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How authenticity can make or break an influencer program


Influencers excel at creatively weaving your brand’s message into content that appeals to their audience – so make that the deliverable. Don’t ask them to say how great your product is

Jim Lin, Ketchum


Influencers can provide validation, advocacy, and amplification for brands. However, these moments are unpredictable, unscalable, and inconsistent. That’s why influencer marketing was born. It started with pitching bloggers. It then evolved into its own practice, involving agents and managers, content collaboration, complex contracts, PR/marketing/legal oversight, and money. And once money entered the equation, the whole question of authenticity arose. How could one trust an influencer to talk about a brand that was paying them? And how does one execute a program that leverages the influencer’s power, but also comes across as authentic?

It’s natural for PR people to consider influencers as advocacy tools. That’s a mistake. Yes, influencers’ advocacy can greatly impact brand reputation, but you shouldn’t pay for advocacy. It must develop organically. When you partner with influencers, what you should be paying for is relevant content. All brands must create content. All brands seek to be relevant to the audiences that consume their content. And our messages resonate best with specific audiences through the lens of those whom these audiences love.

Influencers excel at creatively weaving your brand’s message into content that appeals to their audience – so make that the deliverable. Don’t ask them to say how great your product is. Make influencers and their audiences come to that conclusion via experiencing your product or service in a compelling, relevant way. The advocacy should come naturally as an outcome. Pay for the creativity. Earn the advocacy.

Know what you want

I won’t sugarcoat this: Influencer marketing is not great for spiking sales, driving traffic, gaining exposure, or amplifying brand assets. It can move the needle, yes, but there are far better and more cost-efficient tactics to achieve them if those are your primary goals (sponsored social, search marketing, syndication, and direct marketing, for example).

What influencers do best is generate excitement or influence their audience’s perception and prevailing belief about a brand, issue, or topic. Be it by association with the influencer’s unique “brand,” relevance in how they convey the brand message, or just admiration and identification, influencers work best in the realm of intent and opinion. While not as immediate as metrics such as traffic or sales, these deeper metrics can significantly contribute to the long-term improvement of all other metrics.

Authenticity can make or break an influencer program. Today’s consumer is adept at calling out entities when something isn’t right, so make sure the content is believable. Would the influencer realistically use or enjoy your product? Would it be believable to their audience? Influencer marketing isn’t just about reach; it’s about integrating your brand with an influencer’s brand to create something authentic and compelling enough to move minds. If your product isn’t something the influencer would ordinarily use or enjoy, move on. Conversely, if the influencer doesn’t fit the essence of your brand in personality, values, or voice, their reach or affinity for your brand won’t help you.

Let them run with it

As brand stewards, it’s difficult for us not to critique and seek changes on influencer content as if it were an owned asset. However, by doing this, we dilute the influencer’s keen knowledge of exactly what will move their audience. You must trust them and relinquish creative control.

To avoid going off the rails, though, draft a detailed creative brief that includes the must-haves and must-not-haves to safeguard misrepresentation of your product, but let them do their thing once that brief is signed. They want to create great content because if they don’t, they lose their audience. Granted, you won’t always “get” or like their content, but it’s the influencer’s audience that needs to like it, not you. It’s hard to cede control, but you must. Influencer marketing isn’t easily mastered or perfected, but the above tips provide a vital foundation from which you can build a program that will deliver success.


Jim Lin is SVP, creative director (digital) at Ketchum, as well as the man behind the Busy Dad Blog.


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