Influencer marketing – it’s about relationships, not transactions

29th Aug 2017
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Influencer marketing has attracted incredible attention in recent years, and rightfully so. By any measure, it has turned out to be one of the strongest tools in digital marketing for brands to build their personas, attract eyeballs of its addressable market and building trust among its target communities. Partnering with the right kind of influencers is known to help brands gain not only awareness but also credibility. It positively influences purchase decisions – the end game for any marketing activity.

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That being said, two trends have emerged in recent times that have the potential to make influencer marketing a bit of a slippery slope –

  • Becoming an influencer is no longer as much about domain expertise as it is about the number of followers.
  • Thanks to the increasing financial investment from brand marketers, influencer marketing threatens to become more about advertising dollars than the ever-powerful word of mouth.

If brands as well as influencers don’t make an effort to keep things transparent and authentic, it is only a matter of time before influencer marketing loses credibility. So how can brands, especially start-ups with limited resources, do influencer marketing right?

Choose your influencers wisely

Study your choice of influencers deeply. It is easy to become an influencer by just being extremely consistent with social media updates. Make an effort in consistently reading what and how potential influencers are talking about the subject of your interest. Choose people who truly understand the space and have authentic authority over the topic. They are the ones whose influence will sustain the test of time.

Choosy, hard-to-please influencers are your best bets.

I often hear brand marketers complain about editors who reject PR pitches and influencers who are so loyal to their readers that they will only endorse products they truly believe in. Sure, these influencers are hard to please and of course you will need to perfect your pitch for them to oblige. But a word has to be said for those who take pride in their social capital and aren’t using it to make a quick buck. As a brand that is looking to be trusted, your best bets are the choosy influencers. The power of their word is worth the extra effort.

Focus on relationships, not just the social media traction

Most influencer marketing campaigns come with a specific budget and timeline. The good ones focus on building long-term relationships. This means that brands must look beyond just quick social media posts in return for their investment. Of course, the social media posts are usually part of the deal. But brands must also engage and excite influencers enough for them to advocate your brand as an influencer long after the campaign is over. Following and interacting with them on social media is one way to do it.

Freebies to consumers may be a part of the game, sure. But nothing can replace the healthy, positive experience that influencers have with your brand.

Kindness, empathy and camaraderie are key elements of any relationship and influencers are no different. Avoid arm-twisting tactics for ROI, be available to answer questions or clarify doubts, pay on time if the deal involves exchange of money. And be nice!

Trust goes a very long way

Influencer marketing is a cycle of trust – between the influencer and you, and between the influencer and his or her followers. Social media followers are an intelligent lot. So, if your deal with your influencers comes across as off or artificial, then both of you stand to lose the community’s trust.

You also shouldn’t feel the need to vet through all that your influencers post about you. Ensure that you choose people you can trust to represent you accurately and fairly. For example, if as an offbeat travel company, you sign up a celebrity luxury traveller purely on the basis of their Instagram followers, you will remain doubtful of how much and how well they can communicate your brand to their community. And rightfully so. So, think things through and know your influencer inside out before you seal the deal.

This becomes even more crucial in niche industries like technology and B2B services. If as a high-tech company, you sign up fashion influencers for your apparel campaign, you need to accept that their perspective will be significantly different from tech influencers. While this sounds like common sense, I have seen brands get uncomfortable when engaging a niche influencer category that has previously been alien to them. You must understand that eventually, good influencers uphold their commitment to their core audience. Don’t engage them if you can’t trust them to do their job well, even if it seems unfamiliar to you.

Eventually, influencer marketing, like reputation management and PR, is about real people. Treat them like “marketing tools” and you’re bound to lose respectability. So, better treat them like people, focus on strong, lasting relationships and watch positive outcomes unfold!

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