This blog post has been weighing on my mind for a while now, especially as I see more and more wineries entering the digital space and trying to work with influencers for the first time.
Truth be told, there’s no specific right way to go about it, but there certainly are wrong ways.
If you think you can just cold-email a group of influencers asking for their address and demanding a post in exchange for a bottle of wine, you’re not going to see the results you want to see. The campaign will almost certainly fall flat, and you’ll have wasted samples and the cost of shipping for almost nothing in return. It’s a waste of your time, and quite honestly, a waste of the influencer’s time as well.
As an influencer, I really, really, want you to succeed. As a digital marketing expert, it kills inside when I hear from brands that they’ve tried the “influencer thing” a few times but didn’t see ROI. I have so many follow-up questions to this statement: Were you strategic about your influencer relations? Did you set a clear intention for the campaign? How are you measuring ROI? … Did you send out samples willy-nilly and expect to see a sales spike, without putting anything else into place?
Influencer campaigns can be incredibly beneficial to you, both short and long term… but you have to go about them strategically.
Say it with me: I WILL BE STRATEGIC ABOUT MY INFLUENCER PARTNERSHIPS. Now, say it again. Promise me? Okay, great. Now let’s talk about what that strategy looks like.
Let’s start off with the three ways wine influencers and brands typically work together:
The Three Ways Brands & Wine Influencers Work Together:
Method One – Wineries send wine influencers samples for consideration.
Influencers sample the wines, see if they would be a good fit for their audience, and try to incorporate them into their actual life like a person in their audience would. If the wine seems like it’s a match and it’s something they’re excited about, the influencer shares – and they do so in an authentic & organic way. Brands can request certain messaging or post dates, but at least for myself personally, it’s my policy that if it’s an in-kind partnership, then the post happens on my timeline within my larger content calendar. As much as I try to accommodate, it’s simply not possible for me to do so for everyone.
For brands that prefer this route, maybe because they don’t have budget or just want to “try this influencer thing out”, I highly recommend sending influencers as much information as possible. Make it easy for them to tell your story. There’s lots of wines out there are the market – what sets yours apart? Why should the influencer care, and ultimately why should their audience? The more excited I am about your wine, the easier it is for me to get other people excited!
If you go this route, it’s also helpful to develop a relationship with the influencer. Talk with them, comment on their posts, make it a back-and-forth. Invite them to events or host a virtual tasting to walk them through your lineup. This takes more energy, yes, but it’s usually well-worth it in the end. For the brands that I’ve partnered with who have invited me to events, taken the time to get to know me and my audience, and engage with me regularly, I honestly would do anything. I want to help them thrive, and we have a mutual relationship where we both benefit from one another on an on-going basis. I go above and beyond for these brands as much as possible, and I know other influencers do as well.
Method Two – Winieries send wine influencers samples and offer them commission in exchange for anyone who uses their code or link to purchase.
If you do this, I recommend using a code that provides a discount for customers and is unique to each influencer, as opposed to a link. (Alternatively, potentially offer both so it’s easier to track the sales no matter what).
Personally, if a brand wants me to work on commission then I operate under the same mindset as Method One – I need to sample the wine, consider if it’s a good fit for my audience, then decide if I share and do so on my own timeline. I will not guarantee any kind of posts under a commission model; the amount of work it takes to create a high-converting post simply isn’t worth the $1-10/bottle that is standard with a 5-10% rate. Not to mention, there are too many factors that are out of my hands: is your website easy for customers to navigate and make a purchase? Is your price point approachable for my audience? Is the brand awareness there or am I building it from the ground up? All those play a huge role in the ultimate success of a commission model for an influencer. Along those lines… those factors also play a role in the ultimate success you see from an influencer campaign as well. More on that later.
A commission model is certainly an incentive to get influencers to post vs a wine that they don’t earn commission from, but because of the low return for the amount of work it takes, it doesn’t warrant a guaranteed post in exchange for the wine.
Method Three – Wineries work with a wine influencer on a sponsored partnership.
In this method, you and the influencer both agree to work together; the influencer will create posts to your standards and with your messaging and deliver them on certain date(s). In return, you pay them an agreed upon price. Pricing for these projects is highly variable. You’ll want to consider things like audience size, engagement rate, reach, and photo quality when determining if their pricing makes sense. You can either approach the influencer with your ideal budget for the campaign and they’ll tell you what they can do for that amount, or you can ask them for their pricing structure. Either way, you’ll want to make sure you go into this partnership with clear end goals in mind.
There are some major benefits to working with influencers in a paid capacity. First and foremost, you can choose your post dates and types, and everything is guaranteed with a contract.
Secondly, you can work together to make sure the posts target the goals of your campaign. After all, you’re doing this social media thing for a reason, right?
But what should your goals be here? Some common ones for wineries are brand awareness, growing your email list or social following, online sales, and booking tasting room appointments.
If you’re looking to build awareness around your brand, then the messaging the influencer uses will be very different than if you’re trying to drive sales. It’s often hard to do both of these as once, but it’s not impossible. You should share these goals with your influencer partners and they should help you think strategically about the post types and messaging to use.
As a wine influencer, I always try to have a clear call-to-action in my sponsored posts. Whether that’s visit a website, give the winery a follow, buy wine now, or save the post as inspiration for their next trip to the area, the captions and imagery surrounding them will all be slightly different and tailored to this message. The influencer should also clearly state one call-to-action in the caption: if you try to have the post do too many things, the people who see it will simply scroll on.
A third benefit of sponsored campaigns is that you get first-hand access to the Instagram Analytics for the post. After the campaign, you should look at how the posts do and use that information to make additional strategic decisions later on – Did the post reach as many people as you were hoping? Ask the influencer into insights as to why or why not. Compared to the number of people the post reached, how many sales did you see on your site that day? If it was an IG story with a swipeup, how many people actually clicked the link vs how many sales you saw?
An extra bonus… I also make sure that any paid partners receive the high-res image files with a non-commercial license so they can utilize the photos on their own social media and website. Typically, I try to work with brands so they receive imagery that they can re-purpose for their own content, making the partnership even more beneficial to them. This aspect will vary depending on the influencer you use, but it’s one of the perks to partnering with me! ?
In this scenario, the influencer will also need to sample your wines and make sure it’s a good fit for their audience. If they don’t enjoy your product or if they don’t think it makes sense with their demographics, they should let you know.
Some other considerations when working with Wine Influencers
No matter which method you ultimately end up operating under, please make sure you vet your influencers.
Are they truly a good fit for your product and vice versa? Just because they’re a “wine influencer” doesn’t mean they speak to all types of wines, or that their audience aligns with your ideal customer. Think about who you’re working with and ask questions. Most influencers should be able to get you information into who their audience is and what the demographics look like (and if they can’t, that’s probably a sign to look elsewhere!)
Make sure your ducks are in a row before you expect an influencer campaign to drive sales for you.
Does your website make sense? Is it easy for a customer to navigate from homepage to checkout? How’s your brand awareness? It takes potentials customers an average of 7 times from first seeing a product to finally opening their wallet and making a purchase. The awareness piece of the puzzle is crucial to doing business online.
Don’t knock the awareness a wine influencer can bring to your brand, just because you aren’t able to track a direct ROI. I’ve had people who have visited wineries months after I posted because they saved my photo and knew it was a place they eventually wanted to visit when they got the chance to come out here. The long-term gains from working with influencers can be invaluable.
Do not ask an influencer to purchase your product (even for a discounted rate) and then expect them to do a guaranteed post in return.
The amount of work it takes to create a post that converts and drives engagement simply makes this model unfair to the influencer.
Make sure your expectations when working with influencers are realistic.
This is especially important in terms of budgeting payment or asking for posts in exchange for wine.
Think about it this way: if you were going to hire a photographer, would you expect them to work on commission? No. If you were going to pay for a sponsored ad on Instagram, would you expect them to show it to thousands of people for free? No. If you were going to put up a billboard, would you ask the company to let you do it in exchange for a bottle of wine? No.
Good influencers truly put their heart and soul into what they do, spend hours building a relationship with their audience and put a lot of work into creating posts that are strategically designed to help you. Expecting them to work for free or in exchange for a bottle of wine simply isn’t fair. And truth be told, most of us just simply don’t need another bottle of wine badly enough to do hours and hours of work in exchange for it. Many of us operate as small businesses, just like you.
Now, all of this isn’t to say that you can’t negotiate and come up with an agreement that benefits both parties… even if you don’t have a budget, it’s certainly possible! Just make sure your expectations here are realistic and fair to all parties involved.
Consider the value of the product you’re offering to the influencer when negotiating payment.
Truth be told, it makes more sense for an influencer to do a partnership in exchange for a $200 bottle of wine without monetary payment than it does for a $10 bottle. Most influencers will take this into consideration as part of the partnership, and it’s always a fair ask as part of the negotiation process. But again… please remember, free samples don’t pay the bills for influencers (unfortunately!)
Build a relationship with the wine influencers you work with.
I know I already said this, but it warrants repeating for emphasis. No matter which capacity you end up working with wine influencers in, this can help create life-long advocates for your brand who will share again and again, often times unprompted.
Send as much information as possible about you and your wines (in a fun and engaging way!)
The more excited someone is about your wines, the easier it is for them to share that excitement with their audience.
Please keep in mind that while these methods outline the primary ways wineries work with wine influencers, there’s a ton of gray area in between! Personally, some of my best partners have worked with me in all three capacities, fluidly navigating back and forth between the areas depending on current business goals and budgets.
Nothing in this world is a hard and fast rule. Negotiate where you see fit, ask lots of questions, and don’t be afraid to try a little trial and error here until you find what works best for you and your brand.
If you have any questions or want someone to set up an influencer campaign on your behalf, I’m always happy to help! Send me an email anytime.