If you’re a DIY homeowner, chances are high that you’d relate to Kim and Scott Vargo. They’re young, stylish and have thousands of fans reading their blog each week to see them nurse a 130-year-old Chicago house back to life. The blog, Yellow Brick Home chronicles how Kim and Scott (along with their adorable pets) gutted their house and rehabbed it room-by-room. Like the lamp in their bedroom? You can buy it by shopping their house on their website. They are also armed with 13,000 Instagram followers — meaning their audience is highly engaged, and far more likely to make purchases if Kim and Scott endorse a product.

Lauren Hise, Social Media Manager at Crate and Barrel, has spent her career maximizing social opportunities and when she found Kim and Scott, she knew they could give her brand a big, authentic boost.

Kim, Scott and Lauren told their stories at Curalate’s first-ever Fireside Chat held in Chicago on June 20. Christina Morgan, Director of Brand Enablement Client Success at Curalate, served as the moderator. Here are our can’t miss takeaways:

Authenticity is Key

They described their influencer/brand relationship — which is actually pretty simple: Crate and Barrel works with Kim and Scott to identify merchandise they’d like to use to decorate their home. Kim and Scott agree to create blog contributions for Crate and Barrel. At the same time, they’ll share that post via social media channels, or sometimes write a simple post on their own blog to direct readers towards Crate and Barrel. But there’s a catch — it’s got to be authentic.

“The rule of thumb is that if we wouldn’t spend our hard-earned money on these products, we don’t partner with the companies that make them,” Scott told the intimate group of roughly 20 people. “It’s a simple acid test to determine whether or not it’s the right fit. If it’s not legitimate, our readers will see through that really quickly.”

Kim put it even more bluntly: “I would feel gross writing about something I’m not excited about.”

Authenticity is also crucial for Crate and Barrel, which is very picky about the influencers it works with. Lauren says she looks for influencers with a “specific, genuine voice.”

“We’re always looking for someone who is secure in their brand identity, has their own point of view and is willing to stand behind that,” said Lauren. “Then we ask ourselves: Are they really a good fit? Do we feel comfortable with them telling the Crate and Barrel story?”

That’s why the relationship with Yellow Brick Home has been so good. “When I read Kim’s posts, I hear Kim,” said Lauren. “I’d rather not do anything than have an influencer write about a product they don’t love. It’ll come through in the copy and the quality. Customers and followers are really smart and they can smell that from a mile away. Just make it easy on yourself and be authentic from the get-go and you don’t have to worry.”

For Crate and Barrel, working with influencers “adds a level of attainability,” making customers realize that they, too, can create beautiful home decor.

“It’s the same as when you scroll through Facebook and one of your friends posts a really yummy recipe — and you think, ‘I can cook that,’ ” said Lauren.

A Little Flirting Goes a Long Way

The Crate and Barrel team isn’t trying to team up with influencers with millions of followers that don’t have a connection with their brand. Instead, Lauren grows the company’s influencer base much more organically.

“I call it flirting. Who keeps tagging us on a regular basis?” said Lauren. “It’s easy to partner with someone when they already love your brand. It’s so much more authentic and meaningful then ‘here’s a product, I want you to like it.’ ”

There are plenty more brand ambassadors out there for Crate and Barrel — from established bloggers to normal consumers who just share great photos of their merchandise. Sharing and reposting user-generated content has been a hit.

“People get really excited when you ask them if you can use their photo,” said Lauren, who said the entire process has left customers more engaged and given Crate and Barrel valuable visual content that it can capitalize on.

Lessons Learned

Crate and Barrel and Yellow Brick Home have learned some valuable lessons along the way.

Kim and Scott told the crowd that client relationships don’t always go as smoothly as their Crate and Barrel partnership. One time, they agreed to work with a certain brand, but halfway through the project, the tool didn’t work — making Kim and Scott very leery of its quality.

“We told them — if you can’t get this to work for us, we can’t tell our readers that this is a product that works,” said Scott. “If we said ‘this thing’s great’ and let people try to integrate it into their own homes — and it was a piece of junk — we would lose so much credibility. Our credibility is the most valuable thing for us.”

They’ve also learned other lessons — like the importance of great photography. (Good thing Kim has a photography degree, although anybody who invests the time to take great photos can be successful.)

“With photography, you cannot mess around anymore,” said Kim. “You have to differentiate yourself in some way. I think that when we take photos, they’re going to be great, colorful, and have a dog in it, or maybe a cat. You have to separate yourself in some way, for us that’s our pets.”

For Crate and Barrel, there have been some important lessons learned as well.

“Most people don’t have a living room full of just Crate and Barrel, although that would be awesome. So user-generated content can get tricky,” said Lauren. “People always fixate on the one thing in the photo you’d never expect them to zero in on. One time, a pair of owl shaped salt and pepper shakers made it into post, which unexpectedly took attention away from the Crate and Barrel products.” With so many people commenting on the cute little owls, the Crate and Barrel items took a backseat.

“Now when we pick photos, we make sure our product is always the hero,” said Lauren.

Another lesson was the importance of partnering with a company like Curalate — which makes it easy for Crate and Barrel to discover great content, identify users and influencers they’d like to work with, ask for photo permissions and find great comments.

“We were aware this user-generated content was out there but we weren’t really sure how to go out and get it in an easy way,” she said. “We’ve been really impressed with how good it is and it’s really becoming a content stream for us. Content is huge, it’s how we tell our story.”

Curalate also held a Fireside Chat in San Francisco with Loren Mattia, the Content Marketing Manager of Z Gallerie, and one in Los Angeles with Bryan Elliot, the Digital Marketing Director, and Kelechi Kalu, the Social Media and Digital Brand Manager Lucky Brand.

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.