Best Practices for Influencers looking to Partner with Brands
Ricky Ray Butler
Since 2008, our integration experts at Branded Entertainment Network (BEN) have been fostering brand deals with digital influencers and content creators. During this time, we have learned how to best work with brands and influencers to create successful campaigns.
Brands and agencies use the term ‘digital influencers’ to label a variety of content creators on multiple platforms (e.g. YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat) who create meaningful content that drives meaningful action to a coveted audience. Digital influencers are in high demand as they have become the hottest trend to hit advertising in the last few years. According to a recent Ipsos study, 95% of branding professionals believe it is important for brands to engage with these digital influencers.
The greatest appeal for brands is that influencers produce custom content for loyal and established audiences who trust the influencers. Building their audience from nothing, influencers know how to communicate and engage with their audience better than anyone. This gives influencers the power to continue to be the creative directors of their work while partnering with brands to help fund their creative endeavors.
With this high demand, a great deal of opportunity emerges for influencers to build their content portfolio to attract and sustain brand partnerships. We have compiled this list of top four tips when working with brands to help influencers, such as yourself, that are looking to get into product integration and brand sponsorships.
You have spent a lot of time and effort building your audience so it is imperative that you stay true to yourself, your content, and your audience with all product integrations and brand sponsorships. Being selective in the brands that you work with gives you the ability to best communicate brand messages to your audience, while protecting the integrity of your content.
When considering product integrations and brand sponsorships, ensure that the brand’s objectives are in line with your vision and audience expectations. It is okay, even encouraged, to say no to brands whose messages don’t feel appropriate for your personal brand. In fact, the majority of experienced influencers that we work with turn down over 50% of the opportunities presented to them because they do not feel that it is the right fit. Some agencies and brands are new to the process of influencer marketing and might not yet understand what works best, so they will thank you once they have experienced launching a few campaigns and understand the process. They will also trust you in the future, knowing that you are honest about content that will not resonate with your audience and will therefore not perform well.
You are the creative director of all content that you create and share. When brands force content direction, your audience will catch on and can react negatively towards it. Make sure to work with the brand to figure out a way to best integrate the messaging in an organic, natural way. It is equally important to recognize that sometimes it just doesn't fit. If this is the case, don't force it and consider passing on the opportunity.
Only accept projects you know you can be passionate about and are excited to share with your audience. Your audience can tell when it is about the money or if the project is something that you are not truly excited about, and won’t be afraid to call you out.
The majority of influencers are very good at disclosures and maintaining authenticity, but it is important to stay up to date on disclosure guidelines from the appropriate agencies in your country such as the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S., the Advertising Standards Authority in the U.K.
Years ago, the standard for disclosure had been somewhat ambiguous. Since 2015, however, the FTC has made it much more clear:
Disclosures should be clear and conspicuous, straightforwardly identifying the relationship between the brand and content creator. Generally, this means, at a minimum, disclosures in the content that match the form of endorsement (verbal vs. written), and a disclosure at the entry of the description area.
If you are unsure if your disclosure is adequate, ask the agency or brand that you are working with as they should be trained regarding FTC disclosure guidelines. Have them provide you with a simple document, separate from the contract, that outlines disclosure expectations avoiding any confusion. However, it is best to familiarize yourself and stay updated on the guidelines to make sure you are properly following them in each integration.
Striving to have content appear authentic does not justify dishonesty. It is not only required that you are upfront and clear that material is sponsored, but it will produce better results than if your viewers perceive deception on your part. Contrary to what many marketers and content creators believe, research from Peg.co has found that adequate disclosures do not negatively affect the performance of branded content. In fact, the last 10 years has seen a 10% increase of positive sentiment, as measured by "likes" versus "dislikes," toward content clearly labeled as sponsored. Your viewers will appreciate the transparency and understand that brands are simply supporting your creation of the content they already love.
Maintaining long-term relationships with brands and agencies ensures additional opportunities down the road. As someone who has spent time developing a channel, you already understand the importance of setting goals, making a plan, and hitting key deadlines. Working with a brand requires the same level of organization. Remember, at the end of the day, this is business.
Be sure to hit the deadlines laid out in your contract and stay communicative throughout the process. It is unprofessional for brands to have to chase you down for your deliverables, and it won’t go unnoticed. If you stay professional and make it easy for brands to work with you, it is extremely likely that the relationship will expand and they will consider you for future opportunities.
Ensure a full understanding of the contract so that expectations from both sides are simple and clear. If the deliverables and deadlines aren’t clear, don’t be afraid to ask questions. It is better to have everything over-clarified so you don’t miss any deadlines.
While many brands have started to integrate influencer content into their marketing mix, it is still an emerging practice with a learning curve. Obstacles may arise as well as points in the process where your vision may not match the brands.
Focus on the solution rather than the issue. Listen to the brand’s concerns carefully and use your expertise to find an answer that works for you, the brand, and your audience. Stay flexible while trying to find a solution and remember that brands are looking for good partners in the space so at times, compromise may be necessary.
Educate the brand where necessary. If their approach is not the best for your audience, present to them multiple options which work better, and explain to them why each one would be a good fit to absolve issues coming from both sides.
The best campaigns that we’ve seen have thrived when brands and content creators are in sync, putting their audience first. To do that, both sides must be invested in a collaborative ecosystem, so you can focus on making great content that speaks both to the brand messaging and your voice while resonating effectively with your audience.
With more sponsorships and brand deals than ever, this is an exciting time to be in the industry of influencer marketing. Following these four tips aims to help you secure more sponsorship opportunities and have less headache during the deal-making process.