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:
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.
I’ve been thinking about the concept of support recently; how we define support, how we measure support and how we value support. In human relationships “support” is seen as a means of holding someone up, being a consistent presence who sometimes shares the responsibility or the strain of whatever is going on life. Support can be financial and it can be emotional or it can simply be a way to help. In business, being supportive comes in very similar forms but I think social media has had an impact on how we are identifying and recognising different types of support.
Ask yourself what does support look like in your world in a business and even professional context. With the rise of social media we have developed a habit or even desire for instantaneous gratification. This means that for some people leaving a comment, retweeting or liking a social media post is the support that they can quantify and measure. It is a visible representation of support and symbolic of our technological inter-connectedness. In my opinion social media has had an impact on our very way of being, our collective psyche and how we communicate that’s why some people are convinced that if people do not show support via social media that they are not being supportive. But I have come to the realisation that this type of rationale is quite detrimental to how we view our networks. Social media engagement is quite fleeting, in order to remain satisfied we have to constantly be in the midst of seeking out engagement and being visible which puts a lot of pressure on our network but also on us as business owners or professionals to monitor who is liking and sharing every single post. I remember when I started my YouTube Channel I was nervous and projected some of my nerves and fears using the logic that people were not commenting on my YouTube videos and that no one was sharing my YouTube videos and so I thought that they were not supportive. However I came to some important realisations through that experience. First of all I didn’t make my videos for my friends and actually they don’t have to be interested in my content if it’s not for them, when I figured this out I started to put things into perspective. When I brought it up with some friends (because it’s important to have honest conversations offline with people you care about before you resent them) I realised that some of them had been sharing and telling people who would be my target audience which actually had more lasting impact. But then I really started to just go back the core of what support really means to me I realised that support is more than just the physical or obvious. And look there are plenty of people who follow me on social media but don’t like my posts but people are just busy and they have other things on their mind that are more important than liking posts but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. To be honest it also doesn’t mean I should spend time over-thinking why they haven’t liked a post and neither should you.
You’re not entitled to anyone’s support, nobody asked you to start your business. You have to undertake the appropriate research to see if there’s a demand outside of your immediate network.
I want to remind you that just because people are not necessarily engaging with every single piece of content that you share or if they cannot physically attend every single event that you are part of it doesn’t mean they do not want to see you succeed, the right people are supporting you in the best ways that they can. Taking it back to business, some parts of my network are not going to be my clients so cannot support me directly or financially but they speak my name in rooms that I cannot enter/I’m not in or keep me in mind when there are opportunities to refer me to. I’ve had so many opportunities from people who have recommended me and I didn’t even know that they were even paying attention to what I was doing but they hear something that they know would be a good business opportunity for me and bring me in.
For me support can come from a spiritual place, there are a lot of people in my life who are not on social media or rarely use social media and yet they’re very supportive through words of encouragement and even through words of prayer and affirmation. Just because they’re not physically writing it down their prayers are an even more powerful means of support that protects and encourages me. I want to reiterate the importance of talk about spiritual support because for me prayer is really important. I strongly believe that there are people in my life who are supporting me through prayer and there are people in my life who are speaking words of goodness, joy and abundance into my life. I want to ask you what that means to you and how you can use this perspective to redefine what support looks like in your life. Look at how people show their support during challenging times, when the chips are down who can you call and visit? Who will give you space to be yourself outside of the pressures and stresses of your business?
Of course we are not living in a Utopian society, there are going to be some people who are not necessarily for you and who do not want to see you win. They’re not champions of anything you do in fact they might discourage you and be confidence killers, however they show up in your life, whether it is online or offline seek discernment. You will know who is for you and who is not for you if you pay attention but do not allow it to consume you. You have to ask yourself why it bothers you that those who aren’t for you don’t support you – to me that is a need for validation and by constantly seeking validation we can never truly be satisfied. Sometimes you have to have an upfront conversation or sometimes you just have to keep it moving but do not let misunderstandings block you from good relationships and do not let unrealistic expectations keep you disappointed in people. So take the time to think about what support looks like to you and how you can give and receive support more authentically and openly moving forward.
This interview clip featuring Vice-Chair and MD at Morgan Stanley, Carla Harris, which highlights the power of relationships is so powerful that I want everyone to watch and share it.
I have reiterated this message during any private consultations or seminar sessions that I facilitate on personal branding and networking. In the PR industry, relationships are key and can make or break a brand or even an individual’s career journeys. I encourage clients and contacts to understand that the same principles which apply to business brands can often apply to individual brands, not just entrepreneurs but professionals too. For too long we have worked under the narrative that hard work is enough, particularly as Carla mentions, within Black communities. The idea that hard work will get us to where we want to get to is not entirely true and we can see that when we look at who often holds the keys to power in society and we look at structures like “The Old Boys’s Network”. It is undeniable that hard work leads us to the the standard doors of opportunity but the rules of the game of life are not simply based on how many qualifications we have or (unfortunately) how hard working we are, the power of relationships reminds of this time and time again. Hard work can get us to the door but it won’t always open up the door or even get us through that door. We need to build and maintain the right relationships – recognise who you are, identify what you want and use who you really are to build relationships that will get you to where you want to go in life. By building the right relationships, for the right reasons and by maintaining authentic, intentional and purposeful communication within those relationships you can go so much further. The energy flow within those relationships should be genuine; give as much as you receive, don’t become a taker or user, build trust and a clearly defined reputation. Build relationships that add value to all involved, relationships that enrich spaces not as a means to stroke egos stand the test of time. By all means continue to work hard but remember that relationships will work just as hard to get you to where you want to get to. Watch Carla Harris’ full interview here.