Influencers have been around for a very long time.
Gladiators, Greek Olympians, Popes & Kings – all were commissioned to publicise products in their day. Guiding consumer decisions is as old as society itself but there are some age old watch-outs as well as some fresh changes for an industry currently valued at around $13.8 billion and growing.
Golden era film stars endorsed cigarettes, rock stars promoted cultural uprisings and fashion. By the time the 1980’s came around the celebrity athletes and (pop culture) royalty were back – Less lions & chariots this time. Then “Hello World”, enter the internet and a world of social connection soon after.
What is happening right now?
We are well into a digital pendulum swing regarding the world of social influence. A few aspects of this widely exploited practice are shifting, namely context & approach.
The rise of social connection and influencers in the last decades initially reflected the traditional aristocratic mode – bigger was better and the famous names carried the most weight and results. Perhaps the (only) good thing to come from reality TV was that it prepared pop culture to lean into people who weren’t necessarily big names.
History continues to repeat itself and humans are once again turning their attention from the ruling titans toward more truth and authentic connection. It became apparent even with early YouTube studies that 70% of teens valued the opinion of creatives and trendsetters above traditional celebrities. The authentic content and friendship over fan-ship approach continues to drive trust and engagement rather than reach.
People are shifting to smaller voices for inspiration, advice, ideas and recommendations. As attractive as mega stars like Kylie Jenner and Chiara Ferragni are, most people don’t connect with millionaires when it comes to purchase or life decisions.
So how can brands go small to grow bigger and move in this more authentic space?
Performance Influencers & Production
You may have heard about performance campaigns on social media. You may have also heard about micro or macro social influencers. The natural evolution we’re seeing now are performance influencers, especially micro influencers.
This is essentially commissioning small to medium sized talent to create messages, creative and content then sponsoring the material in order to achieve scaled results such as awareness, clicks or conversions.
People don’t always want to be entertained by a big shiny production, they want real stories from relatable authorities; artists, video makers, bloggers, photographers, thought leaders. Content doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be real.
For anyone with a service or product to promote, creators are an authentic way to tap into the market but you need to choose them wisely. By engaging and briefing the right talent you can get the concept, the production and the media delivery all in one, be it organic or paid. The great news is that you can monitor the results in real time too if you use the right platforms.
How to get started
Creators come in every shape and size. From the micro-talent blogging about the most specific topics, through to the macro superstars with their hordes of loyal followers. Where to find and commission the right creators? There are a few ways.
Some of the large social platforms have their own self service portals which allow brands and the full spectrum of influencers to connect. I wrote recently about how to use Tiktok Creator Marketplace to find and commission great talent.
Platforms like Tiktok Creator Marketplace can be a powerful tool for commissioning talent and launching a successful campaign on social. Conversely, it can also be time consuming or even a waste of money if done badly, so enlist some help in this area if you aren’t fluent in ‘Gen-Z’.
An alternative approach is to brief an agency to create talent proposals and quotes for your desired outcomes. If you value your time it’s worth getting professionals involved.
Some age old watch outs
Ok, now for the practical fun. A wise person learns from other people’s mistakes, and I have made plenty so allow me to share a few. Here are my top watch-outs when it comes to working with Influencers & Creators:
1. Diva Dramas
Some creative talent can be difficult to work with. It is the unavoidable price to pay for engaging sensitive creatures who spend their days ‘creating’ for a living. I find the probability of a troublesome talent increases the bigger they get, but not always.
Do a bit of homework and decide if certain egos are worth the trouble. They often can be worth it. The same moody creative who screamed they would never talk to you again very often deliver something fantastic. But do have a robust contract in place. Money talks if talent go full ‘Mariah Carey’ on you.
2. Ardent Agents
The new wave of Creators are savvy and so are their managers. Full time talent will have representation in their corner who will both drive a hard bargain at the beginning and also protect them from anything out of scope. Be prepared to hear “talk to my agent”. It’s good that talent is looked after, just remember this is a business arrangement so make sure the agreement covers everything you need upfront. This is a good reason in itself to make an agency manage negotiations.
3. Creative Contrasts
An influencer’s creative integrity can easily be at odds with your brand guidelines. You are handing the reins to a creative who has very little to lose if their vision doesn’t match yours. The rewards and the risks deserve a proper appraisal if you are thinking to engage someone who walks a little closer to the wild-side than you normally do.
Most smaller influencers are less dangerous in this respect and will usually respect the rules, but in any case make sure your brief clearly defines the deliverables that you need as well as any no-fly-zones to avoid.
4. Savvy Strategies
I mentioned earlier that the right talent can provide concepts, production & delivery. This can be true but creators won’t land in the right zone unless you plan and direct them with clarity. Have a clear content strategy and get help writing the creator brief if needed. Clients might not always love the output of creators, but if their content strategically does the job you will be looking good.
5. Frauds & Fakers
You can tell when influencers don’t actually care about their sponsor, so choose talent that aligns with your values. You don’t want Mr Ronaldo removing your product from the table do you.
Another key watch-out is to check that their fans and followers are real and their posts are creatively interesting and get some actual views and engagement.
Last watch-out – Avoid product hustlers with a social feed full of fake smiles and dead-eye product placements. Nothing screams insincerity louder than a corny concept or lame acting. If possible, have a conversation or meeting to test the chemistry. I look out for that spark or proactive idea from the creator that shows the talent will do something interesting.
6. Creative Creators
I’ll end with a positive tip – let the talent be free! Write the brief, but allow them to do what they do best. The idea is to let a creator work in their own way in order to get authentic outputs. I always encourage the talent beforehand and let them know I’m genuinely excited to work with them and see what they create. It’s worth investing in relationship as you may strike gold and want to work together again. Also some rising stars are worth keeping close. Creativity is a risk, doubly so when enlisting someone you’ve not worked with before, but therein lies the fun.
Whether your organisation needs to talk to Zoomers, Boomers, X-ers, Alpha’s or the good old Joneses, there are specific talents and channels for talking to them.
If you would like some assistance jumping into the wonderful world of creators, ambassadors, advocates, referrers, loyalists, mega, macro and micro influencers… Get in touch.
Article by Dan Wheeldon – Strategic Partner