Influencer relations is a hot topic in communications and done well, can be employed strategically as part of a PR programme to achieve campaign objectives. But, as a professional communicator, how do you go about having an ethical and effective approach to influencer relations?
In this guest post, Anne-Marie Lacey [pictured above, left] and Deb Sharratt [pictured above, right] share their top tips.
You know the saying, ‘If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well’ – it goes without saying that when it comes to identifying influencers to potentially engage with on behalf of the brands you’re representing, it’s worth doing well.
Vuelio lists 11,000 bloggers and vloggers, and across the world, millions of blog posts are written every day. So how do you sort the wheat from the chaff? Ensure that you’re putting your brand in front of the right people, who have the potential to help you reach a highly-engaged audience? And, those who share an affinity with your brand, its purpose and products?
There’s no short answer. You can use a platform to help you whittle down your search, but by no means is it a case of job done. Just like a traditional press list, creating and building an influencer list needs the same time, care and dedication.
Take the time to look up these influencers and make sure you do your homework. Does size matter? Don’t be bedazzled by big follower numbers if the target audience is all wrong and engagement figures are low. Otherwise, it’s just vanity metrics and ultimately won’t help you to achieve your strategic objectives.
First, take the time to get to know the influencer, their style and content. There’s only one way to do this and it’s a case of getting stuck in. Read their posts, watch their vlogs and follow them on social media to be sure that they are the right fit for the brand you’re representing. Look at what they write and talk about. Are they authentic? See how they engage with their audience. Do they only post quality content or are some of the blogs full of low-quality, paid-for follow links?
Ask to see media packs if they’re not clearly visible online, and really interrogate the data and their profile on Vuelio to whittle down your list. Above all, are they an influencer that you want your brand to be associated with?
Apply the KISS rule and keep your pitches simple, short and straight to the point. For fear of sounding like The Four Tops, when you ‘reach out’ to your target influencers, remember to answer the W questions in your pitch – who, what, where, when and why.
This is your opportunity to show the influencer that you know their channels, content and editorial style, as well as clearly being able to demonstrate how and why that influencer is the right fit for the brand. Remember, influencers ultimately create content – whether it’s a blog, YouTube video or Instagram post – for their audience. Make it clear in your pitch why their audience would be interested in the brand and in turn, why their channels are the right fit for your brand placement.
One last top tip when pitching is to try to avoid the scatter-gun approach – contacting a long list of influencers and offering them all the same thing. Asking for a product review? There’s nothing more frustrating for an influencer than when they work hard to produce essentially the same content as a handful of other influencers. It’s a competitive market out there for them too, and so they need something unique to engage their audiences with and keep them coming back to their channels for more. Consider exclusives, or different angles for the same product. Think about long-term relationships too – how can the influencer help you to progress the brand’s story and what opportunity is there for follow ups?
Be clear about payment too. Content creators are not the same as traditional media. Many will be expecting to be paid for the collaboration.
Now this is where we need you to listen, and listen carefully… the ASA has announced a review into how paid-for influencer and native advertising is signposted online, saying that misleading posts damage consumer trust in advertising and that filters back to the brands participating in this bad practice. We totally agree.
As professional communicators, we work hard to build relationships between brands and their target audiences, while doing all that we can to protect and preserve brand reputation. So, when working with influencers, it’s not only a legal requirement for you to get it right, ethically it’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure the integrity and trust in the brand you’re representing.
Once your influencer has engaged with you following your pitch and you’re working out the finer details of the agreement, you need to clearly outline your expectations – what you expect, deadlines, budgets and so on. This includes following the regulations set out by the ASA, CAP Code, CMA, Google and the different requirements of each and every social media platform this branded content will appear on. Not to mention, if you’re a member of the CIPR or PRCA, you also need to keep in mind the ethics of the respective Codes of Conduct too.
As a starter for ten, any paid-for content should also be clearly marked as an advert, when paid for, or when receiving product or experiences in kind and there has been some kind of editorial control by a brand – even just asking for a post, inclusion of a specific link or website hashtag is a form of editorial control.
It’s no good having this info buried at the bottom of a blog post – the nature of the brand’s relationship should be clearly marked in the title at the top of any piece of content so as not to be misleading to the audience and run the risk of unethically influencing followers, thereby potentially damaging the brand’s reputation. If the influencer is receiving payment or payment in kind by being gifted a product in order to fulfil their end of the contract, all links back to your brand’s website should be ‘no follow’ links. To be totally transparent, this should also be very clear on any social post linking to the article too.
We appreciate that influencer relations is an emerging discipline and can be a minefield to navigate. A handy way of asserting the nature of a piece of content created by an influencer is to remember the PESO model. If the content has been generated by an exchange of money or something of a monetary value, it is paid and therefore needs to be disclosed as such. If an influencer writes about your brand as your approach has brought it to their attention but there has been no value-exchange-transaction, that piece of content is earned, and so can contain follow links according to Google’s rules.
Moral of the story is, to get the most out of your influencer relations efforts, do your homework. From researching the right influencer, tailoring your approach and keeping up-to-date with the latest rules and regulations to setting out your stall and terms of business. As a professional communicator, it’s your job to protect the brands you represent, and the nuances of influencer relations is something we all need to get-up-to-speed with to do our job ethically and effectively!
Anne-Marie Lacey and Deb Sharratt are both PR & Marketing professionals, academic tutors and current Chair and Vice Chair of CIPR North East respectively, who work with influencers on a daily basis.
Deb also has her own family lifestyle, food and travel blog – My Boys Club. Anne-Marie is the current winner of the CIPR’s Outstanding Young Communicator Excellence Award, and is Managing Director of an award-winning PR and communications agency, Filament PR.