Chief Growth Officer at The Outloud Group, a full-service influencer marketing agency that creates & executes strategic campaigns at scale
The world of celebrities and influencers has changed. Brands that don’t adapt, or that claim influencer marketing doesn’t work, will shoot themselves in the foot. Don’t be one of those brands.
When it comes to brands finding big names to advocate for their product or service, things used to be simple: You’d look across TV shows, movies and athletes and identify the right partners to advocate for your brand through some mass-market approach.
It’s safe to say that things look a little different today. Today’s media environment is increasingly decentralized with influencers across social platforms including YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Twitch. This decentralization means thousands of really strong connections between big names and massive audiences — and by now we’re familiar with the emergence of the influencer marketing economy.
And while the influencer marketing industry is already burning bright, Apple and Google’s moves in a cookieless direction have just added more fuel to the fire, making influencer marketing more attractive relative to paid social ads.
With more brands turning to influencers and their loyal fanbases to find creative new ways to reach their target audiences, we’ve seen a lot of misguided passion and dollars streaming into the market.
Many brands are discovering that running their own influencer programs is not as simple as they once thought. Even with experience in TV or radio, brands can fall flat on their faces with influencers.
Approaching influencer marketing the same way that you approach other forms of marketing can lead to some very negative consequences. In fact, there are definitely a number of ways not to approach your influencer marketing program. We’ve seen a number of brands learn this the hard way.
So help yourself out and be sure to avoid these pitfalls.
1. Don’t treat influencers like contractors.
While influencers might resemble the person that you’ve hired to create a new video for your brand, they bring the added value of a deep understanding of their audience and often a large organic reach. There is huge value in a creator’s connection to their audience, so when you’re discussing a campaign, be sure to respect and listen to their perspective, since it’s likely similar to your audience’s perspective.
2. Don’t be stingy — compensate fairly for the value they provide.
It can be tempting to try and negotiate the cheapest deal you can. But be very careful here. There’s a big difference between the lowest price and the highest value. There is a balance to be struck between negotiating a fair deal and getting a steal from a creator who’s not very business savvy. If an influencer feels like they’re being nickeled and dimed and don’t feel valued, then the partnership is likely destined for failure. Humans communicate in many different ways, and psychologists tell us that words are only 7% of communication. That means that if a creator feels undervalued, they can “say all the right things,” but their audience may not respond. Look for influencer partnerships where you can grow the size of the pie for everyone rather than trying to fight with the creator over the size of a slice of pie. In other words, seek a win-win deal.
3. Don’t use influencers as a way to communicate brand voice.
In my experience, influencers are fantastic brand advocates but lousy channels for pushing out your brand voice. If you let a creator speak in the tone, style and words they are comfortable with, then good things will likely happen. Influencers can use their creative freedom to work magic with their audience. If, however, a brand tries to force specific words, styles or scripts on a creator, it may sound awkward, forced and inauthentic to the people who matter: the influencer’s audience. Remember: Brand advocacy is not brand voice.
4. Don’t focus on purely transactional relationships.
Yes, creators love to be compensated for their work. And one-off deals may still happen. But more often than not, creators want to partner with brands that they can build a mutually beneficial long-term relationship with. A purely transactional relationship isn’t likely to last very long, and if you don’t take a long view, you may find yourself running out of influencers who are interested in working with you.
5. Don’t be unreliable or unpredictable.
For many creators, this is their livelihood. As a brand, that means you can ensure better long-term relationships if you are more dependable in a number of areas. Make sure you’re setting clear expectations on how you’ll use the content, and that you’re approving content and paying creators in a timely manner. When changes happen, communicate them to the creator and, by all means, do everything you can to insulate creators from churn and change.
6. Don’t be part of systemic problems.
Lastly, it’s a sad but true fact that minority influencers are underrepresented in the influencer space. For example, our recent research showed that Black+ creators (those who are Black and may also incorporate other races into their identities) are only capturing 6.7% of brand partnerships in YouTube influencer campaigns, while Black Americans make up 13.4% of the U.S. population. Back in March, Bloomberg reported that Black influencers also are being paid less than those who are white.
I’ve noticed that the typical challenges that creators have when working with brands tend to compound even more when those creators are underrepresented as well. Focusing on metrics is healthy, but it’s important to set the right goals and metrics for a campaign. This isn’t only the right thing to do; it’s good business as well.
What is the bottom line across all these lessons? Have empathy for your influencers.
Treat influencers like human beings who happen to have a massive megaphone and audience. You’re not making a programmatic buy across thousands of faceless websites. You’re investing in the voice and face of a very personal ecosystem that is run by a human being.
Treat creators fairly, recognize their need to make a living and when in doubt, err on the side of the creators.
If you live this rather than just saying it, you’ll be able to build stronger, longer-lasting partnerships.