serious rant: how to not fail with online influencers

I started to see a pattern in the outreach messages I’ve received about doing brand collaborations and thought I’d jot down some thoughts…because, you know, my ultimate hope is to make the world a better place so let’s start with the internet. There’s a marketing tactic called “influencer marketing” where basically, anyone with a substantial social media following (the micro-influencer level starts around 500+), is considered to be an influencer who can talk about a brand’s product or services and help influence online sales.

Influencer marketing is not a new concept, but like many things that exist both in the digital and real world, it evolves over time. Being that this is a bit of a rant, I’m going to point out the not-so-great outreach attempts I’ve received from brands because they really stick out. And, on occasion, it irks me terribly.

In most cases, it’s still a bit one sided; the company reaches out to ask if you’d like to “collaborate” with them in the form of a brand ambassadorship where you, the online influencer, receive a discount code to buy their products to then publish content about on your social media profile. So gracious, I know.

On the corporate side, this translates into a marketing channel known as affiliate marketing. The content is tracked via links back to the brand’s website. In a best case scenario, affiliate revenue streams benefit both the brand and the influencer because each party gets a percentage of the sale. One can begin to see why it feels very one sided when brand reaches out and only offers a discount code in exchange for content.

This brings me to the point: if a brand reaches out to you and offers a discount code in exchange for posting about their product – check them out first.

Your first red flag should be when you politely reply to their second email with “no thank you” and they steamroll ahead. You’re probably dealing with an automated service designed to handle this type of outreach at scale (a bot).

Exhibit A: the cold outreach email

Pro tip, here Brands, stop using bots and do your outreach. I know it’s time consuming but if you believe your business is going to be built by collaborating with others online, you should also be on top of your brand reputation. When I pulled up the brand’s website, their return policy triggered a second red flag.

Exhibit B: the questionable refund policy

Strap in, folks, it gets good. A quick glance across the top navigation tells me they sell women’s fitness leggings, watches and swimwear (for, of course, hot people only). But when I decided to review the customer return policy, I found it to be atrocious. Just read the actual text below that I found on their website:

Wait, what? It’s like the business owner let the intern copy/paste that from some other random website from the 1990s. It makes no sense and it’s not relevant to the product lineup they to sell. Where in the entire navigation of Leggings – Watches and Swimwear does Bliss Body sell VHS tapes, cassette tapes or vinyl records?! This smacks of negligence and a spammy site that doesn’t want to delight customers let alone make it easy to refund your money.

Pro Tip to business: read your website content. Also, a clear returns & refund policy is absolute table stakes for any e-commerce business. It builds trust and good WOM amongst shoppers.

Anyone building a legitimate business online knows it takes time. When I receive an automated outreach message and discover lousy customer policies on the website, it tells me the brand is careless. Most importantly, it doesn’t give me confidence that this brand is a business I want to spend my own money with, let alone attach my personal brand to.