So You Want to be an Instagram Influencer: Part 5, Brand Deals

With an ever-changing Instagram algorithm it can be difficult to predict what move to make, and when to make it. And that’s just if you’re a product or service-based brand on social media. If you’re an influencer (or working on becoming one), there’s a whole other set of rules you need to follow.

This fifth part of our multi-part blog series on becoming an Instagram influencer is focusing on brand deals! Here are some topics we’ll be covering:

  • Types of deals

  • Ethical & authentic partnerships

  • Know what to charge

  • Reaching out to brands

  • How NOT to reach out to brands

  • Scams & red flags

We dive into the things you want to know and need to know - there’s an etiquette to reaching out to brands as an influencer, negotiating, and even rejecting deals.

Types of Deals

First, lets cover the types of Instagram brand deals that are out there:

  • Giveaways

  • Takeover

  • Affiliate marketing

  • Sponsored posts

  • Gifted posts

  • Brand ambassador programs


You can either host your own giveaway, or be a part of someone else’s giveaway. Either of these can involve partnering with brands or other content creators! Giveaway campaigns are mutually beneficial and can be lucrative for gaining followers, monetary compensation, or both, especially when you’re partnering with others or being a part of others giveaway.

If you’re hosting one on your own, check out this example of how @hannahmarieromero does her own little Starbucks gift card giveaways. These individual giveaways are usually kind & authentic, builds community with followers, but also helps you in return by encouraging engagement:

When you’re a part of a larger giveaway, other accounts will be involved. This is an example of what it would look like:

Instagram Takeover

Usually what this means is you’d take over a brand’s Instagram account for the day & post on stories - possibly 1-3 posts on their feed. This helps them have new, engaging content and puts you in a position to gain more followers from an account that’s within your niche!

Affiliate Marketing

This is a type of promotion that’s specific to products with a custom discount. You’d promote a product, have a personalized link to the shop in your bio or a custom promo code, the company will track how many sales you make through your custom link or code, and you’d receive commission off of your sales.

You’ll probably continue to receive perks, product, and/or other incentives and benefits along the partnership.

Here’s an example of what it could look like:

Sponsored Posts

This one is the goal! This is where you get paid for posting. If you’re promoting a product, you’ll receive a product for free, create content surrounding the product, and follow a set of guidelines agreed upon by yourself and the brand.

If you’re promoting a service or a place, the only difference is that you’ll probably have to go to that location. If you’re succeeding at the influencer game, on top of paying you, the brand will be willing to pay for your travel expenses and sometimes even meals. Basically anything that involves “doing the job” for the brand.

Gifted Posts

This is another great option when you’re beginning your influencer career. A brand will send you a product or give you service credit in exchange for posting. We’ll get into understanding the value of the product/service and if it’s worth it later, but this is a good option when you just need to get some brand deals on your “resume.”

Brand Ambassador Programs

This basically means you’d be a consistent influencer for a brand and there may be month-to-month posting requirements. This usually is for a collective/community or a product. The company will often have a program filled with influencers in order to reach a specific goal.

Although a Brand Ambassador program is similar to an Affiliate Program, a lot of companies will either send you product or access for free OR give you a discount to purchase the initial product/buy into their community (we’ll get into that later). You will also have a personalized link or a custom promo code for your audience to shop and you’d receive commission off of.

You’ll most likely receive your initial product, but get no other perks aside from commission from your sales.

Basically, ANYONE, whether they’re considered an “influencer” by the public or not, could be a part of this program. It’s definitely less exclusive.

For the purpose of this blog, we’re going to assume you’re not yet an influencer, OR a nano- (under 10k) or micro-influencer (under 20k). While all of the listed brand deals are TOTALLY possible to obtain no matter your follower count, we’re going to focus on the 3 you’ll most likely come across: Sponsored posts, Gifted posts, and Brand Ambassador programs.

All 3 of these are great types of deals to consider!

Ethical & Authentic Partnerships

Here, we’re going to touch on partnering with brands that “make sense” for your brand, and staying true to your brand.

If you’ve read all our previous blogs in this series (which we highly recommend!), you may have already been thinking about or decided on your brand and feed tone. This is super important when it comes to brand deals!

If you’re a travel influencer, we recommend partnering with brands in that niche: travel products, travel accessories, suitcase companies, hotels, car rental companies, and anything else that has to do with travel!

When it comes to brand deals, you can even stretch your niche to include products you use or things you do when you’re NOT traveling… What do you love doing around the house? What do you love doing when you’re home? If you’re in a specific niche like travel, you still have a LOT of wiggle room. Think big!

Keep in mind that when a brand reaches out to YOU for a collaboration, there are quite a few things to take into consideration:

  • What does this company stand for?

  • Does this make sense for my brand?

  • Is this a quality brand?

  • How does this benefit me?

  • Do I actually like their products?

  • (If you’ve never tried their products) Would I actually use these products?

  • Are there any red flags in the way they reached out to me? (we’ll cover this more later)

Take some advice from influencer Mackenzie Dudzik (@mackenziedudzik):

“When you’re first starting out, the easy thing seems to take every collaboration opportunity that comes your way. What most new creators miss here is not thinking about the future of your brand, what you want to stand for, what kind of content you want to create and the brands you want to work with down the road.

Knowing when to say no to a brand is really important. When I first started, I was so eager to work with brands that I was ready to accept any collab, no matter the brand, their beliefs — or their messaging. I didn’t do my research, and I didn’t think “will this benefit my brand 6 months from now?” If the answer is no, then it might not be the right fit. The most important part? Knowing that that is OK! There are plenty of partnerships to be had, and with time, you will connect with the brand that’s a perfect fit for you.”

Know What to Charge

When it comes to charging for your posts, it’s important to consider the following:

  • Does my brand align with this brand?

  • Is this brand ethical?

  • Who uses this brand (see their tagged posts)?

  • What does my audience look like (% of male vs. female, main location, age range, etc.)?

  • What type of content do my followers interact with the most, and is that in-line with this brand?

Here’s a little “cheat sheet” to figure out what to charge:

Keep in mind that, especially when you reach a higher engagement rate, these calculations can be impacted depending on a few factors:

  • Engagement rate: If you have a higher-than-average engagement rate (higher than about 3-8%), you can raise your rates a little. This means that people probably engage with you and are more likely to purchase a product you're promoting - which makes you more valuable to the brand.

  • Exclusivity: This doesn’t happen as often if you have under 10k followers, but say you’re partnering with a sunglass brand and they want exclusivity rights for 3 months after your partnership (meaning that you can’t work with another sunglass brand in that time frame). Since you’re more restricted with which brands you could partner with, you may lose out on a financial opportunity, therefore you can charge the brand more.

  • Rights to content: If you’re a nano- or micro-influencer, this is sometimes where people get scammed out of payment they deserve. A brand may want the right to use the content you created for the campaign for an array of marketing materials. That’s totally fine! Just make sure it states in the contract that you get credit and appropriate compensation for it.

Sponsored Posts

As I mentioned in our previous blog post, this is the influencer goal! This type of deal is a more personal, 1-on-1 way of procuring a collaboration. It typically allows room for negotiation, additional perks, monetary compensation, and more. All of these benefits are usually determined by the quality of your content, your reach, and your analytics which are hard numbers that can help establish your legitimacy as a powerful influencer.

Since this type of deal can be unique and totally customizable & negotiable based on your data, it’s best to refer to the chart above when needed, and use your best judgement on what deal to accept.

You don’t want to be undervalued by a brand and undercharge, but you don’t want to come off as greedy and overcharge. When in doubt, always, always, always leave room to negotiate! Even if you don’t see your value, a brand might, and reward you for it. You’d be surprised.

Gifted Posts

These deals usually don’t require negotiation; they’re quite simplistic: a company sends you product for free, you post about it.

If you’re not comfortable with the value of the product in comparison with the value of your Instagram, or the requested deliverables, you can definitely negotiate to receive more product (although this doesn’t happen too often) or additional payment - which would then technically make it a Sponsored post.

If you begin a conversation with a company and it’s sounding like they’re interested in you posting in exchange for product, if you have extreme value and fit within the niche of the brand, you can definitely suggest doing a Sponsored partnership instead, just remember to provide data & analytics to back up your value.

Brand Ambassador Programs

Oh boy… personally, I think these are a great deal for brands, but aren’t so great for influencers. But if you're just starting out, go for it.

These are fairly easy to obtain - they involve you applying and...that’s it. You’ll most likely be accepted into the program. Remember, you’ll probably have to pay a discounted price for their product initially but if you’ve been having trouble landing collabs, this could help other brands see you’ve participated in other partnerships and can help provide legitimacy towards your page.

By any means, do NOT spend money you don’t have on this type of deal. More often than not, it’s not worth it. You’re a cog in the machine of the dozens to hundreds of other influencers that are also a part of this program.

If you have any influence on Instagram whatsoever, I say forget this and stick with Gifted & Sponsored posts. If you find a brand you want to work with and all they have is an ambassador program, you can try to find the head of their Influencer Marketing department and email a proposal for a collaboration.

It’s always worth a shot!

Social Light Tip: As of May 12th, 2021, Instagram officially released the option for people to hide their Like count. As an influencer we don’t recommend hiding them, as it’s best to be as transparent as possible about your analytics - especially when you have good numbers; companies will ask depending on the type of deal.

In our next (and final) blog post of this series, we’re focusing on how to reach out to brands, what you’ll need to do so, how to negotiate rates, and more.