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Instagram Answers Our Burning Questions!

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If you're new to this blog, I hope you'll find the "Social Media University" section of my site to be a valuable resource!  I hope to offer more and more helpful insight to other entrepreneurs through my blog, and who better to learn from than someone at Instagram!  Today we're learning from Morgan Cornelius, who I had the pleasure of connecting with through the School of Hustle at the Hedley & Bennet apron factory last fall!
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Morgan (@morganrcornelius) works with the Small Business Community on Instagram. Specifically, she meets, works with, and educates small and medium businesses every single day. She loves working with entrepreneurs, and hearing how their businesses came to be. Prior to Instagram, Morgan worked at Yelp and acted as their small business outreach manager for North America. While there, she fell in love with the passion and drive small business owners put into growing their businesses.  
Morgan was gracious enough to answer some of my burning questions about Instagram.  All in all, I came away with the impression that Instagram isn't "out to get us" like we all think based on the many rumors we hear.  I didn't get a strong sense that she was trying to convince me I needed to pay to play either.  And you know that great "shadow ban" debacle?  It was just an Instagram glitch.
Morgan Cornelius & Ellen Marie Bennett emceeing the 2017 "School of Hustle"

Morgan Cornelius & Ellen Marie Bennett emceeing the 2017 "School of Hustle"

-Hashtags-


Liz: Do they help or hurt your potential visibility? i.e. should we use all 30 hashtags, should we mix it up or use the same ones all the time?

Morgan: Hashtags are a great way to reach more people by adding them to the caption of your post. You can also add a location tag to your posts which will appear in location pages on Instagram. Hashtag and location pages feature public posts and stories that have been shared with the corresponding hashtag or location.

My takeaway:  Keep on keeping on with the hashtags, and it sounds like they should go in the caption vs. the comments.  Just don't use hashtags that aren't relevant to the content you're posting.


-Engagement groups ("pods")-

Liz: Do these engagement groups help us or hurt us? One theory is that by having a group of our friends agree to regularly engage with each other, we can stay connected while also boosting our visibility out in the feed/algorithm longer by having higher engagement rates. (These "pods" are set up as a group direct message where everyone sends their latest post).

Morgan: Authenticity and transparency are key to building sustainable engagement on Instagram. Trying to somehow game the system may provide a short-term benefit, but I don't think it's a recipe for success long term. In addition, Instagram's feed ranking is powered by machine learning, which is constantly adapting to new patterns in data. So it can recognize inauthentic activity and make adjustments.

My takeaway:  If Instagram is able detect patterns (i.e. the same people always commenting over and over again), we are better off not putting time and energy into pods.  I like Melissa Camilleri's "ENTICE" method to foster more engagement with your followers (learn about it more here, on the Think Creative Collective Podcast).


-Professional Photos vs. Phone Photos-


Liz: I personally notice that when I post a really great photo like this, they automatically get such a bigger overall reach & better engagement. There are rumors that hi-res/professional photos are somehow detected by the algorithm and may be shown more than phone photos. Any truth to that? 

Morgan: There isn't any truth to this. In fact, we share a number of creative tips for business owners around how to create great content without being a professional photographer here. We want businesses to feel empowered to create great content regardless of their marketing budget or their access to a professional camera.

My takeaway:  Morgan also said iPhone photos aren't given priority over pro photos- so I think both sides of this rumor is just that.  However, I do think the better quality images you post (in composition, clarity, and overall interesting subject matter) will just naturally get more engagement than dark, blurry photos.


-Algorithm Changes-


Liz: Are there new algorithm changes coming soon and if so, how will this affect small businesses and bloggers? I feel like more of my posts get seen and have a consistent reach on my smaller account (@cannonboroughcollective). It feels like the more you grow the harder it is to reach your followers. Are smaller accounts getting more of a "boost" in the algorithm? Are personal accounts vs. business accounts getting shown more?

Morgan: Instagram uses an algorithmic feed ranking system to determine the order in which people see photos and videos. The algorithm relies on a variety of signals to surface content a person is interested in. Since we've rolled out personalized feed, one key learning is people respond to great content regardless of whether it's from friends or a brand they are passionate about. We don’t penalize businesses for being businesses. We want people to see the content they care about, regardless if the content is from their friends or brands they are passionate about. We’ll continue to improve feed to show people more of the posts they find interesting.

Morgan's Tip for Businesses: Experiment with video or posts that feature multiple photos or videos as they are great formats to tell your business' story by sharing more information in an engaging experience.

My takeaway:  I have personally noticed more and more small accounts (under 1000 followers) coming up in my feed more frequently than the big accounts I follow.  I did switch back to a personal account for a week to see if it made any difference in engagement, but I don't think it did so I'm back to a business account.  As a user, I try to like and comment on the accounts I would like to see more of, and in turn Instagram does seem to show me that content the next time I log on.


-New Features-


Does using the bells and whistles of the platform (like cute Instastories filters or Instagram Live, etc.) help your overall reach in the algorithm? I heard that doing stories & doing more Instagram lives helps more of your followers see you (on a regular basis, not just at the time of the story/live).

Morgan: My best advice would be that it’s always a good idea to adapt your content to best connect with our changing community (think videos, IG stories, multi-post, boomerangs, hyperlapse etc).

When it comes to engagement, there are a lot of dynamics that can impact it and all sorts of other things that are totally outside of your control. Even aesthetic fatigue can also be an issue for some people. On our side, people are also following more than ever before, and as a result their likes might be spread out across a wider range of content. We also launched Instagram Stories in the last year which is now drawing the eyes to two different places on the home tab. Engagement is made up of SO many different factors — there's no silver bullet. 

My conclusion:  I personally notice that doing occasional Instagram live videos and consistently creating Instagram stories keeps my audience interacting with me.  It never hurts to pop in to have more face time with your social media community!

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I so appreciate Morgan giving us some information straight from the Instagram horse's mouth. Comment below if you have any other questions, and hopefully we can continue our conversation with Instagram!

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My Secrets to a Better Pitch for Bloggers

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Sometimes I forget that the things I finally have figured out are the things that a lot of other people are out there still wondering about!  I am always turning to Pinterest & other blogs to help me with all my questions about entrepreneurship, blogging, Instagram, etc., so I'm going to try to start sharing more (hopefully helpful) info with you!  I just ask that you'll share in your Instastories or on Pinterest if you find this to be useful.  It also helps me when you click on the affiliate links I've included (I earn a small commission from them). Thanks, friends!

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Ok, so do you just KNOW you have an awesome blog and a great reach and feel like you would make an ideal partner for some of the brands you love?  I bet you're right!  You have a solid Instagram following, consistent monthly blog traffic, and/or you are able to provide some fabulous professional photo content to the brands you work with!  

Well guess what?  If you don't entice someone with a great pitch email, then they might never even make it to your Instagram account to see how wonderful you are!  I was looking back at some of my old pitches recently, and realized I had been doing it ALL WRONG.  Here are a few of the mistakes I had been making with those emails:

-Lack of a compelling subject line (PR agencies and media outlets get so bombarded, so make sure your subject is enticing!  Sometimes these subject lines are used as search engines at a later time, so the next time someone wants to work with a Charleston blogger they might be more inclined to be able to find you again if you give more info in your subject line)

-Too vague (i.e. "I would love to collaborate". Get more specific about what you're asking for and offering.)

-Not enough of the info they are looking for (I don't know if everyone takes the time to read your media kit, so putting a brief snippet of your analytics & pricing is a good idea)

-Too lengthy (make sure you offer a specific plan and request, but get to the point in a short and sweet email)

-Too open-ended (you have to give someone a reason to take immediate action from your email.  I offer a deadline to create a sense of urgency for them to reply to me sooner.)

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Here is a basic template to try the next time you're crafting an email to a brand you'd like to work with.  Remember to make it your own; if you copy this word for word, it won't sound enough like you!  Change it up a little to suit your own brand and style.

Dear (Awesome Brand),
I have a bright and colorful blog & Instagram called Charleston Weekender, and I would love to include your (shoes, clothes, location) in an upcoming project I have lined up.  I'll be working with (name of photographer with link to another project you have done with them) for a blog feature about (a certain event or concept, i.e. a local event like "Charleston Fashion Week" or maybe "5 Handbags I'm Loving Lately").
I have a current reach of (# of followers and typical unique views per post), and I have rates starting at ($___. Let them know if you're requesting product instead of payment, most brands prefer that).   My media kit is attached if you would like to see all of my offerings and examples of some of my successful partnerships.
I'll need to have participants lined up for this project by (deadline date), so please let me know if you're interested as soon as possible.  I'm happy to provide further examples or answer any additional questions you might have.  (Insert genuine compliment here. For example, "I am just loving your new duffel bags this season, and I am very excited to share them with my followers!")
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Guess what?  This gets brands to respond every time...NOT!  I still get flat out ignored all the time and get my fair share of nos.  However, I'm getting far more responses than ever before and a good amount of yeses!  By the way, the backstory of these photos with the orange bag is that I recently pitched Land's End via multiple emails to their PR team to work with them to share their new collection.  I've yet to hear back, so I bought this orange Land's End duffel bag anyway!  Can't win 'em all.


Soon I'll be sharing some better strategies for pitching your brand/products to magazines.  Make sure you check out the "Social Media University" section of my site so you don't miss out as I add a lot of free resources this year!

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-Shop This Post-

Duffel Bag // Cactus Print Embroidered Shirt // Rifle Paper Co. Shoes (sold out, but here is a similar platform from Keds) // CHS hat

photography by LISH Creative

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5 Lies My Instagram Told You!

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I know you guys don't really think that life is all sunshine & roses over here at Charleston Weekender, but I still like to check in and occasionally put things in perspective (just in case you had some unnecessary FOMO).  I only show you my highlights on my Instagram, because I bet pictures of me ugly crying aren't really what inspires you!  Luckily it's been a minute since I last fell apart, but I DO hope to be better about sharing more of the struggle side of my journey with you this year.  Today I wanted to dispel a few misconceptions I have heard, based on what people have told me from what they see on my social media.

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1. I'm always happy!

While I did learn from my mom how to focus on the positive, I definitely have periods of just "blah".  I've had anxiety since grad school in 2006; after a lot of therapy, yoga, dietary changes, & self-awareness, I mostly have it managed.  In 2017 I got WAY out of the habit of regular exercise, and let dairy/wheat sneak back into my diet a lot.  I had so many days of waking up with a feeling of dread over nothing at all, and other days where I was just laying on the couch all day with no motivation to do much of anything.  My anxiety can zap so much of my energy that I get totally depleted and start feeling depressed.  This has all dramatically changed since implementing some new habits like a morning routine (read more about that here)!

2. I'm killing it- I mean just raking in the dough & ballin' out of control over here.

My biggest stressor in this entrepreneurship journey is definitely money.  As a speech therapist, I was making a very nice comfortable annual salary with awesome benefits & 16 vacation days.  Charleston Weekender & Cannonborough Collective don't send me a regular paycheck, and I'm constantly comparing my bank account now to what it used to be.  With entrepreneurship, sometimes there's a surplus and other times you have to give it a lot of extra hustle.  In spring or summer I might get wholesale accounts with stores that have multiple locations, but then I might not get a reorder again for several months.

I DO try to focus on the fact that sometimes the experiences I get to have are even better than money!  Well, at least a lot of the perks of my current situation (i.e. occasional free hotels) give me what I would really be spending my extra money on anyway.  So it's all relative I guess, and my earnings are consistently growing so there's that.

Side note: I DID wait and very gradually transition out of my speech therapy career; as TCW was bringing home more bacon I went from 4 days to 3 days and so on.  I also don't have any bank loans or debt so I feel like that's a huge win, but I often have such a hard time being patient enough to wait for the slow build.  I'm definitely much happier working for myself overall!

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3. Brands are knocking down my door to pay me the big bucks!

I think it has only happened a handful of times in the last year that I've had a company reach out to me to "collaborate" and then be willing to pay the rates I'm charging.  Usually my partnerships happen because I pitched myself to them.  When companies/restaurants DO reach out to work together, it's often to offer me a product I would never use or a glass of champagne in exchange for coming to promote their location.  I very rarely get offered something that's worth the value of what I'm currently charging for a post.  

So how do I get to work with the likes of Draper James & Talbots or be on influencer teams for big events like Modernism Week?  The majority of the time, I just ask!  I reach out to companies/locations/PR firms and make a compelling argument for why we should work together.  I send so many emails I don't ever hear back from, and also get plenty of flat out "no"s.  I'm so grateful for any and every opportunity that comes my way, but sometimes it's frustrating when people don't see the value in what I'm offering.  Other times, I get hired by really awesome companies or receive products from fabulous brands that I absolutely love. 

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4. I live a lavish life of jet setting. So fancy!

Ok YES, I do travel as much as possible (probably 1-2 times a month).  My mom gave me the travel bug when we used to tour the country on a Christian Tours bus full of mostly elderly folks.  We went every summer and I think we saw about 26 states and Canada along the way!  

Sometimes I can barter my Instagram reach for free accommodations, so I definitely try to make that happen as much as possible. Other times, my husband travels to different conferences for his job so I get to tag along.  We've gone to Vegas, Palm Springs, LA, & San Fran without having to spend money on lodging, so I fully embrace that when I can!

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5. I have no insecurities. 

For the most part, I'm way more confident than I was in my 20s and don't really worry about what other people think.  Sure, I would love to have straighter teeth, a flat stomach, and thicker hair (which is why I occasionally wear extensions & lots of hats).  The great thing about working with awesome photographers is that they know how to catch your best angles (or occasionally remind you to stand up straight/suck in)!  I also make sure to remind them not to zoom in on me too much! This is about as close as I care to get with anyone besides my husband. 

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I don't think there is a single person you see "killing it" that doesn't have their fair share of struggles. I hope my Instagram always gives you inspiration to make your days feel a little more like the weekend, but please remember I have plenty of days I just have to fake it 'til I make it!

photos c/o Jennifer Collins Photography (laundromat) & LISH Creative

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5 Lessons 2017 Taught Me

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This post is a little bit about remembering to take some time to stop and ENJOY the fruits of our labor from the past year.  It's also about sharing some of the things that I've realized along the way so that I can hopefully help you, too.  I've included some photos of some of my favorite moments of 2017 and I hope you enjoy!  

1. Invest in yourself.

A big part of taking yourself and your business seriously involves spending money and carving out time for yourself.  In 2017, I attended conferences in February (The Southern C) & August (The School of Hustle).  There were times this year (end even this month!) where I had so much doubt and anxiety, but these conferences are truly what kept me going & kept me inspired!  I met new people to work with and heard speakers that gave me a fresh take on approaching my business.  Before I even budgeted for buying new product for my shop, I purchased a ticket to The Southern C & The Maker's Summit.  Let's connect if you'll be there too!

Don't put yourself in an irresponsible position, but don't always be so practical that it becomes detrimental to your growth.  Justify spending money on childcare so you can devote time to exercise, hire a photographer to photograph your products or services, or book that conference or trip that will contribute to your overall wellness or build skills in your career.  Don't be afraid to take a little risk, but know that it's ok to proceed with caution and do this in small doses.  We opened a shop this year, but did so without taking out a bank loan or taking on very much financial responsibility.  I do believe that the greater the risk the greater the reward, but it's ok to start out in shallow water if you're not ready to jump into the deep end.

2. Don't put all your eggs in one opportunity basket.

Remember how Rome wasn't built in a day?  In 99% of cases that applies to your business, too.  Aside from that .0001% of people that have a "Shark Tank" moment, it's going to take the combination of a lot of opportunities to get you where you want to be. You aren't going to have 100k Instagram followers or be a recognizable brand overnight- @OhJoy has been blogging for a decade!  Being in an awesome magazine feature or having a mention on a big blogger's Instagram account are fabulous and exciting, but those things don't usually cause immediate success.  The first time I was published in Style Me Pretty Living I thought it meant big things were going to happen right away!  A few publications later- which I am super grateful & stoked about- I now look at these opportunities as something to help my SEO, build my reach, and slowly contribute to growing a brand.

teaming up with Palm Beach Lately

teaming up with Palm Beach Lately

3. Ask and ye shall (sometimes) receive.

Here is a little secret for you: every awesome thing you see someone doing on Instagram isn't necessarily getting handed to them.  Sure, some people don't have to work as hard as others to be noticed and given opportunities, some people pay for a PR team to help them, but a lot of great opportunities come from people taking good old fashioned initiative.  When I did some work for the Draper James blog this year?  Reese Witherspoon didn't just discover me and decide I'm awesome and call me.  When Maddie & I were on the West Elm blog, it wasn't because they thought I was the coolest blogger with the cutest dog.  I do some projects for free, I reach out to a lot of PR teams, & I send a lot of emails I never hear back from or get rejections from.  On the other hand, a few times this year I was asked to team up with some fabulous folks & also heard "YES" from some really awesome people- Houzz, Charleston Food & Wine Festival, Kelly Golightly, Charleston Fashion Week, Gray Malin, A Lowcountry Wedding, Charleston Inside Out, The Aqualillies, Palm Beach Lately, ACME House Company, Kimpton Hotels, Talbots, & more.  Most of these people didn't know me from Adam until I reached out to them. Who do you want to work with? Just ask them! 

pictured above: a Charleston Wine & Food Festival event & feature I styled for A Lowcountry Wedding

4.  I can't keep going at this pace!

Anyone else trying to do more than one 9-5 job? Nowadays it's becoming the norm to have a side hustle, or maybe you're like me and your business is comprised of several parts.  When this is the case, it's SO easy to never. shut. down.  Before you know it you're either super stressed, super tired, or super lame and don't spend as much time on the important relationships in your life (even the one that involves taking care of yourself)!  I've learned that I have to make myself a schedule and stick to it; I actually have to write in exercise and turn down even really awesome meetings that interfere with my yoga class.  I have also broken down the various aspects of my income in order to help me see how to spend my time in 2018.  This blog doesn't bring in 50% of my income, so it shouldn't take up 50% of my time.  Let some simple math help you determine how to spend your time.  I can already tell I've got a happier year ahead!  

hanging with the Aqualillies at ACME House Co. in Palm Springs

hanging with the Aqualillies at ACME House Co. in Palm Springs

5.  Habits are our friends.

Habits often have a negative connotation; for example, the adage "old habits die hard" makes me picture how often we struggle to give up bad habits.  I've recently realized I could be using habits to my advantage!  If I want to prioritize exercise or finding more enjoyment in my day, I have to create permanent habits instead of making goals that may or may not get accomplished.  Check out my post on the best way to head into the new year ready to form more good habits.

in Sea Island for The Southern C

in Sea Island for The Southern C

Sianara, 2017!  It's been real, but I'm ready to take on 2018 with some better strategies in my back pocket.  Check out my year in pictures below, and follow along on Instagram to see what I'm up to in the New Year!

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Blog-Brand Partnerships: How to Charge & What to Pay

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Now that we have a shop, I have been on both sides of the brand-blogger relationship.  As a blogger, I get hired by others to promote their products.  As a shop owner, I like to work with influencers to help bring new eyes to our store (Cannonborough Collective).  Recently we worked with Naomi from Southern Charm, and it was definitely a successful collaboration where we got about 100-150 new followers!  It's no surprise that it can be a little confusing to navigate these types of relationships, so scroll down for my two cents on how to achieve fair & successful partnerships for both parties.  This post is mostly referencing charging for Instagram, but I'll add a little section about sponsored blog posts as well.

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-A Basic Guide to Calculating Instagram Post Rates-

At The Southern C Summit this past February, James Nord of Fohr Card gave us a simple way to break down pricing for Instagram posts.  He compared what you would expect to pay for a sponsored post via Instagram or Facebook, which is $10 per 1000 people reached.  By that math, if you have 60,000 followers, you could charge $600 per post.  It doesn't sound great to only make $20 for a post if you have 2000 followers, but there are other ways to add value or receive payment (more on that in a few).

Another way to calculate your rate is to use a free tool like Social Bluebook.  It's a site that connects brands to bloggers, and will also analyze your analytics to help you determine a fair rate to charge.  Based on what I knew from James, I was planning to update my media kit to $150 per post since I have 14.1k followers (ok so I rounded up $10, you caught me!).  I double checked the Social Bluebook suggested price per post, and it was a little higher ($158).  It takes things into account besides just your follower number, i.e. your engagement.  My engagment wasn't top of the line, but it's super tough to get steady engagement nowadays with the Instagram algorithm.  Side note: PLEASE like and comment on your favorite Instagram accounts to help us out with this!

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-My Advice for Bloggers-

Ok, so maybe that math above doesn't sound all that great- you might have 5,000 followers and therefore be "worth" about $50 per post. But wait a minute!  5,000 is still a big number and $50... not so much.  Especially when you consider paying a photographer, your time, etc. etc.  Therefore, you have a few different options.  

Option A: Get free stuff! While you're growing your following, you can use a blog as a fun hobby & request free products from your favorite brands.  A local boutique or even a national retailer might be willing to gift you an item of clothing, piece of jewelry, etc.  Most companies prefer to gift product instead of pay for posts, so you might get a higher value in product than payment.  Decide what your time for creating a photo on social media is worth and stick to it!  

Option B: Make yourself more valuable.  When I work with a brand, I'm giving them a set amount of photos that they can use for their social media and often styling their products for them.  We all know photography is expensive, so I think I'm adding additional value to what I'm offering.  Maybe you can leverage a high Twitter, Pinterest, or Facebook following to go along with what you have on Instagram.  

-My Advice for Shops & Brands-

Know your budget and goals.  Are you hoping to get more website/store traffic, or do you want to grow your own Instagram following?  None of these things are a guarantee, so it's a good idea to have a game plan.  Offer a generous discount code so you can track your site traffic from the post if you're hoping for sales.  If you want to get followers, it's important to make sure your Instagram feed is looking fab in order for this to work. I can help with that in my Instagram consultation.  Don't forget about the power of pure brand awareness.  Even if you don't get sales, you are at the very least going to get on the radar of a new audience.

Pay for AT LEAST 2 posts.  Repetition is huge!  I noticed this with my own products- I definitely get more sales the 3rd time I post about something compared to the first.  Whether your goals are sales or brand awareness, it's best to get multiple posts (or a combo of a post & an Instastory at the very least).

You get what you pay for.  Do you have to spend money to work with influencers?  Absolutely not!  You do, however, have to offer something awesome and equitable to what you're expecting.  In lieu of payment I have offered bloggers photography, balloons, or my products like Turkish towels.  On the blog side of things I have been compensated with products, meals, etc.  There just needs to be a mutual understanding of expectations and a fair exchange; if you offer a $20 item to a blogger with 20k followers, you might get an Instagram story at best.  If you aren't paying for a post, make it clear what you're offering and expecting in return and try to offer a product value that's equitable to what they would be paid for a post.

-Sponsored Blog Posts-

I hardly ever pitch a dedicated blog post to brands.  I get about 4-5,000 unique views on my site a month, and I honestly have no idea what that breaks down to per post or what that is "worth", but I don't imagine it's phenomenal.  However, I do know this about my blog: I have great SEO, I am able to offer content creation (i.e. photos for brands to use on their social media), and it takes a LOT of my time to write a blog post.  Therefore,  I'm happy to write a blog post but it's going to cost someone a pretty penny!  I have take into account my time, associated costs, etc.  I've found it most cost effective for everyone to instead offer inclusion in a blog round-up, so it might feature multiple brands instead of just one.  Basically a few brands are then chipping in on the cost together, like here & here.

-Get Verified-

By the way, you can have Fohr Card verify your following for free, so the companies you're working with know you didn't pay for fake followers.  This is another way to add value to what you are offering a brand. If you're a brand, you can certainly request that influencers have this verification.

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If you found this useful, I hope you'll check out this new section of my site: Charleston Weekender's Social Media University.  There are lots of free resources like this, and I hope it's super helpful!

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