Have we told you lately that we're obsessed with Blab? It's true! Blab is a live-streaming video platform that allows for up to four people to chat on video at once. (Update: Unfortunately, Blab is no longer around! But you can still listen to the edited version of our chat using the podcast player below.)
This past week, we Blabbed with Mei Pak of Tiny Hands Jewelry & Creative Hive Co. and Cheri Tracy of Orglamix Cosmetics. Both women have partnered with influencers on Instagram multiple times to grow their following, their email lists, and ultimately gain more loyal customers and sales.
Press play on the podcast player below to hear the (slightly edited) version of the chat we had.
Mei Pak is a serial entrepreneur who started Tiny Hands Jewelry, a handmade scented food jewelry business in 2006. She now teaches other creative entrepreneurs about business at Creative Hive Co. Cheri Tracy sells colorful, cruelty-free cosmetics at Orglamix.com.
Growing an Instagram Following
Mei confessed that she grew her jewelry business account on Instagram from 0-1000 followers by buying those followers. She doesn't recommend doing this after having done it herself! It helped build up credibility early on but those followers were fake and unengaged. Mei started a second Instagram account for her newer business @creativehiveco For her new account, Mei has collected a list of hashtags that she knows her ideal customer is using. For every 50-70 likes she gives out to potential customers, a small portion will notice her, head to her profile, and if they like what she's doing, they'll follow her. Mei has 3500 Instagram followers for her @creativehiveco account that is only 3 months old! Mei doesn't follow people unless she finds really great stuff from them, but instead she likes and comments on others' photos to get them to take notice.
Cheri has primarily reached out to influencers to grow her Instagram account. She's reached out to accounts with 1500 followers all the way up to 100,000 followers. Cheri's Orglamix account is about to hit 10,000 followers as of October 2015.
Early on, Cheri also pushed her new Instagram account everywhere. She told her email list. She told her fans on Facebook. She connected with bigger names in her industry on Instagram to get noticed.
Pay attention to the time you post and how it performs. Cheri does a morning post, a lunchtime post, and an evening post around 8 PM. Her night-time posts get the most interaction.
Other ideas for growth: Loop Giveaways, or reaching out to accounts that feature handmade sellers.
Beth Anne has grown the @brilliantbizmom account to 2100 followers as of October 2015. She found relevant hashtags in her niche and liked and commented on recent photos. Then she would also find newer accounts interested in blogging or handmade business and like their photos along with following that account. Iconosquare helps her to unfollow the users who aren't following you back. Her current strategy is to post every day and use relevant hashtags in the first comment. (You can post up to 30 hashtags in one comment.)
How an Influencer Can Make an Impact
Mei started off with a great example of just how effective a partnership with an influencer can be. She found an influencer on Instagram one day who had a style and fashion sense matched hers perfectly. This woman was a musician on The Voice. Mei found her email address, introduced herself, told her she loved her style, told her about her jewelry, and offered to send some as gifts for her and her friends and family.
The email landed in the singer's publicist's inbox. The publicist relayed the information, and the woman chose several pieces that she really wanted. This woman then took a photo of all the jewelry laid out on the table and tagged her, and within 48 hours Mei had 2,000 new followers on Instagram.
Mei wants to note that these followers are completely different from paid followers. These are people who saw the photo of her products, genuinely liked them, and took the time to check Mei and her business out and choose to follow her. These are potential customers for Mei that she can build a relationship with.
How to Reach Out to Influencers
Cheri sends a direct message on Instagram to an influencer she wants to work with, and about 8 times out of 10, she receives a positive response back.
Whether the influencer wants free product, a gift card, or cash depends on the person and the size of their account.
Details to Consider
Use specific hashtags when working with an influencer (to draw in more viewers to the post) and specify the amount of time the post is going to stay up. Cheri thought her sponsored posts would stay up indefinitely, but then a larger influencer told her it would be $100 for 5 hours. So you have to specify whether the post will be up permanently or for a certain time-frame. Once a post is deleted, the hashtags and its ability to be found all disappear.
Do you ever send a cold package to Influencers?
Mei has heard of a brand who makes high-end chocolates. If they truly believe the person they're planning to send something to will love their products, and they can't get in touch with them via email or social media, they will go ahead and send out a blind product and that has worked for them.
For Mei, however, she always sends a pitch first to ask for their permission, and then they get to decide which of Mei's pieces they would like the best. Mei says of sending cold packages, “don't be afraid to do that with people who you think will fall in love with your stuff.”
Mei is dying to get in touch with Ree Drummond of the Pioneer Woman. We all had ideas for sending the perfect care package to her!
What should you say when you pitch an Influencer?
Cheri keeps her pitches really short and sweet, 3-5 sentences, and includes her email address if they'd prefer to get back to her that way versus Instagram direct messages.
Cheri will always find a connection or compliment she can give where she mentions a blog post she loved or an Instagram post she connected with. This lets them know she's a real person and genuinely likes what they do.
Focus on what you can do for them and their customer base and not what they can do for you. For example, Cheri can focus on someone who is an advocate for cruelty-free products.
Mei had several tips to share too:
Don't make the pitch feel like a favor. Make it all about them.
Don't be formal with your greeting. Don't say Hi Ms. So-and-so. That feels spammy. Call the influencer by their first name.
Mei keeps her pitches at 10 lines max.
Don't just read their latest blog post. You have to do your research. They will sniff you out if all you did was read the first post.
Mei also recommends including a P.S. note at the bottom of your emails, because people tend to read and pay attention to that P.S. note!
Mei reached out to an editor of Girl's Life magazine, and that editor had mentioned a band she liked. Mei was able to include a P.S. that she loved this band too and went to college with them!
Do Instagram Direct Messages Work?
Does an Influencer have to be following you in order to see your messages? No. You can direct message any account that you personally follow.
Whatever you would say in an email, Cheri sends in a direct message. She gets responses almost immediately for many of her pitches.
Cheri sent a message to Sue B. Zimmerman (the Instagram Expert) the other week and she received a response back within 5 minutes!
Most influencers get back to Cheri within 24 hours, and about 8 out of 10 pitches get back to her with a response. Cheri believes this response rate is much higher than if she were to email them. People who are on Instagram are really active and they're on there all the time. And direct messaging is still under-utilized so it's a quick win right now.
Note: If someone isn't following you on Instagram, your message will show up as a notification at the top of their inbox. The person receiving the message can click the notification and choose to allow messages from that person or not allow. So as long as they allow the message to come through, you're good! And either way, they should see that notification right at the top of their inbox.
How to Identify Influencers to Work with
Mei looks for as large a following as possible, but she also looks for great engagement. Her general rule of thumb is to have 5% or more engagement on each posts. For example, an account with 1,000 followers should have 50-100 likes or comments with each post.
If you have a list of hashtags that you know your customers are using, you can see the top 9 most popular posts for that hashtag. Chances are one of the top 9 photos was posted by an Influencer in your niche.
Finding the right Influencers involves some elbow grease. As you explore Instagram and interact, you'll run across Influencers and you can write them down and keep track of them on a spreadsheet.
Cheri also looks for accounts that have high engagement. She searches for relevant hashtags as well and keeps a running list of her favorites.
How to Weigh Follower Counts versus Engagement
Although 5% engagement might be hard to find, it tends to be way more worth it for Mei to find those accounts to work with versus just finding the biggest possible account.
Cheri agrees that she tends to get better results with smaller accounts because they tend to be more engaged.
In addition, larger accounts often require a cash payment of $250 or more, versus a smaller account who may accept a free product or a gift card.
When Cheri first started working with influencers she would provide the photos or they'd take one off of her website, but she's seen way better results with lifestyle shots – even if the influencer just shares the package they received. Natural shots right from the influencer perform much better than a generic photo from your site.
Mei says it's not impossible for influencers to use photos from your website. A lot of larger influencers charge more if you use their photo and less if they take their own photo (they got a free product from you.)
How much does it cost to work with an Influencer?
Cheri says that larger accounts look for a cash incentive. She's found prices anywhere from $10 up to $5,000 for a post that would stay up for 5 hours. (That account had about 300,000 followers at the time!)
Cheri always starts by offering free product of the influencer's choice, then she'll offer a $50 or $100 gift card. But many influencers just want cash. Cheri has found prices to be about $50-100 per 50,000 followers.
If a private account has representation, they may have rates posted. But Cheri has found that everything is negotiable.
Mei also stressed the importance of negotiating: “Just because we're women doesn't mean we have to always play by the rules,” she says.
Mei always chooses to send free product first. Next, she chooses to pay for features where it's anywhere from $40 to $200 with discounts for multiple features, and extra fees to also do a giveaway or keep the post up forever. At $300 you're normally getting a “package” of posts and benefits.
Another option: Working with feature accounts. These are accounts on Instagram that only post photos from other people's accounts within a very specific niche (such as planners, handmade items, skateboarding, you name it!). You don't know who they are or where they're located, but some of them get great engagement with their followers within their niche.
Tips for Streamlining on Instagram
Mei hired a Virtual Assistant who re-posts much of Mei's old content on Instagram. This system works because Mei's time is limited, but her engagement has gone down a bit as a result. She used to get over 1,000 likes with just 10,000 followers because she was posting fresh content and it was posted by her – the maker. Mei now gets 600-900 likes on a photo, and her account has over 20,000 followers. Mei tends to push posts from Facebook over to Instagram.
Hiring a virtual assistant for her main business Instagram account also has another added benefit: Mei gets to avoid the drama that can happen there. (Apparently heated words were exchanged over a bacon necklace…made with clay, not real bacon.)
Cheri pushes posts from Instagram over to Facebook to populate her page more often. Facebook and Instagram work well together because you can use a square photo on each so you don't have to edit and re-size.
In general, both ladies (along with us!) found that the followers they have on Instagram aren't usually the same people who follow them on Facebook. You're reaching a new audience when you grow on Instagram.
How to Track Sales from Instagram
Cheri uses a bit.ly link in her profile that is linked to a landing page on her site. Her goal with Instagram is not necessarily to get direct sales but to gain email subscribers. Cheri knows the lifetime value of a subscriber so she can track how well sponsored campaigns are working based on how many new subscribers she may get on a certain day when a campaign is live.
Cheri also recommends doing a featured post in combination with a giveaway because your engagement will be much higher. In addition, you can offer a custom discount code to that community and this will allow you to track the success of that feature based on how many customers use that code.
Mei recently moved over to Shopify, but before that she used a self-hosted e-commerce platform. She asked each customer how they found out about her. The majority of her customers came from Facebook, with Instagram coming in at a close second. So even though Mei couldn't directly track Instagram sales she could easily tell that many of her customers were coming from the platform.
Mei reminded us that there are many marketing strategies that you can't directly track – for example, giving out business cards at a craft show or a friend telling another friend about your shop.
There's another barrier to marketing on Instagram – you only have one clickable link which is in your profile. However, Mei says you can counter this resistance by selling directly on the platform. You can ask followers to comment with their Paypal email address to purchase an item and be invoiced via Paypal. Beth Newitt has successfully done this as well.
Spreesy.com allows you to bring your entire shop over to your Instagram profile, and you can do this on Facebook as well. It counters the barrier of only having one link to click on.
Link your Spreesy account to Instagram or Facebook and when someone comments with their paypal email address to purchase the product, you don't have to manually send them an invoice, spreesy just automatically sends the invoice to them and tells them how to check out. You're meeting people where they're already hanging out and not forcing them to leave a social media platform.
With Spreesy, people can subscribe to any new product that you're adding to your Instagram profile as well so they'll be notified when you come out with new items.
Check out Jill from Rustic Cuff's interview where she shared how she sends her products to Influencers for publicity and exposure.
A few Instagram accounts who feature handmade products that might be worth checking out. For many of these accounts, a feature that stays up forever costs just $25.
Find Cheri and Mei online!
Cheri Tracy: Orglamix.com
@Orglamix on Instagram
Mei Pak: CreativeHiveCo.com