Save for a few pets and AI robots, influencers are human. The last few years have seen a huge rise in service providers attempting to streamline and automate what is an immensely nuanced and complex industry. While these services have certainly helped make influencer marketing much more efficient and therefore a more widely considered marketing channel by CMOs, they have also driven the industry down a road where influencers are seen as a commodity. Audiences have become skeptical towards influencer-brand partnerships; if they don’t believe that the brand or product is something that the influencer genuinely likes or has a connection with, they call it out and react negatively. Ultimately, the relationship between an influencer and their audience must take priority as without their audience an influencer is no longer influential. For this reason, influencers are becoming more selective with their branded content, opting for longer-term partnerships where a narrative can be built upon and the relationship is played out over time. The best relationships with influencers are built when the same principles are applied as per any other human relationship. Here are the five key values to build a strong and healthy influencer relationship:
A relationship is a two-way street and the outcomes should be mutually beneficial. Agencies and brands might think influencers want free products or money; however, time is equally, or perhaps even more, an important investment. Brands need to take the time to immerse the influencer in their world. For example, they may invite them to their HQ to get advice on an upcoming launch or show them behind the scenes at their research and development centre. Equally, getting to understand the influencer’s goals and how you can help them on their journey will help build a far stronger relationship in the long-term than simply a direct commercial one.
This is important. As influencer marketing budgets continue to grow, the calls to bring the industry practices into line with other digital marketing channels have been made loud and clear. Where influencers’ data was once superficial, influencers can now delve into the demographics of their audience and engagement rates. Not only should brand managers be granted access to this information, but they should also have the right to ask an influencer to disclose whether they have ever carried out any fraudulent practices like buying followers or engagements. Influencers can use tools like Q-83 to demonstrate full transparency. The platform allows influencers to demonstrate their true reach, mark notes on follower spikes, interrogate their accurate audience and engagement data and seamlessly share the information with potential and current brand partners. Having said that, I don’t believe that the onus is entirely on the influencer; brands and agencies need to create an environment where influencers feel that they can be 100% honest without immediately being punished for any past untoward activity. Many platforms will blacklist influencers the moment they spot an unnatural spike in followers with no questions asked, however, there are often legitimate reasons behind a follower spike. Equally, should someone be punished for once making a mistake a long time ago, that they can’t undo? What if they felt they could own up to that mistake, demonstrate that it was a one-off and show that they aren’t trading off fake followers?
If an influencer partners with a brand that doesn’t match their core values or is asked to create content that doesn’t feel authentic then their followers will be quick to call it out and react negatively. It’s important to remember that influencers are brand managers in their own right; they trade from their personal brand that they’ve worked hard to build and therefore must work hard to protect. Maintaining your integrity, feeling respected and being true to yourself are highly important in any relationship, particularly when communicating with an audience who can be fickle.
Largely, an influencer knows that they can trust the brand or agency to fulfill their part of the partnership, however, brands don’t always provide the same trust in return. To create a high performing content campaign that the influencer and brand are equally proud of, the brand must trust the influencer to create content that they know works best for their audience. Collaboration is key; involving influencers early in the concept stages of a campaign reaps huge rewards in the direction a campaign can take and ensures that the influencer feels a part of the process and empowered to create content that they know will work best for them.
When consumers find a product that they like or a brand that they feel speaks to them, they are loyal to it. Influencers are super-charged consumers. It gets really interesting when a brand shows an influencer loyalty in return. We’ve all read the case studies around how longer-term partnerships and ambassadorial roles have been far more effective than one-off campaigns. When a brand has built a relationship with an influencer over time and has considered all of the other key relationship values, a long-term partnership is the ultimate demonstration of loyalty. Essentially, influencers are human beings, as are their followers and without their followers, they have no influence. As efficient as automation is, when it comes to building partnerships that perform, the future lies in building stronger, more mutual and above all else human relationships.