I have had the good fortune to work with a variety of consumer brands, particularly during their early stages and enjoy working with micro businesses and start ups who are developing their brand offering and aim to scale or at least grow their customer base. One of the key tactics that many consumer brands want to undertake when reaching their consumer base is influencer marketing, something that more and more PR agencies undertake as part of an integrated approach to strategic Public Relations. Brands can work with influencers through sponsored posts, paid content and gifting campaigns but the scope of influencer marketing requires a good understanding of intention, expectation, communication and of course measurement.
Some of key issues that come up time and time again when undertaking influencer marketing are:
- Knowing how much to pay influencers
- Understanding what influencers do and also understanding the perception of influencers
- Managing expectations on both the brand side and influencer side
- Knowing the difference between gifted reviews and paid content and the regulations that surround this
Offering influencers or content creators gifts is a relatively inexpensive way to commence the influencer marketing process with a potentially wide reach. This is not to say that it’s cheap or does not come with risks but if a small start up brand sets aside 30 items to send to 30 quality nano or micro influencers it will in the short to medium term be less expensive than perhaps paying 2-3 large influencers for a sponsored ad. This is all relative and depends on a number of factors but hopefully you can understand that this is a base point.
When working on a gifting campaign brands have to understand that influencers are under no obligation to post content about the gifts they received but they should ensure that expectations are clear before accepting gifts. I would always ask a content creator or influencer if they are working on any gifted item content or reviews. Large brands with big budgets can afford to send gifts (without necessarily expecting any kind of content or even a mention on social media) because it builds a relationship with the influencers who they know they’ll eventually want to work with on paid campaigns (this is in simple terms). For a large brand which would have a strategy in place for influencer relations, sending gifts without being tied to content requests or reviews is a good way to maintaining a relationship it is also a good way to test the water with new influencers or content creators with whom they are only just establishing a relationship with. For the most part small/micro/growing brands with minimal budgets send gifts with the hope that influencers/content creators will share content about the items with their audience. This is because even just a small brand is likely to feel the cost of sending an item more than a big brand for obvious reasons (this is not to say that they should not have already factored that cost into their business plans already).
Communication is essential – before sending a gift as part of a gifting campaign always ask if a content creator is working on any gifted content. Sometimes they are happy to review items on their platforms because it means they have more content to work on in their own time, sometimes they do not have capacity or cannot guarantee that they can post anything so brands have to respect the response (assuming they get a response and that the response is a respectful one). Brands should set out expectations and remember that a gifted review is EDITORIAL not ADVERTORIAL so there are no guarantees of even positive messaging. If you want certainty and guaranteed content based on your specific guidelines then look at carving up a budget for paid for content and ask for rates card. Allowing influencers or content creators the space to review items honestly though does allow for more authentic content so that is something to take into consideration. Also as soon as a brand has any input or control over the content creation process EVEN if the item in the content is a gift/freebie the content will be considered an advert based on ASA regulations.
A message to influencers: if you receive a message from a brand you have a choice so you can determine whether you have capacity to undertake a gifted review (remember this gives you more creative freedom than an AD). But maintain good relations & communication – there’s no need to simply ignore an email or respond rudely to a brand offering to send a gifted item. As long at the brand understands your terms and sets out their expectations then you should be able to communicate effectively as opposed to burning bridges.
Another important thing to take into consideration is what happens when influencers or content creators contact you outside of a set campaign to review a product and receive a freebie. In this instance the expectations of the brand would obviously be that the influencer/content creator would create content in exchange for the gifted item – if however an influencer contacts a brand for items to create content with, receives them in full but doesn’t do anything with them tensions can arise (read my piece on why people don’t like influencers)
This post is a starting point for both small/micro consumer brands and for influencers. In summary I would say that it is important to think long term and be strategic. Influencer marketing is exciting, effective and creative and it can offer great returns but there has to be clear communication and understanding from all parties to make it work. But when it works, it can work very well.