Instagram vs. Reality: Setting Expectations in an Influencer Program

Written by: Dana Schmidt

If the term “influencer” elicits an eye roll, think again. There is definitely a perception of a certain type of social media celebrity whom companies pay to travel the world in bohemian fashions or send boxes upon boxes of free products, just for the chance to be featured in a sponsored photo. In actuality, the word “influencer” has been around since 1662. Long before anyone could have even conceived of the internet, people looked to opinion leaders for recommendations. Today’s Instagrammers, YouTube vloggers, and TikTok stars are the most recent version of this role, and it’s in every marketer’s best interest to understand and leverage the power that they wield on their platforms.

Finding the Right Influencers

Start by asking yourself, “Who is speaking to my audience?” The key is finding the conversations that are already happening in your space, rather than trying to start a new one. Instagram tends to be a popular platform for influencers, but if your audience isn’t active there, search elsewhere. The last thing you want is to invest time and money into a collaboration that feels forced just because you got approval to reach out to a TikTok influencer.

Once you’ve identified the best social media platform and type of influencer you’d like to work with, research trending hashtags related to your brand. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have an influencer proactively engage with your brand, you can skip ahead to the vetting process. But for most organizations, this research phase is time-consuming yet critical.

Next, review your shortlist of potential influencer partners and evaluate their activity:

  • How often are they posting? What other channels do they use? Ideally, you’ll find a consistent schedule and one to two platforms that are really strong with high community engagement.
  • Are they consistently engaging with followers in the comments or sharing follower content? If there are tons of unanswered questions or neglected comments, look elsewhere.
  • What kind of engagement are they earning? If they have an exorbitant amount of likes with few comments, it could be a sign of fake followers or bots. Similarly, if the only comments on the posts look spammy or robotic, there’s a good chance the “followers” you’re seeing were purchased and therefore not the authentic community you’re looking to interact with.
  • What other brands have they worked with recently? Do these brands align with your values?
  • How often are they posting sponsored content? If they’re working with too many sponsors, it can overwhelm their audience and ultimately lower their engagement rate.

After you’ve vetted your candidate, reach out with your ask. It’s often best to start the conversation directly through the channel via direct message. Macro-influencers are more likely to have a link for collaboration requests in their bio, so you can follow up the in-channel message with an email. Much like pitching a journalist, it’s customary to cite a recent piece of content that caught your eye. Demonstrate that you’re familiar with their work and explain how your product or service aligns with their brand. Include your professional email address and encourage them to move the conversation to that setting for additional details.

Leave Room for Creative Freedom

As content creators and experts in their space, influencers will often come to the table with their own ideas on how to create a mutually beneficial partnership. If they’re open to it, set up a call to talk through their ideas and to learn what’s really resonated with their community in the past.

A starting point could be proposing a co-promoted giveaway, where you provide the influencer with free products to be given away to their community through a series of posts.

For instance, if your product is a health supplement, and you’ve partnered with a fitness influencer on YouTube, you can offer a dozen free samples to be raffled off in a contest that the fitness pro hosts from their channel. You’re providing something of value directly to their community, which benefits the influencer just as much as you enjoy the exposure. Terms of the contest could involve following both your company’s social channel and the influencer’s channel so that you would see an increase in connections from your target audience in addition to the increase in awareness.

Addressing Payment & Expectations

At some point in the conversation, the question of payment will arise. For certain influencers, content creation and the sponsorships associated with it are their livelihoods. Many have media kits with formalized fees for different campaigns and the quantity or format of posts. If you’re not provided with any kind of quote, it’s still not safe to assume the partnership is free. Offering complementary products or services in exchange for coverage on their platform may be sufficient. Whatever payment is determined, it should be confirmed in writing before the campaign begins. Expectations should be clear on both ends — the type and tone of content your company anticipates, and the compensation an influencer receives for creating said content.

In addition to compensation, discuss these expectations up front to make sure you and the influencer work together effectively:

  • Content rights: Will you be able to use any photos or video created during the partnership in a social media ad campaign at a later date? Could you use the content on billboards? If so, how should credit be attributed?
  • Voice and tone: Does the influencer have a solid understanding of your brand’s style? What words or phrases absolutely should not be used in conjunction with your brand?
  • Workflow: Are you comfortable with the influencer publishing content without your approval first? Who is the point of contact who will handle approvals and questions?
  • Reporting: What kind of analytics would you like to see at the completion of the arrangement? Are you providing the influencer with a hashtag, “UTM code” for campaign reporting, or a unique promo code so that you can track success on your end?

Once you have agreed on expectations for your partnership and the campaign is in motion, monitoring activity is absolutely key. If the influencer has agreed to post to their own channels directly, closely follow their content. As their audience reacts to the photos and videos being shared, find meaningful ways to engage by liking comments and inserting your brand into the conversation when appropriate. It’s a delicate balance because you still want to leave space for the influencer to engage with their own community. When in doubt, include this in the “expectations” conversation at the beginning of the partnership.

Looking to launch your influencer program?

For more recommendations on working with influencers, order Social Media is About People by CEO Cass Bailey and Chief Strategy Officer Dana Schmidt. You can always contact our team of experts to help get your influencer program started.

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