1. Define your brand.
You'll see the best engagement if you're able to define your niche. Do you want to post food and health related content, or focus on fashion? Whatever the case, it's important to establish your brand.
Besides the type of content you post, branding has a lot to do with your overall aesthetic. How do you want to style your posts? What's your messaging? To further solidify your brand, you might want to consider creating a cohesive feed theme (use these feeds for inspiration).
Specificity is key. A good influencer's posts are distinguishable and unique -- when a user is flipping through her feed, she'll be able to pause and recognize every time she sees a post from that influencer. As she continues to see similar content, she'll grow to trust that brand as an expert in the field. If the influencer suddenly and randomly changed course, the user might not understand or trust the content anymore.
Additionally, you might want to connect your Instagram brand with an online presence. Creating a website with similar aesthetic and messaging is a good way to do this -- the more you unify your social media accounts, the easier it will be for brands to distinguish how you can help them.
2. Know your audience.
Knowing your audience is critical for convincing a brand to work with you. It's mutually beneficial for you, as well -- if you understand your audience, you're able to correctly identify which brands will see the most success from using you as their sponsor.
Start by gathering the basics -- what is the gender, age, and geographical location of your core demographic? Which of your posts do they like the best? What times of day do they respond best to content, and what can you infer from this?
The demographic information you gather will help you pitch partnerships with brands. Brands want to know who they can reach if they work with you. Explaining "You'll be reaching thirty-something, working women, primarily from New York, who often use Instagram first thing in the morning and prefer fitness content" is certainly more powerful than saying, "You'll be reaching women."
3. Post consistently.
CoSchedule gathered research from 14 studies to identity how often you should post on social media sites. For Instagram, they found you should post a minimum of once a day, but can post upwards of three times a day.
CoSchedule also found 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM, and 2:00 AM, are the best times to post.
To grow your following, it's critical you post at least once a day. Instagram's algorithm favors new and fresh content, and you don't want your audience to unfollow you or forget about you from lack of consistency.
However, you'll need to figure out what works best for you and your audience. Perhaps your audience feels bombarded when you post three times a day, or maybe they prefer it. Maybe your audience engages most with your posts at noon. It will take some trial and error, as well as Instagram metrics tools, to figure this out.
4. Use hashtags and geotags.
Hashtags make your content more discoverable, so they're necessary for growing your following. You can use up to 30 hashtags per post, but TrackMaven found nine to be the optimal number for boosting engagement.
You'll want to use hashtags as relevant to your content as possible. You'll also need to check to make sure the hashtags you use aren't broken or banned (take a look at this list of banned hashtags if you're unsure).
It's critical you choose hashtags that aren't too broad. #Healthyliving, for instance, has over 20,000,000 posts, while #healthylivingtips only has 13,000. The less competition, the easier it will be for your content to get discovered.
When you peruse a hashtag's page, you can also get a deeper sense of what types of content your post will be up against. #Healthylivingtips might typically feature posts with food recipes, while your post is about cycling -- this could defer you from using that hashtag.
Geotags are equally important, but for a different reason. Geotags can help people find you if they're interested in a certain location. This helps you gain more followers, and it also helps you appeal to brands that are interested in reaching a certain demographic. For instance, maybe a boutique sees you often post fashion tips from the California area, and they're looking to appeal to people in that region -- it's a win, win.
5. Tag brands in your posts.
Okay, now you're officially ready to begin reaching out to brands. You've defined your brand and audience and have created some quality, authentic posts. Now, you should have a pretty good idea what types of businesses would benefit from a partnership with you.
It's important to start small. If you're interested in skincare, don't go straight for Estee Lauder -- instead, try tagging small skincare start-ups you've seen across Instagram already.
Let's take a look at an example -- @Tzibirita, a travel influencer, posted this image of herself wearing a Paul Hewitt watch. The image is high-quality and fits with her brand, and she tags @paul_hewitt in her description. Even if you're not paid by Paul Hewitt, you can still post the same type of content and tag their brand in the post. Ideally, it will at least put you on their radar.
Begin with small brands and tag them in your descriptions. Engage with your audience by responding to comments like "Where can I get one?" or "How much?" and the brand will soon see you've proven yourself a suitable sales partner.
6. Include contact information in your bio.
Consider your bio a chance to signal to brands your interest in becoming an influencer. Include an email or website so they can reach you, and include a press kit if possible.
For instance, @tzibirita doesn't waste her bio space. She includes her email and website, and even adds a title -- "content creator". Brands will have no doubt she's open to doing business with them.
7. Pitch paid sponsorships.
There's nothing wrong with reaching out to brands and offering your services. With the right pitch, you might be able to land some gigs without waiting for brands to find you.
Look for brands that clearly invest time and money into their Instagram presence. You might start by researching what similar influencers in your industry already sponsor. Remember, it's okay to start small. Working with smaller brands will allow you to build a portfolio.
Once you've curated a list of brands that might want to partner with you, send them an email. In your pitch, clearly and briefly outline who you are, what you do, and any achievements you have in the field that make you an expert. Then, explain why you're a good fit for the brand, and include data such as follower count and average engagement rate.
Alternatively, you might consider sending a brand a DM straight from Instagram. It's certainly more relevant to the job you're vying for, but it might get lost if a brand get hundreds of DMs a day.
8. Know your worth.
Make sure you know how much you're going to charge when brands reach out to you. The industry standard is $10 for 1,000 followers, but it could also vary depending on how many likes you get per post. Additionally, as you grow, you'll be able to charge more.
While you'll want to have a minimum set, you can negotiate to encourage brands to pay more. Perhaps for $300, you'll throw in five Instagram Story posts, and a link in your bio to their website for 24 hours. You can use other Instagram features to sweeten the deal.
Once you have your pricing structure nailed down, you'll need to know how to sponsor a post on behalf of the brand you're working with. Now, keep in mind there are two different kinds of "sponsored" posts: those for which brands pay Instagram, and those for which brands pay another user.
Confused? Here's what I mean:
What's a Sponsored Instagram Post?
A sponsored post on Instagram is paid for by the poster to reach a wider audience. There are two main types of sponsorships: In one, a brand creates a post and pays Instagram for access to a custom audience. In the other, a brand sponsors another Instagram user -- often called an "Influencer" -- who creates a post that features the brand in some way.
Here's more detail on each type of sponsored post:
Promoted Posts & Ads
Just like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, Instagram comes with a native ad management platform. Advertisers can use this tool to customize a target audience -- using attributes like age, sex, location, and interests -- and invest a specific amount of money to getting their post in front of Instagrammers who identify with this audience.
The thing to remember here is that the advertiser is making and publishing the post. They're paying Instagram for the audience they want access to, but the post is theirs to create.
Paid sponsorships take place between a brand and another Instagram user. Typically, this user has a personal brand and attracts an audience of his or her own. This user is often called an "influencer."
This person can then use the steps explained earlier in this article to find and work with brands that appeal to a similar audience. When they find a brand who wants to sponsor them, they can charge this client a certain amount to create a post that features their product or service. Think of it like social media product placement; just like a business might pay a TV show to have their brand of soda on the countertop in the series finale, they can also pay a person on Instagram to hold that same soda in a picture on their Instagram feed.
Clearly there are more creative sponsorship ideas you can come up with -- I decided to go with a cliché ...
Influencers are similar to Instagram's ad manager in the sense that they both draw an audience that brands might not otherwise have access to. However, the differences in this type of sponsorship are that the brand is paying the influencer -- rather than Instagram -- for access to their audience, and the influencer -- rather than the advertiser -- is the one creating and publishing the post.
There are numerous influencers for each industry. Here's a big list of today's known influencers and the types of audiences they attract.
Using #ad and #spon Hashtags
In the past couple years, brands have come under fire for hiring influencers but not making it clear to the audience that these influencers were getting paid.
Department store Lord & Taylor, for instance, settled charges with the FTC in 2016 after paying 50 influencers to wear a dress in their posts without hashtagging #sponsorship or #ad.
Influencers are supposed to hashtag #ad or #sponsored in posts they're being paid for, but these tags make some brands uncomfortable because it makes the post appear inauthentic.
In 2017, Instagram released a paid partnership feature to combat this issue -- if you tag a brand in a post and the brand confirms the relationship, the ad will be marked at the top with a "paid partnership" label. This also helps the brand gather data regarding how well the campaign is performing.
It's critical your followers know if you're getting paid to promote a product. Ethics aside, it could destroy your account's credibility if you're caught, and lose everything you've worked hard to build -- namely, an authentic, trusting community.
If you truly don't want to post #ad or #spon, there are some ways around it -- for instance, Airbnb created the hashtag #Airbnb_partner, to signal a paid partnership without using the word "ad".
When in doubt, adhere to Instagram's policies. You can read Instagram's branded content policies in full here.
Ultimately, getting sponsored on Instagram isn't easy -- it takes time, effort, and perseverance. But if you work hard to differentiate yourself in the industry, and connect on a personal level with your followers, it can be extraordinarily rewarding.
Originally published May 28, 2019 5:02:00 PM, updated October 30 2019