Can unpaid influencer campaigns work?

Is it possible for some brands to run influencer campaigns without paying for posts? Yes. Will these brands see the same results as brands that do? No.

Ever wonder how to get into influencer marketing with little to no budget? Well you are not alone. In general, influencer marketing has a reputation for being a steep investment that many brands are not in the position to make during the initial testing phases.

While high-profile celebrity endorsements often make the headlines, the reality is that the majority of influencer collaborations, and results, happen on a much more reasonable scale. Our data shows that positive ROI is often achieved by working with a larger number of micro-influencers who are eager to serve as tastemakers to their highly engaged audiences.

Although at some point, investing in high quality influencers and the tools to streamline a large influencer program is necessary to see long-term, tangible returns, it may possible for some brands to run successful campaigns without the high price tag.


Unpaid campaign acceptance rates

In our ebook What to Pay for a Sponsored Instagram Post, we explored how some brands are able to run successful influencer campaigns on a gift-giving basis. After surveying both marketers and influencers, we have found a common theme: influencers are willing to work at a discount for brands they love.

"As for unpaid vs paid, I almost always charge...I put a lot of time and effort into producing content that fits with the campaigns that I work on. I know that I produce great content and I'm not afraid to say that I should be compensated for it… However, if the product is worth a lot and I love it, I will on occasion do work for trade". - @Madameandrews (28k Followers)

Having a household brand name or a product with a hefty price tag can increase the chances that influencers will work with your brand without being paid, but keep in mind running an unpaid campaign can severely limit the types of influencers you’ll be able to work with.  

See the chart below for a comparison of the acceptance rates in unpaid and paid campaigns broken down by influencer tier

Based on this data, It is clear that creators with higher engagement rates rarely accept unpaid collaborations.  Why? Because high quality content comes at a price.

Based on this data, It is clear that creators with higher engagement rates rarely accept unpaid collaborations.  Why? Because high quality content comes at a price.

 

Find the right influencers

Based on multiple testimonials from influencers of all sizes, most creators are willing to post in exchange for products or other alternatives to money if they resonate with a brand. So, an important part of running an unpaid campaign is finding the right influencers to work with.

If a brand takes the time to find an influencer who aligns with their overall image, you may find that the collaboration is so natural and authentic that you do not need to pay for posts.  

 

Read our blog post here for more tips on identifying the right influencers for your campaign.

 
"There are certain brands where I just love their stuff and if they were to say, 'Hey we're not offering any money', I would do it anyways because I love the brand and at the end of the day, I need great/fun products to showcase and/or they have a lot of followers themselves in which case it's mutually beneficial."  - @Chantellepaige (50k Followers)
"I usually only do paid campaigns since creating content takes time and money. When I'm creating content I often have to purchase props for that shoot and then will sometimes have to hire a videographer or photographer, depending on what is required. If I really love the brand or product, I will do it for free…" -- @KimiEllie (132k Followers)

 

So what factors determine if your brand may be a fit for unpaid campaigns?

  • Valuable product - having a valuable product goes a long way. Mattress brands, luxury fashion, and electronics are just some of the verticals that have the potential to run successful gift-giving campaigns.

  • Popular/viral product - Even if your products may not come at a high price, influencers are interested in working with brands that are on trend. For example, has your new product gone viral in the beauty community? Capitalize on the buzz surrounding your brand and send your product out to more influencers

  • Household brand name - If your brand is something influencers can be proud to put on their portfolio, you may be a great candidate to run an unpaid campaign

  • Non-profits - appealing to the emotional side of influencers can get you a long way. Many influencers are willing to spread awareness about nonprofits or brands and organizations that give back, if they believe in your cause.

Alternatives To Monetary Compensation

We must stress the fact that creating great content takes lots of work and time. So, influencers absolutely deserve to be paid for their services.

But, if your brand just wants to get your foot in the door with influencer marketing, consider these alternatives to monetary compensation:

1. Offer to feature influencer content on their social channels, website, or other advertisements especially if your brand already has a large following.

2. Sending free products

3. Long-term partnership or affiliate partnership based on commission of sales or conversions

In conclusion, while it is possible to run unpaid or gift-giving influencer campaigns, most brands will be severely limited in the types of influencers that they can collaborate with. At the end of the day, influencers work hard to create great content and deserve to be compensated in return.

 Download our ebook that outlines how to find what your brand should be paying influencers here.