand—for free

Headshot of Christopher Heine

Sperry, which is known for its boat shoes that anchor its 41 U.S. stores, is ramping up its digital marketing game—specifically on Instagram. Since eMarketer recently predicted 74 percent of U.S. companies with at least 100 employees will use Instagram in 2017, that's a pretty ho-hum narrative so far, huh? But how the Waltham, Mass.-based company is been going about it is actually interesting—and sometimes a little extreme. 

In the last several months, the retail chain has worked with roughly 100 "micro-influencers," or consumers who were posting popular images of Sperry products on social media. Working with Curalate Explore, the retailer accesses and shares the pictures—with the consent of the photographers—to great effect. 

Check out the following Instagram pic from Sperry enthusiast Slava Daniliuk (@slavatheshrimp), which is the brand's most engaged with post of the year so far.

Daniliuk was inspired by Sperry's "Odysseys Await" campaign, and he began to post with the brand's hashtag, #OdysseysAwait, while exploring Lake Tahoe, Yosemite Park and other well-known locations. Recognizing his photography talent, Sperry invited him to create content for the brand's social channels, emails and website while he was off exploring on other freelance projects.

Like other Sperry micro-influencers, Daniliuk isn't compensated for his efforts. For what it's worth, the brand's marketing staffers are always sure to put micro-influencers' Instagram @handles in the image so they get credit no matter where their picture appears. 

"You never want to violate that trust," said Stacy Goodman, Sperry's digital marketing manager. "These are people that want to really work with our brand."

Justin McDonald, digital marketing specialist at Sperry, further explained how micro-influencers are selected for the program: "They might have posted about the brand once or twice, and we just loved the power of their content." 

"We don't just work with micro-influencers," Goodman added. "We have a wide variety of folks we try to work with."

For instance, McDonald said, their team is putting together a more formal ambassador program. It will start out with 12 people next year, and participants will include athletes, marine biologists and outdoors enthusiasts.  

Will they get compensated? "Our ambassadors receive a budget that they can use to engage their communities and audiences," Goodman said. "For example, by hosting a meet-up or other event that's inspired by the sea. This provides them with a means to further build their personal followings—both within and outside of social environments—in a way that's also relevant to the Sperry brand."

The ambassadors will complement the micro-influencers in Sperry's incremental, cost-savvy approach to social branding. It's "not all about ROI," she said. "We are constantly ensuring that we are [engaging] people."

It will be interesting to see whether the company will be able to retain Daniliuk and other top performers without paying them. At any rate, here is a handful of his other efforts for Sperry:


Challenge yourself to look at things from a new perspective. #odysseysawait @slavatheshrimp

A photo posted by Sperry (@sperry) on

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.