Once upon a time, influencers were just regular people who used social media to share their opinions, lives, projects and passions to those who would listen. And listen they did.
Studies show 92 percent of people trust recommendations from other people over brands. Teens have a seven times higher emotional attachment to YouTube stars than to ‘traditional’ celebs. And 49 percent of people rely on influencer recommendations when they’re making a purchase. That’s rely as in trust.
Because of this power, brands have become addicted to influencers—and like most addictions, it’s led to increasingly diminished returns for the same action. With influencers now representing a billion-dollar industry populated by innovative and inventive creators, influencer marketing needs to become deeper than a product sent in the mail and a post on Instagram. It’s time to explore a new model that benefits both brands and influencers.
The 3 (traditional) levels of partnering with influencers
Until now, brands have practiced three levels of influencer marketing.
Level 1 uses PR to send free brand product and information to target influencers, hoping for earned media (or at least a response).
Level 2 allocates media spend to pay relevant influencers with desirable audiences to create “cool” content that showcases the brand in a positive light.
Level 3 builds meaningful, advocate-level relationships with influencers who authentically love and embrace the brand in a way that spans beyond a video, campaign or launch.
Most brands have accomplished level one and two. Only the smartest, most integrated brands have stepped up to Level 3.
Enter the next level
Before we get to the next level, let’s reaffirm that levels 1, 2 and 3 are fine, good and necessary. We’re not here to say it’s time to abandon these other levels. But today’s influencers are operating as businesses, not just communities—and as businesses, they want more from the brands with which they work.
In fact, my company, OMD, commissioned a study with influencers to find out what they need (not just want) to evolve. Here’s what they told us:
- Innovation: Demonstrate new ideas to their audience
- Discovery: Help in growing their audience
- Products: Access to things that excite their audience
- Research: Knowledge about their audience
- Resources: Support producing kick-ass creative for their audience
Welcome to level 4, where marketers treat content creators as businesses, help them add value to their brands while bringing value to their audiences—and both sides see greater benefits.
It begins with marketers giving creators access to the newest products before they hit shelves, and moves into sharing audience data, helping identify growth opportunities, and even providing production assistance including studio time, professional content editing and fresh collaborations.
In exchange, influencers can offer brands preferred rates, disruptive creative, faster speed to market, higher credibility and, ultimately, sales.
So how do we make it happen?
- Commit to the process. Reworking how your brand collaborates with influencers isn’t going to happen overnight. Commit to the process and understand that evolving relationships with creators will take time and learning.
- Identify the right people. Use data to select the perfect partners and elevate their creative beyond “pay-to-post.” Influencer networks are a great starting resource for this step, as many of them have tools that follow and categorize influencers across every vertical possible.
- Approach any influencer with the opportunity to become a strategic partner and write the terms. Test this out with a few influencers first. Work out the kinks. Find out exactly what they’re looking for from brands. Learn from each other. It might take a couple of months and that’s okay because good marketing is about being right, not just first.
- Scale. After successfully identifying and building a partnership with a few key influencers, it’s time to scale up. You’ll quickly reap the benefits.
So, let’s get over the influence. Evolve from paying for posts. Write new contracts for a new breed of influencers.
Find people who are not in it for the money but those who are in it for value and in it for their audience. Give advocates what they want: access to new products from you and from social platforms, insights on their audience and how to grow it, production assistance including studio time, editing and fresh collaborations.
In exchange, brands can receive preference, better creative, faster response and greater credibility. Become partners in business and work together for mutual value, not just media value.
Kerry Perse is head of social media for OMD.