Almost half of marketers want total control over sponsored influencer posts, according to a recent study. Old habits die hard. For marketers used to masterminding a brand message and ensuring its implemented consistently, allowing influencers freedom to represent your brand, without strict guidelines, can feel like a new and daunting experience.
In the early days of influencer marketing, brands had little choice but to leave social ambassadors to interpret messages in their own voice. The ‘freebie in exchange for a post’ model was commonplace and marketers were left watching and waiting for a mention. But, as the industry has evolved into more formal paid partnerships, brands have felt entitled to more creative control over the work. In a sense, it’s understandable. After all, who knows the brand better than the brand itself?
But this control has an impact. Both on the quality of the work and the performance of the campaign. The beauty of social creators is they know how to convert, without the hard sell. At their best, collaborations feel like a recommendation from an expert you admire, or a style suggestion from the person you wished you dressed like. At their worst, shoehorned marketing jargon and unnatural references make them instantly recognizable as an ad and you lose the magic of authentic influencer marketing.
Chris Johnston, Director of Content & Operations at MediaCom Beyond Advertising told me: “We have consistently found that when you give influencers the freedom to apply their creativity to a brand brief, the results lift across the board. Good creative helps brands win in the (lack of) attention economy and influencers are best placed to deliver relevant and authentic content to their audience, helping brands capture it.”
What you need to do in 2020
To succeed in effective influencer marketing campaigns, that feel genuine and authentic, the industry needs to move away from creative direction and back to creator direction. Influencer marketing does not work in the same way as traditional advertising and that is its power. Marketers need to acknowledge that while it may be your brand, it is their audience and no-one knows how to connect with them better than the influencer themselves.
Loosening the creative reigns can be liberating. Influencers can do unexpected things and take risks on behalf of your brand. You could end up with more innovative content ideas than you could have imagined in-house.
Of course trust is essential and as the industry matures, we are seeing brands forming longer term partnerships with ambassadors, giving relationships an opportunity to build. Choosing the right influencers is also crucial. Creators that understand your brand and your target market are in a position to provide that insight. It’s chemistry that goes deeper than reach metrics. Selecting an influencer with a wide reach but little understanding of your brand values is a recipe for crippling creative control.
Issuing open briefs will also make creators a lot more excited and willing to go above and beyond for your brand. An influencer that I’ve worked with said: “Let them have as much creative autonomy as you can allow. I’ve had some brands who really try and push me in a certain direction and it hasn’t been ‘me’; an influencer’s audience follow them for their unique style, so trying and mold it into something else just isn’t going to convert.”
My biggest piece of advice would be to do your due diligence up front, so you feel confident enough to empower an influencer with creative control. Working with collaborators whose content output and authenticity you can trust will minimize the need for clunky pre-approvals and restrictive briefs. You won’t need to monitor so closely and the campaign content will thrive as a result.
Of course setting clear boundaries and campaign essentials, like hashtags are necessary, but when that is done, sit back, be brave and be blown away by the creative storytelling that comes back to you.