For the uninitiated, finding success on social media may feel like striking gold—impossible to plan, but incredibly lucrative for the lucky few. In the home and design realm in particular, social media has transformed in just a few short years from a place to casually blog about home improvement projects and connect with other design aficionados to a career of its own—in some cases, one that’s successful enough for certain designers to abandon client work altogether and focus solely on content creation.
Stepping into that world, however, can feel like falling down the rabbit hole—the influencer industry (and a designer’s place in it) is constantly evolving. While it’s true that some factors involved in growing an online following are more alchemy than science, there are countless content creation tips, partnership strategies and general best practices that can easily turn even a modest following into a real source of revenue.
Bellevue Washington design experts were at last week’s Meridian Experience. Albie BuabengThis event is designed to provide attendees with a roadmap for content creation. This conference is for interior designers who work in the online sphere. The conference hosted a group of experts in the virtual design space—including Carmeon Hamilton, Dabito, Orlando SoriaUnd Emily Henderson’s design team—with the goal of educating emerging creators on how to best leverage their platforms to both bring in revenue and develop an online brand. Learn the top takeaways of this event.
Establishing Brand Relationships
Brand partnerships are a significant source of income for many online creators and influencers. Rashida BanksUnd Ashley BasnightThe speakers spoke about how to connect with people and companies that can help them. Finding the right person for a brand to represent it was the first step in pitching. What are their tips? Sometimes, it’s as simple as Googling the brand’s name and the title “influencer marketing manager;” in other cases, they suggested directly messaging the brand’s official account with an inquiry or reaching out to an already-partnered friend to make the introduction for you.
When it comes to putting together a compelling pitch, the pair presented a variety of strategies to help creators demonstrate their value while promoting a company’s products to their audience, regardless of its size. Building out a pitch with statistics, they explained, makes it much more appealing to advertisers—one easy (but integrated) way to conduct your own research is to poll your followers through Instagram’s Story feature, which can be as simple as posing a “yes or no” question. (Basnight’s example included asking followers if they had the same air-conditioning problem she had and that she knew could be solved through a particular brand’s products.) By citing the affected percentage, the creator can show how the partnership would resolve the problem.
Other pitch-improving methods covered searching online for a company’s annual financial report and specifically scanning the document for the “competitive strengths,” “strategy” and “risk” sections. That might sound dry, but if your content or partnership could offer a solution to a company’s challenges, that information could be used as context to develop your content pitch. Checking out a brand’s existing online ad library (easily searchable on Facebook) also offers a quick glimpse at the particular products or campaigns they’re currently promoting.
The creators also spoke in support of protecting your rights through contracts. Beware of the phrase “in perpetuity”—if a creator wants to work with a brand’s competitor in the future, things could get contentious. A time frame for partnerships and content use is much better than not. In advance of contract conversations, it also helps to conduct some preliminary research into the kinds of advertisements a brand may want to introduce—“white listing,” for example, is when an advertiser boosts a branded post that originates from an influencer’s account, while “dark posts” refer to targeted ads on social media that appear as sponsored content directed toward specific followers.
These tools are very helpful:Hunter.io provides an alphabetical guide to email formats that can be used by corporate clients. If you have the name of an individual you’d like to get in contact with, you can try plugging it into their company’s format to reach their inbox. Loom allows users to send video pitches—and also provides data like unique views to convey if a clip has been watched.
Let’s begin to create content. Joanna Hawley McBrideUnd Sara Ligorria-Tramp hosted a photo creator lab to share their expertise as designer-photographer influencers. The two of them shared some tips on photographing interior spaces in an iPhone. Personal touches—an open book, a steaming mug or a hand entering the frame to grab a drink off a tablescape—can also spruce up a lifestyle shot for brand partnerships. Photographing products in close-up and overhead angles is a favorite choice for advertising agencies. Portrait mode can be used to bring out the object’s essence.
When photographing branded products, the company’s logo should be clearly visible, and the item should only be used as intended—additionally, creators should be careful not to feature competitors’ products in the shot. The pair advised coordinating with the brand ahead of time to determine the company’s intended use for the image, and the appropriate payment for that usage. The content used, whether it is in advertisements, in magazines or online, might lead a creator to raise their fees.
These tools are very helpful:Snapseed is a photo editor that offers a tool for getting rid of light switches and cords. Another app, SunCalc, tracks the sun’s movement and phases during the day at a given location—a feature that can help with planning lighting needs when photographing interiors.
Buabeng herself led a lecture on affiliate marketing, which allows creators to earn a commission on sales generated by posting links to a product’s purchase page. As Buabeng described it, creators are reaching consumers “at the bottom of a funnel”—they’re already primed and ready to spend, as opposed to needing to be introduced to the brand. The influencer, then, is essentially earning a finder’s fee.
It is possible to use affiliate marketing platforms to connect creators and brands. Buabeng listed three of the most common, and each one will require applicants to go through an approval procedure. They all require applicants to vet social media accounts. In the Amazon Associates Program, creators can expect to hear back on their approval within a week of applying and can then generate links based on the e-commerce giant’s variety of partnering brands. The Associates Program is also often a segue into Amazon’s more exclusive Influencers Program, which offers a whole new host of perks—a unique vanity URL, a specialized Amazon storefront and livestreaming abilities among them. Buabeng started out as an associate and was promoted to the influencer level after four years.
ShopStyle Collective is another option for affiliate marketing with a low approval threshold. It means even those with small followers will be granted access. Buabeng admitted that the platform doesn’t have many vendors, however it provides a user-friendly interface to unique products in shoppable feeds or carousels.
The most selective platform is LTK, formerly known as RewardStyle, with an approval process that sets high standards for a creator’s average likes, engagement and follower counts, primarily because it yields the highest commission across brands. The platform also offers a robust vendor selection and the option to request new brands, as well as widgets you can embed within a blog or website and a useful feature called a “money spot” that links a collection of products to a corresponding page where they’ll be grouped together.
While affiliate marketing is a difficult revenue stream to plan for when setting financial goals—primarily because commissions vary from category to category and platform to platform—Buabeng argued that it can be a great metric to use when courting future brand partners. If your engagement is good, your audience will get in the habit of clicking links, feeding back into the cycle of strong engagement on sponsored posts—and providing a major selling point when demonstrating your audience’s buying power to brand partners.
These tools are very helpful:Amazon Associates, ShopStyle Collective and ShopStyle Collective have the largest number of affiliate link generating websites. For all creators, there are different levels of approval.
How to turn blogs into businesses
Henderson was the instructor for those who attended. He explained how to manage a blog that produces income. Henderson explained how to keep your blog alive by using it as a tool to educate, create content through design projects, work with brands, make affiliate links, and making money from ads.
The perks of monetizing an independent blog site mainly come from the amount of additional control a creator enjoys—on existing social media platforms, influencers are forced to contend with constantly changing features and mysterious algorithms in order to distribute and make money off of their content. A blog offers a more straightforward platform where posts won’t get buried in a timeline-based feed—an attractive point when working with brands, which often want sponsored content to have a permanent place on the internet to open the door to longer-term performance. Henderson’s team also explained their pricing structure—instead of issuing a flat rate for content, they negotiate every partnership based on parameters like deliverables, scope of work, marketing needs and how aligned it is with their brand.
Publishing content independent of an existing platform’s timeline also means that posts can generate passive income indefinitely—as long as they’re formatted in the back end of a site to produce the most searchability on engines like Google. The team extolled a few tips on boosting search results in order to reach a wider, more consistent audience, and by extension become more attractive to sponsors: In content management systems like WordPress, pepper the title, keywords and slug sections with popular search terms (that are still relevant to the content, of course) like “trend,” “budget-friendly” and “affordable.” For bonus points, placing relevant SEO terms in your Instagram bio—Henderson’s had “stylist,” “author” and “founder”—can boost your own name and profile in search results as well.
Taking a step back—and echoing Buabeng’s point about elusive financial targets—the team also shared some insights from the business strategy side of things, which included a nugget of wisdom about long-term planning in the content creation field—namely, that it’s extremely difficult to do. Beyond mapping out posts in accordance with key stages of monthslong projects, any attempt to align content creation with a five- or 10-year plan is “fruitless,” in Henderson’s words, due to the constantly changing nature of online trends and terrain. She suggested that instead of focusing on creating new content via social media and blogs, you concentrate your efforts building on existing work. Taking one day or even just a couple of hours out of the week to batch content, then “sprinkling it out throughout the week,” is one way to save time while building a following. To save time, you can choose to use a blog or other social media platform for your online growth and reuse the content across multiple platforms.
These tools are very helpful:Your content should make you money. Bloggers can make money with their content using online ads on blogs through popular management platforms AdThrive or Adsense.
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