Growing your Instagram following and engagement rate is hard work and takes a lot of time and commitment, so the idea of becoming an influencer, receiving free products, and getting paid to post is a common goal for many Instagramers out there.
You can find tons of advice online on how to grow your account and even agencies who connect you with companies looking to hire influencers. But funny enough - there isn't much information available on what brands actually look for in an influencer.
So when I met with Nikhil, one of the founders of SaladPower in NYC, I jumped on the opportunity to hold an interview with him about exactly this topic.
Tell me a little bit about SaladPower... What's your philosophy?
We started SaladPower to solve a problem - every juice that we could get our hands on here in NYC always put a lot more fruits than vegetables in their juices. That meant very high calories and sugar levels in each bottle without a lot of nutrients. Even the new and trendier juice companies played this same trick - they’d show you a “green juice” and tell you it's loaded with kale and spinach. However, the fact of the matter is that all those juices were loaded with apple juice and just had a couple of drops of kale and spinach in there. We thought that was misleading.
What makes SaladPower different is that we put our blend of superfood vegetables as the first ingredient in all our flavors! That means our juices are lower in calories & sugar and higher in vitamins than the other guys - simple as that! Along with being “the healthier juice”, we also really value being honest about our nutritional claims and inspiring our community to inform themselves about food. We always say that “the healthiest thing you can do is inform yourself about nutrition". Knowledge really is power when it comes to food, because the more you know, the more informed your decision making will be when you’re shopping for groceries. The USA is definitely moving in the right direction when it comes to health and nutrition literacy but we still have some way to go. We’d love to be a part of the new wave of companies out right now that motivates their communities to learn about nutrition and food science in as thorough and fun of a way as possible.
How long have you been working with influencers on Instagram?
Since we launched in November 2016. It's one of our primary ways of building brand awareness.
How has that strategy impacted your brand and the growth of your Instagram account?
It's been tremendously impactful. Influencer marketing is really useful when done correctly. We work with a lot of food and health-focused influencers on Instagram who genuinely love our product and our mission as a company. We have a strict policy of only working with influencers that genuinely like our products & have the same values as us. Having this rule means that all of our influencer work comes across as really sincere and honest - because it is!
What do you look for in an influencer?
Passion is the first thing we look for. Though we work with influencers with very different lifestyles (some are purely food focused, others are focused on either fitness, fashion, or wellness), we need to see that they’re passionate and sincere about what they do. They also need the obvious things: a decent engagement rate, follower count, a good looking feed and a consistent posting rate. We also look for someone who believes in our values of being honest about nutrition, promotes a balanced diet and most importantly… They need to be a fan of veggies!
What matters more, the number of their followers or their engagement rate?
In our opinion, both are important metrics but engagement is the key variable that helps us decide whether or not we want to activate them. Some influencers with only 10k followers have much better engagement rates than influencers with 50k followers. At the end of the day, we want to get as much actual exposure with an audience that genuinely interested in the influencer they follow, and it's sometimes the case that an influencer w/ 10k followers + heavy engagement will get SaladPower more exposure than a follower with 50K followers + low engagement.
Do you generally reach out to accounts you want to work with or do you get contacted by Instagramers?
We now do both! When we launched in November 2016, we reached out to a lot of influencers at the beginning. Now, we get around 20 messages a week asking to do a collaboration of some kind. We also get a lot of influencers that follow us on Instagram because they like our content - we actively look through every new person that follows us and we reach out to those who we’d love to work with. Influencers are much more willing to work with you if your mission is clear and your feed looks aesthetically on point.
What would you recommend to Instagramers who want to start working with brands? (Should they put together a media kit? Is it ok to just reach out to a brand on social media or is it better to find the email address for the PR person/sales/marketing team, etc.)
You can’t become an influencer overnight. You first need to build a legitimate community around a particular mission or lifestyle that you’re passionate about - there are a TON of healthy food accounts out there now so just posting about healthy food once a week will not cut it. Given that there is so much noise in the Instagram food world now, you need to cut through that noise with unique, relatable, memorable and high-quality content. Instead of just posting a photo of kale 7 times a week, try to focus on a more specific aspect of health/wellness that really speaks to you. They also should worry more about engagement than follower numbers, and remember that success in this space will not come overnight. It takes time before you can gain a legitimate follower count and engagement rates to get a brand’s interest. Also, use hashtags to get more exposure!
One you’ve achieved a reasonable amount of success in that department, and you think you can bring some value to promoting a brand, I think it's ok to reach out to brands through a direct message first and then move the conversation to email. Definitely, know your price before going into negotiations and try to bring as much value as possible to your work with brands - that will guarantee that they will come back to work with you again in the future.
Can new influencers expect to get paid or is it more likely for them to receive free products to start with?
It's hard to say - to me “new influencer” is a bit of an oxymoron, because if you’re new then by definition you do not have the level of influence necessary to be labeled an “influencer”! But once you’ve been posting for a while and have a decent following and a good level of engagement and you want to get started in the influencer world, a mix of free products and small paid gigs to start should be expected.
Free work when you’re at the bottom of the ladder is a very common thing - we give out free samples and product all the time. Free work is actually a great tactic to get involved with a big company because if your work for them is good enough, you can leverage that good work into a more long term paid relationship.
Is there a general rule accounts should follow when contacting brands (for example if you have less than 10k followers should you try and work with brands that also have less than 10k followers?)
We don't have any set rules here. We work with influencers of various sizes for a few different things. We don't focus on the numbers too much. Instead, we try to answer the question - what kind of value will this collaboration yield for our followers and your followers? Asking that question is the key to having a winning strategy in the social media space - it's not just about doing a collaboration for the sake of doing one, it's about creating something of unique value for people to enjoy and like your brand!
A great example of this “unique value” content creation is… this exact interview! We’ve been talking to Carla for a while now and we both agreed that we didn’t want to do something that had been done many times in the past - people don't need to see another infographic on why kale is healthy anymore. They get that. But interviews like this are much less common, which is why we loved the idea! Always asking the question “why would anyone want to consume this content” is crucial whenever you’re about to post something. We have created and brainstormed a ton of ideas and collabs with people that we don't bring to completion because it simply isn’t unique and high quality enough. The best way to win is to tell your story by offering fantastic and unique content on a consistent basis.
Thank you so much, Nikhil and SaladPower for this interview, and for allowing us to gain an understanding of this topic from a brand's perspective!
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