Under the influencers: what brands give up when they give in

The smartest marketers know they can't just dump their message into the audience of influencers and hope for the best, says RPA's J Barbush.

As Facebook pivots their news feed algorithm away from organic brand and publisher content, some feel influencers may reap the benefit and act as "message surrogates" for brands willing to pay. As nice a workaround as it may seem, marketing with influencers takes careful planning. 

What do brands gain when they try to use people as a means of distribution? And what do they give up as a result? Is it better to pay for ads on the platforms, or pay an influencer to pass your message along? Here are a few points to consider as you craft your strategy for 2018:

Their voice, your message
The smartest marketers know they can’t just dump their message into the audience of influencers and hope for the best. It’s important to work together to craft an idea that both carries the ethos of your brand and can be expressed in a way that is not off-putting to their audience. 

Not always an easy task, as sometimes the message gets muddled if you are noncommittal, riding that imaginary line between your brand and theirs. You know your client’s brand better than anyone, and influencers know their own brand in the same way. Meet in the middle, but don’t compromise the end product, or make it too salesy. 

Have an objective
And not just a vanity one. Something that is clear and measurable. These establish more control over the project and present a roadmap. Decide if you want distribution, craft or a little of both. Distribution is a means to an objective: reach, recall, consideration, etc. Craft is a different objective: storytelling, eyeballs, alignment between their brand philosophy and yours. As you determine the objectives, decide if you want content for your own channels or something widely distributed on theirs. Pick clear metrics and be relentless in their measurement.

Make sure your brand fits
Brand alignment comes in three parts: your brand, the influencer’s brand and their audience. Generally, their audience is very specific to their type of content, so make sure your brand and your content align. But don’t be afraid to look to new audiences that can be reached through non-category influencers. Analytics and strategy can, in the simplest of terms, determine what things your audience likes, where there’s strong alignment with your brand pillars and help find an influencer to spread that ancillary message. So car companies may want to look to a tech influencer, rather than simply use endemic auto influencers.

Control freaks need not apply
Agency creatives used to shooting boards, production schedules, broadcast-quality audio/video and director’s treatments may be disappointed. Often times, there is collaboration with the influencer, a general sense of the production, a schedule, and it’s off to the races. At this point, they are in control of the production until they send you a first cut. But remember, a brand’s nuances can sometimes be forgotten, and many times things may be too late to change. Also, influencers are not actors. They are not as easy to direct and sometimes are less polished in their performance. But that is part of their charm, and their audience really doesn’t care as much as you may. 

Brand safety is a real concern
Brought to light in no small part by Logan Paul’s tasteless video, brands once again must face the potential risk of attaching themselves to something—someone—not entirely in their sphere of control. No, not all missteps are as egregious as Paul’s. However, even though most influencers are brand-safe, the subtleties of your brand may be a challenge for influencers to navigate. It’s important that the agency establish and share brand guidelines, remain vigilant and empower the influencer to make the right choices.

As you craft your strategy, keep these points in mind. Using an influencer can reap rewards if done correctly. However, you will need to relinquish control a bit, and production may be different than what you are used to. Remember, success in this space involves having the right objectives, finding the right influencer/audience and collaborating throughout to achieve clear and measurable results.

J Barbush is VP / Creative Director, Social Media at ad agency RPA.

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