Influencer marketing 101: Collaborations, seamless product placement, and authentic narrative
Have you ever wondered how your favorite content creators partner with brands? How do the products seemingly fit so well into their narrative? As a multi-platform influencer, Holly Reardon, 25, knows the in and outs of working with brands and how to stay authentic through that process.
Reardon began her content creation journey on Instagram creating fitness and wellness content before moving more toward “day in the life” videos. She then created her YouTube channel where she posted more in-depth vlogs of her day, routines, travel, and so much more. Once TikTok entered the influencer marketing scene, Reardon joined and began creating more vlogs and branded content as she collaborated with brands like Skims, Goli, and 1-800-flowers.
Now, over 33,500 followers support Reardon through Instagram in addition to her 147,500 followers on TikTok. While influencing is a side hustle of hers in addition to her full-time marketing job, it takes just as much effort. Reardon sat down with Storybench for a brief Q&A over Zoom and talked about what goes on behind the scenes of the posts, stories, and brand deals.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Favorite part about being an influencer?
I feel like my favorite part of it is meeting people just doing stuff like this right now. Just having people message me and being like “oh, I like your video,” or “I feel like I’m going through the same thing as you right now,” or “I bought this because you had it.” I think that’s the best part — interacting with people and knowing that it’s not just robots watching your stuff, it’s real people and they’re actually connecting with and messaging me. Like, I know a lot of influencers don’t check their DMs (direct messages), they don’t have time to check, but my favorite part is messaging people back, just meeting people.
Least favorite part about being an influencer?
Definitely people thinking they deserve to know everything about your life. And hate comments. People assume things about you or think that they know you because you’re putting yourself out there. That’s probably the hardest part.
What’s something you wish you knew before starting this journey?
I think I wish I knew just how hard it would be to try to keep up with constantly producing content and constantly trying to keep up with the algorithm and the changing trends and everything. That’s probably the hardest part.
As an influencer and someone who works in marketing, what’s your opinion on influencer marketing?
So since my actual job is marketing, I just see the amount of budgets and stuff that we have that we put into certain media channels for marketing. Before I worked in marketing, I never knew the amount of money that brands pay for marketing. I’m just gonna use an example of a big influencer right now. Like Alix Earle, she’s huge right now. Any company can pay like $30,000 to advertise on a billboard, or you can give an influencer $30,000 to make a video to tons of people that religiously follow her opinions and everything.
So I feel like I understand now in marketing where the money is, where it goes, and how it works. And I definitely feel like social media marketing is huge if you’re spending it the right way and working with the correct people.
What do you look for in brands that want to work with you or you want to work with?
I love just working with brands that I use every day anyways like the deodorant I use or the makeup I use. So again, it just flows naturally. I definitely try to avoid brands like the ones that make false promises, like ‘skinny tea’, or like some fitness brands, like that kind of stuff. That said if I do really like the brand that reached out and if it’s a new product — to me it has to be a product that I would actually be like, “oh, that’s cool. I would actually use that.”
Walk me through the process of collaborating with a brand.
So I have my email in my bio [on social media profiles] and usually, it’s a brand emailing me or a marketing agency that works with the brand will email me and they’re basically like, “here’s our product, we’re running this campaign.” Like for example, “oh, we’re running a Christmas campaign for our product, and we have this idea where we want you to do this and this and this to show the product. We would love to have you be a part of it,” and you kind of just go back and forth. You’re like, “okay, I would love to do that, but my content … I do a little vlog, so could we make it in with my content? So it’s natural.” And they’re like, “okay, yeah, sure.” And then you kind of negotiate a rate and then find the contracts.
Most brands, they want drafts beforehand, so you’ll film a video and send it to them. Then they have to review it, tell you what to edit, tell you what needs to be done. And then you go back, you make the edits and then they approve it and then they give you a posting date. So anytime you’re seeing a sponsored post, it’s usually filmed weeks in advance, which is kind of annoying for me, personally, because it comes off as less authentic, but there’s really no way to get over that.
How do you choose which brands you actually work with?
I go by rate sometimes. I feel like I have a number, a value that I like to stay around. If someone just comes in, like, way below that, I’m like, “okay, I’m not going to go through with this because I know how much time this is going to take me to film and edit and everything. I don’t think that price is necessarily worth my time, especially having my actual job and just having to fit stuff in.” My rate determines that. And then also just the brand itself, like the quality of the product.
How do you ensure a brand fits with your personal narrative?
A good example is, I’m working with a sheet company right now, and they’re like, “oh, we want you to talk about our sheets.” And they wanted me to do a sit-down, unbox sheets with me and stuff. And I said, “I would love to work with you, but like, that’s not me.” I’ve never posted a video where I sit there and unbox sheets, but what I do post are little vlogs and morning routine stuff. So, I would love to work the sheets in somehow, like making my bed in the morning and putting those sheets on. I really try to be good about making sure it fits my narrative and my content. I’ve never really had a brand come back and say no to that.
What’s your favorite partnership or collaboration that you’ve done?
Definitely Skims. It was pretty much the coolest thing because at the time I was just obsessed with Skims. They reached out and wanted to send me Valentine’s Day stuff and just sent me a few other things. I was so happy about that. I also really like working with Brooklinen, a sheet company. They’re really good to work with and I really enjoy their stuff.
How do you differentiate your content between the different platforms?
I strictly would post vlogs on YouTube. I just can’t get into editing and the depth of editing on YouTube — it’s really intimidating. So I just post little vlogs. Instagram — I post stories like every day and that’s kind of just daily content or whatever, like products I got, things I’m doing. And then TikTok, I try to post two to three times a day with vlogs or reviews, things I bought.
If you could go back and change something on your journey to where you are now, what would you change and why?
Well, regarding Instagram, I would have started it a lot earlier. When I started it, when I was like toward the end of my senior year in college, I wish I had the confidence to just start that earlier and do that. And I think just in life, I would say don’t be so closed off to things like hanging out with your friends more, be open to trying new things, and not just saying no to stuff. And I think that would have led me to just have even better content and more life experience by now.
In today’s day and age of filters and everything being so public, how do you stay authentic?
I try to just be me and just try to share as much as I can about my life and things that I feel like I’m alone with sometimes. Like I’m doing loans, living at home and things that I feel alone with sometimes so try to share that so that other people know. It helps me too because then other people will comment and be like, “oh, I’m in the same boat as you.”
As far as filters and trying to be real — I literally don’t even know how to use photo editing apps. I don’t like the filters. So I feel like that just in itself helps me stay authentic. I just try to be real and post my life and not worry too much about it. I know that the people are following that. People that follow me — they’re just there to see the content and follow along. So I try to remind myself of that.
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Paige Keeler is a fourth-year communication studies major. She can be reached at email@example.com.