Influencer Marketing Strategy

Influencer Gifting vs. Paid Collaborations: What to Know

Influencer gifting and paid collaborations seem identical at a glance. Spoilers: they’re not! This post explains the difference and tips for brands prior to a campaign.

influencer gifting versus paid collaborations cover photo

Racking your brain over the difference between influencer gifting and paid collaborations?

Both represent ways to get your products into the hands of content creators faster. Given that 61% of consumers trust influencers over brand recommendations, doing so should be a priority.

To kick things off, let’s quickly define both concepts:

Influencer gifting is when brands send products to content creators in exchange for a promotional social post. 

Paid collaborations (AKA sponsorships) refer to influencers posting about brands in exchange for free product(s) and financial compensation.

Although these strategies are similar, they involve different commitments for brands and creators. 

Which approach is “best,” though? Below are the benefits and requirements for brands considering gifting versus paid collaborations.

Influencer Gifting 101: Basics + Best Practices

No big surprises here! "Gifting" simply means sending free products to creators. 

As a brand, your goal is to earn a shout-out from influencers in exchange.

You don’t have to look hard to find #gifted products across Instagram and TikTok. Gifting campaigns are big among CPG brands looking to earn reviews and user-generated content.

example of a gifted collaboration on tiktok

Source: @hippiepippiereviews

Unlike paid collabs, gifting campaigns rarely involve contracts or commitments for creators. Whether your brand gets a shoutout or review is at the influencer’s discretion. 

Here’s a snapshot of the benefits of gifting campaigns for brands and creators alike:

Benefits For Brands

Benefits For Creators

  • Budget-friendly. This assumes you have lots of time and inventory on hand.

  • You can start gifting ASAP. Gifting campaigns involve little to no back-and-forth between you and your creators. Sending free products doesn’t require you to negotiate rates or content details.

  • Gifted content can feel more authentic than a "polished" influencer post.  Creators receiving gifts are inclined to promote brands authentically and enthusiastically.
  • Less pressure and legwork. There’s no need for creators to negotiate. That's because they’re receiving gifts. Creators aren't required to post.

  • More creative freedom. Gifted posts involve fewer details and instructions on behalf of brands. This is good news for creators that don’t want to worry about sacrificing their style.

  • Free swag and products. Enough said! Gift-only collaborations can be enticing to up-and-coming creators who might be new to influencer partnerships.

The key to making a gifting collaboration work? Sending the right products to the right people.

What do we mean by that, though? Think of working with influencers as a value exchange. If your brand's gift wanted to be viewed as valuable, you need to...

  • Gift products that are worth postingUnpaid collaborations won't feel "lesser" if your product is relevant to the influencer and their audience. For example, a skincare kit is a natural fit for a makeup influencer versus a fitness creator.

  • Send products with a “cool” factor. Bonus points if your product can "wow" viewers on camera. Not to mention you’re less likely to get ghosted. The easier a creator can integrate a product into their existing content, the better.

  • Bundle products to boost the value of your gift. When we talk about "value exchange," consider the literal price tag of your product. The greater the value, the more likely you are to earn great content. Consider how PR packages are popular because they make it easy to bundle your products. They also provide a comprehensive sample of what you offer.

"Value" is in the eye of the beholder. This highlights the importance of picking the right creators.

Again, micro-influencers and small creators know how to authentically promote products.  Overly promotional posts are a turn-off to their audiences. That's also why gifting collaborations involve less direction from brands to creators. 

Consider that balancing creative freedom with brand requirements is a challenge for 50% of creators. Translation? Brands can’t ask too much of creators for gift-only collaborations. 

Rules and Guidelines for Gifting Collaborations

Now, onto the rules!

The FTC has specific guidelines for gifted products and influencer marketing.

The short of it? Influencers must differentiate between promotional posts and organic posts about products they like. This applies to gifted products with no other form of compensation. 

There are a few ways that creators can do this according to the FTC:

  • Including hashtags like #gifted to disclose partnerships
  • Using clear language (“I was gifted this product by…”)
  • Explicitly stating (in a caption or video) that a brand sent them a product to review

peachandlily gifted post example

Source: @simply_quyen

The major social platforms pretty much follow the FTC’s lead.  Gifted posts fall under the umbrella of “branded content” on Instagram and TikTok. 

According to Instagram themselves, brands should “clearly” disclose gifted partnerships. Many creators will outright say they were gifted a product in their post captions. Others might tag the brand and use a #gifted hashtag. TikTok's branded content policy outlines similar rules.

There’s no one-size-fits-all way to disclose gifted collaborations. This is actually good news for brands and creators, though. Gifted posts don’t have to sound rigid or needlessly promotional. 

Influencers and brands can get creative while still playing by the rules. Many skincare brands have their own branded #gifted hashtags for creators promoting products. Below is an example from Supergoop. 

supergoop gifted hashtag on instagram

Remember that it’s up to you to establish these requirements with creators. This is why brands should find influencers that already know the rules for promoting products.

Note on Affiliate Links: You might be tempted to provide influencers an affiliate link or promo code along with free product for their followers to take advantage of. Still, you must disclose this sort of partnership as well. Consumers must be aware that although products were given for free – if they make a purchase, the influencer will be making a profit.

Instagram Influencer Campaign Manager Spreadsheet

Paid Collaborations 101: Basics + Best Practices

Paid collaboration between brands and influencers involves financial compensation beyond free products.

These collabs are popular for brands targeting specific creators with large audiences.

Benefits for Brands

Benefits for Creators

  • More explicit creative direction. With paid collaborations, brands can request specific verbiage and talking points.

  • Financial commitments result in less ghosting and a more involved relationship with creators. For example, you can ask creators for post analytics and performance data.

  • You put the final “stamp” on creators’ posts. Paid collaborations allow you to build in steps such as an approval process or revisions.
  • Consistency. Creators want to work with brands long-term and successful paid collaborations can be the starting point for an ongoing partnership.

  • In some cases, these types of posts can be easier for creators to make. That’s because brands provide clear directions and talking points to follow.

  • Greater compensation. Kind of speaks for itself, right?

Think of paid collab posts like traditional ads. The difference is that influencers can inject some much-needed creativity into their posts. It’s well-documented that creator-based ads perform better on Instagram and TikTok than non-creator ads.

Branded content ads (AKA "Partnership Ads") are a popular form of paid collaboration on Instagram right now. These ads take organic creator content and transform it into promotional content. These posts contain the “paid partnership” label on Instagram (see below).

paid partnership disclosure on instagram

Source: @cozyrosati

Beyond budget, the key difference between gifting and paid collaboration is creative direction. 

With most paid collabs, brands call the shots when it comes to what influencers say in a post.

Sponsored content involves a detailed creative brief with explicit instructions and talking points.  On the flip side, gifted posts let creators freestyle and share unfiltered thoughts.

Instructions can remove some of the personality from your sponsored content. This again highlights the importance of creative freedom. That said, skilled creators can strike a brilliant balance between personality and promotion.

paid partnership disclosure on instagram

Source: @jennaphipps

Rules and Guidelines for Paid Collaborations

The FTC has guidelines for product endorsements and monetary compensation on social media. Here’s a five-word summary: when in doubt, disclose it. 

Again, Instagram and TikTok have similar policies for paid collaborations and influencer gifting. Both are considered “branded content.” For sponsored posts, creators must take steps such as:

  • Including disclosures like #ad or #sponsored in their post captions
  • Using the “Paid partnership” tag on platforms like Instagram

Failing to do so isn’t worth the potential backlash and fallout (think: fines and suspensions). 

Despite their similarities, note that not all disclosure hashtags are the same. For example, #ad implies that a post’s language and endorsement are approved by a brand prior to posting. Meanwhile, the #gifted tag is more of a general label.

The FTC is crystal clear that disclosures are the responsibility of brands and influencers (hint: not social platforms). On that note, applying a “sponsored” or “paid partnership” label isn’t considered a disclosure by default. According to the FTC:

“Just because a platform offers a feature like that is no guarantee it’s an effective way for influencers to disclose their material connection to a brand.”

And that’s why we still see the #ad disclosure in paid collaboration posts.

rungum sponsored post on instagram

Source: @lauragolayHow to Calculate Your Influencer Marketing Budget

Influencer Gifting vs. Paid Collaborations: Which is “Best?”

The short answer? It depends!

Whether you’re sending free products or compensating creators with cash, both strategies are effective at boosting influencer ROI. It's all about creating an equitable value exchange.

The most important piece of the puzzle, though?

Sending your product to relevant influencers at scale.

Brands can't get significant awareness and better social search rankings with just a handful of gifted posts. To maximize your influencer marketing ROI in terms of time and budget, a high volume of content is crucial.

But paying individual influencers for hundreds of posts isn't realistic for brands in-house.

That's where Statusphere can help. Our micro-influencer marketing platform matches brands with creators from our vetted influencer network using 250+ first-party data points. We only match brands with creators that actively want to post about their products.

statusphere targeting example

Since you only partner with creators from our network, content is guaranteed and scalable. Our platform has already generated 75,000+ authentic posts on behalf of 400+ consumer brands. 

Want to learn more about our software? Get in touch with one of our experts to see how we can streamline your influencer marketing efforts with guaranteed content at scale.

This article was first published in June 2020. It was last updated June 11, 2023.

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