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7 Tips for Tea Companies when Approaching Tea Bloggers, Educators, and Influencers

Hello hello!

Last month, a company reached out to me to create educational content for them on social media. After going back and forth on an agreement, we agreed that they’d sponsor me to create a reel, upload it, and add it as a creator on the post. The idea was that, with this agreement, my audience would see their brand as a form of advertising, with education surrounding their teas, and would help this tea company's web traffic. After spending six hours of filming and editing a reel, I was ready to upload. However, when the tea company reviewed the reel before publishing, they said, “This is great for education, but you didn’t review us. We believe you should review us in the reel to enhance the education.”

After explaining to the company that in our agreement, I specifically negotiated that I did not want to review their tea and that I’d only be making an educational-only video. They replied, “Well, we understand that our original agreement outlines that the video be educational-only, but we will wait for payment until you add a review of it in the video. If you want, you can still post the video as-is so your work doesn’t go to waste.”

So what did I do? I did exactly as they advised, by posting the video. I went back to my video editor, removed every mention of their company, deleted any video footage that displayed their branding, re-recorded my voice-over, and published it (which, you can see here).

However, among the tea educator and blogging community, stories like these are way too common.

Many of you might not know this, but I’ve actually worked in the tea industry for over a decade. Despite that I’ve only blogged about tea for 8 years, I have worked in various tea shops long before putting my thoughts to paper. As a fun fact, did you know I used to be a shift leader at Teavana before they closed?

After being in the tea industry for so long, I have seen a pattern of disrespectful behaviors from the tea industry, to tea bloggers, educators, and influencers. So, how should tea companies approach and work with tea bloggers and influencers? What should tea companies know about tea bloggers before interacting with them?

Below are 7 tips and factoids about tea bloggers that tea companies should keep in mind when approaching tea bloggers and influencers.

(Photo: Me presenting at the 2023 Mid West Tea Festival in Overland Park, Kansas on October 22nd, 2023)

1. Understanding Tea Blogger’s Dispositions 

Many tea companies do not completely understand that many tea bloggers and tea influencers have to buy their way into the industry. What does this mean, exactly? Many tea bloggers, educators, and social media influencers are complexly out of pocket for all of the work they do. Many blog-hosting sites and domain websites cost a lot of money, and given the social-media presence of the tea industry as a whole, there is not a lot of opportunity for bloggers or influencers to make brand deals like other industries (such as the beauty industry, for example). When bloggers review tea, post photos, and publish reels, they’re doing it all on their own time and dime. 

2. Valuing The size of Tea Social Media Audience

In the tea industry, many tea bloggers have a smaller following when compared to other industries. The beauty-brand industry prevails on social media, whereas the tea industry across the board doesn’t reach anywhere near the same size of audience.

At the time of this posting, Lipton only has 119,000 followers on Instagram. This type of size trickles down to tea bloggers and influencers. A tea blogger with a following of 2,000 followers, is a large number of followers. Tea bloggers primarily fall into the category of being a ‘micro-influencer’. However, it’s been studied that micro-influencers have a more direct tie-in to their audience, and when marketed to their audiences, can generate a more-dense revenue stream. Because micro-influencers following is a niche, it allows them to seek out people with a stronger buy-in to the hobby.

3. The Size vs. Value of Audiences

In my experience, I’ve had many tea companies approach me when partnering with me, and undervalue my audience size. Hypocritically, many of these tea companies have a similar follow-count to me or less.

Any tea companies have looked at my audience size and said, “Your follow count is only 5,000, the financial value of your size isn’t a lot.”

However, if a tea company has a following of 2,000 followers, and I have a following of 6,000, then my reach is triple the audience of theirs. As I already mentioned above, this is all relative to the size of the industry on social media compared to other social media industries. My rhetorical question to you is, in what other industry can businesses afford to work with an influencer that has 300%+ of audience size to them?

The difference in size-ratio doesn't make it less valuable. In fact, it makes it more valuable.

4. Why Bloggers Promote Some and Not Others, Willingly

Now that we’ve covered that tea influencers have stronger engagement with their audience, this means that they have a stronger influence over their audience when compared to someone who has a massive following. However, when you tie in the fact that tea influencers are completely out of pocket for all that they do, this means that they will most likely only share content that relates to things they have personally enjoyed. If you’re a company and ever question why tea bloggers will post about many companies out of their own volition, it’s because they’ve had to filter all of this out for themselves.

5. Entitlement, ‘Exposure’ is NOT Payment

While entitlement in the industry goes both ways (and is something I’ll cover in a future post), I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I’ve had a company reach out to me and say, “I’ll pay you with exposure.”

Nearly every single company that approached me with this, has had half of the following that I had…. Yes, that’s laughably bad. But, you can’t give a blogger better exposure when you already have less of a following to them. This is the quickest way to get an influencer to not only avoid working with you but to ghost you and never reply again.

One other thing to remember is that work is work. Exposure is not payment, it’s just a keyword for use when you want to take advantage of someone without paying them.

Educators, bloggers, etc. can’t pay bills for the equipment they need, to provide you free media.

I can’t pay rent by showing my apartment's property manager the follow count on my Instagram page.

6. Is Tea an Acceptable Payment?

When companies approach me and say they’ll pay me with exposure, and they are met with pushback, they’ll also offer to pay bloggers by giving them their product. However, this is not any better than offering to pay them in exposure.

Why not?

Well, let’s sit back for a moment and talk about my main career. Currently, I work as a banker at a bank, and I specialize in IRAs and HSAs. I also sometimes pull a cash drawer and help with teller work when we’re busy or short-staffed. Now, in my cash drawer, I’m required to keep a certain amount of money in my drawer. While l can’t disclose the actual number, let’s just say it's $5,000 for example.

Now, how would you react if I told you that my bank required me to front up the $5,000 in cash for my cash drawer, to be able to work at the bank?

That would be absurd, right?

Supplying an employee with specific materials to perform their job duties is not considered payment.

To drive this home more, I was once a freelance photographer for a leather company to help them take photos of their inventory for their yearly catalog. They had a massive warehouse of wholesale leather products, and they had thousands of photographs that they needed to take and process to be published in their catalog.

Now, could you imagine if they tried me and told me that I’d have to take their photos for free because they didn’t require me to buy every single product I had to take a photo of? That’s still absurd, right?

My counter-point this (or, the reality) is that most bloggers and influencers will happily promote tea brands for free if given free tea because many bloggers will see this as their hobby being self-funded.

However, not all of them feel this way, and that also doesn’t mean companies should take advantage of blogger’s goodwill. If tea companies want to support bloggers and influencers for collaborations, then support them. As I mentioned above, calculate the value and what it means for your company to have the advertising space of being promoted by a blogger, and move forward accordingly. At the end of the day, it's an advertising expense.

7. Work is Work

In the latter part of my blogging career, I have veered away from reviewing teas and focusing more on tea education. While doing so, I’ll often work and collaborate with tea companies to utilize their products to promote tea education. I’ve also been approached by companies to help them promote their products by hosting live sessions with them, as well as various other content — including product photography. However, many of these deals did not come to fruition because I required some sort of financial compensation for my time. I’ve had the reason of ‘audience size’ be cited for why I shouldn’t be compensated (adding on from the ‘exposure’ comment from earlier in this article).

However, at the end of the day, work is still work.

Filming videos, taking photos, editing visual media, interviewing, and hosting sessions all require work. I will say it again — work is still work.

Let's give an example: You’re throwing a wedding with over 200+ guests in attendance. You have an audience of around 200+ people, and you want to cherish the memory of your wedding by hiring a wedding photographer. The wedding photographer spends 4+ hours taking photos attending the wedding. They go home, sift through thousands of photos, and narrow down the shots to several hundred. They then spend the next month editing the several hundred photos and make them look as perfect as possible.

Now, imagine going to this photographer and saying, “Hey your work is incredible but my wedding only had an audience of a little over 200 people, I don’t believe I should monetarily compensate you because the audience at the wedding isn’t as big as we wanted, and you should be grateful for the experience. You got exposure to those 200 people anyway, and that could lead to more opportunities.”

That would be absurd, right?!

RIGHT! Exactly!

If you go to a content creator for product photography/videography, and you don’t feel like you should pay them because they don’t have a Kylie Jenner following, then you’d be just as absurd. Not only are you assuming you deserve free labor, but you’re also telling content creators that their skills, extensive education in said hobby, work-history, and content are valueless. You’re telling them you deserve to use their extensive research and history in said niche for free.

(Photo: Me presenting at the 2023 Mid West Tea Festival in Overland Park, Kansas on October 22nd, 2023)

How to Move Forward: The Bottom Line

Let’s cut to the chase: Many tea bloggers and influencers are wonderful kind-hearted people who partake in this industry because they have a true passion for it. Many bloggers do not financially benefit from being in the tea industry, and many of them are actually indebted to it. Many tea bloggers would love a chance to talk about your product, and simply, would be grateful to just have the opportunity to connect with you.

Tea bloggers are passionate people who absolutely love what they do because they have a pure love for the industry and the product. I can say for myself that I have a long history of being used, taken advantage of, and manipulated by tea companies for 8+ years, but keep coming back because I absolutely love what I do. 

With this, keep in mind that many tea bloggers do not receive any monetary help of any kind, and they fight an uphill battle. Despite fighting the uphill battle, they are often excluded from many narratives that they helped create off the sweat of their backs. Tea educators, bloggers, and influencers do not reap the benefits of their work; they do not reap the benefits of their work in the same way that other influencers and bloggers receive from other industries.

With this, move forward with compassion, understanding, and a realization that tea educators, bloggers, and influencers are a massive asset to the world of tea because of their dense pipeline of content-to-follower. We are also the largest asset the industry has to offer because we will be your biggest cheerleaders and want to see you grow and succeed. Also, don’t forget that when educators, bloggers, and influencers succeed, the entire industry succeeds.

As a tea educator and blogger, I can safely say that we just want you to want the same success for us, that we want for you.

Thank you for reading and thank you for being willing to learn a new approach to working with educators, bloggers, and influencers. 

Just by reading this, you are already taking one massive step forward. 

With best wishes, 

~ Cody 

Aka The Oolong Drunk 

“Blissfully Tea Drunk…” 

3 commentaires

Wan Ling Tea House
Wan Ling Tea House
11 mars

Interesting read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights.

Wan Ling Tea House


09 mars

Great article!


Casey Henry
Casey Henry
09 mars

Ooooh, snap!

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