MARKETING STRATEGY

How To Find Bloggers To Collaborate With Your Small Business

How to find bloggers to collaborate with your small business - for new brands who can't afford to hire a PR agency for blogger outreach, this blog post has tips for finding the right bloggers to partner with and other important things your should know when pitching bloggers!

I’ve answered this question for a few people in my network recently, but after getting wayyy too many “bad” email pitches lately, I figured it was definitely worth writing a whole post (actually a couple) on the topic! As a blogger, I’ve collaborated with dozens of brands, and as a brand / marketing strategist, I’ve pitched tons of bloggers / influencers, so I’ve been on both sides of successful (and not so successful) collaborations. If you’re a brand / business owner and want to collaborate with bloggers, you need to know how to find bloggers to collaborate with your small business the right way, since there are a lot of wrong ways. The wrong ways are annoying so just don’t go there. Here’s what you need to know…

PART 1: How to Find Bloggers / Influencers to Collaborate With (this post)

PART 2: How to Pitch Bloggers / Influencers For Collaborations (coming soon!)

First of all, know your purpose (and your budget)

Why do you want to collaborate with bloggers anyway? “To gain exposure” is vague and not a good answer. Do you want more traffic to your site? More social media followers? More email subscribers? More sales during a specific promotion? For a collaboration to be successful, you need to know what you want out of it. 

You should also know what your willing (or not willing) to pay for the collaboration. Bloggers or influencers with larger followings may require compensation in addition to gifted product to guarantee they will feature your product on their blog or social channels. For some reason this is really surprising to some business owners, but no one likes to work for free. A lot of work goes into building a blog following and styling / reviewing products, so a blogger requesting payment in exchange for advertising your product to their audience is not unreasonable!

Most bloggers have media kits that list the ways in which they are open to working with brands along with their fees for various types of collaborations. If their rates are significantly out of your price range, DO NOT try to negotiate. How would you feel if someone emailed you and said “hey I’d love to buy your product but I only want to pay 50% of the price for it, is that ok with you?” Um, no. 

Know if it’s a good fit

Please do not reach out to bloggers whose brand and content is not a good fit for your product or service. It’s a waste of time for everyone involved. A style blogger who primarily wears high end clothing is not interested in featuring your $10 t-shirts. A beauty blogger who reviews skincare products is not a good fit for your shoe line. A dog who doesn’t have Facebook is not going to promote your jewelry on Facebook. (no joke, a brand actually pitched my dog to promote their jewelry on Facebook…)

Personally, I’ve only collaborated with brands that sell products or provide services that I would otherwise buy myself, but the truth is there are a lot of bloggers who will sell out compromise for free product or paid promotions. While bloggers will ultimately make the decision whether or not they want to collaborate with you, you should know if your product is a good fit for their brand/aesthetic as well. If a blogger’s audience isn’t your target audience, why would you want them to advertise your product anyway?

For a collaboration to be successful, you need to know what you want out of it. Click To Tweet

So Where Do You Find Them?

If you have a larger budget, you can work with a PR agency or a more blogger-specific agency like Clever Girls or Collectively who will help connect you with bloggers that fit with your brand.  There are also tech platforms like GroupHigh that can help you find bloggers in a particular niche and also streamline the pitch process, but they also have fees associated with them. Most new / small businesses don’t have the budget for agency help, so I’m going to assume that you are trying to find / pitch bloggers on your own!

I suggest starting your search on Instagram because it’s a visual platform that will quickly give you a sense of a blogger’s brand and aesthetic, and you have a number of search options to find the types of bloggers that are a good fit for your business. I’m not saying you should decide to collaborate with a blogger based solely on their Instagram presence (definitely not!), but it’s a good place to start. Obviously the type of product you sell affects the type of bloggers you are looking for, but here are a few types of searches you can run:

Groups: Many bloggers are part of groups (along with similar bloggers) so these are a great place to look! Groups could be based on location (for example, Midwest Bloggers or The Blog Societies) or by type of blogger (like Independent Fashion Bloggers or New Craft Society). Often, active members will be featured on the groups’ Instagram accounts, but many of them also have websites where you can find other bloggers in the group or organization.

Networks: Networks are similar to groups, but slightly more specific in that you KNOW the bloggers that belong to these networks are currently monetizing their blogs. These bloggers usually have larger audiences and are the types of bloggers who may require compensation in addition to gifted product. A couple examples are LiketoKnow.it (rewardStyle‘s instagram monetization platform) and Style Coalition.

Hashtags by industry/niche: You can also search by hashtag for bloggers in your industry or niche – this will cast a wider net, which may or may not be a good thing depending on the types of bloggers you are looking for. This strategy requires doing a bit more due diligence, but is a great way to find bloggers who may not be part of specific groups/networks and are still a good fit for your brand! Try to narrow down the type of blogger you are looking for to get more targeted results – for example, instead of #beautyblogger you could search #greenbeautyblogger or #organicbeautyblogger. You can also try variations of hashtags like blog / blogs/ blogger/ bloggers – these may yield different results as not all bloggers use the same hashtags.

Hashtags by geographic location: Another way to search for bloggers is by searching for location-specific bloggers (for example, #nycblogger or #brooklynblogger). This is especially helpful if your business has a physical presence or if you are looking for local bloggers to collaborate with.

Similar / complimentary businesses: Last but not least, you can use instagram to see which bloggers your competitors or related businesses are working with. If you scroll through their feeds, you’ll most likely see that they’ve re-posted photos of bloggers wearing / using their products. The drawback to this strategy is that bloggers who collaborate with your direct competitors may not want to work with you if they are brand loyal, but most bloggers are open to working with a variety of brands so it can’t hurt to reach out to them if they’re a good fit!

These 5 types of searches will definitely get you a solid list of bloggers to reach out to, but once you start working with bloggers (or if you already are), you can also search for “similar” bloggers by observing who they “hang out with” on social. Most bloggers have blogger friends who regularly interact by commenting / sharing or even hanging out in real life, so if you find a few bloggers who are a good fit for your brand, chances are they have blogger friends who will be a good fit as well!

You should also know

It’s a good idea to start a spreadsheet to keep track of the bloggers your are reaching out to. This will help to keep you organized – you want to make sure that you don’t reach out to the same person twice by mistake (this happens more than you think!) and also that you are following up with bloggers if you haven’t heard back from them in a week or so. You can also use the spreadsheet to keep track of the status or results of a collaboration.

When you are determining which bloggers you want to reach out do, remember to look beyond traffic or follower numbers and pay attention to engagement. A blogger could have 20,000 instagram followers but only get a couple of hundred likes per photo – this is bad and probably means many of her followers are fake or just not that interested. It would be better to collaborate with a blogger with 10,000 followers who has a 5%+ engagement because her followers are more engaged (and more likely to buy your product)!

Also, depending on your niche, its worth reaching out to other social media “influencers” who are not necessarily bloggers. There are plenty of people (and pups) who have build up engaged audiences without having a blog and may be a good fit for your brand!

Hootsuite vs. Buffer

Hootsuite vs. Buffer - which is better for scheduling social media? Click through to learn...

For years I’ve used Hootsuite to schedule social media. I’ve went through the free trial period of pretty much every social media schedule management tool, but kept coming back to Hootsuite again and again. Over the past few months, I felt like more and more people were raving about Buffer and I felt a little #FOMO so I tried it out again. I used it on it’s own for a month, went back to Hootsuite, and now I’m using them both at the same time…

My main “issue” with Buffer is that it is really a scheduling tool and not a social media management platform. But after taking some time to review my social media strategy, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not really a question of Hootsuite vs. Buffer, because I need to use them both for different things. Buffer makes it so much easier to just schedule content, but I need Hootsuite for features like viewing multiple feeds, monitoring mentions / messages, and keeping track of hashtags (for client work or during twitter chats).

Hootsuite vs. Buffer

For those of you who aren’t familiar with one or the other, here’s a break down the pros / cons of each as they relate to my social media management needs. I probably haven’t used all aspects of either platform, but the average person probably doesn’t need to! I’ve used the free and lowest paid versions for both services (Hootsuite Pro + Buffer Awesome for $10/month each) but there are also more robust (and expensive) versions for both.

Hootsuite

PROS: 

  • You can see all your activity in one place –  keep track of your feeds as well as create “streams” to keep track of things like scheduled posts, mentions, hashtags, and other interactions.
  • You can schedule up to 350 posts with the Pro plan and the calendar view makes it easy to see your schedule for the day / week / month ahead.
  • There are options to view scheduled posts in list-view or in a calendar style view by day, week, or month. It’s also easy to drag and drop posts if you want to change up the schedule!

CONS:

  • You have to type or paste links into a specific box and click to shorten it. It’s an annoying step and the default link shortener is ow.ly which is fine, but I’d prefer the option to use bit.ly so that all my tracked links are in one place.
  • The reporting system is robust but overly complicated. There isn’t a quick and easy way to see your account history sorted by specific analytics like retweets or clicks.
  • The auto scheduler is a nice feature but I found that often the “optimal” times were very close together and I often had to turn it off and manually adjust the scheduled post times.
  • The RSS feed feature allows you to connect RSS feeds to share content, but it auto-sends all posts from the RSS feed based on your scheduled settings. I wish you had more control over which posts you share.
  • If you want to share video, you have to link to the video on YouTube or wherever the video is hosted. There isn’t an option to upload a video directly to share via Hootsuite.

Buffer

PROS: 

  • The dashboard is very easy to navigate, and scheduling is intuitive.
  • Buffer auto-shortens any links you pop in, and you can connect your bit.ly account (or use other shortening options).
  • The optimal timing tool allows you to set a schedule based on when you get the highest engagement. You can re-optimize the schedule at any time and it will automatically adjust the times of your already scheduled posts. Also, you can set different schedules for different days (like the weekend) on the Awesome plan.
  • Analytics are basic but you can easily sort your previous posts by likes/ shares/ clicks/ etc. and “re-buffer” any popular posts.
  • On the Awesome Plan, you can connect up to 15 RSS feeds and buffer directly from a curated selection of feeds. I love this feature as it makes it easy to share content from certain sites that I reference often without actually having to go to the site.
  • It’s easy to upload a video to share directly from Buffer – you can drag and drop into the scheduler just like you do to share photos!

CONS: 

  • Buffer does not have social media management capabilities beyond scheduling so you have to use a separate site / program to view your feeds and keep track of interactions.
  • The recent addition of the calendar view was a really big improvement in my opinion since I like to visually see my schedule and move things around – sometimes I want to change up the order of the content I’m sharing so there aren’t too many promotional posts or posts about the same topic in a row.
  • You can only schedule up to 100 posts at a time on the Awesome plan which can be limiting if you are managing multiple accounts and posting multiple times a day.
  • Although you can schedule pins, I find that the system is not user friendly. (I prefer Tailwind for Pinterest scheduling and analytics)

It’s worth mentioning that there is a Power Scheduler tool available through the Buffer extension that allows you to schedule a post now and then at specific times in the future. So for example, you could schedule a post now on Twitter, in a few days on Facebook and in 3 weeks again on Twitter. It’s a nice option to have, but the actual tool is not so user-friendly in my opinion. It’s also not currently available on the main dashboard so you have to be using the browser extension to use it.

Final thoughts

In short, Buffer wins for making scheduling SO easy, but I still use Hootsuite to view my feeds and manage interaction. If I had to pick just 1 to use, it would be Hootsuite because it offers everything I need to schedule AND manage social media, but truth is I find that using them both in combination is the best workflow for me.

Are you currently using either of these to schedule social media? I’d love to know your thoughts!

**Update 6/2016 – since this post was written, I’ve switched to a different tool for scheduling Twitter / Facebook. I still recommend Buffer / Hootsuite for the reasons mentioned in this post, but you can learn more about how using SmarterQueue saves me a ton of time!**

10 Ways To Grow Your Instagram Following

10 ways to grow your instagram following: these are the exact FREE and easy strategies I used to grow from 0 to over 100,000 followers this year! A must-read for small business owners who want to grow their instagram following.

*This post was originally published in November 2015. It was updated in January 2018 to include updated strategies we used to grow to over 100,000 Instagram followers*

You may already follow my biz account on Instagram, but what you might now know is that I also run an Instagram account for my dog Mochi.  I  originally started her account just so my own account wouldn’t be completely filled with photos of her – but within a couple of months, her account following surpassed mine and then grew to over 100k followers in just a couple of years!

Why This Matters

Growing Mochi’s instagram account is about more than just getting likes and followers. I use her account to connect with other crazy dog parents around the world, to share dog-friendly places in NYC and when we travel, to raise money for charity, and to collaborate with brands that are a good fit for Mochi’s audience. So while running Mochi’s Instagram account started as a fun creative outlet, I do monetize her influence through various channels (sponsored content, affiliate revenue, event appearances, etc.) and treat it like running a side business!

If you’re using instagram for YOUR business, you likely want to grow your following (yes, numbers matter!) but you also want to stay true to your brand and attract an audience of potential clients/customers. Otherwise, what’s the point?

10 Ways To Grow Your Instagram Following

Instagram has changed a lot of the past couple of years, but one things for sure – just posting good photos (even really good ones) doesn’t guarantee that you will grow your following. There’s a lot that goes into growing a massive Instagram following, so here are 10 actionable strategies I’ve used to grow Mochi’s account from 0 – 100,000+ followers over the past few years!

Share quality content

I originally wrote “share great photos” but in reality you don’t need to be a pro photographer (or a hire a photographer) in order to share quality content. I think “quality” is a bit subjective – because it really depends on your audience. For example, if your business is fashion / travel / wedding related, the quality of your images is going to matter much more than if you’re running an Instagram for your dog.

Here’s the thing though – I do think it’s easier to grow your Instagram followers when you share great photos. No one really wants to follow an account with bad photos unless they connect with you on some deeper level, but you only have a few seconds to catch someone’s attention on Instagram, so wouldn’t you want to make a great first impression?

My advice? Don’t share the bad photos. And yes, sometimes it might take 30 “bad” photos to get 1 good one… but most pro-Instagrammers are not just taking a quick photo and just posting it for the sake of posting. There’s a lot of work that can go into content ideation, location scouting, styling, shooting, culling, editing and then actually posting the image.

Most of Mochi’s photos were taken with a “real” camera over the past couple of years (Canon 6D or Sony A7Riii with various lenses) – though some were just snapped with my iPhone. I could go into way more detail about what makes a great photo, but in general, I pay attention to lighting, focus / clarity, composition (what/how things are arranged in a shot) and how good Mochi’s hair looks. #girlproblems

Post consistently

I generally post once a day. We take a lot of photos of Mochi (she’s so damn cute), but sometimes there aren’t any that are “shareworthy” – so I won’t post until we can take another. If Mochi’s not in the mood to pose for photos, we don’t make her. And sometimes it’s easier to take photos in batches when she is being particularly cute or doing something interesting.

Consistency matters for a few reasons – to stay relevant to your audience, you need to regularly show up in their feed. Also, the chance of new followers finding your account is more likely when you post a new photo – as people engage with it, their activity shows up in their followers’ activity feeds. Plus, if you’re using hashtags (which you should be), each time you post a photo you have the opportunity to get more eyes on your account.

Planoly - best visual Instagram scheduling tool

Post content targeted to your target audience

The majority of Mochi’s followers are not just people who like dogs. They are not just people who like small dogs. They are primarily women between the ages of 18-45 who live in urban areas (or aspire to live in urban areas) and like small, fluffy dogs, fashion, carbs, wine, travel, binge-watching Netflix and hate-watching the Bachelor. I keep this in mind when creating content, but especially when coming up with captions. The more specific you can be when defining your niche / target audience, the better. When you REALLY KNOW your target audience, you’ll have a better sense of the types of images (or videos!) that resonate with them!

Just because other people are posting certain types of photos does not mean that you should – for example, most popular lifestyle bloggers post #OOTD photos and photos of their food (because OMG cupcakes! and avocado toast! and latte art!). I post none of these things because my audience honestly doesn’t care what I’m wearing or what I ate for breakfast. If your target audience can’t relate to it – don’t post it!

Make friends within your niche

Instagram is a social network – so be social! When I first started Mochi’s account, I spent hours liking / commenting / following other accounts of other small, fluffy dogs as well as dogs in NYC in general. A lot of these dogs (or really their humans!) not only followed her back, but they have become real life friends and advocates of Mochi. Please don’t just leave spammy comments or ask people to follow you back (seriously, just don’t) – leaving genuine comments will lead to actual friendships and more engaged followers. #promise 

In addition to just engaging with other accounts in your niche, there are a few other ways you can leverage these relationships to grow your following. One strategy is creating an Instagram “pod” or small group of people 10-15 who connect via DM and agree to share and engage with each other’s posts. While some people create/join pods just to increase their engagement, I think the real benefits of pods are connecting with people in your niche (who you’d likely engage with anyway), having a built in “support group” of sorts (we’re all in the together!), and being able to get feedback / bounce ideas off each other in a more organized way.

Use hashtags strategically

I touched on this earlier, but seriously – use hashtags. But not just any hashtags, use hashtags that are targeted to your ideal audience. Using hashtags like #followme or #tagsforlikes will only get you spammy likes/ follows/ comments, and using generic hashtags like #love or #pretty aren’t specific enough. I use a mix of hashtags that are targeted but have varying degrees of popularity – for example, at the time this post was originally written, #maltipoo has 470,000+ posts while #dogsofnewyork has 36,000+ posts – but both are specific to Mochi as she is a maltipoo dog in New York. Using these hashtags is better than using #dog which has millions of posts (most of which are irrelevant to Mochi’s audience).  I typically prefer to add hashtags in a separate comment rather than in the main caption to prevent the feed from looking cluttered. You can use up to 30 hashtags per photo, but even using a handful can make a huge difference in how many people see your posts!

Planoly - best visual Instagram scheduling tool

Set goals

If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m a BIG fan of goal setting. I went from a career in goal-based financial planning to goal-based marketing strategy and yes, I even set annual goals for my dog. If you set goals, you are more likely to achieve them. Period. Last December I gchatted my husband to tell him that one of Mochi’s goals for the year was 100,000 instagram followers. Obviously we’ve passed that (yay!), but I don’t think I would have really been good at tracking our progress if I hadn’t set an overall goal. Goal setting helps you to break things down into actionable, trackable bits – whether your goals are growing to a certain # of followers by a particular date or by a certain percentage each month – you actually have to set goals, to be able to work toward them!

You should know the average # of followers you are growing by in a given day / week / month and then pay attention to the things that move that average up or down. For example, does posting more consistently lead to more followers because you account is getting more exposure? Does sharing videos as opposed to photos lead to more features on Instagram’s explore page (and consequently more followers)? If you spend an extra 30/minutes a day engaging with accounts in your target audience, do you see greater account growth? (For the record, these are all things that I’ve seen personally impact our growth!)

Give the people what they want, when they want it

In addition to goal setting, my other obsession is analytics. I’m a total data nerd (see also: I went to math camp and majored in finance). I use Iconosquare as well as Instagram’s own insights to track various instagram statistics as well as analyze what’s working (and what’s not). Iconosquare can help you determine everything from what the best times of day to post on instagram are (for your specific account!) to which photos get the most likes/comments to how your account is growing over time.

Based on Mochi’s post analytics, people tend to prefer close up photos of her. Even though I might love photos taken from further away (when she looks really tiny!) – these photos get lower engagement, so I don’t share them as often! I also know from Mochi’s analytics, that her followers are most likely to engage with photos where she is laying in bed or wearing some sort of costume or outfit with other animal ears (not sure why her dog ears aren’t cute enough for them, but good to know!) – so as an experiment, I photographed Mochi in bed wearing pjs with ears (honestly I’m not sure if they are sheep pjs / bear pjs/ or some other animal?), and it ended up being the post with the highest engagement of all time for her account!

With the changes in the Instagram algorithm over the past year or so, I think the timing of posts matters a bit less than it did before, but it’s still helpful to know when YOUR best times to post are – you analytics can tell you when your audience is most active on Instagram so it just makes more sense to post at those times rather than post a new photo when they are asleep!

Consistency matters for a few reasons – to stay relevant to your audience, you need to regularly show up in their feed.Click To Tweet

Have a “thing” and/or theme

And by “thing” I mean a gimmick (hate that word) or a theme or just a some “thing” that makes your account stand out from all the other ones. Embrace whatever makes you unique. There are hundreds of thousands (maybe millions?!) of other dogs on Instagram and while Mochi is very, very cute – I’ve actually found  it very hard to think about what really makes her stand out. It’s much easier to be memorable when you have a “thing” – for example @popeyethefoodie is a foodie dog who always posts photos with food. @Loki_the_wolfdog is known for sharing is outdoor adventures.  @mensweardog is known for (you guessed it) sharing menswear in the most fashionable way! Obviously these examples are very specific (and very successful), but even if you don’t have a content super power to share, you can be intentional about having a theme or themes for your content – just think about what you want to be known for.

Mochi’s content revolves around fashion, travel, and life in NYC – if she were a person she’d be a 20-something blonde blogger who’s relatable, but she’s got that slightly-cooler-than-the-girl-next-door-it-factor that makes all the other basic girls (and their moms) want to be her BFF. She’s also super sweet so you can’t help but like her!

Use Instagram stories

I think there’s been a trend toward sharing more on Instagram stories in general, but there are a couple of ways to use Instagram stories strategically to grow your following and get more eyes on your posts! First of all, you may have seen more “suggested content” on Instagram lately, and often times you’ll see suggested IG stories pop up in your feed. So by using stories at all you are actually increasing your chances of your followers or potential followers seeing your content. 

You can also use your stories to share “sneak peeks” at your posts to encourage your followers to check them out and even use your stories to increase your engagement on posts with calls to action. For example, I shared a peek from this post on stories and asked Mochi’s followers to “comment on her latest post with what you should think she should wear” – give people a reason to interact with your content if you want them to do it! 

Promote your instagram account other places

Whenever people “meet” Mochi on the street / at the park / in an elevator and comment that she’s cute or try to pet her, I shamelessly give them her business card and tell them to follow her on Instagrambecause who doesn’t like cute puppies. I wouldn’t recommend doing that for yourself or your business (unless you are a dog?), but don’t assume that your “real life” friends are all following you already. You can promote your instagram account on your website, on your other social media channels, in your emails, or in person – but give people a REAL reason to follow you on instagram (versus anywhere else). For example – maybe you share a tip of the day, behind the scenes sneak peeks, or “secret” sales only for your followers.

So that’s it.

Those are the 10 FREE and easy strategies I used to grow Mochi’s instagram following from 0 to 100,000+

Looking for more tips? Read THIS POST for a few more tips on how I doubled her following from 15,000 to 30,000 in just 2 months.

It’s worth noting that I’ve never used strategies like loop giveaways or any sort of paid promotions / mentions. While these types of strategies can be helpful in growing your following, you definitely don’t have to spend money to get followers!

What strategies have you used to grow your instagram following?

Instagram Resource Guide for shooting, editing, scheduling photos