Influencer marketing has emerged as one of the hottest trends in advertising. A recent IPSOS survey found that 86% of marketers allocate budget for influencer campaigns. Given influencer marketing’s widespread adoption, we wanted to share what we’ve learned from 10 years of activating influencer campaigns.

Learning 1

Brands Should Empower, Not Disrupt content

Influencers have an audience because of their unique creative style and content. They know what content resonates best with their viewers. Regardless of whether you are working on a streaming, film, TV, or influencer integration, the golden rule of brand integration remains the same – if it doesn’t add to the story or experience it shouldn’t be there.

Too many brands view creators as human digital distribution. Brands must partner with influencers to create content that will work with their audience. The content creator is the most qualified person to communicate to the audience that they have built themselves and therefore should be the creative director.

Marketers should strive for alignment between brand objectives, influencer vision, and audience expectations for a successful collaboration. We diagram this approach as the ‘consensus triangle’. The brand provides the objective, influencers the creative solutions, and viewers are happy to view empowered content. When the content is elevated by the brand, engagement and positive sentiment towards that brand will always follow, creating the best kind of advertising.

In instances where this alignment is not considered, such as when brands force content direction, campaign performance suffers. Influencers and audiences are sensitive to disruptions, and easily identify when brands have inorganically inserted themselves into a content experience.

Marketers shouldn’t get hung up on creating the biggest and most complex content. Simple content often performs the best and can drive the most engagement for brands and products.

Learning 2

Have a Process and Stick to It

ABC – Always be communicating. Having robust systems and processes ensures a unified brand message and a consistent stream of effective and engaging content. Delivering pieces of content from multiple individuals demands standardization and communication. This means setting standards that are simple and applicable to different influencers.

Set the expectations. Just as you would for a customer or contractor, specific deliverables for influencer campaigns should be agreed upon in advance – each and every time. Contracts should be clear and simple to avoid any confusion.

Review materials received. To ensure that all branding, objectives, and requirements are met, marketers should have at least three eyes look at every piece of content before it goes live. This involves specifying a review process beforehand from creator to brand and back again. Given the need for review and revisions, keep your timelines realistic.

Have an internal structure. Brands and creators need to keep things organized with assets and requests flying back and forth. There should be 100% alignment between various internal teams and the influencer. This is achieved by up-to-date records and management of content.

Process makes the workflow between brand and influencers smooth and fulfilling. The resulting campaigns will perform better as well.

Learning 3

Disclose the Collaboration

Whether you’re producing one or several hundred pieces of content, disclosures are #required. Striving to have the content appear authentic does not justify dishonesty.

Being upfront and clear that the material is sponsored is not only required, but will drive better results than deceptively hiding the disclosure. Research has found that adequate disclosures do not negatively affect the performance of branded content. There is no correlation between FTC compliant disclosure and engagement. Viewers appreciate transparency and understand that brands are simply supporting the creation of the content they already love. As a brand, you should want consumers to know you're collaborating with their favorite creators.

The standard for disclosure has been ambiguous in the past, but the FTC has recently begun to enforce content disclosure by bringing lawsuites against several creators and brands. Moving forward, expect more disclosures to be clear and conspicuous, identifying the relationship between the brand and content creator. At a minimum, disclosures in the content should match the form of endorsement (verbal vs. written), and a disclosure at the entry of the description area is advisable. To ensure that disclosures are present and compliant in all sponsored videos:

  • Stay up to date on FTC and other countries (ASA in UK) disclosure guidelines. Have your team frequently trained regarding FTC disclosure guidelines, as they have been updated several times in the past few years.
  • For our influencer partners, we created a simple document, separate from the contract, that outlines disclosure expectations. We also provide our staff a disclosure checklist that so all parties ensure they are covered.
  • Have multiple individuals, including a compliance officer, review the material for FTC compliance. Content should also be monitored after it is published to ensure it is continually compliant.

Learning 4

Engagement Metrics Are Key

Discrepancies and opinions on how to measure influencer marketing performance are abundant. Is it about reach or engagement? Can you describe your goals? And what do any of these metrics mean?

PerformanceIN surveyed almost 100 participants to get to the bottom of the issue and find out how to best measure the ROI of influencer marketing (chart results). The results ranged from channel growth, to trackable links, to impressions but engagement took the win with a quarter of the respondents replying it was the most important.

Survey by PerformanceIN on how best to measure Influencer marketing

Our Global Chief Campaign Officer, Ricky Ray Butler, believes engagement provides an opportunity to take a deeper look at individual campaigns, which marketers can use to establish strategies for future projects.

“It’s not just about the fact they visited the site, but what did they do with that visit? Did they research products? How long did they spend looking at content? Or did they just bounce and disappear straight away?” – CCO Ricky Ray Butler

Reach and impressions are useful to understand how many people saw your message, but engagement provides a deeper understanding of how your campaign was received. Likes, comments, and shares show the effectiveness of your creative and action taken as a response to your creative. Engagement give you audience sentiment while impressions simply tell you the size of the audience. Most importantly – engagement is the key metric that can inform how to improve your future campaigns.

Learning 5

Have a Content Strategy, Not One-Offs.

What ever happened to Chewbacca Mom? Attempting to go viral with one-off videos and big talent is not a lasting strategy. Singular performance and influencer reach are difficult to guarantee, and virality of a single asset is impossible to predict. Even when one does hit, it fades and loses traction quickly resulting in underperforming campaigns.

Instead, integrating into content from a variety of influencers with a history of performance will guarantee that a campaign hits predetermined key performance indicators (“KPIs”) and creates a path to scale influencer campaigns. This allows a brand message to reach a growing and differentiated audience, as each individual influencer’s audience is exposed.

We’ve found a hybrid approach of combining both high reach and smaller influencers with avid followings achieves the best results. Some brands may believe that working with the biggest, top-tier influencers produces the best results, but there is no correlation between large reach and higher engagement. In fact, mid-tier influencers often have loyal, niche audiences that drive huge engagement. Overlooking this pool of creators is a mistake.

Unlike a traditional ad - executed by a creative agency, studio, and distributed by a media agency - content creators are both studio and distribution. While an ad will deliver a prescribed message with a prespecified reach, an influencer campaign will deliver a series of creative solutions to layered and varied audiences. The core brand objectives and message form the connective tissue that link the influencers and audiences into a campaign.

Marketers should resist becoming emotionally attached to any specific influencer. It’s important to work with influencers who are most passionate about your project and brand. They will be better partners and it will reflect in the campaign’s quality. After thousands of integrations over the years, we’ve found that about 60% of top-tier influencers will pass on a projects that don’t fit into their schedule or personal brand.

In sum, find the right partners, don’t focus on only the big guys, and remember that your campaign objective should add to the content! If marketers do so, they’ll find big success in attracting influencers’ massive pools of consumers.

Learning 6

Know Your Goals

Remember that chart above, showing how top marketers are unable to agree on a single metric? Well, a marketer never has singular goals.

Influencer marketing is just another, newest tool at marketers' disposable (albeit a powerful one), and all the traditional metrics and approaches to ROI can be applied. While we recommend engagement as the most reliable metric to measure your campaigns, one can layer other tools like trackable links or impression tracking to fulfill individual reporting needs. All will depend on what the brand defines as success.

A Case Study

on Influencer Audience and Power

The announcement of Vine’s closure at the end of 2016 marked a sad, nostalgic day for digital content creators. Yet, it offers a brilliant case on the clout of a new cohort of influencers. As Vine declined, creators migrated toward YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook – attracted to larger content monetization opportunities. Once the most prominent influencers on Vine started to desert the platform for more lucrative social channels offering a wider range of creative content possibilities (i.e., not limited to a six-second format), the writing was on the wall.

Vine’s misfortunes highlighted a major learning for the influencer marketing industry: Fans are loyal to influencers, not platforms. Those same Viners, based on the authentic connection they had with their audiences, migrated their engaged fans to YouTube and other platforms.

The same phenomenon of loyal influencer followings has allowed many influencers to build audiences across several platforms and garner even more reach and engagement. These audiences follow their creators across platforms because they see them as more than just celebrities but as best friends. For example:

  • 70% of teenage YouTube subscribers say they relate to YouTube creators more than traditional celebs.
  • 40% of millennials say their favorite creator understand them better than their friends
  • 63% of 13-24 year olds would try a product recommended by a YouTube creator vs. 48% for a movie or TV star.
Sources: Deloitte, ‘Navigating the Digital Divide’; Ipsos Connect / Google, ‘The YouTube Generation Study’; Hunter Qualitative Research / Defy Media; all 2015

In sum:

  • Brands Should Empower Content, Not Disrupt It
  • Have a Process and Stick to It
  • Disclose the Collaboration
  • Engagement Metrics Are Key
  • Have a Content Strategy, Not One-Offs
  • Know Your Goals

Influencers are a powerful weapon for brands of all sizes. To find out more or work with our team of experts click below.