How to Tap Into the Creator Side of Influencer Marketing

Break through to a new generation of viewers

Marketers will find more value in working with creators rather than influencers. Metro Los Angeles
Headshot of Nate Houghteling

For as long as social media celebrities have existed, brands have been trying to tap into their star power. The reason is clear: Not only do these new stars have a massive number of loyal fans, but their connection to their audience is authentic and unmitigated by traditional gatekeepers. Considering the intimacy of this connection, it’s no wonder that consumers are seven times more likely to trust someone they follow on social media over a traditional celebrity.

And yet, despite the explosion of influencer marketing over the past few years, many of the biggest brands in the world still commit a fundamental mistake when working with this new generation of talent. The issue can be traced back to a single word: influencer. Brands who develop an influencer strategy are focusing on the reach of these stars rather than their creative potential. The I-word suggests that brands seek to message through their partners rather than with them, using them as a means of distribution rather than as true collaborators.

Brands who see long-term success working with stars on platforms like YouTube and Instagram have been able to move past the influencer mindset to embrace a new term: creator.

Whereas influencers are interchangeable and valuable solely for their reach, creators are active partners in making great work. This shift in approach is massive; it’s the difference between campaigns that are short-term, transactional and easily forgotten to ones that break through the noise with real, lasting impact.

For brands looking to get above the influence and partner with creators to have a lasting impact on a new generation of viewers, here are three ways to start.

Be selective

Finding an influencer is easy, but finding a true collaborator—a creator—is more difficult.

On YouTube alone, there are more than 65,000 channels with over 100,000 subscribers. When faced with so many choices, some marketers throw up their hands and decide to pursue a broad strategy based solely on reach. It’s a shortcut they end up regretting, since the influencer approach ignores one of the biggest questions fans will ask: Why did this partnership happen in the first place? If there’s no good answer, audiences will assume it’s a straight exchange of money for views, and the reaction will be indifference—or worse.

Consumers are seven times more likely to trust someone they follow on social media over a traditional celebrity.

Brands that remain selective and vigilant in their search for creators are the ones that see real results down the line. Start by generating a comprehensive list, then winnow down with factors that are most important to you: brand affinity, potential for production value, audience demographics, engagement and much more. If you stick to your priorities and refuse to settle, you will end up with long-term partners who are worthy of your time and energy.

Be ambitious

Perhaps the biggest difference between a campaign that’s easily forgotten and program that breaks through the noise is the ambition of the creative approach. Remember, this is a community of self-made entrepreneurs constantly pushing themselves to think big and execute ideas of which no one thought they were capable. Watch Mike Diva’s Metro Manners or the incredible Lucas the Spider series, and you’ll begin to see that the creative possibilities are wide open.

Brands who win with creators embrace their role as fairy godmother to creative dreams. If a creator has always wanted to collaborate with a celebrity, can you make that happen? If a creator has always wanted to shoot their craziest idea but has never had the resources or manpower to pull it off, can you step into that role? This type of thinking is how brands become dream-makers rather than passive sponsors and how their content can make a real impact.

Be in it for the long haul

Given the pace of social media, a single post or quick takeover of an influencer’s channel is not enough to make a difference. What’s more, the type of blink-and-you-miss-it integrations that permeate social media feel interruptive, taking audiences out of their normal programming with clunky, forced sponsorships.

The most successful partnerships that really move the needle are collaborations with creators that play out over the course of months. Consider Casey Neistat’s multi-year partnership with Samsung that culminated in a commercial during the Oscars or Microsoft’s #DoAnything series that featured collaborations with 25 creators over the course of a year. This is the type of work that is remembered.

Pursuing a long-term strategy built around partnerships with creators requires time, investment and patience. But in the long-run, it’s the difference between checking an influencer box and making breakthrough content that audiences will care about.

@nhoughte Nate Houghteling is a co-founder and executive producer at Portal A.