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How Influencers Should Be Compensated by Brands Entrepreneurs that make their living as influencers need to be compensated not with swag but with a paycheck.

By Ann Tran Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Once, when I was a child, a neighbor asked me if I wanted a job. She needed help with her garden, and she was willing to pay. After working for several hours, she gave me some cookies and a can of soda. Not exactly what I had in mind!

When a brand or agency sends a product sample and expects a thoughtful blog post in exchange, I think the same thing I did that afternoon: "my work is worth more than this."

PR firms routinely pitch bloggers and social media influencers the opportunity to work with a large company or brand…for free.

This might come across as ungrateful, but not too many influencers are interested in working for free. You have a job to do, but so do the people you're pitching.

Related: 3 Simple Rules for Brands to Get the Most Out of Bloggers

From a PR agency's point of view, partnering with influencers gives them the opportunity to network with brand representatives while we promote the company. But is that really all that's in it for the influencers?

Smart influencers and consultants choose their partnerships carefully. A large following today is not guaranteed to last, especially if an influencer's stream becomes the online equivalent of an infomercial.

Moreover, "spouting promotional material" isn't an effective approach. Creating seller-centric content doesn't work for brand marketers anymore, and it having influencers do it on behalf of a brand doesn't work, either.

Producing unique, interesting and relevant content for a campaign involves a great deal of work and effort. When pitching influencers, agencies should bear this in mind and propose something that will benefit everyone involved -- including the influencer's audience.

Influencers, if you find yourself on the receiving end of a poorly conceived pitch, you might ask yourself these questions before responding.

Why would I do this?

Generally speaking, flooding your stream with posts about freebies will not grow your audience or increase engagement.

Why do your followers care what kind of swag you get? Taken to excess, these kinds of posts can even come across as bragging, which may serve to alienate followers who don't receive free products or services from brands.

Related: How to Connect With High-Profile Influencers

On the other hand, what would be appealing to influencers and interesting to their followers is if you invited a group of people to be part of an experience (i.e visiting a wine vineyard, seeing how beer is made, watching artisans create jewelry). Many would consider this proposal, because you're offering them exploration and adventure.

Equally important is the fodder these types of experiences will provide for posts and photos. Creating quality content that works for your brand and is relevant to their audience takes time, as does taking and editing distinctive photos to dress up social-media updates and blog posts.

Influencers, value your time. Set boundaries. Don't let the promise of freebies determine your overall direction. Consider the time you spent building your following, nurturing relationships by creating and curating worthwhile content. Be discerning about who gets access to that online network.

Will my audience be interested in this campaign?

One example that illustrates how brand outreach can benefit everyone involved is the #100ThoughtfulActs campaign. The brand wanted to promote social good while driving traffic to their website. Influencers -- including me --enjoyed working on this campaign, because it involved sharing positive holiday acts with followers.

Most influencers enjoy meaningful projects offering the promise of fun, interesting engagements for their audience. Will they feel good doing this? Can they share content about your brand's campaign without coming across as "spammy" to their followers?

Related: Want to Gain Influence on Social Media? Get to Work.

In the case of #100ThoughtfulActs, I had to certain contractual obligations to meet, and I carefully considered how many posts would be required before signing on.

Posting too much branded content can devalue your posts and cause followers to feel spammed. Negotiate requirements that will enable you to work with your audience's needs and preferences, as well as those of the brand.

Branded content should complement your personal brand, not conflict with it. Show your individuality in ways that also promote the client. Don't just reshare content their team members created. Design new images and write your own articles in your own distinctive voice.

Where should I focus my efforts during this campaign?

If it's already underway, search Google and Bing for references to the campaign,. See what others have done, so you can decide what works (and what doesn't). See what your peers are doing for the project. Support those whose work is in line with your own vision for the campaign. Encourage members of your online following who participate, as well as other influencers on your team.

Do I have enough time to give my best to what I sign up for?

If you know you have other obligations during the campaign period, you might still be able to participate -- with some planning.

During the #100ThoughtfulActs campaign for ASUS—a technology company—I had to be away for 20 days in Europe. Ordinarily, it wouldn't make sense to take on a brand campaign while traveling, but this one was such a good fit for my personal passions -- and my audience's interests -- that I worked it into my schedule.

I worked with my team to produce a series of infographics I could share while aboard the cruise ship. By establishing blocks of time every day to work, I was able to deliver for the brand and keep the campaign running smoothly.

Sometimes you can manage multiple obligations, other times you can't. Know when to say no. Don't take on projects you don't have time for, and say no if your heart is just not in it. A lack of enthusiasm will show in your work.

And brands, consider budgeting for your influencer outreach campaigns. When it comes to consultants who work for free, chances are you'll get what you pay for.

Related: 3 Influencer Marketing Secrets to Steal in 2015

Ann Tran

Social Media Consultant

Ann Tran is a respected social media consultant, travel social marketing strategist, influencer, and sought-after speaker at social media and technology events.  Ann helps brands understand and use the power of digital media and online influence to build their business. 

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