The power of a good social media influencer is undeniable (Case in point: this Twitter study); but so often, brands aren’t connecting with influencers in the best way. The relationship between brand and influencer is much different than traditional marketing techniques: it’s a mutually-benefiting relationship where both brand and influencer are gaining something meaningful. Your brand needs to fall in line with the influencer’s aesthetic and audience, and the influencer needs creative room to let their own voice shine. The whole collaboration needs to feel authentic and light, otherwise both audiences get turned off and it looks like an ad, not a partnership.

Because of these nuances, brands should approach influencers in a different manner than they would approach a marketing firm. Here are seven tips to make sure your next influencer marketing campaign is a successful one:

  1. Approach them professionally. Just because the influencer’s amazing Instagram is the reason you want to work with them, it doesn’t mean that’s where you should contact them. Ini Ikpe, the creator of SuitGrid (88.2k IG followers), politely begs brands, “Don’t slide in my DM.” Aside from coming across as unprofessional, your message will get buried in their Direct Messages. (“Right now, I have about 35 messages I haven’t even looked at on Suitgrid,” says Ini.) Instead, send an email — it’s probably listed somewhere in the IG bio or on the influencer’s site. If you want to engage in conversation on social media first, Twitter is your best bet, since conversations are much easier to keep track of.
  2. Appreciate the art of the subject line. When you do reach out to your next influencer via email, be sure to grab their attention by mentioning your brand and “collaboration” in the headline (i.e. Nike x SuitGrid Collab), suggests Ini. Expect that the influencer gets a lot of inquiries, even if you’re reaching out to a micro-influencer. He or she will be more likely to respond to a collaboration email, because they know you mean business.
  3. Don’t show your hand. For the initial email, introduce your brand briefly, especially if you’re a smaller brand, and say you’re interested in working with them — and paying them — but hold back on the details. Ini suggests leaving a little bit of mystery there to pique the influencer’s interest. If it’s the right influencer, they’ll respond.
  4. It’s about the relationship, not the social media post. Influencers are looking to build a relationship with your brand, not to simply collect a paycheck for one small social media campaign. Working with an influencer has to benefit both brands (yours and theirs), so the relationship is key. Lo Millie of Can’t Stay Put (21.6k IG followers) says the brands that really try to build a relationship come out ahead, because she’s more likely to talk about those brands in real life, beyond just posting about them. “It pushes me to go above and beyond, especially if they’re really interested in what my brand stands for. It won’t be hard for me to live it and promote it.” Bear in mind that that you are dealing with an individual, not a corporation or marketing firm; keeping things too buttoned-up and transaction-focused will rub many influencers the wrong way and get in the way of future collaborations.
  5. Don’t try to pay them with free gear. If you want to send a pair of shoes to a blogger, do so with no expectations other than to introduce them to your brand. Do not ask them to post it! A post requires the influencer’s time and work — and that’s an exchange of services that will cost you, the brand, some money. Sending gear with no expectations of the influencer is a sign of respect that will make them more open to collaborating with you — that is, if they like your brand and it falls in line with theirs. Remember, this is their livelihood; if you want access to their following, you need to spend some of your marketing budget here.
  6. Give them creative freedom. Influencers spend a lot of time and effort curating their own brand’s voice and look. Don’t try to come in and strongarm a collaboration, dictating the caption word-for-word or telling them the exact photo you want posted — again, the collab needs to fall in line with the influencer’s brand, too! (For examples of what not to do, click here.)
  7. Pick the right influencer. Don’t waste your time sending out a million emails to every influencer out there. Pick a few that make sense — whose brand, lifestyle and aesthetic line up with yours. Lo says her inbox is flooded with generic requests; it’s the influencer-specific ones that turn into successful relationships. “The money is good, but I have to turn people down because it doesn’t fit into what I’m doing. Brands should do more homework.” It’s not about working with any influencer; it’s about finding the right one.

Next time you reach out to an influencer, be sure to follow these seven rules! Even if your brands don’t align at the moment, keep the relationship going. You never know how their brand might evolve, or what event of yours might fall under their umbrella of interest.

Looking for ways to discover influencers who have an authentic voice? Check out Curalate Explore, which can help you find influencers to work with, form relationships with micro-influencers and find high-quality content piece-by-piece.