I am a micro-influencer in a very specific niche: adventure motorcycling. I’ve combined a passion for travel, adventure, and riding bikes into a lifestyle as an adventure rider and writer. I’m not a social media influencer; instead of growing a massive Instagram or Facebook following, I run a very targeted website for women adventure riders and create content for various digital adventure motorcycling publications. I also live the lifestyle traveling on my motorcycle and share my passion with the world through my articles, blog posts and social media.

In this article, I want to share my experience with brands seeking sponsorships. If you’re a startup looking to raise brand awareness or generate leads through influencer partnerships, here are some tips about what works and doesn’t when reaching out.

Background

I am sponsored by a few gear and tech brands, including Sena, a company that makes action cameras and helmet intercom systems. All my sponsorships are important to me because they bring value to the company and, equally, value to my audience. This balance is key to a successful brand-influencer relationship.

Choose the Right People

Influencer marketing has grown like crazy in the last several years. According to Forbes, influencers can significantly raise brand awareness, generate leads, and increase customer loyalty. How? It all boils down to one simple word: trust.

Unfortunately, creating a fake following is easy to do these days, and some people may take advantage of this to get into the game. Here are some ways you can check whether the person’s influence is real:

  • Online Instagram audit tool. This is a fast way to check whether the influencer has a genuine following: it isn’t without its flaws, but a good quick check.
  • Followers: Does the engaged audience (commenters, likers) actually follow the influencer or engage on a regular basis? On Instagram, someone who comments but doesn’t follow or subscribe is likely a bot or a person just interested in a single piece of content.
  • Engagement. Engagement is more important than the number of followers because dedicated and engaged audiences are more likely to pay attention and purchase than people who accidentally follow or aren’t that interested in the first place. Beware that engagement can be automated. Personally, I always reply to comments that have either a genuine contribution or question, so you might look to see if the influencer responds back to comments with questions or feedback.
  • Online presence: When you Google their name, do you find other content work that you can check out? Have they been mentioned in other blogs, websites, or publications? Has their work appeared in reputable or popular media? All of these factors contribute to the overall professionalism and trustworthiness of an influencer.
  • Consistency: If the influencer has grown his or her audience organically, you will see steady, consistent growth over time. For YouTubers, sudden explosions of growth may sometimes happen if a video go viral, but you can use tools like SocialBlade to check for fake followers. In addition to growth, see how often the influencer engages with their audience: is their content consistent? Regularity of content means they are professional and therefore, trustworthy.
  • Exclusivity: Does the influencer constantly create product endorsement content or urge people to buy in every second post that they make? For the most part, audiences are easily put off when they see too much advertising or selling from their influencer. You want to pick someone who is extremely choosy in what they endorse and how: this way, their audience is a lot more likely to get interested in your product.

Know Your Niche

If there is one thing that influencer marketing is not good for, that’s mass marketing. Influencers work with and speak to specific, targeted audiences. Influencer campaigns work well if your product or service is aimed at the an existing community or subculture rather than aimed at the masses.

So before you start compiling influencer lists, make sure you know exactly what your niche is. Drill down to the very specifics to define your niche.

My niche: Motorcycling on the backroads of Cuba

If you try to market to everyone, you’re bound to lose; average is mediocre, and nobody wants mediocre. Instead, you want to find the smallest viable market, because it’s the people on the edges that will become your truest fans – as long as you speak directly to them.

Lead With Your Values

Influencers have audiences who follow them because they trust them. Influencers do not start out to sell or advertise anything: they start out to share their ideas with the world, and their audiences value those ideas and expect influencers to stick to them. It’s the quality and the authenticity of the content that makes influencers exceptionally good at making – or breaking – brands.

As such, make sure to pitch how your values align with a potential influencer’s when you reach out to them. 

For me, they key component in deciding to partner up with Sena was their values. Apple doesn’t sell computers; it sells innovation. Similarly, Sena is about connection first and foremost. This commitment is apparent in all their marketing from their blog and social media to the #rideconnected hashtag, but most importantly, this is also what I heard from other riders, off road riding coaches and travelers who were already using Sena communication systems. I first heard about Sena from my off-road riding coach whom I admire. Although he was an ambassador for them, he was not obligated to do X amount of posts or Y amount of mentions per week or month. Instead, he simply talked about Sena when people wanted to know about comms – organically and with empathy.

Sena frequently shares stories of riders who could talk to each other during a dangerous or difficult stretch of the road or chat and cheer each other up during a long haul. As an example, Sena tells the story of how a daughter was able to go on a cross-country journey with her father who had Alzheimer’s by utilizing the communication system to guide and reassure her father.

I briefly met Jay Joo, the owner of Sena, at an overland event. Shortly afterwards, my boyfriend and I got an email offer to try a Sena communication system during our travels. Since we already knew about the company and the product, we were excited to accept and have ridden over 10,000 miles with it so far. What was a surprise for me was that Sena did not ask for specific posts, content, mentions or shout outs in return. What they said was, “we hope you continue your adventure and have fun using our product”. I have not once gotten an email or a message asking for anything – and this is why I continue doing what they do: simply sharing stories and connecting. As an example, this story happened solely because we had the Sena intercom.

I care about community and connection, so partnering up with Sena made sense because we share the same values. In addition, their products are remarkable, and I do genuinely love sharing my own Sena stories because I believe they can make a difference. Whenever I talk about Sena to my audience, I’m not selling and I’m not advertising: I am improving the adventures of my audience because with Sena, they too can #rideconnected.

On the other hand, I was recently contacted by a company that made a non-essential motorcycle accessory. The company, whose brand is aligned with custom motorcycle mods, affluence, and style, asked me to test out the accessory and blog about it. Although the product itself was made well, I politely declined. My audience cares about bootstrap travel, budgeting, and bare bones adventure, so I knew this more lux motorcycle accessory would not serve their interests. Sena products are expensive, but they serve an important purpose: they keep you connected to your riding partner or group, whereas this particular accessory, while designed well and looking great, was more of a decoration than a functional addition. If I talked about it, it would not be genuine; my following would be able to tell it was an ad.

Think about values and alignment before you reach out to influencers. Do your and their values align? Do you target an audience with a similar price range as theirs? If the answer is yes, go ahead and reach out to them.

Make the First Contact

Reaching out to influencers can be tricky: some prefer emails, others expect direct messages on their social media pages, and others still work with agencies. All of these methods of contact are good: you just need to know what influencers prefer.

Personally, I prefer email because it’s not intrusive, I can read them on my own time, and it doesn’t mix with social media clutter. But some see direct messaging as too personal or intrusive.

To do that, see which platforms they use the most. If they have a blog or a website, chances are, they have indicated their preferred form of contact there. If they haven’t, try and shoot them a direct message on Instagram or Twitter (use their business account, if possible) introducing your idea, yourself and your offer in 2-3 concise sentences. If you can’t find their preferred means of contact or email, simply leave a friendly comment on their social media pages telling them you’ve enjoyed their work and would love to get in touch.

Instead of talking about yourself, offer them value first. In your message, tell them that you love their content and you’d be thrilled if they tested your product or service with no strings attached. Offer them to experience it first without committing to anything. Even if they end up declining to work with you, influencers respect free offers.

A year ago, I was sent a GPS navigation device and asked to test it and, if I liked it, to later write about it. Unfortunately, the device turned out to be unsuitable for the kind of travel I do: it was clear to me that it would suit city riders and commuters, but not adventure and off-road riders like me. I thanked the company for their effort but told them that I could not, in good conscience, recommend their product to my audience. I sent them a very detailed feedback of my experience and offered to send the product back.

They thanked me and asked me to keep the GPS device, nonetheless. Even though the relationship did not work out, I often talk about their product when I meet city riders and commuters because of how professionally the company interacted with me.

Lastly, you can try using influencer agencies. ViralNation, SocialBook and IMA are some of the biggest influencer agencies out there. If you don’t have the time to do your own influencer research, they can be a great resource. In addition to finding the right influencers, agencies can also help you reach out, begin a relationship, and negotiate a contract.

However, since influencer marketing is all about trust, aligned values and service to your specific audience, dedicate some time to do your own research and talk to influencers one on one. Sure, this will require more time, patience, and trial-and-error. But in the long run, this strategy will ensure that your influencers bring you the best value, that you bring value to them, and that together, you are serving your audience in the best way possible.