All the pretty pictures you see on Instagram that look like goals and include the hashtag #sponsored? Well, a LOT of work goes into making them happen! Whether you’re an aspiring influencer looking to partner with brands on sponsored posts, or just a social media consumer curious on what happens behind the scenes of a sponsored Instagram post, I’m sharing insight below to help debunk all the mystery!
Step 1: Secure the Collaboration
First things first, in order to be posting a sponsored post, you have to secure a collaboration! Brand collaborations come in one of three ways: an influencer reaches out to a brand, a brand reaches out to an influencer, or an influencer receives an opportunity through a third party influencer marketing platform or agency. Regardless of how contact is established, most sponsored posts have an agreement with deliverables (what will be shared, i.e. 2 Instagram feed posts and 1 IG story), a timeline (when the posts have to be completed), information about usage and exclusivity (how the brand can use your content and competing brands with whom you cannot work for x amount of time), and a rate (the payment for your advertising services!).
This should probably go unsaid, but if you’re working with brands, double check your exclusivity and post dates! The worst is when people post tons of sponsored content back to back, or post random filler content in between because they forgot to spread it out. Coming from someone who has done that before (hey, I’m always learning), just don’t. I’ve been told that a good ratio of sponsored posts to organic (non sponsored) content is 30% max, so I now try to follow this model.
If you want more info on how to secure more brand collaborations and how to set your rates, Brittany Hennessy’s (Head of Influencer Marketing, Hearst Digital Media) recent book Influencer: Building Your Personal Brand in the Age of Social Media is a gold mine of information. Seriously, bloggers at all stages should read this if they want to work with brands and do so responsibly!
Step 2: Plan the Shoot
Before I even agree to a campaign, I quickly brainstorm how I can tell a story through an image and a caption. If I’m struggling to come up with an angle, then it’s probably not the right campaign for me. If it is a good fit, I spend some time brainstorming what image I want to create, where I want to take the photo, what props I want to use, etc. For some people this comes really naturally. But if it doesn’t come naturally for you, STUDY and PLAN! I treat Instagram like my Pinterest and have saved collections for all sorts of shots – lifestyle, outfits, swimwear, home, restaurants. By curating pictures that inspire me and saving them by category, it’s easier for me to come up with ideas for when I do my own shoots. I never copy pictures exactly, but I definitely take inspiration from other creatives!
One of the most important aspects about a photo, and one that is often neglected, is the background or location. I could have shot my recent SheaMoisture bath campaign in my apartment because we have a bathtub, but I wanted to use a bathroom that was large enough to get wide shots so the video would be a better quality. When necessary, I book hotels – apps and sites like Recharge (get $25 off your first booking with code IJEOMA255) are great for booking a luxe hotel for a few hours or even minutes without having to pay the full rate. It’s what I used to book the Royalton Park a few weeks ago to shoot these pictures and the SheaMoisture video. Recharge is only in NYC and San Francisco, but you can book studio spaces (like I did for this shoot) or use Breather which is great for lifestyle or indoor photography. When I set my rates, I factor in photography, prop, and location costs – you’re being paid to create content, make it count!
Once I’ve figured out a couple of inspo pictures and settled on a location, I like to create a shoot moodboard in Canva to guide myself and the photographer I’m working with. I write down the number of photos I need, any pose ideas I have, or even any accessories I plan to wear with an outfit. The worst is when I shoot something and then forget that I wanted to wear a certain pair of earrings or to change my lipstick color. By planning ahead and creating a moodboard, I’m often able to knock out at least three different looks/campaigns at a time. Photographers have told me this makes their lives much easier, and if they’re less stressed during a shoot, you’ll likely get better pictures!
Step 3: Create Content
Time to take your pics! Although I change my hair a lot, I have a go to makeup look that I use for photoshoots so that my images look pretty consistent on my feed. Unless the campaign is specifically for out of the box beauty, the time to try on a green lipstick is NOT when you’re posting about a brand’s new pair of jeans. If you’re shooting at an unfamiliar location, try to arrive a few minutes before your shoot time to get a few ideas of where exactly you’ll be shooting. When you’re working with a good photographer, they’ll have an eye for this too, but it doesn’t hurt to make some suggestions as well.
If your deliverables are 4 images, DO NOT take 4 pictures and then leave the shoot. Always always always take way more photos than you need to because you never realize how often your eyes are closed or your mouth is open in a weird way, and shots are unusable. On top of that, you always want to send the brand more images than they ask for. Give them a reason to want to work with you again!
Often brands will want to see both your images and your example social copy before you post. Your draft due date will be set in your campaign agreement, so I try to schedule out my photoshoots at least a week before a draft is due so the photographer has time to edit, and I have time to come up with a caption. This doesn’t always happen and sometimes the turnaround is super tight, so sometimes I’ve come up with a caption before I even take the shot!
Step 4: Share Your Content
I don’t know about you, but this is always the most stressful part of a campaign for me. Have I created something interesting enough to capture my audience’s attention? Is the story or angle I share in the caption organic and engaging? I have no advice on how to get over this anxiety, but just make sure you do everything in your power to ensure your sponsored posts get similar engagement to your regular posts. Don’t experiment with post times for a sponsored campaign. For me, the best measure of success for a sponsored campaign is when it outperforms my regular content.
Once you’ve posted, don’t just put your phone down! Engage with people who’ve commented on your post. Answer any questions about the product or service you’re promoting. Share your post on your other social media platforms and in IG stories. If there are other influencers who were on the same campaign – engage with their content as well to show your support!
Step 5: Analytics & Invoices
You probably thought that the process ends once a post is shared, but there’s actually still a good amount of work left to be done. Whether or not a brand requests it, you should send screenshots of your post and story analytics within a few days of your post going live. If for some reason your post didn’t do as well as you’d liked, or as the brand expected, reflect on what went wrong and consider doing additional posts, even if the brand doesn’t ask for it. This is how you get on a brand’s good side! You’ll also want to keep a record of sponsored post performance for yourself. I have a spreadsheet to keep track of my campaigns to get a better sense of which ones perform well so I create more of that content.
Most campaigns will have a 30 or 60 day payout timeline, so once all deliverables are completed and analytics sent, be sure to send over an invoice that includes your name, address, campaign details, payment amount, and payment due date. Some brands will also ask you to send a W9 for tax purposes, so I have one saved and filed for quick sending. Set a calendar reminder for when your payment is due because sometimes brands forget, and nobody – NOBODY – is going to be running around remembering to pay you unless you stay on top of it! I usually give a 3-4 day grace period after a payment is due before I send a professionally worded email for folks to run me my money ?
Final final step, is to make sure you thank the brand or campaign manager for working with you! There are a thousand other influencers they could have chosen, so be honored that you were selected for the opportunity and put it on their radar that you’d love to work with them again on anything they have coming up for which you may be a good fit. This whole business is one of relationships and you want to keep them strong.
Hope this was insightful and informative, both for bloggers and for non-bloggers! Now that I’ve explained all the work that goes into sponsored posts, I fully expect you guys to go hard for me when I create sponsored content, and I’ll do the same for you!