Sending Free Things: 3 Tips for Influencer Marketing

Can you believe it’s midway through July? I’m really excited for an upcoming writing retreat this weekend. It’s a self-organized retreat of area writers (of various topics and disciplines). In the woods and mountains! Possibly the most exciting part is that I plan on working on some non-coffee writing, like food essays and maybe a fiction short story.

In this issue, I wrote up a short blog post on influencer marketing. This is directly in response to a number of social media posts I’ve seen that are questionable in how the poster even received a [insert a coffeemaker here]. Was it free? Are they being paid? We want to know!

I get it. It’s tough out there. You have a new product or you’re a new roaster and you need to get the word out. You think, “If I send people something, they can post about it and it’s free marketing!” I mean, kind of.

But you should still know a few things about this “free marketing” concept.

1. Influencers Need to Disclose Promotions

Are you sending a free bag of coffee and in exchange, did you ask for a post?

In the US, the Federal Trade Commission mandated disclosures for material connections. Influencers need to acknowledge if they’ve received something for free and if they were asked to post about it (even if they weren’t paid in cash). Usually, you see these on social media posts as #ad and #sponsored. If the disclosures exist, they need to be in the first few lines of a post (without clicking “see more”).

You, the company, are also responsible for making sure the people you send items to disclose this connection.

For more information on what the FTC advises, they’ve put together an FAQ guide.

2. Not Every “Influencer” is an Influencer

The influencer field is crowded and filled with fake profiles. Do your research beforehand to vet the account. Are they interacting with their audience? Is their audience the audience you want to target? What have their past partnerships looked like?

Beware of the influencer who claims that they’re such. Usually, these are the ones who will ghost when you send them the items.

3. Influencer Marketing is Only Sometimes Worth It

Everyone loves free things but not many want to do the work to get the free thing. Between the hours of research that you might put into finding influencers, contacting them, and coordinating shipments and posts, you might just find it’s not worth the effort.

What are you really trying to get out of this partnership? Do you want to spread the word about a discount code? Are you trying to find a new audience for your product? Do you want an unbiased* review? (*Some would argue that being sent free items can bias the reviewer. Having disclosures gives the reader the chance to make that decision on their own)


As you might be able to tell, I’m not the biggest fan of influencer marketing. I’ve received inquiries (as both an “influencer” and a company) and observed enough posts to see its worth [sometimes]. I’ve also seen a number of posts where the poster is clearly an influencer but not disclosing any material connections to the company. It makes me trust that person less and value their opinion less.

Do your research. Make sure it’s for you. If it is, follow through to make sure everyone is in agreement on expectations.

To share the full post, click here.

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