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To understand the difference between celebrity endorsements and influencer marketing, you really don’t need to look any further than the title of this post. The key is right there in the word “relationship.” Put it this way: if the focus of this post were about netting a big name celebrity to promote your brand, it would be a simple two-step process:
- Find a celebrity whose image and talents jibe with your brand story.
- Pay them a lot of money.
End of post. The word “relationship” doesn’t even enter into the equation. It’s nice if one develops, but it’s not a requirement. Working with influencers, on the other hand, is a whole other story. Because influencer marketing’s success hinges on the authenticity of paid posts—that is, they don’t seem like an ad—it’s crucial to establish trust and goodwill with those people you’d like to work with. It may be a lot less money to work with an influencer, but that doesn’t mean they’re any easier to recruit. If you’re using good software to find them, then you can make fairly quick work of unearthing great matches for your brand. Between discovery and activation, though, it’s not as clear-cut as a simple pay-for-play opportunity. Even after activation, they’ll need to feel good about working with you: they’ve built up a trust with their audience and aren’t going to be so keen on violating that and risking their social media status. And, frankly, the same holds true for your brand’s audience, which is how we’ve gotten ourselves to the point of this post, establishing an influencer relationship. It’s a win-win if you do it right, so let’s see how that’s done.
It Isn’t Business, It’s Personal
This may seem counterintuitive—you are trying to market your business, after all—so it’s helpful to remember how an influencer gets to the point where you’d want to work with them. While follower fraud may be a growing problem, if you’ve done your homework you’ll be courting/working with a quality creator who’s spent years building up their reputation online. They do this by creating kick-ass content that attracts an audience, and then maintain their numbers by being real. They’ll tell personal stories, exhibit vulnerability, and stay engaged with those people in meaningful ways.
Their audience is the true prize here, and to get access to them you’ll need to approach your budding influencer relationship with the same personal care they’ve taken with their followers. A standard-issue form letter isn’t going to cut it. You may be tempted to create, or even already have, recruitment templates enabling you to send out messages en masse to all the influencers you’re interested in. From an efficiency point of view, this seems like a no-brainer on the surface. But efficiency must also be measured by results, not just by the level of effort put forth. Templates are a good starting point, for sure: when it comes to spelling out your brand’s own aims with its marketing strategy, there’s no sense in typing the same information over and over. It’s easy to forget they afford the opportunity to personalize the message, which isn’t simply a matter of filling in the blanks where an influencer’s name should be.
The first paragraph of any recruiting message should be written from scratch. It should include information that conveys a real person wrote it, and that this person has been paying close attention to the influencer’s work. Call out certain posts that you feel best epitomize why you feel they’re a good fit. Relay back some personal information they’ve shared, either through captions or comments, to point out your compatibility. Let them know why you desire access to their audience—demo- and psychographic data you’ve uncovered are good to share, but also make sure to flatter them a little by acknowledging their work to build and maintain that audience. This opening paragraph can be shorter than the one you’re reading right now. It just needs to accomplish the goal of demonstrating the same thought and care an influencer puts into her own social presence.
It’s Not a Gig, It’s a Collaboration
While influencers as a group are a natural side effect of the Gig Economy, the last thing you’ll want to do is approach them as if you’re offering some kind of one-off side hustle for them to make a little extra money. Again, authenticity and trust are key here—there’s a reason it’s called an “influencer relationship.” The opportunity for influencers to make a quick buck at your direction isn’t as attractive as you might think it is. A better way for influencers and brands is to treat what you’re offering as a collaboration.
Part of your wanting to work with any given influencer is the strength of their content. If you’re coming at them with preconceived, specific notions of what you want to see, it shows them you’re not as interested or impressed with their work as you may have let on. You’ve contacted them on the basis of their talent for creating engaging content, so let them know you’re looking to collaborate, not dictate. Tell them your goals and ideas for a campaign, and then give them the chance to brainstorm and pitch their own. Defer to them on what they think their audience would rather see, and keep in mind that they definitely have a better sense of what that might be. If you already knew how to best reach that audience, you wouldn’t have to go through a third party to market to them. Acknowledging this openly is a sure way to establish trust. You want the influencer to understand that you need their help as much as their followers.
Show Them the Data
On the flip side of the previous section, there is one place you’re likely to have the upper hand in understanding their audience, and that’s in the data. Influencers probably aren’t spending money on enterprise-class analytics tools to get deep insights into their audience. You, on the other hand, have (and if you haven’t: you’re already losing the battle). It does no harm in being completely transparent in what you know about their audience. Handoff all the audience data you have and walk them through the analysis. Show them what days and times get the most engagement, who their most engaged followers are—along with their interests and brand affinities. Give them the data on their top-performing posts, and let them know what it was about these posts that worked so well for them.
You accomplish three things with this strategy:
- You’re giving them guidance based on hard data—not aesthetics or preferences—so that guidance doesn’t come at the cost of contradicting the spirit of collaboration you’ve already promised.
- You’re empowering them to grow their social presence, to become bigger and more influential (and thus, more valuable).
- You demonstrate your level of trust and your commitment to the influencer relationship. (An influencer could easily use this information to solicit other brand partnerships.)
Focus on the Long Game
Don’t limit your initial conversations to the here and now. An influencer’s first collaboration with a brand is important to them; the goal isn’t just to participate in a single campaign, collect the cash, and bolt. Like any freelancer, especially ones who make their sole income as independent contractors, long-term stability is important. Whether you’ve explicitly talked about your collaboration extending beyond this first campaign or not, understand that’s the prize an influencer has her eye on.
This doesn’t mean you have to offer a guaranteed offer to work on future campaigns. Instead, it means you can talk about the future with them, like other campaigns and strategies you’d see them as a good fit for. If they’ve come up with a good idea for content, but it doesn’t quite fit the bill for your immediate needs, there’s no harm in saying something like, “That’s not going to work for this campaign, but it’s definitely something we’d be interested in pursuing for future ones.”
You’re not making promises, but you are letting them know you, too, have an eye toward the future. Other ways you can indicate your long-term thinking:
- Talk about what you look for in a brand ambassador. Even in the early stages of an influencer relationship, it’s OK to show you’re looking for something more serious. And yes, that does sound like dating advice.
- Promote the content—and their social channels—they’ve created for you, on your website.
- Offer loyalty incentives, where there’s an opportunity to make pay-per-click commissions or bonuses beyond their fee.
Be the Authenticity You Want to See
Finally, it needs to be said that all of the suggestions we’ve given here aren’t meant as mere talking points to “trick” the influencer into thinking you’re something you aren’t. This post is about establishing a relationship; just because it’s a business-based one doesn’t mean the rules are any different than those of a personal one.
If you’re in the early stages of making a friend or dating someone, you know that just saying the things they want to hear upfront isn’t a great strategy for either of you. You’re not going to win anyone over long term by making promises or declarations you don’t intend to honor. The truth always outs itself in a relationship, and when things go sour both parties end up walking away with a loss. Your brand has chosen influencer marketing as its strategy because authenticity has shown itself to be very effective at reaching bigger and better audiences. You can’t cultivate that success by being dishonest yourself, though.
An influencer relationship is something that has to benefit both parties in some way to work. If you’re only thinking about your own gains, it won’t be long until your newly found influencer becomes disenchanted. And if you’ve misrepresented yourself to an influencer, you run the risk of their influence being used against you. The best way to get something out of a relationship is to make sure everyone feels good about what they’re bringing to it, and getting out of it.
Relationships aren’t rocket science, but they also really aren’t the stuff of marketing, either. That’s all changing with influencers, and so much the better for that.