Funded by revenues from brands paying them to promote products, these entrepreneurs represent an opportunity for businesses to reach a new audience on a more intimate level—on their personal Facebook or Instagram accounts, through the bloggers they already follow. The key is to find the right fit.
In this evolving marketing landscape, small businesses can connect with customers and drive sales by collaborating with online personalities and their vast audiences. For businesses, knowing how to find the right collaborator can mean more sales and exposure to new customers.
Promoting your brand through social media is particularly helpful for small- and medium-sized businesses because there's a larger potential to make a significant impact without spending a great deal of money. Many influencers with large followings charge significant fees to promote products, but influencers with medium-sized followings are sometimes willing to post items they like without charging.
Sai De Silva runs the children's fashion blog "Scout the City," which features her and her 3-year-old daughter, London Scout, roaming the city while dressed to the nines. Her agent, Jessy Grossman of Don Buchwald & Associates Inc., helps influencers like De Silva connect with businesses looking to venture into this new frontier of influencer marketing, based on tried-and-true principles. "The path to the consumer has changed but the process is still the same. Social media is the new word of mouth," Grossman said.
De Silva founded Scout the City as a hobby, a way to keep in touch with friends and family and to share her obsession with children's clothing. But her snapshots and observations resonated with an audience beyond her own circle. Since then, she and her daughter have been snapping clothing pics and lifestyle tips—and generating a full-time salary that way.
For would-be social media personalities, De Silva's top tip is to collaborate with others to grow your followings together. "In my latest collaboration with a blogger, Little Miss Alba, we got similar outfits from the same brand. Both kids wore the same dress, but now we have two different styles. Little Miss Alba is in London and we're in New York, so it's like U.S. versus U.K. style... We'll feature each other's kids, so we're leveraging each other's followers. It's so amazing how quickly you can build a following."
" Social media is the new word of mouth."
If you're starting out, reach out to peers rather than role models: if you have only 500 followers, De Silva suggests reaching out to someone else with a similar number of followers and interests whom you can collaborate with. "Don't expect to reach out to someone with a million followers," she said.
De Silva is all about leveraging. "Once you find a formula that works for you, it can carry over into any platform. We work with Kardashian Kids, so if they give us a shout-out, we can leverage all their followers." De Silva is getting ready to launch a YouTube channel for Scout the City, so she plans to follow her own advice: "I will be blindly reaching out to people I don't know to say, ‘Want to team up and maybe do a curly hair video together?' or something along those lines. Develop a formula and bring it to other platforms to see if it works."
De Silva got started by contacting brands to ask for free items. "Then, when you have a roster of different brands you work with, your numbers are up and you have loyal followers, you can put together a media kit and start asking for actual compensation for your time and work," she said. She only started a blog after Scout the City hit 10,000 followers, and didn't start asking for compensation until six months after the blog launched. By that time, she already had plenty of loyal readers.
When it comes to monetizing that taste of stardom, Grossman said, "One of the first questions out of brands' mouths is how many people are following this person. Even on Snapchat, which doesn't necessarily have metrics as much as the others, you can at least see views per snap. All of these numbers are extremely valuable to brands."
If you imagine that these social media mavens are scraping up spare change to compensate their hobbies, think again. "I know of a boy who does toy reviews and I think he raked in, like, $1.4 million last year," De Silva said. "Fashion bloggers can make between six and seven figures. If you have a YouTube channel, you're pretty much able to make over $1 million a year if you get a lot of views." She knows of another set of kid stars—two sisters under 10 years old who cook together online—who make about $150,000 per month, in her estimation. "There is a blog called Pink Peonies, and I believe she made $950,000 off of just affiliate marketing, not including sponsorships or endorsements. She's just posting what she's wearing and people are buying it."
"Fashion bloggers can make between six and seven figures. If you have a YouTube channel, you're pretty much able to make over $1 million a year if you get a lot of views."
Of course, not every online personality is a millionaire. "It really depends," De Silva said. "If you only have, like, 20,000 followers, don't expect millions. In that case, you'd probably make more like $1,500 a month."
Brands want validation that these marketing dollars are making a difference. De Silva can track metrics very closely because all of these transactions are online. She uses resources like rewardStyle.com and ShopStyle.com to track how her readers behave. "ShopStyle is pay per click, but any time someone clicks, even if you are just getting 5 or 6 cents, you can see what's going on, where they were, what exactly did they buy, and did they shop around and buy something else." She also uses a tool called LIKEtoKNOW.it to link her photos. That way, if people double-click to like any photographs, they'll get an email saying exactly what she's wearing in the image. From there, they can click on, say, a skirt and purchase it directly. That enables De Silva to track her readers' activities and be notified when they actually buy an item.
Being an influencer can be monetarily rewarding, but it is a lot of work. De Silva spends at least eight hours a day managing Scout the City, including waking up around 5 in the morning to get work done while her daughter sleeps. Then she needs to balance running the brand with being an actual mom. London, for her part, loves to take photos. "She loves to shoot videos and Snapchat. She takes her own snaps sometimes."
Grossman noted that anyone creating video content has the potential to make more money than those who only post blogs or photos. "There's more production value and it takes more time, and you can make more of a storyline. And time equals money."
Admittedly, social media influencers are real people, too, and balance is important. After working on social media in the morning, De Silva tries to focus on "doing mommy-daughter things like going to the park or getting ice cream" after her daughter gets out of school. "I don't want to shut myself off from social media, but... I don't want her to be like, ‘Remember when Mommy just had her face in the phone?' One day I'll wake up and she'll be 13."
After OMAMImini, a fashion-forward children's clothing brand, sent free clothing to London Scout to wear, that item sold out entirely. That early success may have been in large part due to De Silva's favorite phenomena: synergy and collaboration. When London wore OMAMImini's piece, she paired it with an item from Kardashian Kids, and that (much bigger) brand promoted the pictures all over the Internet. "We were sold out of that style within a week," owner Ola Omami said.
"We were sold out of that style within a week."
As a small-business owner, Omami's budget for public relations is limited, so social media is the main way for her brand to promote itself. "We have a budget for sending garments out, and that's not exactly free, either. But that gives us a high return," she said.
Omami has never paid a social media influencer to promote her products, other than sending free clothes. "I think sending goods rather than paying money is a better approach, if you have that option," she said. About half the time the social media personalities are the ones reaching out to her—for samples. That's because they've seen her brand elsewhere and want to wear her styles. "Don't just post photos and go away. Really think of your followers as your friends. Check your feed, like and comment on their posts, reply to comments and really be there. Make it really social."
For brands, it's very important to know your audience, Grossman said. When you're looking for influencers to represent your brand, look beyond who has the most followers. "You can have a million followers on Instagram, but if one photo is only getting 100 likes, there's a disconnect there. A lot of people on Instagram have paid followers…The way to know if what you're seeing is valid is to dig deeper. Go into individual posts daily to see how many of the followers are actually engaging," Grossman said. "In addition to looking at the number of likes, look at the influencer's comments."
If you're a small brand, think strategically about who you'll contact. Grossman said, "Once someone gets over 225,000 followers, that's your top-tier talent. If you're a fledgling brand, that's not necessarily in your grasp yet." That said, every deal is different and every brand has a different budget; there's no such thing as a standard rate in an industry that's so new.
Personality fit is also very important. Omami said, "I don't want just someone with a ton of followers. You want to know you're on the same page, passionate, that you have the same kind of style. We've been approached by several mom bloggers with tons of followers, but they have this pink, frilly tutu stuff. Their followers are not going to buy our stuff, which is more minimalist, so I had to turn [these bloggers] away. The way they style their kids, I would not want to repost their pictures." As a rule of thumb, Omami says no to prospective influencers if they don't post the kinds of things she'd want to republish for her own followers.
When reaching out to an influencer, De Silva suggested going to the person's blog to find their contact information, and to reach out through their agent if they have one. When brands reach out to her through direct messages on Instagram, she said, "I think it's very unprofessional." Perhaps most importantly, remember that this person is managing a business. "I get a lot of, ‘Hey, I'm gonna send you something for free, so just post it.' This is a business! That's not how it works!" Respect that this person puts forth a lot of effort, and take the time to learn his or her real name. De Silva said, "I get a lot of, ‘Hey, Mom!'"
Omami suggested starting with something simple, like explaining why you think this person would be a good representative for your brand. "I usually just say, ‘I was wondering if you'd like to collaborate with us.' Most people say yes, or, if not, they say, ‘We have such-and-such a fee in addition to the garments.'"
For brands that aren't currently on social media, this is the time to get on board, Grossman said. And for individuals looking for new revenue streams and ways to monetize their online passions, this is a new era of money-making opportunities.
"As the younger demographic continues to age, they will have grown up in a digital environment and be looking for advice in that medium," Grossman said. "It's definitely where the future is."