The Wild Wild West of Digital Influencers

Influencer using smart phone to take photo of food

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but is it worth $1,000? That depends on who the post is coming from.

Influencer campaigns have proven to be extremely effective even when traditional media has struggled to gain its footing in the digital world. While working with influencers can produce similar results to that of traditional media coverage, especially for consumer-focused campaigns, the process of working with influencers can be quite different and the rules are often hazy.

A History of Influencers

Marketing and advertising pros have long since tapped influencers as spokespeople for brands dating back to the Queen and the Pope promoting the use of general medicine to common people. The concept of a digital influencer, however, has only become popular in recent years and it’s still developing. What qualifies someone as a digital influencer is up for interpretation – is it the number of followers? Anyone can buy those. Level of engagement? That’s all relative to their follower count. Is it quality of content shared? Yeah, that seems important.

It’s some combination of those things, but the truth is there is no industry standard so anyone can claim to be a digital influencer. There is no professional society of influencers, no set of ethical standards to abide by and, because there isn’t a ton of information out about influencers and their results, there’s no set pricing structure or market for advertising or working with them.

Recently, the FCC put regulations into place requiring influencers to post any endorsements with #ad, although, this is rarely regulated.

The cost of working with influencers can vary greatly from person to person. Some may only request a trade for product or services, while others always require payment. It’s important to remember that just like traditional media, influencers are dedicating their time and efforts to generate content and they expect to eventually monetize what they are doing.

Start With The End Goal

Once we understand that influencers don’t have set standards for how they work with brands or even set pricing, how can you know what to expect from them and the best way to get results that help your bottom line? It all boils down to strategy and budget.

As with traditional media and public relations, always start with the story and the audience you are trying to reach. At RPR, we first dig deep into what we want to convey for a client and then match that goal with a relevant publication or target outlet. The process is similar for influencers because many influencers focus on very specific subjects so we are able to directly reach people interested in those topics through strategic targeting.

For example, in 2018 we worked with an environmentally-focused brand that sold toilet paper from recycled materials. Through a targeted campaign that utilized micro-influencers with followings who showed interest in sustainability and eco-friendly initiatives, we were able to track direct sales that resulted from partnership posts.

When it comes to budget, we have to be realistic. These days almost any influencer worth their salt is charging or expecting something in return for sharing content so a budget should always be set aside for influencer payments. Pricing can vary greatly and there is no set science to knowing if a specific partnership will work, but we advise clients to be flexible with budget and understand that part of influencer marketing is trial and error. With so many algorithms and other factors at play on social media, it can be difficult to pinpoint when is exactly the best time, message, etc. to post for an influencer.

Negotiate & Get It In Writing

The positive side to the chaos is everything is negotiable. In a good partnership, the influencer will want your team to see results so you want to work with them again and again. Select partners who will allow you to tweak messaging or change the timing of posts to improve results and get confirmation that they will do this in writing – but also give them the freedom to make creative decisions they know their audience will respond to best.

Although it may seem like the Wild Wild West when it comes to digital influencers right now, in some ways it’s not all that different from a traditional public relations and marketing approach. Starting with the end goal in mind and developing a strategy around that is the first step to establishing a mutually beneficial relationship that earns you results.