How I Scored Tons of Free Stuff By Building a Small Social Media Audience


We've all heard of social media stars, aka "influencers," who can quit their day jobs and live off the free resort stays, paid Instagram posts, and endless swag provided by brands eager to advertise to a large digital audience. But what if you don't have a million followers on social media? Can you still reap material benefits?

I spent the last four months building up a modest Instagram following in my spare time. It started as a hobby, but to my surprise, brands started offering me free stuff to review much sooner than I anticipated. I fall into the realm of the "micro-influencer," which is a social media account with a few thousand followers, rather than a few hundred thousand. I currently get so many offers for free products that I can't possibly say yes to them all. You can get free stuff, too, with a few social media tips.

1. Find a niche


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The easiest way to get active engagement from the social media community and attention from brands is by "niching down" in social-media parlance. Finding a small, but dedicated community focused on a niche hobby or product can help you grow the fastest. In my case, I started by focusing on Asian beauty products, which is a very focused, but growing part of the beauty industry. My followers are highly engaged and tight-knit, making any influence in this community incredibly valuable, especially for up-and-coming brands.

If you'd like to get free swag from brands, it helps if the products you'd like to receive aren't overwhelmingly expensive. It's far more likely for a beauty, food, or clothing brand to send you some of their wares than expensive electronics brands, for instance. I see people with just 400 to 500 followers in my niche receiving free products.

2. Provide value

Providing reviews or tips to your followers can be one way to engage the community and keep them coming back for more. Even if your social media account is more aspirational and lifestyle-oriented, be sure to think about what you're offering that will keep people's attention, and what would make them likely to purchase the products you showcase.

3. Post regularly


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When your followers know you have new content coming regularly, they're more likely to seek it out and engage with your posts. Your followers will feel like they know you better. Brands will know that you post consistently, and are likely to follow through with reviewing or showcasing their products. This may differ based on the social media platform — you could post several times a day on Instagram without fatiguing your followers, for instance, whereas you may want to post less frequently on Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms.

4. Do your hashtag or keyword research

On Instagram and Twitter, make sure you're using targeted, effective hashtags. For other social media platforms such as YouTube and blogs, make sure you do your keyword research so your posts show up in Google search.

5. Create great visuals


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If you want brands to be showcased on your account, you need to make their products look good. While you don't have to be a professional photographer, spend some time setting up your photos, and make sure they're clear, well-lit, and pleasing to the eye. Photo editing apps such as VSCO, Snapseed, and Facetune can help you create social media-ready photos without the need for professional photo-editing software. (See also: 6 Instagrammers Getting Rich by Traveling the World)

6. Focus on engagement

Social media isn't all a numbers game, contrary to popular opinion. You may only have a few hundred followers, but if you have a high proportion of your followers commenting and "liking" your posts, you show brands that your followers care about your opinions. To many brands, engagement counts as much as numbers, and in some cases, more. (See also: 5 Social Media Stars Who Earn Way More Than You)

7. Be authentic


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Everyone on the social media scene harps on the importance of being authentic, but it isn't always easy when you're putting only your best photos and content out there on the internet. There's a fine line between appearing professional (and thus appealing to brands) and being approachable. Don't be afraid to share a little bit about yourself personally, but don’t veer into the realm of too much information or negativity.

It may seem a little odd to say this in an article about how to get free stuff, but don't be too focused on getting free stuff. Your followers can spot a mercenary attitude a mile away, and your account won't grow if it seems like it only exists to get freebies. I started my account to chronicle my hobby, not to get free products. The free swag was just a nice byproduct of being immersed in a great community.

8. Join influencer apps and networks

The Influenster app is probably the most well-known and popular influencer app, with broad categories such as food, haircare, home goods, beauty, and more. With this influencer network, you receive free samples to review on your social media accounts. The more followers you have, the more likely you are to receive samples regularly, though I started receiving products even when I only had a few hundred followers.

I've also started using Brandbacker, an influencer network that allows you to apply to do brand campaigns in exchange for free products or sometimes paid opportunities.

9. Approach brands directly


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Once you have a social media presence and have established your niche, it doesn't hurt to approach brands directly for free samples to showcase. You can approach brands via private message on social media, or look for their marketing or PR contacts via their websites. Send a concise, professional message, and tell them what value you bring to the table. Do you give really helpful, detailed reviews? Or beautiful photography? How can your content benefit the brand?

Smaller brands are often willing to reach out to influencers with smaller followings, but you'd be surprised what response you might get (and the free goodies) if you reach out to larger brands who may have more of a marketing budget.

10. Be clear about expectations

It's exciting to get free products just for putting up a post on social media. Just be sure to set clear expectations, both for yourself and for brands you're working with, about just how much content you will create. Some brands expect you to create several posts across several different social media platforms in exchange for a free item. Others may be willing to send you the products with no strings attached and hope that you'll post something positive about them. It's best to be on the same page to begin with, and try to get it in writing, even if it's just a quick note via private message. And remember, you can always say no. Free products don't pay the bills, after all.

Everyone wants a slice of the social media marketing pie these days, so if you're willing to create great content in exchange for free stuff, it's not too hard to do so. Many small influencers are able to support their hobby this way, without having to shell out too much of their own cash. And who knows, once you've mastered micro-influencer territory, you might even be able to turn your social media account into a paid side gig.

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