Confession from Fashion Brands: What They Want From Influencers

Becoming a fashion influencer is hard, and getting harder. That's because so many people want to get into the game. You can have talent, style, and great images and still be unable to get the attention of top fashion brands on Instagram, YouTube, and other social media platforms.

We've started our PodSquad Confessions Series to help you navigate the waters of leveraging an Instagram presence to start working with fashion's most interesting brands today.

Become a Fashion Instagram Influencer Confession Series

Fashion Brand Confessions

For our inaugural article we asked three different fashion marketing professionals at three different brands to answer three key questions about their Instagram influencer programs. Confessions is all about an exchange of anonymity for honesty to address the questions that you need to know. Answers have been edited for clarity and to remove any identifying elements.

Does follower count on Instagram really matter?

Confession 1: Picking influencers is political

It really does, and it's kind of unfortunate because I've had a couple of really awesome influencers that I wanted to use, and my boss rejected them because she didn't like the "optics" of their follower count.

I think it stems from the fact that the top leadership at the company gets really brief reports and snapshots of everything we do on a daily basis, so she needs to be able to tell them "Hey we got this huge with with a girl who has 300,000 followers" as a sound bite. It's very political and not always aligned with who can do the best work.

So its kind of like we have to pick good influencers that are also popular by follower count. I've pointed out engagement rates before but it's still a really vain industry. People want to see the top line numbers and their brands being represented by influencers with tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of followers.

Confession 2: We establish criteria for our PR agency

We rely 100% on our PR agency to vet our influencers on Instagram. We have given them some criteria we want, for example we don't want to pay for anyone with less than 100,000 followers. We're fine to ship them some free product to try and if we really like them we may try for a deal but in the end we have to make sure our product is seen by as many people as possible within our niche.

I think one thing that people need to realize about fashion is that brand is everything to us. What you see and where you see it matter, because if our brand isn't talked about and worn by top influencers it cheapens the brand and we start to look less appealing.

We aren't ever going to sell to as many people as a Forever21 or Zara, but we are going to certainly appeal to someone who is looking to increase their investment level in fashion beyond those brands. That's the kind of person we are looking for, someone who is selective and setting trends because of it.

Confession 3: It depends on where they are

We are a fairly large brand in the fashion world with an average price point of about $100 per garment. We use influencers a ton, probably over 2,000 different influencers on Instagram this year alone. It's become a full time job that we hired for recently so we have someone now that just focuses on influencers. It's getting pretty common in our business to have that on staff rather than farmed out to an agency which is what we used to do.

One of the things we screen for is follower count, but it's not the only thing and it varies a lot by geography. For example we were looking for someone in Cleveland last month and we had to go down to about 25,000 followers to start finding people we liked that fit the brand. we found about 4 and started talking with them, so it was a success.

In the end it's a numbers driven business so we have to show a list of influencers in a big spread sheet and their follower count and how many posts they made. Because we're judged on follower count that way it does matter.

What characteristics do you look for in the perfect Instagram influencer for your brand?

We asked three fashion marketing professionals from three different brands to describe their ideal Instagram influencer.

Confession 1: We want aspirational Instagram influencers

We have a persona pinned up on the wall - she's a young 20-something who is probably just starting her first job, is college educated, and living in a top 10 market like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc... 

She's a heavy user of social media, and our market research has proven that she spends a lot of time on Instagram. So that means influencers on Instagram are super important for us if we want to connect with those customers and make a difference in their perception. The perfect influencer for us is someone that is aspirational, meaning they are just slightly more advanced in life than our target customer. We want our customer to see her and think, "That is who I want to be in 2-3 years" and so they feel they should dress for the part.

Confession 2: We need the influencer to produce quality content on their own

I wouldn't say we have a perfect idea of who we want. We evaluate each influencer individually. Our Creative Director does most of the work here as she is closest to the brand essence. She usually pares the list down and then my team goes to work contacting each one and starting to negotiate deals. Once we have a group contracted we start to send out product and work on the content.

Ideally our influencers can do higher quality photo shoots on their own. That usually means they have another person who is a professional or semi-professional photographer. It's that photography that attracts us most in the first place, so we want to make sure that style is maintained after we send out product. We have to maintain a high level of quality but don't have time to individually manage 100 influencers so a lot of it has to be about their ability to produce.

Confession 3: We want strong and unique women with style to match

Part of our brand is counter to the traditional runway show type of fashion. We want diversity in ethnicity, skin tone, and physique because our clothes are made for real women of all shapes and sizes.

When we look for really good influencers we try to find someone with a voice - someone that says a lot in their pictures. The visual styles often don't match up and that's OK, we don't want homogenous pictures over and over. We've hired fitness trainers, cake bakers, and single moms to name a few. The thing they all have in common was they were not afraid of sharing the ups and downs and doing it with a really interesting visual style that made us take a second look. That is the same effect we want their followers to take when they are wearing our garments.

How much do you pay your Instagram influencers?

Confession 1: We don't pay them much if anything

Because we are a really desirable brand name to have on a resume we made the decision to not pay. We already invested a lot of money in building our brand, so this is the part of the pay off from that. We have had a ton of influencers step up and offer to work with us for free or in exchange for product because of that brand reputation.

It's fair because when other brands see that they are working with us the influencers get more interest and offers. Almost all of our influencers have gone on to work with more mainstream accessible brands because of our work together. If I had to put a number around what our typical influencer gets I would say about $200 in product value per post.

Confession 2: We use a sliding scale based on follower count

About a year ago we implemented a sliding scale that we have to use for influencers. It's kind of nice because before we had to also do sales and negotiating along with our regular jobs which was a pain and delivered inconsistent results. We might pay someone $500 and another person with the same credentials $200. We actually had a problem with that because influencers in the same cities talk a lot and they found out about the pay disparity. So we had to apologize and offer compensation so that they wouldn't bad mouth our brand.

The sliding scale goes from $100 to $10,000 and is based on follower count. I can't really share the exact numbers because it's confidential, but the upper end of that pay scale is reserve for a few special cases like semi-celebrities. 

Confession 3: We ask for their rate sheet and negotiate from there

Most influencers we work with already have rate sheets. We ask for the rate sheet and then negotiate down from there. Usually we try to get more posts for the same price or better types of content. For example it's become pretty popular for influencers to use Stories instead of a regular Instagram post.

The Stories disappear after 24 hours so they aren't as valuable to us as posts that stick around forever. We also started to see Instagram influencers delete our sponsored posts a couple of weeks after making them so their account doesn't look as sponsored when other brands review it. We didn't like that so now they have to sign a contract saying they will keep our post for at least 12 months. Those are examples of things we can ask for in negotiations that get us more value for the money.

That's it for this time PodSquadders! We're looking forward to bringing you more juicy info on the inside track to becoming a fashion influencer on Instagram in future installments of our Confessions Series. Ready to become an Instagram influencer? Check out our special offers.


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