As a regional tourism organization, a big part of our mandate is to market the regions of York, Durham, and Headwaters to consumers outside of Central Counties to entice them to visit the region. One way we do this is by enlisting social media influencers and content developers to help spread the word about the amazing experiences available across Central Counties to their followers. We are often asked, “How do I work with Influencers?”; “How do I identify the right content developers for my business?”, “Do I have to pay an influencer to write and post about my offerings?” – and that’s just tip of the iceberg. It can be a daunting task for many.
To help take some of the mystery out of working with social media influencers and content creators, we turned to Christopher Mitchell (@travelingmitch), travel writer, blogger, content creator and co-founder of Ultimate Ontario and Toronto Blogger Collective to share his expertise and experience.
How to work with Influencers and Content Creators
By Christopher Mitchell
The arrival of the digital age has brought about a time in which meaningful collaboration with others is infinitely possible, and yet the procedure around precisely how to work together can be mystifying.
Largely, I think it has to do with a lack of communication.
As it relates to present day partnerships, content creators need to do a better job of explaining the what and the why of their end of the bargain, while businesses and brands need to be more receptive to how these partnerships can be legitimately very beneficial to them.
When it comes down to it, when a business and an influencer or content creator (I’ll use these terms interchangeably) join forces, it’s because they ultimately have the same goal. The business wants a different kind of amplification of their message, and it needs to be the goal of the creator to ensure they understand what message that is, and then to put their heart and soul into sharing it through their lens.
It’s not complicated at its core. Or, at the very least, it doesn’t need to be complicated if folks aren’t holding their cards frighteningly close to their chest.
Regardless of your feelings on social media, blogging and so forth, it’s objectively clear that, done right, it’s effective. Working with digital platforms, you can get a clear picture of stats and return on investment (ROI) that you could never get from, for example, a print advertisement. The opportunity is here, and in this article, I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know and may want to know about collaborating with content creators.
A Brief Introduction
In my humble opinion, a huge obstacle we have to overcome in partnerships such as this is establishing trust. In that spirit, I thought it was only fair that I mention just who I am, so that you know my background and will have some clarity on my expertise on this topic. Ideally, you’ll be assured that I’m not just an excellent Googler of information, but rather someone who knows a thing or two about the topic.
For the past decade or so, I’ve run the site and social media around travelingmitch. It started as a hobby, then became my full-time gig, and last year I was even awarded the Travel Media Association of Canada’s (TMAC) “Best Travel Blog.” I am also the cofounder of Ultimate Ontario, which I’m proud to say has quickly become a go-to website and community for Ontario travel advice.
I’m also the cofounder of a blogging newsletter to help creators keep tabs on the comings and goings of the industry called This Week in Blogging.
Furthermore, I cofounded the Toronto Blogger Collective back in 2018. It’s a community to help GTA based content creators and bloggers take their content to the next level, but it’s also a place where we aim to provide real opportunity to our members. So far, we’re 650 creators strong and growing by the day. In the past, we’ve run successful press trips with many DMOs and RTOs (very much including York Durham Headwaters), as well as partnering directly with brands and businesses such as breweries and wineries, organizers of festivals and events, stores looking for more awareness, coworking spaces and so much more.
I’ll speak in more depth and detail about this at the end, but rest assured we’re keen to continue to organize fruitful, mutually beneficial arrangements moving forwards when we’re able to do so.
Let’s back up a moment, though.
How Can You Work With Influencers?
In many respects, how you can work with an influencer is only limited by your imagination.
Perhaps the most classic way that you can work with an influencer or content creator is a press trip. This, in simple terms, means that an individual or group of individuals will visit your region or property, and share their experience with their audience.
Typically, especially with paid arrangements, there are a set number of deliverables. This means that the creator lets you know in advance what can be expected.
For example, let’s say that I was hired by a tourism board to visit a local apple orchard. I would make it clear what both the tourism board and apple orchard could expect from me. I would start by mentioning what I could do, or typically do, on a campaign such as that. I may say that across my social channels for travelingmitch and Ultimate Ontario (and perhaps mstravelingmitch, if my partner Bri was joining me), you could expect to see at least an Instagram post on my main feed, 5-8 Instagram stories across my channels, 3-5 tweets across my channels, a TikTok video, a post on my Facebook page, perhaps a post or two in my Facebook groups and so forth.
The exact numbers will vary with each creator, my only point is that it should be clear what you expect to see. You then, of course, can use your respective channels to comment, like, and reshare/retweet the creator’s content where appropriate. A creator should be doing their part to tag you and use your preferred hashtags, but the other end of the bargain is that you’re watching for and engaging with their content. It’s a two-way street.
Some creators work primarily with social media, but many creators like myself use their blog as a bit of a homebase for their content. Typically then, on top of the social media coverage, you can expect a blog post (or posts) which will highlight and summarize the experience. A solid blogger should have a working knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO), which simply means that they know how to write content which will rank on Google. This can be powerful because it’s one thing for you to say that your region or business is fantastic, but it’s another thing for a reader to see that someone else, independent of you, can verify that what you’re doing is genuinely worth checking out.
I should note here that in an article such as that, the creator should be noting somewhere, typically at the bottom, that they’re writing about a hosted experience. It can be as simple as something such as “I want to thank ______ Apple Orchard and ______Region for hosting me as media. Please note that all opinions are my own.”
It will depend on what and how they’re posting on social, but they may also need to note that some of their posts are sponsored. It depends on a variety of factors, but most creators who do this professionally should have a working understanding of what needs to be disclosed. Don’t be alarmed if you’re tagged in a sponsored style post on Instagram, or you see the hashtag, #sponsored.
Keep in mind again that anything is really possible when you’re teaming up with a quality content creator. If you want content on your website as well, these are things that you can talk about with a creator. I’ve done campaigns before where I had 3 articles across my sites, and then a roundup article on the site of the tourism board or business which linked to those articles and gave an overview of the scope/summary of the campaign at large.
Why Should You Work With Influencers and Content Creators?
If you’re not looking at how you can work with influencers at this point, you’re likely going to miss out, because others will. It’s the newest form of PR, and done right, it’s powerful. Sure, there are plenty of duds out there who will say anything to get a free meal or experience, but I can also personally attest to the incredible volume of talented people who are full-time creators and influencers that do this because they’re downright passionate.
That’s what the Toronto Blogger Collective is all about, frankly.
Businesses used to turn to PR agencies for marketing efforts, but now there are creators which are basically mobile PR agencies unto themselves. If you hire or work with the right individual, an influencer should do what their title suggests they may – influence people to come see what you’re all about.
As I mentioned above, it’s also about diversifying your messaging. Naturally, I expect you to speak grandly about what you do on your site and on social media, but it’s just human nature that I’d embrace a recommendation from someone who isn’t directly attached to you in a different way. I’ve also organized press trips in the past where the client was enthused about how 3-5 different people all experienced the same thing in a different way. To use the apple orchard example again – perhaps one person focused on the animals, while another focused on the beautiful simplicity of apple picking as an aid for reflection, while a third person focused on why orchards are environmentally vital in today’s world.
It pays to have a diversity of creators who cover and tackle different avenues.
I often think about it as planting seeds. You can use your channels to plant as many seeds as you can in your field, but if you want to expand operations, it’s often nice to tap someone else on the shoulder and see if they wouldn’t mind planting a few seeds in their field. Ideally, at the end, you’re both reaping the benefits of the harvest.
How to Vet Creators You’re Working With
Where there’s money to be made, there’s often foul play, and this industry is no different. That’s why it’s important to try to put a magnifying glass on things where you can. That being said, many creators are doing things the right way, it’s just the bad apples who get the publicity for being overtly narcissistic, or are doing shady things behind the scenes (buying likes and followers etc.), and they ruin it for the rest of us.
Anyway, many of the tools available for looking more deeply at influencers are geared towards Instagram, and it’s worth knowing that Instagram is just one aspect (albeit an important one) of many creators’ overall brand. Some popular software that I’ve seen people use in the past is Hype Auditor, as well as Ninja Outreach. Please note that both programs have their deficiencies, but it aso can’t hurt to get extra information where you can.
Personally, I find that one of the best ways to look carefully at a creator’s profile is to focus on engagement. Go to their Instagram page and look to see if the creator has meaningful comments on their content, or whether it’s all just emojis and vapid remarks. Are people genuinely intrigued or not? You can do the same for their Twitter account, Facebook page or group, TikTok account, Snapchat account and so on. An influencer, perhaps not shockingly, should have real influence, and you can usually suss that out with a little investigation.
You also want to build a bit of a picture of their total influence. Ask for a media kit from the individual you’re keen to work with, and they should send you something back which talks about their follower numbers on different platforms, as well blog statistics. Nowadays, it’s a standard for creators and influencers to have a media kit which can help you get a snapshot of what they do well, and what makes them unique. I personally include positive feedback that I’ve received from past clients as well, and link to popular work and campaigns that I’ve done to show clear examples of what I’m capable of.
You also want to ensure that a creator is willing to share their overall results with you. Particularly in paid campaigns, you want to ensure that you know what you paid for, and get a picture of the ROI. In this case, you want to have a report which can talk about impressions, comments, likes etc. on social, as well as how the blog content fared. It can often take a while for a blogpost to really take off, but I will still often send a report about a month after the conclusion of a campaign, then provide updates where necessary moving forward. I also usually send a sample report so that people know what they can expect from me.
How to Know What to Pay Influencers
This is the million dollar question, no pun intended. There are tools like Inzpire, which has a Instagram pricing calculator, which can help you get a ballpark figure if you’re particularly focused on Instagram posts and stories, but ultimately it’s going to be very creator dependent.
I know that people desperately want a one size fits all answer, but there really isn’t one. It’s kind of like how different authors are going to demand a different fee for writing a book. Yes, they’re all writing, and technically doing the same thing, but their approach, as well as their audience reach, is going to determine how they’re compensated.
Many influencers will have a rate card. This typically will price things out individually. For example, it may say that each blog post costs $500, each Instagram post costs $350, each story costs $100 and so on and so forth. That can be helpful.
Personally, I always try to ask a tourism board or brand what they’re hoping to accomplish then offer a clear package to address that. I’ll mention exactly what I will include on social across my channels, as well as how many blog posts I believe it’ll take to cover what they’re looking for across my sites, and then mention my going rate for all of that. I always also say that if it’s not to their liking, we can pick and choose what works and lower the deliverables and the rate. Of course, I’ve also had it where they want to add onto it, and that works for me as well.
It will also depend on the length of a campaign. A two night, three day campaign will naturally have a higher price than a one day campaign. Many creators will, in fact, have a day rate. This means that they charge a base rate of, let’s say, $250 for each day they’re spending on the campaign. This is creator dependent, though.
Establishing rates is only really nerve-wracking until you’ve worked with a few creators and understand the going rates a little better. Each creator will have unique rates that are reflective of their brand and influence, and you can ask for their rates, and then assess what it’s worth for you. You can look at their media kit, examine their social channels, and also peruse their website. Look at the photography they include, how carefully edited their work is, the length of the content, and get a clear picture of just what you’re paying for.
As a creator myself, I will say that I know many creators (many of whom are in the Toronto Blogger Collective), that are in the business of exceeding expectations. I personally have never had a bad review from a partnership, and most of my partners and clients are people I’ve been working with for years. But I’m not solely unique in that.
Creators get a reputation as being folks who can be bought and sold to convey whatever the message of the day is (and some do that), but I’ve got many counterexamples of folks who I’ve seen partner with a brand, business, or tourism board which perfectly aligns with their ethos, and they form a strong, mutually beneficial bond.
The Toronto Blogger Collective Partnership Program
I wrote all of this as succinctly as possible, and it still took a couple of thousand words. All that to say, at the Toronto Blogger Collective, we understand that tourism boards, brands, and businesses have a lot on their plate already, and don’t always have the time to vet influencers, understand the appropriate rates, and source the right people for the job.
Enter The Toronto Blogger Collective Partnership Program.
Here’s what we do:
- We source your preferred number of influencers for the job, as well as making sure they’re in the correct niche, and a perfect fit. Keep in mind that these campaigns can be either in person (if the timing is right and it’s safe to do so), or it can be done entirely digitally. I, for example, recently worked with both Ireland and the Czech Republic on campaigns that drew on content I’d captured previously that I repurposed with an updated message and feel.
- Our creators are experienced. We’ll gather media kits and applicable information for you to get a clear picture of exactly who you’d like to work with, and then set that up.
- We handle all the administrative details and in-between. We also ensure creators deliver the expected deliverables, so you don’t have to be nervous or go chasing anyone.
- We work with you to find a budget you’re comfortable with. On your end, you’re only dealing with a representative from the Toronto Blogger Collective, and not 10 separate email threads with different individual influencers with different pricing. We understand the going rates, and ensure all parties, very much including our creators, are being treated and compensated fairly.
- We use software to track hashtags to give you a picture of ROI. We also gather all applicable stats to send you in a report after the campaign. You will, undoubtedly, understand exactly what you paid for, and why it was absolutely worth it.
- Our creators are from the Greater Toronto Area and their audiences are often your target market. We also love the idea of helping you establish new connections with local creators.
We ultimately want to provide win-win partnerships for our community and your tourism board, brand, or business when we’re able to. As I mentioned up above, there’s no reason we can’t share the same goal, and execute it brilliantly. Lastly, the partnership can take any form, and there’s no real limitation in how we can aid you in your goals.
I’ve done my best to share the pertinent information around what you need to know about working with influencers and content creators, but I encourage you to reach out if you have further questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks. I hope this was useful, and look forward to the opportunity for future inquiries and collaborations.
Here are some articles on experiences in York Durham Headwaters written by Christopher.