In this episode of Become a Media Maven, I speak with Angela Ledford. Angela knows everything about working with influencers – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

She talks about how you can impress brands if you’re an up and coming influencer and how to see an ROI if you’re a brand looking to work with influencers to reach more people.

Angela and I met in a Facebook group for media bloggers – people who work in the media and blog as well. We see both sides of the media industry – traditional and new.

In the eighth episode of Become a Media Maven, Angela (who is also the Today Show Social Media Star for Beauty Vlogging) is going to share some stories about up and coming influencers, true influencers, and what PR agencies are paying attention to determine who they want to work with.

In this episode, you’ll learn ways to work with influencers so you see a ROI.

Here is a list of resources mentioned in this episode:

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Ways To Work With Influencers So You See A ROI

Ways To Work With Influencers So You See A ROI

I was so excited to talk to Angela Ledford on the Become a Media Maven podcast. Angela is the manager or Public Relations and Communications at Discover the Palm Beaches. She knows a lot about working with influencers and influencer marketing.

The mistake businesses make when working with influencers  

There are so many misconceptions and so many people doing it wrong, including really big brands that make billions of dollars a year. Even they’re not doing this right and Angela can see that online.

“I think part of the problem is that it is very time consuming to do your research, to learn the digital space, and that’s something that I have focused a lot of my attention on so I don’t know if I’d call myself an expert, but I know both sides, both the public relations side and the digital influencer side, which I think gave me a better perspective,” Angela said.

Offline, we talk a lot about this topic and I feel like we’re the only ones who really care if an influencer is influential. But, before we get into all of that, I want to explain what makes Angela an expert.

“Working in public relations for a tourism organization, we are basically trying to attract people to come visit Palm Beach County… and not only that, we’re also trying to convince Palm Beach County residents, the people like Christina and me who live here, to visit within the county.

Her day to day life is traditional media, which is television and radio, but mostly newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc.

Why influencer marketing works

If I tell you, “Hey, I had a great vacation in Boca Raton”, you would pay attention to me because I’m your friend. You would listen to what I have to say because I’m a real person who’s really telling you I had a great time in this city.

It’s using people who are on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook who are sharing content naturally and organically.

“We’re using their content and sharing it on our platforms and in our advertisements to say, “Look, we’re not paying models to go and say they’re having a good time on the beach. These are real people who are actually on the beach having a good time and we’re sharing their content.”

So, Angela’s day to day job is working in the traditional space as well as the new media space and kind of breaking new ground.

Influencer marketing looks like a referral because it’s somebody else telling you to come visit Palm Beach because it’s great. It’s not necessarily Palm Beach telling you Palm Beach is great… and this is why media relations and public relations over the last few years has changed a lot. Now, we’re mixing traditional media with the new media.

If you want to be in the media, work with people in the media

Before we really dive into influencer marketing, I want to shout Angela out for being a fellow TV newser (is that word?) like me. Because of this, Angela brings in some amazing media hits. I honestly believe that some of the best people in PR are people who used to be in the media because you’ve seen both sides of it.

I use the analogy: If you were going to hire a criminal, (which you shouldn’t hire a criminal for anything) but say you want to hire a criminal to commit a crime. Would you want that criminal to be a career criminal or that criminal to be a former police officer? I always say you would want them to be a former police officer because they know what the police are looking for, so they know how to get away with the crime.

That’s like us. We know how to get media because we used to be the media and have experience on the other side. 

When Angela first started in TV news, she was a producer and an anchor in a small market in her hometown in Monroe, Louisiana. For five years, she produced the morning show, which was two hours. She learned the morning news space – which is different than the evening news. It’s more light coverage with fluffy feel-good stories.

Then, she became an education reporter in a larger media market – Shreveport, Louisiana. After that, she went to WPTV – the NBC station in West Palm Beach, where she currently lives.

“That’s what really strengthened my pitching skills because that was a station where you had to sell a story.”

Angela left TV and went to the Palm Beach Zoo where she became the PR manager. She did a lot of fun stuff and learned about tourism because that’s a tourist attraction.

“I would 100% agree that my background in TV and journalism helped me understand how to tell a good story and how to speak the language that media speaks, Angela said. “Whenever I tell somebody I’m working with, “Hey, I come from journalism too”, It’s like they breathe a sigh of relief because they’re like – She understands a deadline. She understands the pressure that I’m under. She also understands that I’m not going to respond to her email all the time because I got 500 emails today.”

So, we get the stress that they’re under and we also know how to roll out the red carpet which is what Angela tries to do in her role with Discover the Palm Beaches. She tries to hand the information to a journalist on a silver platter.

Angela understands they don’t have time to do the research. They are not a subject matter expert about tourism in the Palm Beaches, like she is.

Her job is to know why they’re the best place in the world to the visit. Working in journalism, in any capacity, really does strengthen your ability to be a better PR manager and do better work “on the other side” or the dark side. (When you’re in news and you go to PR, they say the dark side, haha.)

Thanks for creating influencer marketing Kim Kardashian

Let’s all thank Kim Kardashian for inventing influencer marketing. What used to be just pitching traditional media is now pitching influencers to get your brand out there.

There are influencers who charge. There are influencers who don’t charge. There are influencers who should charge. There are influencers who shouldn’t charge.

There really is a wide variety of how to work with influencers… many are wrong.

Angela touched on how influencer marketing is like a referral from a friend. It’s a friend saying, “Hey, come here. Visit this place.”

If you want to know how to work with an influencer to get more attention on your brand OR if you want to become an influencer in your space, (as a business owner, you should want both), keep reading!

“It’s super important to work with influencers because it is the new way people are getting their information,” Angela said. “If you’re a millennial, are you really watching the 6:00 evening news? If you are, you’re a rarity.”

We have to face the reality that people are getting their information online now.

“I love going on Facebook a million times a day. I’m on Twitter. I’m on Instagram,” Angela said. “That is the new way. Even people who are in the traditional demographic or like traditional journalism, like newspapers and magazines, are now moving to the digital space as well.”

We have to stay abreast of that trend and to ignore it would be to bury your head in the sand. I don’t think that’s a good idea.

So, looking at that as a business owner, I would definitely recommend you take a look at what the digital space can mean for you and how it can help you grow your business.

Why businesses don’t work with influencers

Whenever I pitch any kind of media relations package to a Media Maven client, it includes both traditional media and new media because people are getting content in different places at different times.

You should be earning coverage in a variety of places, but I had a client recently tell me, “We don’t want to do the influencer thing. Just traditional media” and their audience is very much on social media, but they did not want to do the “influencer thing” as they call it.

Angela thinks there are two reasons for this:

1. They don’t understand the value of influencer marketing.

2. Unfortunately, some digital influencers can have a bad reputation.

Angela and I have had a lot of offline conversations about good bloggers and bad bloggers. Bad bloggers give the rest a bad name because they are either just too grabby and looking for freebies or they have fake followers.

They’re not really giving you a return on your investment, or ROI.

“I’ve been burned and look back and I’m like, “Oh my goodness! That person really didn’t have the following that they said they did or they didn’t work as hard as they said they would,” Angela explained.

When they have a campaign that’s a paid advertisement with a business, it’s up to the blogger to execute it. If you’re a news reporter, you have an editor or producer or an assignment manager standing over your shoulder like, “Hey, turn in your story on time.”

When Angela and I started talking about this, it brought back terrible memories of working with several influencers.

It was actually more than a dozen, who were supposed to visit a client’s restaurant… and the client was not wanting to work with influencers – didn’t understand it. I was so excited about this group because they were true influencers. I mean they didn’t just have the numbers, but they had the engagement. I was really excited about getting them in there. They all went in. They all ate. The table was set amazingly and I thought, “Okay, this is going to turn the client. They’re going to see the value after this.”

Not one of those influencers posted. They came, they ate, they drank, they had fun, and not one of them posted anything.

It happens a lot. So, if you’ve taken on the role as an in influencer, be professional and don’t act like that.

What to look at before working with an influencer

If you’re a business owner, working with influencers is something you should consider. Picking the right one(s) takes a little skill. You’ll need to ensure the person you’re bringing in will write a blog post or share something on Instagram. How do you do your homework and vet these people to ensure it’s not going to turn into a negative experience?

“There are several things that I do to prevent what happened to you from happening to me because it has happened to me several times when I’ve hosted influencers and they did not deliver at all,” Angela said. “They would go eat and did not do any social media, which again, I do consider stealing.”

1. Set Expectations

Whenever Angela works with an influencer, she says, “Listen, I’ve hosted somebody and he went and ate at this restaurant, had a great experience, and still didn’t post. I need to make sure that doesn’t happen to you. Can you do me a favor and guarantee that if you have a good time and you really do enjoy the food, you will give me a tweet… or you will give me an Instagram post… or whatever?”

Angela specifically says this is her expectation.

“I really want to make sure that it’s authentic,” she said. “If your server messed up your food and it was burned, don’t tell a lie, but if you have a good experience, can I count on you to do that for me?”

2. Call the Shots and Be Direct Because You’re Advertising

Angela has become so transparent with her expectations. She used to tip-toe around and hesitate to ask influencers to share stats or engagement. She used to consider it private, but now she doesn’t beat around the bush.

If you’re working with influencers, you’re most likely paying them money or providing them with a product or a service. It is an advertisement.

Ask for screenshots of analytics, like how many people saw an Instagram story, for example.

“As a business owner, what I would recommend is to be upfront with your expectations. Like – Hey, I’m hosting this blogger event and I’m not requiring you to post, but what I really would like to see is a permanent Instagram or Snapchat post.”

Angela says to let them know what they are getting and what you would like in return. Be direct.

In traditional media, you know what you are going to get. A 30 second pre-recorded commercial on TV or a printed ad in the local newspaper… but with digital influencers, you can never be certain.   

For instance, Angela says, “You know this blogger has 10,000 followers on Twitter and 50,000 followers on Instagram but for whatever reason, they decide to post a Snapchat, instead of a permanent Instagram post. You’d much rather have the Instagram post, so you ask for it.”

That’s why, she says, laying out expectations is super crucial.

3. Choose The Right Influencer

Now that you and your client have determined you want to work with influencers, how do you know which ones to choose? You need to make sure the influencers you do choose will give you your best ROI. Angela says this is when you really need to pay attention.

“I am about to explode the lid off the blogging world because I’m going to tell on myself as well. Basically, you can’t fake followers but you CAN buy followers.”

So, what does this mean?  Bloggers can rack up the numbers on their social media through giveaways. For instance, Angela has a side job as a beauty blogger. She advertised a free makeup giveaway. Naturally, people wanted to win so they followed her.  

“Unfortunately, a lot of my followers on Instagram are not as engaged with me because they followed me only after I posted about a free giveaway. They wanted to win something free so they followed me.”

Angela says bloggers can also easily buy 100,000 followers, like nothing. She believes if PR people had more time to dig into the influencers they plan to work with, they would have a better idea who to choose, but that takes time… and lots of it!  

Angela says there are other ways to dig without going insane. There are websites like SocialBlade.com. She says it only takes a few minutes, “Go on there, put the person’s username for whatever platform – YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and you will see a graph. It shows how their website or following has grown… and a large jump of followers tells a story.”

She says you want to see a slow steady incline. That means their followers are likely organic.

Influencers working together

The great basketball player Michael Jordan once said, “There’s no “I” in team but there is in win.” That brings us to how influencers sometimes work together to win.

Angela says there is something in the blogging world known as “comment pods”. It’s when a group of local bloggers agree to comment on each other’s Instagram posts. Angela says this is important because it gives influencers posts the appearance they are superstars. She says it’s obvious when “comment pods“ are happening.

“If somebody has 6,000 followers on Instagram and they do a post, then within minutes they get a thousand likes on a photo? Come on, you’re not Kim Kardashian. No one gets that unless you’re a Kardashian.”

But she says, even if a blogger isn’t a high-level influencer, they could still be good for your business. Angela says she looks at previous posts too. 

“I look at the quality of the post. Is the content good? Is the photography beautiful? Is the topic interesting and compelling?”

If all of those are a yes, she will work with that blogger because she knows they will work hard to deliver their message and she will get an ROI within their engaged following.

Again, that’s because she takes the time to dive deep and look into potential influencers. A lot of mistakes get made when PR professionals don’t have the know-how, time, and patience to check out the source.

Angela says until social media website truly cracks down on bots you’ve got to be careful about who you work with, the dollars you put out and the expectations you relate beforehand.

Ways to vet social media influencers

As a PR professional, you know collaborating on projects can go both ways. You reach out to them or they reach out to you. If you’ve reached out to them, hopefully, you’ve done a bit of research, but when a blogger contacts you because you have a service or product they are interested in, ask them to show you previous posts.

Angela tells them, “Give me some previous content examples. I want to show my boss what you can do. I want to bring you here and get you a nice hotel stay. However, can you show me hotel blog posts that you’ve done in the past?” (And it needs to be recent, not five years ago!)

Angela says if they send her a lot of links, she will share them with her boss, so he can see the potential in working with the blogger. Some of the things she passes along are:

1. The blogger’s engagement

2. The blog posts comments

3. The original photography

4. Promotions on Twitter and other platforms

Angela admits she gets very detailed about how to work with influencers, but she says, “There are so many steps to check mark that I think that’s why a lot of PR people don’t even bother.  

“Just because a blogger has 60,000 followers on Instagram, doesn’t mean they can deliver for YOU.”

Microinfluencers and their worth

We’ve been talking about what to look for in a good blogger and how to protect yourself from the “bad bloggers”, but I also shared a story about a blogger I worked with who had 3,000 followers.

Her name is Jade, and she is at @_badassfoodie on Instagram.

“Jade got over 300 likes on a post with over a hundred comments… and they aren’t bot posts. You click on the comments and they are all in direct relation to this image she posted.”

So why is this important to mention? I’ve been pitched by influencers with 50,000 followers who don’t get near half of these likes or comments and they want my clients to pay them hundreds of dollars for a post when they’re not getting any quality likes or comments.

Not only does Jade have good engagement with her followers, but she will send you links to the posts after. She says it just goes to show you that it’s not all about the numbers.                            

Influencers vs. Reporters

Working with influencers can be downright draining according to Angela.

“I feel like they take a lot more attention and time than working with traditional journalists.” She says, “If a television news reporter calls me at the beginning of the day and tells me they are going to do a story on breaking record tourism in the palm beaches. I’m like, okay, I know this is going to take two hours with my time and then I’m going to be done.”

But she says working with an influencer you’ve got to continue that conversation over and over and over. First the pitch, then follow up, then the back and forth conversation about what you can offer, your expectations and then before you know it, two weeks have gone by and they’re not even visiting you yet.

Angela says she doesn’t want to give influencers a bad name. She says there have been tons of times she has had a great experience.

“Some people are so worth your while and every now and then you hit upon those gold mines and then you’re like, well that person really gave me ROI.”   

Anyone who has worked with digital influencers likely has good stories and bad. Just as digital influencers who have reached out to PR professionals have their good and bad stories too.

It’s just the industry we work in so we are more attuned to it. If you are a business owner, whether you’re spending money on influencers or your trading product or service, that still is money. Products cost money. Services cost money. So, you just need to do your due diligence.