Instagram may have begun as a humble photo-sharing app, but today, it’s a platform crawling with social media stars who secure lucrative deals and command mega bucks, despite not having a humongous following. Yep, paid partnerships are now big business, with influencer marketing set to become an eye-watering $6.5 billion industry this year!
One content creator who has the inside track is Katherine Ormerod. Her personal account, @katherine_ormerod, has over 50,000 followers (and counting!), making her a desirable candidate for brands who want to up the covetability of their products with sponsorship deals.
“At the beginning of my influencer career, I was offered a lot of super formulaic projects,” Katherine tells us. “I would be sent briefs with [add adjective in here] type captions and brands wanted every influencer’s post to look and sound exactly the same.” The world of IG partnerships has massively evolved since then. “Brands now understand that the most successful content is that which seamlessly fits into a content creator’s feed.”
So what does it really take to do paid partnerships? What are the rules now? We asked Katherine for her insider tips on how to make money on Instagram, the right way…
#1 Keep it authentic
Your sponsored posts have to feel organic or else they will tank in engagement terms. The most important moment comes before you sign the contract so set the terms up-front. Often, I’ll be asked to add four or even five hashtags to my post. I always limit it to two max because it totally changes the tone of the caption.
When it comes to keeping that all-important authenticity, it’s vital that I like the product and am able to shoot it in my style. The client has to be open to listening to my audience insights in terms of posting time and content style. Full length, outdoor outfit images do best for me, so a shot of me in a shop at night, for example, is something I’d never post.
#2 Build your paid partnerships network
Most paid partnerships come from pre-existing relationships. Having worked as a journalist for over 10 years, my network has helped me build my business as a content creator and has also meant that I trust a lot of the people I’m working with now.
Occasionally I’ll get a cold-call email, but generally it’s for a project that is off-brand or else extremely underpaid. I also have a lot of repeat clients.
I’ll also pitch ideas to brands on content we can collaborate on around specific events — say London Fashion Week or festival season. But it can be hard going, because most brands distribute budget at the beginning of the season and often don’t have a pot to be more spontaneous with, which I think is a shame.
#3 Find the right match
Deciding which paid partnerships to work on is always a balance between budget and brand credibility. I specialise in high-end high street and contemporary brands, so if I’m going to work with a label that feels a little more of a stretch for me, the budget will have to be more generous. No matter what, I have to like the product and be confident recommending it to other people, otherwise it becomes very quickly apparent that you’re only in it for the money.
“No matter what, I have to like the product and be confident recommending it to other people, otherwise it becomes very quickly apparent that you’re only in it for the money.”
#4 Don’t be afraid to say no to paid partnerships
I turn down more paid partnerships than I say yes to, no matter what the budget, because there are a lot of brands that just wouldn’t work for me or my audience and really, as an influencer, that is all you have control over.
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#5 Engagement is king
The amount of followers does influence the deal of course, but it’s more about engagement. I can get just as good engagement as accounts with double or even treble the amount of followers I have, especially if the brand and product is a good match with my personal aesthetic, so most influencer managers will be pricing with that in mind.
If you have an agent, which I don’t, you generally will be paid more as they are better at hustling for you. But everyone self prices as we all have such different businesses, aesthetics, backgrounds and audiences. It’s pretty impossible to get a one-size-fits-all price.
#6 …but metrics aren’t everything
Working with someone with a background like mine goes beyond simple sales; it’s also an opportunity from a marketing perspective to elevate brand perception, so there’s an understanding that metrics aren’t everything when planning campaigns.
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#7 Focus on Instagram Stories
Generally, it’s rare for brands in paid partnerships to ask me to add a post to Twitter or Facebook, but Instagram Stories are wild at the moment. I’m hardly doing any partnerships that don’t require a swipe up story as part of the package.
It used to be one set rate for one story frame. Now brands are asking for multiple frames within a single story for the same price. In engagement terms, it’s far better to split the multiple frames up into separate stories rather than post one after the other, but it seems that’s what brands want most right now.
#8 Properly disclose your paid partnerships
There’s been a sea-change in how we label sponsored posts, which has upended the terms of the game. I think it’s such a good development, though sometimes by trying to abide by the CMA guidelines, captions can get a little complicated and worthy. I think the in-app tools provided by IG are great, but it would be really useful if there was a facility to declare gifts as well – something that can’t be long in coming.
“There’s been a sea-change in how we label partnerships, which has upended the terms of the game.”
I always use the Instagram partnership tool on both stories and grid posts and disclose when a product has been gifted or lent as a sample in the caption.
The new rules around transparency can make IG a more serious space now. I think the spontaneity has gone from accounts that feature a lot of sponsored content and gift disclosure has definitely changed engagement, but I’m happy for it to be clearer and set more realistic expectations for users.
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#9 Be open to change
When I was pregnant and post-pregnancy, I worked with some different brands, simply because fewer brands wanted to work with me. I got dropped from two big campaigns when I announced I was pregnant and definitely felt more insecure about getting work. And that meant I did work with some brands I might not have in another context. Things can quickly shift so it’s important to stay on your toes.
A Quick Recap
- Be very clear about your USP and stick to your guns.
- Don’t be excessively swayed by money, but equally, a girl’s gotta eat. If you can make something work, make it work. It is a business after all.
- Never bankrupt yourself ‘investing’ in product to elevate your brand. Take designer purchases slowly and don’t let the pressure of the competition push you into a negative financial situation.
- Be aware of what’s generally working in the industry but don’t be a slave to it.
- Don’t listen too much to rumours about the algorithm.
- Always, always be kind and courteous to people, relationships are everything. And people find out if you’re an asshole.
- While it can hit your overall engagement, from time to time post images for yourself, even if you know it won’t perform well with your audience. It’s important to keep yourself fulfilled as otherwise it can feel like just going through the motions.