This is Exactly How Influencer AD’s Work on Instagram

If you follow any ‘influencers’ on Instagram then I’m sure you’ve seen #AD or ‘Paid Partnership with…’ come up on your feed. I find that from a consumer perspective, the whole thing tends to be bit shrouded in mystery. It creates a sense of mistrust. Coupled with some very poorly executed product placement and shitty (literally) diet teas often pushed by reality TV stars and slebs, it’s easy to see why. I wanted to write something that explained exactly what hashtag ads are and exactly how they come about in the hope of bringing a bit more transparency. Whether you wish to support them or not is entirely your call.

What actually is an AD?

According to the Advertising Standards Agency (yep – the influencer industry is regulated!) an AD is ANYTHING associated with a brand that has in any shape or form paid you. This could be a fee for content, or it could be sending you a £2 item in the post that you didn’t ask for. The ASA even class affiliate links (where the influencer receives a small kick back) as an AD these days (though the influencer may have purchased the product and never had anything to do with the brand beyond as a consumer). If you’ve worked with a brand in the past but then share something you’ve bought from them, you’re even meant to mark that an AD. Intense, huh…

For the purposes of this post, I am referring explicitly to paid partnerships. Money is paid in exchange for contractually agreed content and social media promotion of a brand, product or service.

Why do people hate on ADS?

There could be a thousand reasons, but here’s what commonly crops up –

  • An assumption that the influencer is just in it for the money
  • An ad is irrelevant or poorly placed
  • Thinking it can’t possibly be an honest recommendation if it’s paid for
  • Thinking influencers get everything for free
  • Seeing too many people promote the same thing and feeling bombarded
  • Jealousy: how is that your job?

But consider this…

If you’re nodding a long to the above (totally fair enough!) it’s worth considering the flip side too. Bloggers and influencers and whatever else you want to call us, have facilitated a means by which a follower can access a wealth of (often professional standard) content entirely for free. I like to think of those I follow on Instagram or who’s blogs I read as my own personally curated magazine.

Creating regular, professional content is a full time job. Speaking from personal experience, I literally would not be able to create, curate and put out the imagery, stories, blog posts and other pieces that I do if I simultaneously worked a day job. Therefore, I take on ADs when I feel they’re right for me and my audience. If I didn’t, I would not be able to pay my bills. It can seem like influencers get a lot ‘for free’ and indeed the world of press samples is often overly generous, but I can’t offer my energy provider an eyeshadow palette in exchange for a cheeky bit of gas that month. I need to earn actual money.

The same goes for any full-time creator, and even those who may work alongside it deserve paying because, business-to-business, they’re fulfilling a service to the brand.

If you feel like the ADs that you’re seeing are annoying or irrelevant or you simply do not trust the person putting them out there, unfollow them. It’s kind of that simple.

So, how do ADs actually work?

Here’s a step by step process that I often go through with a brand when working together on paid content:

  1. A brand sends an email either directly or via a PR agency, usually gaging interest in their upcoming campaign. Usually (and rightly) brands will favour those that they’ve had some form of prior relationship with where possible, including as a consumer who has shared organically. They might (they should!) ask for screenshots of a creators follower demographic to ensure they’re well aligned.
  2. I decide whether I’m interested or not. Sometimes it’s really obvious that something wouldn’t align, sometimes I’m like “YES! I have shopped here since I was 14. YAY!” Other times, its simply a case of asking more questions and requesting full details on a campaign. My method is: “would I tell my mum/sister to buy this?”
  3. Quite often, a phone call might happen right about here. It’s often just much easier to chat to someone and ask any questions from both sides as well as discuss the intricacies of the campaign.
  4. A campaign brief is sent through. It should detail exactly what the brands aim is; sometimes that’s brand awareness, sometimes it’s sales, sometimes its to draw attention to a particularly occasion, event or theme. The brief will include a proposed timeline, what they’re looking for and how much content they want you to create.
  5. If all looks good, I’ll reply with my fee and a rough proposal of how I’d like to interpret the brief and which angle I think will work best for my community.
  6. There’s often some back and forth negotiating rates! That bits never really fun but is an important lesson in being self-employed and working as a creative.
  7. Once all is agreed, a contract will be drafted and signed by both parties. It includes the scope of the work, the fee, the time line and a whole host of legalities.
  8. If required, the precise product for the campaign will be sent out.
  9. I create the content I’ve agreed. Usually this means working with my photographer to shoot imagery. I’ve likely already come up with my angle but I’ll refer back to the brief to draft copy (captions, blog post etc) that is both entirely in my own voice, and hits the campaign targets.
  10. The content all gets sent over to the brand or PR. Everything, right down to the caption and story slides, is subject to pre-approval. If there are any tweaks, they’ll be made. The brand are entitled to give feedback and, whilst rare if you’ve hammered out details well enough beforehand, occasionally a creator may be asked to entirely re-shoot or re-draft content if the brand feels its off brief.
  11. Once approved, I’ll agree a posting date with the brand.
  12. The content goes live. When used, the Paid Partnership function gives the brand access to insights including reach, impressions (how many people have seen it) and engagement such as how many people have liked, commented, clicked, swiped up etc.
  13. I send the brand my invoice. As standard, I operate a 30 day term but there are a few brand and agencies that work on 60 days (sometimes more!) and there’s basically little you can do about it. Which is annoying when it does happen, cause I don’t think many people expect to wait a minimum of two months to be paid.
  14. After stories have expired and perhaps a week after a feed post has gone live, I’ll screen shot the analytics (as above) and send them to the brand.
  15. All finished! Some feedback might be discussed on both sides. In an ideal world an invoice is paid swiftly and certainly within the payment term.
  16. If it isn’t, all sorts of fun ensues. Emails, phone calls, statutory late fees, small claims threats…

I hope that helps to clear up some of the confusion or misunderstanding around what it means when your job is “just posting a photo on Instagram”. If you do follow and enjoy the content of creators then the most supportive thing you can do is engage – genuinely, of course! – with their occasional ADs by liking, commenting etc etc. Those jobs here and there fund all the free content, put out there purely for the love of it. 

6 Responses

  1. I’ve started to think about someone’s page like a magazine. We don’t get annoyed about seeing paid promotion there, so why should we on an influencers page. My only minor annoyance with ads is that I find often the influencers tone changes. You can tell straight away when it’s an ad story because it becomes scripted and not in the authentic way all their other stories are.
    It’s interesting to know about the paid partnership function. I didn’t realise the brand could see that.
    Thanks for the read. x

    1. Yes you’re totally right. People do need to be careful about that! There’s often lots of ‘key messages’ from the brand and it’s important to work out how to make these come across naturally!

  2. I loved this! I’ve not seen anything like it from any other ‘influencer’ but really valued the content and, as always, it was so well written. Thank you for sharing!

  3. This was so helpful, I myself work as a blogger full time so it’s always great to read more into this. Thanks for being so in depth 🙂 x

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