Ask an Influencer: Product vs. Payment

Is product for post dead? Is it possible for a brand to get in on the influencer marketing action without paying for posts? These are questions that most marketers have asked themselves at one point or another. Ultimately, the answer varies depending on your brand, the value you bring to the table, your influencer marketing goals, and your negotiation skills. But, we’re here to give you the facts to help you determine if free product campaigns are a possibility for your brand.

Ask an Influencer: Product vs. Payment:

First, let’s state the obvious.

Paid campaigns have higher acceptance rates

As you might expect, when it comes paid versus unpaid campaigns, AspireIQ found that creators across the board are more likely to accept collaboration proposals from brands who offer monetary compensations, in addition to free product.  And the odds of an influencer promoting your product for free, only decline as their follower count increases. Those with an average engagement of over 5,000 per post, rarely accept unpaid collaborations at all.

Why? Because high quality content and access to an influencers large, dedicated audience comes at a price. For many influencers, creating content is their full time job. And they’ve worked for years perfecting their craft and building a following. As a result, most expect to be paid for their services.

Here’s what a few influencers had to say:

  • “Offering [no payment] and wanting a huge amount of work, shows that they don't respect you or value your work in my opinion,” says lifestyle influencer @sweetnewyork (286k followers). “Unless the brand is offering something that I personally want to try or they are offering a very generous store credit/gift card, I'm not a fan. Especially huge brands that clearly have the money to pay people and advertise paid partnerships on Instagram with other influencers, some who have WAY LESS engagement and 25% the following.”
  • “Although promoting products on social media is not my full-time job, for many influencers, it is! And at the end of the day, creating content takes time, effort, and resources that influencers deserve to be compensated for,” says lifestyle and travel blogger, @conciouslychloe (21.9k followers).

But, there are some exceptions

While a majority of influencers will prioritize paid campaigns, that’s not to say that unpaid campaigns are unheard of in the industry. There are some brands we’ve seen run exclusively free product only campaigns. Why does this work for them?

In general, brands that are able to run free product only campaigns have one or more of the following:

Influencer @kellytowart (54k followers) says, “If the product is particularly valuable (furniture or high end accessories, etc.) I am often okay with doing a collaboration in exchange for the product, but overall it's not really worth the time for me and since this is my job I depend on actual income to help pay bills. If I have a slow month and there is a product that looks really fun, I may pick up something that is unpaid here or there, but its not frequent that I have the ability or desire to work without pay.”

  • Existing relationships with influencers: An ongoing relationship that has the potential to turn into a formal affiliation can make your campaign more appealing to influencers. AspireIQ surveyed influencers to see what type of working relationship they prefer, and a whopping 96% said they prefer ongoing, long-term relationships that result in multiple campaigns.

So, even if your brand can’t pay influencers now, it doesn't hurt to send them free product in order to start building a relationship with them in the future. Plus, you might get lucky and the influencer will promote your product organically if they love it.

“In general, most influencers—myself included—will prioritize paid sponsored posts over product posts. That is, UNLESS I have a good relationship with the client and have worked with them before,” said @conciouslychloe. “But when it comes to working with a new company that only wants to give me a product, it is most likely that they will get put on the back burner. I might forget about them, and they might contact me a few weeks later asking how I liked the product and if I had a chance to post on my social media account.”


  • A popular or viral product: Even if your products may not come at a high price, influencers are interested in working with brands that are on trend because their audience has a genuine interest in getting their review. More than one-third of influencers say personal passion for a brand or product was a significant factor when determining how much effort to put into a campaign.

So, do you have a new product that people are dying to get their hands on? Capitalize on the buzz surrounding your brand and send your product out to more influencers.

  • A household brand name: If your brand is something influencers can be proud to put on their portfolio, you may be a great candidate to run an unpaid campaign. For example, brands like Forever 21 can get away with not paying influencers even if their product is not necessarily valuable, because influencers want to be associated with larger brands. If your brand has a large social following, you can definitely leverage the extra exposure you’ll be giving influencers by trading the promise to repurpose and tag influencer content on your owned social media in exchange for promotion.
  • Nonprofits: Appealing to the emotional side of influencers can get you a long way. Many influencers are willing to spread awareness about nonprofits and organizations that give back, if they believe in your cause.

How to kick-start your first unpaid campaign

So, is it possible to get in on the influencer marketing action without paying for posts? Ultimately, yes if you’re able to provide value in alternative ways, and take the extra time it will take to execute. Here’s how you can ensure you run a successful unpaid campaign:

  1. Find the right influencers. Based on multiple testimonials from influencers of all sizes, most creators are willing to post in exchange for products or other alternatives to money if they resonate with a brand. So, an important part of running an unpaid campaign is finding influencers who are genuinely bought in to your brand. Keep in mind, for unpaid campaigns specifically, you might have to reach out to more than double the amount in influencers you would normally, just to find people who will agree to work with you. Start with influencers who have organically mentioned your brand, these people already love you and their audience is familiar with your brand as well. Here are a few more tips to help you identify on-brand influencers.
  2. Request the right type of content. Take into consideration how much effort and time is spent taking the perfect photo or crafting the perfect Instagram post. Instead of asking an influencer to post multiple images on their Instagram, ask for alternatives that is less time consuming to create. For example, Instagram Stories or even Tweets take much less effort to create and are often times things that influencers will do for free, or a heavily discounted rate.
  3. Offer to promote their content. What do all influencers want? More followers. Featuring an influencer’s content on your brand’s social channels, website or advertisements is a great way for them to get some extra exposure, especially if your brand already has a large following. Make sure you communicate that you will share and tag influencers as an extra incentive.
  4. Send high-value products. Sending free product that are valued at or more than the influencer’s typical rate is a great way to compensate them for their time and effort. However, it’s important to understand that there may be no obligation for them to post content on their channels, so you may be sending product and receive nothing in return.
  5. Build a mutually beneficial partnership. Relationships are a fundamental part of working together. Consider building a long-term partnership or affiliate partnership based on commission of sales or conversions. This way, you aren’t paying any up-front costs, but influencers are still incentives to promote your product.


Terilyn Walker

Content Marketing at AspireIQ

About the Author
With over 15 years in content marketing, Werner founded Influencer Marketing Hub in 2016. He successfully grew the platform to attract 5 million monthly visitors, making it a key site for brand marketers globally. His efforts led to the company's acquisition in 2020. Additionally, Werner's expertise has been recognized by major marketing and tech publications, including Forbes, TechCrunch, BBC and Wired.