Clay Culture: Influencer Marketing

You know social media influencers, even if you aren’t familiar with the term. They’re experts in their field who actively (and persuasively) share their point of view (and potentially your work) with a large audience.

Social media is a big part of our world these days. It has been a huge boom for many emerging artists who are building networks, trying to share new work, and maybe, just maybe, trying to make some sales while we’re at it. If you’ve done any sort of cursory examination of the possibilities of social media marketing, you probably already know that influencer marketing, or working collaboratively with or being promoted by another blogger or business online can be an effective way to gain access to new audiences and opportunities.

For most early career artists with a small or non-existent budget for advertising and no marketing experience, the DIY possibilities of social media marketing can seem quite appealing. If done properly, it can lead to the right kind of exposure, but if done without enough research, influencer marketing can be a time consuming activity that can yield few results. So how to decide what kind of opportunities have the most potential to work?

Determining the Value

Determining the value of a given transaction can be tricky, since many exchanges are done through barter. There are, fortunately, some precedents in the blogging and social media world for what constitutes a fair exchange.

If you’ve been contacted by or responded to an influencer who wants to borrow a piece of your pottery for a photo shoot and they’re local to you, a loan of a best seller or other good representation of your everyday work in exchange for 5–10 good quality lifestyle photos (images of pieces in a real-life setting) per piece and being tagged on social media is the customary exchange.

For instance, when I loaned out some vases to a local florist, she and a wedding photographer friend of hers staged a photo shoot and gave all three of us access to the photos. These photos are shown on my website (www.dieselclay.com), and the florist and the photographer used them in their portfolios and social media. Because we live in close proximity to each other, it was reasonable to expect to get my pieces back.

If the influencer is located out of town, however, you should not expect to receive the piece back. The cost of shipping and any risk of breakage render borrowing impractical. Because you’re giving an item, in addition to the good photos previously mentioned you should expect some active promotion in the form of a blog post, and supporting social media posts. Because the influencer is gaining product to either use for themselves or as a giveaway to their fans, they should pay for any shipping involved. The influencer should give a timeline as to when they’re going to post, so that you can have any online sales avenues ready for potential interested buyers. It is a good idea for both parties to sign a contract, so that expectations are clear on both sides. Some bloggers may not have one, so it’s not a bad idea to have a simple template of your own on hand.

1 Calandra Beller Diesel’s Knit Stitch Vases, from 5 in. (13 cm) in height, red stoneware, slip, fired to cone 6. Photo: Susan Nolan.

2 Calandra Beller Diesel’s Knit Stitch Vases, from 7 in. (18 cm) in diameter, red stoneware, slip, fired to cone 6. Photo: Susan Nolan.

Successful Collaborations

The trick to successful collaborations on social media is to ask questions and do some homework on the influencers you’re planning to work with. This applies whether an influencer has reached out to you, or if you’ve decided to reach out to someone to collaborate with. You want to be able to evaluate the social capital that a given influencer has to offer, and make sure you have something of equal value to bring to the exchange.

Three Things you Should Know

When researching, you want to know three things about an influencer: demographics (who their audience is); reach (how big their audience is); and engagement (how much that audience interacts (likes, comments, and clicks onto links) with a given post or an account overall). Professional bloggers will have these numbers available, and should supply the information to you readily. Don’t be afraid to ask. It’s also a good idea to have a thorough look through the social media account to make sure you’re a good fit with each other.

Reach is usually the easiest thing to check at a glance: more followers are usually a good thing (see next paragraph). An Instagram influencer with fewer followers than you who is hitting you up for a piece is probably fishing for free stuff. Don’t bite. This person doesn’t have enough social capital to offer you a fair trade of services for your product, even if it’s a loan. Charge them for the piece and any shipping involved. If you like them and think they have future potential, you might consider giving them a small discount to build good will.

3 Blair and Sarah Dawes’ Octopus Mug, 5 in. (13 cm) in height, white stoneware, fired to cone 6. Photo: Brier Breton.

Engagement is the next indicator you need to check: if you come across an account that has a huge number of followers but people aren’t interacting with their posts with comments, likes, or clicks, no one is actually paying attention to this account. Conversely, a blogger or Instagrammer with a small or medium sized, but highly engaged audience that loves everything they do can be an ideal example of how low-cost social media can be exactly what you’re after. Blair and Sarah Dawes of Salty Sea Dog Designs shared a story about giving a nautical-themed mug to a costal living lifestyle blogger, who then posted about it to her small, but very engaged audience. The blogger’s enthusiastic audience placed several orders to their Etsy shop in the wake of the blog post about their mug.

Lastly, you should have a dispassionate look at the demographic of the influencer’s followers to see if they’d be compatible with your own. Regardless of the size or passion level of an influencer’s audience, it will do you no good to put your work in front of people who aren’t likely to be interested in it. A good fit here is a must.

If the people who buy your work are middle-aged women with older (or no) kids, and a certain amount of disposable income, a blogger who speaks to new young moms probably isn’t the right person to work with, even though she probably has a large and engaged audience. Another potentially tempting marketing opportunity would be those Instagram accounts that will feature various forms of handmade work if you tag them, or use their hashtag, or even for a small fee. But if you look at the number of likes on the posts, they’re quite low in relation to the thousands of followers they have, and there are typically very few comments. If you dig a bit deeper into the follower list, you’ll see that most of them are other makers and handmade businesses who are likely hoping to get featured themselves. They aren’t there to shop. You will, however, be liked and followed by a lot of accounts that will try to sell you dubious social media marketing courses. If your goal is sales though, these accounts are best avoided.

A few final notes: this list is a beginner’s guide, and there are exceptions to everything I’ve stated here. Knowing some of the right questions to ask can help you evaluate any situation you find yourself in. And remember, reciprocity is important. In any and all instances, when you use these photos for any public purpose, you must credit the photographer.

the author Calandra Beller Diesel graduated from the ceramics program at Alberta College of Art and Design in 2001, and is a potter living and working in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She spends more time hanging out on the Ceramic Arts Network forums and Instagram than is strictly necessary. She has a piece in February’s “Liquids, Creams and Gels” show at the online Gynocratic Art Gallery.

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