Why a Promise of “Working for Visibility” is Not Enough

Why a Promise of “Working for Visibility” is Not Enough

My friend stepped away from lunch to take a call, and came back with a glum face. She told me that she had been contacted by a communications manager from a large multinational corporation, who wanted her to speak at a webinar for that brand’s small business community.

My friend is a sought-after small business influencer. She was ecstatic when she was first contacted by this brand. She uses the brand’s product and believes in it.

Only problem is, they wanted her to work for visibility. They were not willing to pay anything. The communications manager’s reasoning was, “It’s a virtual event you can do from your office, so it will only take an hour of your time. Besides, you’ll increase visibility.”

Much as my influencer friend wanted to work with this brand, she had to turn the opportunity down.

Let’s take a walk through the thinking of a well established influencer, to see how he or she thinks when approached to speak at a brand’s event.

My goal here is simple. I want to help you get inside the influencer mindset, so you know how to approach influencers and persuade them.

Let’s look at what the influencer is thinking:

Events Take More Time Than You Think

As my friend says, “It’s never just one hour.”

In talking with my influencer peers, the consensus is that an influencer will spend 10 hours at a bare minimum — and likely 15 hours or more — on a single speaking event or appearance. And yes, that’s for a virtual event like a webinar.

If travel is required, or if there are unique circumstances, the time commitment will be greater.

When an influencer considers taking part in your event, the influencer is mentally adding up all the time they will spend on:

  • Communicating with you on your goals, logistics, and other points.
  • Reading and digesting brand guidelines or messaging points you send.
  • Preparing and proofreading the slide deck.
  • Finding interesting graphics to go in the slide deck.
  • Practicing the presentation.
  • Crafting a compelling headline and description for the webinar.
  • Writing, proofing and scheduling a blog post or video message to promote their appearance at your presentation.
  • Composing and scheduling social media messages.
  • Customizing images to go along with the post and messages.
  • Fielding emails, scheduling meetings, and other miscellaneous administrative activities to set everything up.
  • Doing a dry run.
  • Participating in the event itself.
  • If it’s a live event, the travel time to and from the event venue. And don’t forget the time arranging travel.

Whether it’s a webinar or some other kind of event, most influencers have learned that participating in a brand’s initiative ALWAYS eats up more time than it sounds on the surface.

Working to “Increase Visibility” Doesn’t Cover Costs

Anything an influencer does has an opportunity cost.

We’re talking about the influencer’s time. And time is one of the influencer’s scarcest resources.

The time the influencer is spending on your initiative is time they can’t spend on other revenue-generating opportunities.

On top of the opportunity cost, influencers have actual hard costs. Many influencers have employees or freelance support help. Their workers expect to get paid in real dollars to assist with activities like scheduling, proofreading posts and customizing images.

When you approach an influencer and ask them to work for visibility, you really are asking them to participate in what is for them an unprofitable deal. They are going to spend their two most precious resources: time and money.

So to do something that costs the influencer in time and money, he or she would have to get something compelling in exchange.

And that brings me to the next item ….

Visibility is Worth Something – But Not That Much

“Visibility” is of some value to an influencer, true. But it doesn’t have as much value as you may think.

The better known the influencer, the less value visibility has.

Why? The influencer already has visibility.

And he will evaluate your opportunity from his perspective, not yours.  From his perspective, there are three reasons the dangled promise of visibility may not be as enticing as you think:

♦     The numbers aren’t impressive

You may be thrilled with getting 500 people attending your webinar. And it may be quite an accomplishment to capture 500 webinar leads — from your perspective.

However, that number may seem small judged by an influencer who has 50,000 social followers or a site that gets 500,000 visitors a month.  That 500 is just 1% of his social tribe, and 3% of a single day’s traffic. Those numbers won’t substantially increase visibility for that influencer.

 ♦    Unable to convert into other revenue opportunities

But, you’re thinking, who needs big numbers? If the influencer just gets one client from speaking it may make it all worthwhile.

Here’s the thing. Depending on the influencer’s business model, those 500 attendees may not be translatable into a single dollar of revenue. Ever.

Many marketers assume that small business influencers earn a living by performing services for small businesses.

Yes, some do. But many do not.

In fact, small business influencers at the national level tend to be content creators, authors or speakers. Many do not take on small businesses as direct clients. So that webinar isn’t likely to lead to any paying clients for many influencers.

♦    Visibility opportunities abound

In the world of an influencer, there’s no shortage of visibility opportunities. Well-known influencers get bombarded with opportunities by their peers and other brands to speak or write or appear — every week.

Can you see why the promise to increase visibility is a relatively minor enticement to an established influencer?

The Influencer’s Community Has Value

Finally, the influencer is thinking of one other thing that the brand hasn’t assigned a value to: access to the influencer’s community.

As the influencer evaluates an opportunity, he or she is thinking, “What is access to my community worth?”

Most brands expect that an influencer who participates in an event will help promote it. In other words, the brand is expecting to gain access to the influencer’s community.

Yet nowhere in the “work for visibility” equation is value for that access being acknowledged.

Influencers spend countless hours developing their communities. That community following is a huge part of the influencer’s value.

In the influencer’s mind it should be worth something to get access to it. After all, brands pay to get access to an NFL audience, the influencer is thinking.

Now, your reaction may be, “Just who does that influencer think he is? His community doesn’t have nearly the value of the NFL’s audience.”

But remember, it’s the influencer you have to convince.

And if you say there isn’t enough value to compensate the influencer for access, the influencer’s response is likely to be “then why should I promote it to my followers, if you don’t value my community?”

Whether you agree with the above or not is irrelevant.

I’m merely trying to point out that if you hope to persuade influencers, it’s imperative to walk in their shoes for a few minutes.

4 Tips on How to Approach an Influencer for Your Initiative

While some up-and-coming influencers might take you up on that offer to “work for visibility,” established influencers will be far harder to convince.

Here are four tips for increasing the chances that top influencers will say “yes” to participating in your initiative:

(1) Acknowledge that their time is valuable

Before you approach an influencer, it pays to mentally walk in their shoes.

Imagine how you would feel if someone asked you to do 10 or 15 hours of work — for zero pay.

Understanding how influencers look at things will help you get into the mindset of how to approach them. When talking with influencers, state up front that you understand they are very busy and their time is valuable. Don’t make light of the time commitment.

This will set the tone for the rest of the discussion.

(2) Engage first, then ask

The influencer will be much more open if you’ve had some interaction first. Engage with the influencer on social media. Or send an email with a short compliment on a recent article.

In other words, develop a bit of a relationship before you approach an influencer asking a substantial time commitment. [link to 10 easy ways to build relationships with influencers]

(3) Offer more than visibility

Ask the influencer’s speaking rate. It may be less than you think.

Some small business influencers who are excellent speakers have economical rates — in the range of a couple thousand dollars. We’re not talking Beyonce rates here.

But what if you ask and it’s more than your budget?  After all, I’ve heard the stories about the Small Business group in many companies having to go around with a tin cup to better funded departments.

In that case, try to offer some amount. Every brand can find a small honorarium of $300 or $500 somewhere in their budget. And if it’s a pain to push a small contract through Purchasing, buy a gift card and call it a miscellaneous expense.

And then offer to help as much as possible with the preparations. Help by preparing the slides or drafting social messages.

The point is, if influencers know you place monetary value on what they do and are pushing your budgetary limits on their behalf, they will be more open to listening.

In the end, the influencer may still decline if he is booked up. But who knows? He might recommend a colleague instead, such as an up-and-comer he knows is open to working for visibility.

(4) Communicate a desire for a long-term relationship

Add one other thing into the mix: communicate that you consider this engagement a step toward a long-term relationship.

Influencers want to know that by conceding to lower than market rates or working without pay, they are investing their time into a possible future payoff down the road. Just be sure to keep the relationship going after the event.

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Will work for visibility image: Remix of Shutterstock