Influencer marketing has a problem. On the one hand, we all agree that content is valuable and content creators should be compensated for the work they do to create the videos and images that we all love to watch while pretending to be working. On the other, we are so offended by ads and sponsored posts that we often brand influencers who post them as “sellouts”, fake, or inauthentic. This has gone beyond market perception and into regulation; #ad is a requirement because it is considered a breach of trust to be compensated for a post without declaring it.
Brands have a massive opportunity by developing partnerships with content creators and influencers. No other channel can offer the level of personalisation because no other channel is capable of such a thorough understanding of its own audience. But we have already started down the road of corrupting the long term potential of this channel by treating it the same as we do traditional advertising channels – just throw money at it and hope the exposure works. This channel, as with all partnerships, rewards a unique approach – one distinct to partnerships.
Influencers are invited into our homes and our lives as friends, advisors, and role models – what is the advertisers’ responsibility in maintaining that? What is the best way to approach customers through this channel and how do we do so while allowing for the voice and freedom of the influencer to remain strong and independent?
Let’s start with a basic premise. What is best for our customers? If we have done our diligence and confirmed that the influencer we are considering working with has our ideal customers in their audience, then that question can be re-framed as, what is best for the audience? Unlike traditional advertising this relationship has nothing to do at all with the brand – the audience is here for the influencer. So the first step is communication with the influencer directly, getting an understanding of how they see their audience, and honoring that connection.
Influencers also need content – at the end of the day, content is their product. When brands truly understand an influencer’s audience and provide content to support the influencer’s message, rather than just the brands, true partnerships are formed.
Pay for performance
But the final piece of the puzzle is a shift in the compensation model for influencers from paying per post to paying for customer acquisition – paying for performance. Native ads and sponsored posts offend audiences – genuine recommendations, product placements in content where they add to the image or conversation, and transparent referrals do not. No one disagrees that the amazing extreme athlete who flies from mountain tops should be able to do that full time and still make a living, but we want her to do so by recommending and referring the products she (and we) will actually use and love. Paying per post (which is just a new version of tenancies) does not accomplish this.
A shift to paying partners for customer acquisition is only possible with the right tracking and contracting systems in place. But the return for that investment is significant. When influencers can confidently produce their own content with guidance from a brand they maintain their authenticity, be transparent with their referrals, and when they can understand the results of their efforts and how it relates to what a brand considers valuable.
Place the customer first
We cannot underestimate the power that social media and those who wield influence through it have in our world. Beyond a simple act of endorsement – we are talking about the power to sway the opinion of millions with a simple post or to ruin the life of an individual with one bullying image. Never before has it been so easy for a brand to get its message directly to the hands of their ideal customer – but like any powerful tool, this can be quickly abused and made destructive.
So let’s place the customer first. If we want to truly delight and engage and enrich our existing and potential customers. Let’s make sure we understand the message that we are delivering to them, the medium it is delivered through, and let’s measure the results of that message delivery to create repeatable, responsible, and authentic relationships.