If it seems like the people you follow on Instagram are constantly being inundated by PR packages, mailers, and free products—that’s because we are. So you might be wondering: where do you store it all? How do companies find influencers to send things to? And do influencers actually use all of the stuff they get for free? I’ll be answering all of these questions (and more) below.
As many of you know, I’m very committed to the idea of influencer transparency—because the truth is, before I left my job in magazines to do this full-time, I had all the same questions that you do. I was obsessed with understanding how this whole world worked, and I didn’t understand why there seemed to be so much mystery surrounding it. I vowed that if I ever made the leap to pursue a career as a full-time blogger/content creator/influencer (I’m still not sure what to call myself, TBH) I would pull back the curtain and tell you EVERYTHING.
So last month, I kicked off an “Influencer Secrets” series, in which I’ll be answering all of your burning questions about life as a blogger. I started with Part 1 by spilling all the dirty details on how much money influencers make, how much we charge for sponsored posts, how we decide which brands to work with, and more.
Now, in the second installment, I’ll be addressing another aspect of the influencer world that everyone is curious about: FREE STUFF.
It’s one of the subjects I get asked about most often. Below I’ve compiled all of the questions you submitted, and I hope you find my answers insightful. As always, if there’s anything else you’d like to know, drop your questions in the comments or slide into my DMS.
PART 2: HOW BLOGGERS GET FREE STUFF
Q: Where do you store it all?
A: EVERYWHERE. Literally, everywhere. I have beauty products in every corner of my apartment. I try my best to stay organized, and I do have a few shelving units that I use to store products for giveaways, but there will never be enough room. I’m actually redesigning the office closet in my new apartment to accommodate it all.
Q: Do you reach out to companies or do they reach out to you to get free products?
A: It’s a combination! For the most part companies reach out to me. A lot of the brands I’ve had established relationships with for years because of my time working in the magazine industry, and some brands have found me on Instagram and reached out because they like my content.
On occasion, if there’s a brand I think is really great, I’ll reach out to them and ask if they’d be willing to send me their product to try. For example, I just sent an email to ShowMeYourMumu to see if they would be open to gifting me a dress to wear for an upcoming trip—I’m a big fan of the brand’s aesthetic and figured it would be nice to start a relationship. They were really cool and generous.
But for the most part if I want to try something I’ll just buy it for myself. I don’t like the feeling of owing anyone anything!
Q: What percentage of things do you post about that you receive?
A: To be honest…maybe 10%. You guys have no idea about the volume of products that show up every day. I know it sounds like a #humblebrag but it’s totally not—it’s just impossible to keep up with. I donate a lot, give a lot to friends, and also do giveaways fairly often. The things I post about are what “make the cut” so to speak.
Even if it’s a big fancy brand, I honestly won’t bother wasting an IG story talking about something I tried that was just “eh.” I’d rather tell you guys about a product that you’ll love and want to buy.
Q: Do you actually use all the products you promote?
A: Yes. If I’m posting about something, it is either a product I currently use or have previously tried. The only exceptions are when I post based on other peoples’ recommendations—i.e. a new swimsuit brand I’ve heard amazing things about, or a hotel that I haven’t stayed at, but all of my friends love.
For paid partnerships with brands, I ALWAYS use the product before I sign the contract. Can you imagine if I agreed to work with a skincare brand before trying the product, and then it made me break out? I’d be f-ed. And I’d feel like a complete fraud. Testing things beforehand helps me avoid running into that kind of situation.
Q: Do you ever get product from PR that you don’t like?
A: All the time! I feel guilty about it because I’m so grateful that brands think I’m worthy of sending free stuff to! This happens often with makeup brands. Like, I’m never going to be a girl who rocks blue lipstick or a sparkly purple eyeliner—so if I get that kind of thing, I’ll always donate it.
Or, for instance, if I get a bathing suit top that barely covers my nipple, I’m certainly not going to wear it just because I feel bad. (As you know, I’m very particular with swimsuits that actually support your boobs.)
Q: How much of what you review is gifted to you vs. your own finds?
A: I’m lucky in that I get gifted from a lot of the skincare & makeup brands I would be purchasing on my own anyway, so I would say the majority of beauty is gifted. I’ll buy things for myself to try if it’s something I desperately need or know you guys will want to hear about, but I try not to buy a lot because I have no room. Clothing-wise, I would say 30% of what I wear is gifted, and 70% are things I buy for myself.
Q: If a brand sends you something and you dislike it, are you allowed to share that if you want to? Or is there a clause that you can’t?
A: I can absolutely post my honest opinion about a product. There’s nothing you sign that says you HAVE to post positive reviews of what you get sent. I try not to make a habit of talking negatively about a product because I’d rather use my time to tell you about things that are actually good.
But I’ve definitely been critical of things before—like, a company sent me a mask that I liked, but I hated that it didn’t have instructions or a suggested amount of time to leave it on. So I posted that and tagged them. Or I used a body scrub that was AMAZING, but it left a slippery film on the floor of my shower, so I posted about that being an issue. There’s a difference between constructive criticism and flat-out negativity.
Q: What if it’s a paid partnership with the brand? What if you don’t like the product?
A: That hasn’t happened to me yet because I always try the product before I agree to sign a contract. But I’ve heard stories about influencers who have pulled out of very lucrative deals because they felt that the quality of the product wasn’t up to par, or the shade range of a foundation was too limited.
I give those people a lot of credit—they’re leaving a lot of money on the table, and burning bridges with a major brand in an effort to stay true to what they believe in. But ultimately our livelihood is based on our credibility, and it’s our job to stay truthful. If you don’t have your followers’ trust and respect, I’m not sure how you could still be successful in this business.