Why brands need to loosen the grip on influencers

Plus, three tips for brands working with influencers

Russ Martin June 10, 2016

If brands want their influencer programs to succeed, they need to loosen the grip and hand over creative control.

That was the chief takeaway from Social Media Week’s “Authenticity and Social Influencers” panel in Toronto on Wednesday.

When a brand hires an influencer, the content created belongs to the influencer, not the brand, and should be treated as such, said Gabe Mederos, who works in social media and PR at Telus. Brands can offer guidelines, but when they try to control the messaging, it ends up coming off stiff and inauthentic, Mederos said.

He listed the telecom’s recent “The Giving Effect” campaign as an example. Initially, the company met with its agency and came up with concepts for the influencers it was working with (including panelist and blogger Casie Stewart) to create. Then his team met one-on-one with the influencers and asked them for input. What they brought to the table, he said, was a better fit for both parties than what Telus had planned, and ultimately made for a better showcase of the brand.

En route to @TELUS at 25 York St. for #TheGivingEffect meetup! COME JOIN US BRING YOUR OLD ELECTRONICS! pic.twitter.com/WC2VwXaisy

— CASIE STEWART (@casiestewart) June 1, 2016

Handing over the reins to a brand can be a difficult proposition, especially for marketing and legal teams used to controlling the message.

When Telus first started working with influencers, its marketing team had some reservations. There was an expectation they’d be able to tell the influencers what to say, but, as Mederos and his team explained, this kind of marketing requires giving up some control.

“The reality is we’re not going to censor [influencers]” Mederos said. “We’re picking the influencers who have a relationship with our brand and if there’s concern what they post will be controversial or off-brand maybe we should reevaluate that relationship.”

Outside the marketing department, influencer marketing also requires getting legal on side. When Playtex Baby Canada started working with influencers, the brand’s associate brand manager, Kayleigh Dunn, said her team had to work closely with the company’s lawyers and educate them about what working with influencers requires.

The legal team was used to handing over hefty documents with constrictive rules about what can and can’t be said about the brand. Concerned dumping those rules on an influencer wouldn’t work, the company instead came up with a streamlined set of 10 do’s and don’ts to pass on to influencers it works with.

By finding a middle ground, Playtex was able to protect its brand while also tapping into influencers’ creativity and allowing them to speak in their own voice.

Here are three tips for influencer programs from the panel:

It’s not all about reach

When working with influencers, brands often go after those with the highest follower count or the largest subscriber base. The problem with this is twofold: first, brands should be looking for the right influencers, not necessarily the most popular ones. What matters most is the influencer fits with your brand – if they don’t, they won’t be able to get your message across. Second, in the influencer space, marketers should aim for engagement, not just views. If an influencer has thousands of views on a sponsored video, but no one is commenting or liking it, no one is engaging with the brand.

Negative sentiment isn’t always bad

Marketers are wary of anyone speaking ill of their brand, but Dunn has a different view of negative sentiment on social media. Instead of looking at negative comments as a hinderance, she said she sees them as an opportunity. Unless you know what problems consumers have with your company, how can you change for the better?

Influencer marketing is like dating

Melissa Shadd, one half of the blog Vanessa and Melissa, compared influencer marketing to dating. In the dating world, you have to date around before you find a relationship that feels right – and the same goes for influencer marketing. Influencers, Shadd said, should go through a courting period with brands before they start to work together to see whether the relationship feels right and whether the influencer’s audience will respond to the products the brand is promoting.