In my first four months of running my own small business, I had social media influencers with 20k, 50k, and even 100k followers posting about my freeze-dried raw pet treats, and I counted Sir Patrick Stewart's wife Sunny Ozell and Antoni Porowski from Queer Eye among my paying customers.
Influencers can be powerful allies when it comes to spreading brand awareness, and 67% of brands use Instagram for influencer marketing.
With as many mistakes as I've made in entrepreneurship, I have a secret strategy when it comes to influencer marketing. Are you ready for it? Get your notepad out.
The secret to connecting with influencers is - authenticity.
I know, who would've thought?
When I first reached out to a several influencers, specifically those in the bully breed community on Instagram, I reached out to ask if I could send them Kono's treats. I didn't ask them to post about the treats in exchange for free products, but I did hope that if their dogs liked the treats, they would post on their stories or even an IG feed post.
What ended up happening was that I genuinely connected with these dog moms, and we talked about everything from our struggles with reactive dogs to our dating lives. I could see myself being friends with these women in real life.
That's not to say I've connected in the same way with every influencer I've reached out to. It's just like IRL relationships—sometimes you just vibe more with certain people than others. And the ones I have genuinely connected with, I've developed true friendships with that have lasted the life of Kono's Kitchen so far.
I do believe that some influencers keep posting about Kono's treats (and supporting me by buying them on their own!) because it's a great product, especially as training treats. I made sure the size was perfect for feeding as is, so I wouldn't have to spend time breaking down the treats into smaller pieces, and I also wanted to provide treats that wouldn't crumble when you stuffed them in your (read: my) hoodie pocket.
But I also think that the personal relationship I've developed with each of them also has a lot to do with it. Empathy goes a long way, and whenever any of my online friends, regardless of their following, is going through something, I try to reach out to check on them and see how they're doing.
If you're asking about a life update you saw on their most recent post and have had no other interaction with them, it just doesn't come across the same way.
Here are some actionable tips for connecting with influencers:
- Do take your time to genuinely engage with their content or chat with them over DMs
- Do continue to engage with people you actually vibe with
- Do connect with influencers who stand for the same values you do
- Do determine your goals with influencer marketing—are you trying to increase your follower count? Reach new audiences? Drive sales?
- Do give influencers a unique discount code they can share with their followers so you can track sales that come from their audience - e.g. "DOGSNAME10"
- Don't message someone right away and ask for a post in exchange for free products when they have no idea who you are
- Don't focus solely on Instagram (note to self to start branching out)
- Don't just reach out to mega-influencers with millions or hundreds of thousands of followers. Micro-influencers (debatable what numbers actually define this), or accounts with 3k to 10k followers, can often have pretty great engagement rates
Honestly, as obvious as it may sound, I think my secret to connecting with influencers is just being myself, despite who I'm talking with. It's this philosophy that led to me to chatting with Sunny Ozell for an hour at 2:52am about the challenges of crate training a rescue dog. It's also the same quirky personality trait that prompted me to tell Antoni Porowski that he had just messaged me while I was taking a shit when he told me how much his dog Neon loved Kono's treats (yep...cue facepalm).
When I first started Kono's Kitchen, I was trying anything and everything I could to make my business an overnight success. But my mindset has changed since then, and I'm grateful for the slow growth that allows me to focus on growing our community and fostering long-term relationships with people I genuinely admire and vibe with.
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