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Influence That Matters: Five Tough Questions to Ask Your Influencer Marketing Agency


Head of influencer marketing at Diamond Kyle Lin on the limitless potential of influencer marketing and the real risks that too few creators, brands or even their agencies take seriously enough

Influence That Matters: Five Tough Questions to Ask Your Influencer Marketing Agency

In an age when a brand’s digital presence is more crucial than ever, the appeal of leveraging third-party creators with built-in, loyal, and highly engaged audiences is not difficult to understand. After all, brand trust is hard to earn and content creators have an inside track when it comes to shaping and driving consumer behaviour.

But amidst the seemingly limitless potential of influencer marketing are real risks that too few creators, brands, or even their agencies take seriously enough.

These risks can include the ongoing epidemic of fake followers (and engagement), the constantly multiplying examples of inattentive influencers publishing inauthentic content, or the more-present-than-ever danger of teaming up with creators whose past content and views may hold unwelcome surprises … but can extend far beyond even these troubling possibilities.

So what are we left with as marketers? An enormously powerful tactic with significant potential to drive outsized return on investment... yet one that also presents significant barbs and traps for the unwary or the unprepared.

The trick to threading the needle between these two sides lies in ensuring we as marketers are asking the right questions of our agencies and partners, our influencers and, crucially, ourselves when it comes to doing influencer marketing right.

These questions absolutely should (and must) include:

In 2019 lifestyle influencer Tiffany Mitchell ignited a firestorm of controversy for sharing pictures of what appeared to be a staged motorcycle accident. Worse, the posts appeared to be a thinly veiled (and improperly disclosed) advertisement for Smartwater. Partnering with creators who value authenticity over clicks has never been more important for brands hoping to make a lasting, and meaningful, impact on social.

1. What are we doing to ensure the influencers we’re working with are legitimate?

In a time when it’s easier than ever for digital personalities to inflate their online followings through artificial (and, ultimately, unethical) means, it’s more vital than ever  for brands and marketers to be vigilant and to have the right partners (and tools) in their corner.

Not just to audit the legitimacy and integrity of a creator’s audience and engagement, but also to ensure that a potential partner is not engaging in disingenuous practices like staging fake photo shoots to give the appearance of a lifestyle that is far from reality.

To this end, a seasoned influencer partner or team with the right processes and tools can evaluate any potential creator that might seem like a fit for your brand or campaign for the quality and legitimacy of their audience, their engagement and their content… long before a contract is signed and any sponsored content is published.

In January, 2022 old Tweets by lifestyle influencer Elle Darby resurfaced — revealing a history of racism and fat shaming in her social media posting that had gone unnoticed by many of the brands that had partnered with her. In 2022 and beyond, it’s crucial for brands to ensure the creators they partner with have been thoroughly vetted — including their past social media content — for red flags and past views/content that may drag them into a viral controversy.In January, 2022 old Tweets by lifestyle influencer Elle Darby resurfaced — revealing a history of racism and fat shaming in her social media posting that had gone unnoticed by many of the brands that had partnered with her. In 2022 and beyond, it’s crucial for brands to ensure the creators they partner with have been thoroughly vetted — including their past social media content — for red flags and past views/content that may drag them into a viral controversy.

2. What steps are we taking to ensure our influencers are right for our brand and not a potential liability?

Fake influencers, audiences or even content are just the beginning of the minefield that savvy brands looking to create effective influencer content have to navigate.  This is because even if an individual has a significant number of legitimate followers and engagements, and a long track record of creating quality content…  a sudden revelation of racist, sexist, problematic political views or other potentially harmful content in that influencer’s digital past can lead to an almost entirely avoidable PR crisis.  

There are multiple ways that a strong influencer marketing team (agency or internal) can help limit the chances of an embarrassing revelation like this. First, having a tool that searches through a potential influencer partner’s entire social media history for key words, phrases and problematic content is a great place to start. But even sophisticated automated tools can only go so far, and as a result, it’s important that your influencer marketing team is also manually vetting the candidates they’re considering partnering with.

- Which brands has this influencer worked with in the past? 

- Has this influencer ever published  potentially damaging content or statements related to illegal drugs, violence, racism or things of that nature? 

- Have they, at any time in the past, voiced opinions that either aged poorly or were never acceptable to begin with? 

- Does this influencer’s content and reputation, past and present, reflect well on our brand and align to our core values and reputation?

These are just a handful of the crucial questions every influencer marketing team needs to be asking with every creator they team up with in 2022 and beyond. The costs for failing to do so are simply too high to ignore.

When influencer Scott Disick accidentally left the posting instructions from his sponsor in the copy of his Instagram post, he didn’t just reveal the inauthenticity of his content and endorsements. He also inadvertently shone a light on the importance of finding influential partners who make a point of only partnering with brands that they have a meaningful, and real, connection with.

3. Are we treating our influencers as creative collaborators, or hired mercenaries?

At its best, influencer marketing can be the perfect combination of a powerful brand and a compelling storyteller – teaming up to deliver a compelling message to the right consumers in just the right way. When the stars all align, this can lead to an iconic partnership that doesn’t just reinforce the best of what a brand can be and is but also drives meaningful business results.

But the all too frequent flip side of that coin is when it’s painfully clear to all involved that a given creator is simply a hired gun. When it’s transparent that a sponsored creator cares little for the brand or product they’re ostensibly ‘promoting’. 

One of the most famous examples of a blunder along these lines came in 2016. To kick off an ambitious new campaign, Naomi Campbell published a sponsored post with Adidas that had the dubious honour of including copy straight out of the brand’s instruction email for the promotion. In addition to being an embarrassing error, it was also a revealing one: laying bare the utter inauthenticity the relationship between Adidas, Campbell, the product in question and her audience.

These kinds of influencer marketing fails are unfortunately far from a rare occurrence even today. They’re also why it’s crucial for brands to ensure they’re setting themselves, their influencers, and their campaigns up for success not only by being hyper selective about who they partner with (and whether those individuals have a meaningful connection to their brand/product) but also by truly collaborating with them as co-creators.

Influencer marketing, after all, is at its most powerful and most authentic when there is a meaningful meeting of minds – when two separate brands join forces to tell one harmonious story. Not when one brand is merely the hired, and dispassionate, mercenary of another.

When model Nikki Phillips teamed up with Unilever to promote one of their ice cream brands on social media in 2021, it seemed like a match made in heaven. There was just one problem: both Nikki and Unilever failed to ensure that the content followed industry disclosure practices for sponsored content. Leading to a sizeable backlash, a hasty edit from Nikki to include proper disclosures in the post copy, and a prompt apology from Unilever for the blunder.

4. What are we doing to make sure our influencer marketing is transparent and legal?

It might seem hard to imagine, but the amount of sponsored influencer content published daily (even by leading brands) that fails to follow fundamental disclosure guidelines is staggering. This is a problem not just for the brands and influencers that get caught breaking the rules (and the hefty public blowback and even fines that can result), but also the marketing world as a whole. 

As governments, oversight organizations and even consumers themselves (rightfully) ramp up their scrutiny on bad actors, it’s essential to ensure the partners you’re working with to help bring your influencer marketing to life are unfailing in their efforts to ensure that all relevant disclosure guidelines and all legal considerations have been followed to the letter before any and all content goes live.

Tim Hortons’ now iconic team-up with Canadian mega star Justin Bieber wasn’t just a great example of the right brand partnering with the right creator in an authentic and compelling way, it also drove real and measurable results for their business far beyond mere engagement on social media. In fact, Tim Horton’s CEO José Cil has since called it “one of the most successful traffic driving initiatives in recent memory.”

5. How are we defining meaningful success?

Oftentimes, too many PR agencies and influencer marketing firms are eager to report on how many impressions a given activation generated, or to focus on how many followers an influencer has. But never has such a myopic obsession with these types of vanity metrics been more meaningless and potentially misleading.

So let’s get serious. It’s 2022 and it has never been more possible for brands and marketers to not only define and establish meaningful goals for their digital marketing campaigns (yes, even when it comes to organic and influencer content) but to also transparently track, report on and optimize against their success.

This isn’t to say that awareness or engagement driving campaigns don’t have a place. They absolutely do. But it if your influencer marketing partners seem to be of the opinion that conversion-focused campaigns (whether in pursuit of sales, sign-ups, app downloads etc.) are impossible, inefficient or just too hard…then it is time to reconsider whether they are the right influencer marketing advisors for your goals.

Because the reality is just the opposite: conversion-focused KPIs can and should be the driving force of influencer marketing campaigns where appropriate and, when set and monitored correctly, the results can compete with almost any other digital channel or tactic out there.

All it takes is a team that not only values putting data at the heart of not only who they collaborate with…  but that also puts enormous care into how they leverage those partners to drive, measure and be held accountable to real results.

At the end of the day, influencer marketing can and should be a powerful tool in almost any brand marketer’s arsenal. But like any powerful tool with significant potential, that promise can be squandered if not thoughtfully approached with care, purpose and rigor. 

This means asking tough questions of not only the agencies and influencers we work with, but also of ourselves – from the moment influencer partners are first being vetted and approached, all the way through to content creator and performance tracking. Every step of the way requires care and precision.

And should you ever find yourself in need of a partner that imbues every influencer campaign they orchestrate with that level of attention to detail, we’re always just a DM away.

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Diamond, Tue, 20 Sep 2022 08:00:00 GMT