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Product Seeding vs. Gifting: Everything You Need to Know in 2024

Joe Anderson
Founder at MightyScout
March 31, 2024

Product seeding and gifting are often considered the same—but they’re not. There's a crucial difference between them. Gifting influencers is transactional, while seeding is relational.

We’ll unpack the differences with the help of experts and discuss which situations call for seeding influencers and when gifting might be better.

Product seeding vs. gifting explained

Product seeding, also called influencer seeding, is when you send free products to influencers without any expectations for reviews or posts. If the influencers like the product, they're free to share their feedback or talk about the brand with their followers, and if not—no hard feelings.

“Seeding is sending products with no strings attached (i.e., no obligation for the influencer to post), says Sambhav Chadha, Co-Founder of Augmentum Media. “This works best for brands looking to sustainably scale their influencer channel, starting by building relationships with influencers for minimal cost.”

“Seeding is open-ended; it’s getting your product in the hands of someone you hope enjoys it enough to share with others,” adds Brittany Simpson, Owner of Go Yellow Digital.

Below, a beauty and lifestyle creator shared the products received from haircare brand, OUAI because she liked them and it was her favorite brand.

theouai example

Influencer product gifting is when you send products to creators and influencers for free with the expectation that they will share content, such as influencer-generated content (IGC) and product feedback, or you want to enroll them in your affiliate program.

“Gifting has an implied ask. It’s transactional, with the intent to provide products for share,” adds Simpson.

“Gifting for me is sending a product in exchange for guaranteed deliverables,” says Chadha. “It works best for start-ups with super clear product-market fit and a visually appealing product, allowing them to drive low-cost awareness, albeit at a small scale.”

YSL Beauty sent a gift to a beauty influencer. In return, the beauty influencer shared a post and product review.

Yslbeauty example

The major difference between product seeding and gifting is goal-based. Is your goal to build a relationship with the influencer or to create brand awareness and increase your reach?

  • Seeding is often focused on relationship-building and getting product feedback. There’s no expectation or agreement that influencers will post or promote the product you send them.

  • Gifting is geared more towards building reach and getting eyeballs on your product. There’s an expectation that the influencer will post and promote.

“If you are looking for specific creatives (potentially to repurpose as ads) or dipping your toes in the water with influencer partnerships, then small-scale product gifting may be the way to go,” says Chadha. “If you're looking to build and scale an influencer program to bring in regular content, awareness, and sales, seeding is your first step.”

“Seeding uses the word “seed” intentionally,” explains Cody Wittick, Co-Founder of Seeding is an entirely different mindset where the product gift is the seed to you that I want to develop eventually into a long-term relationship. The problem with gifting programs is the requirement. I’ll give you my product and you’ll do something for me.”

Even though both product seeding and gifting are different, they’re often confused by both brands and agencies. Both give free product gifts to creators and influencers and payment is not offered.

However, it is important to make distinctions between the two as they require different approaches to outreach, communication, and expectations when creating campaigns.

When is product seeding more effective than gifting?

Product seeding is more effective than gifting in two specific scenarios:

  • When you want to build long-term relationships with influencers and enhance brand advocacy. Product seeding is an effective way to identify influencers for your influencer affiliate community. When influencers share content, despite no expectation to, you know they truly love the product.

  • When you want honest opinions about your products from creators.

Relationship building and brand advocacy

Influencer gifting, sending a gift to influencers and asking them to post about it, is a good short-term strategy. You need content now to achieve a goal. But when your goal is to build a long-term relationship and increase brand advocacy, product seeding is the way to go. Seeding requires careful alignment with influencers who share your mission, vision, and values, which is why it often leads to more collaborative partnerships.

“Seeding is the relationship-first approach that acts as the base of a tiered influencer program for our clients,” says Chadha. “We find that influencers post anyway (75-90 creatives per 100 seeded influencers) and we are more likely to turn them into affiliates and negotiate 30-50% discounts on paid partnerships."

Authentic content

Seeding provides the ultimate in creative freedom for influencers, resulting in more authentic content. You’re not providing instructions to the influencer about what to say or not say or how to present the product. If an influencer decides to post, it’s because they truly love the brand. The content will not feel like an ad.

Product feedback

Product seeding is a great way to get feedback in the early stages of product development or if you want to put the feelers out in your target market.

For example, Haleigh Grooms, Creator Services Coordinator at DriveShop and a nano food influencer, shares how a sauce company seeded product to her.

“A sauce company sent me free products and just wanted positive or negative feedback and to get their name out there – no post or anything. I posted anyway because the sauce was really good, but there was no requirement. They asked permission to seed first. They never mentioned posting to me, but I genuinely liked them so I did. Seeding needs to be more strategic — sending people very targeted products that they would potentially use and buy on their own rather than just sending a bunch out to whomever.”

After sending a seeded product to an influencer, open up the conversation by asking them if they liked the product and how they used it. When the influencer responds to these questions, you can ask them what specifically they liked about the product or what could be improved.

How MightyScout can help with product seeding campaigns:

  • Track "unpaid" influencers: When you are not paying an influencer, it's hard to know when or if they share content or even where. Because there is no expectation of posting, there is no deadline. Most influencer marketing tools can only track paid influencers' content accurately. MightyScout is unique in that it can track and capture unpaid influencers' content.

  • Get alerted to new content: Know when influencers post. You'll want to show appreciation, engage with their content to further the influencer relationship, and potentially invite them into your influencer affiliate community.

  • Auto-capture the content: No need to screenshot content or ask the influencer to send it. MightyScout collects your content, including Stories, and organizes it in your portal where you can view all the content generated for your brand. This saves you time and avoids the awkwardness of asking creators if they posted.

  • Team-wide DM and visibility: Engage with seeded influencers over Instagram DMs or emails. View notes, products sent, and tasks in the CRM to manage your communication.

  • Ship, gift, and track shipped products: Send free products to seeded influencers, get tracking links and automatic updates so you know when the influencer has received your product.

  • Manage ambassador content: As seeded relationships eventually grow into ambassadors or affiliates, automatically add ambassador content to your content library without the need to keep tabs on their Instagram feeds.

Curious to find out how these features can help your brand or agency? Learn more about how MightyScout helps with product seeding.

When is it better to use influencer gifting?

Influencer product gifting is more effective for campaigns with short-term goals or when you need quick impact.

Immediate returns

Influencer gifting is helpful when you want instant exposure. The objective is often to align a campaign with a certain trend or event. In this scenario, you need posts, reviews, and content by a deadline to capitalize on the campaign’s timing.

For example, PaperWRLD sent its Spring Edition journaling kit to journaling influencers to rack up interest in its new product and boost sales.

Example Reel

Tangible outcomes and ROI

When an influencer accepts a gifted partnership, there is an expectation that content will be created in exchange for the gift even though there is no contractual obligation to share content.

Influencer gifting campaigns are seen as a low cost strategy to promote products. They tend to focus on specific outcomes such as:

  • Growing awareness
  • Increasing engagement
  • Generating UGC-style content

While influencers can include a link in content, gifting campaigns are not generally strong for conversion-based outcomes.

For example, InkBox launched a product gifting campaign to drive awareness and build positive sentiment for the brand’s new tattoo maker collection. The campaign generated 70+ creator activations and 800K+ content reach.

Short-term campaigns

Since gifting isn’t focused on building long-term relationships, it’s better to leverage gifting for short-term campaigns with specific goals, especially if the campaign revolves around a specific promotion, product launch, quick buzz, or seasonal offer.

How MightyScout can help with influencer product gifting campaigns?

  • Gifted influencer tracking: Get alerts when your "unpaid" influencers have shared content and capture published content (including Stories) automatically.

  • Campaign reporting: Automatically collect content and metrics such as impressions, reach, engagement, saves, and media value, and generate reports.

  • Influencer discovery: Find influencers simply by creating lookalike lists of your favorite influencers.

Curious to find out how these features can help your brand or agency? Learn more about how MightyScout helps with product gifting.

3 examples of successful product seeding campaigns

Here are three product seeding examples with different goals and outcomes to inspire your future campaigns.

1. A seeding campaign where the product was not promoted, but helped foster brand advocacy and future collaborations

Rad Power Bikes garnered 561% ROI by turning their existing and loyal customers into brand advocates.

The brand sent bike accessories, add-ons, and discounts on service fees to their existing customers through an email titled “We’re looking for brand ambassadors!” While there was no guarantee that customers would talk about (and promote) the product, it enhanced the customer experience and brand sentiment.

2. A seeding campaign where the product was promoted

RMS Beauty’s Instagram is filled with influencer-generated content garnered from sending products for free without any ask.

RMS example

This has helped the brand collect content for several Instagram Stories and Reels that share honest feedback and increase the product’s reach.

3. A campaign that used both gifting and seeding

Animal House Fitness used product seeding to generate 3,710 organic posts and $15 million in 18 months. It sent free products to influencers without asking for content, but it also worked hard to build relationships with big names in the industry.

Animal house fitness example

The brand strengthened its relationship with Ben Patrick, a fitness influencer who later became their brand advocate. The result was 143 posts and Stories. Ben’s content also caught the eye of Joe Rogan who mentioned Monkey Feet (their product) on his podcast, Joe Rogan Experience.

Manage your product seeding efforts with MightyScout

To recap: product seeding and gifting are not the same thing. Failing to understand the difference between the two can lead to planning mistakes and missed expectations.

Platforms like MightyScout can help you with overall relationship management whether you want to:

  • discover the influencers in your niche
  • send them relevant outreach messages
  • ship, send, and track products shipments
  • track mentions even when you don't know if or where an influencer will share content
  • capture influencer content automatically 24/7

Want to see how MightyScout can help you? Book a demo with us.