This post is the first of five we're releasing as part of our influencer strategy thought leadership series. You can download the full guide as a PDF right here.
Recent years have seen an influencer marketing boom. Along with the increased demand by brands and agencies for influencer marketing solutions, we've also seen the number of influencer marketplaces and databases dramatically increase.
There's a problem with the way the industry is trending, however: influencers now have very little loyalty to individual brands. When brands can sign up for one of a thousand different influencer databases and swipe a credit card, they get an influencer who's playing the field -- someone who works for both Coca Cola and Pepsi, for instance. Alternatively, brands may get a first-time influencer from an unvetted database and feel a sense of buyer's remorse.
High-quality influencers are now a seller's market. While there are millions of "influencers", there is still only a relatively small cohort of Influencers-with-a-capital-I. Due to the commoditization of influence, what this results in is many brands reusing the same influencers, influencers hopping from brand to brand, influencers completing only the minimum requirements, and a decline in both content quality and engagement with rising prices.
Influence is Out, Advocacy is Back
Before influence became commoditized, brands had to work for an influencer's loyalty, and vice versa. Marketing programs were a collaboration between brands and social media influencers, and the quality of influencer programs was at its peak. This indeed is the reason influence became commoditized in the first place: it worked, and it worked well.
When brands and influencers develop long-lasting, genuine relationships and partnerships, we see an increase in engagements, an increase in ROI, and an increase in content quality. This, therefore, should be your goal in 2020: don't buy influence. Instead, develop a network of influential brand advocates.
Where Advocates Beat Influencers
How does a brand know when they're successfully developing advocates or not? Here are some traits we commonly see in the loyal advocate tier of influencers, that database-purchased influencers typically do not reflect:
Advocates will generate more content than was asked for.
Example: a brand customer of ours ran an Instagram-focused influencer campaign. The brief called for three Instagram images only. Several influencer advocates took the initiative to also develop videos, posting them on their blog and as Instastories. This significantly increased the campaign's ROI.
Advocates are proactive in communication with the brand.
Example: a few weeks or months after the successful completion of a campaign, we often see advocates reaching out to the brand asking for feedback and new opportunities.
Advocates talk about the brand outside of campaigns.
Example: we often see advocates re-tweeting or posting other social media of the brand outside of official campaigns.
Advocates are less picky about payment terms.
Example: an influencer negotiates a price of, say, $500 per campaign with the brand. They successfully complete several campaigns at this price. Eventually, the influencer "levels up" and can demand a higher price in the market, but they continue working with the brand at the $500 price. This is a great source of value and ROI for the brand.
Advocates become friendly with brand managers.
Example: we, and our brand customers, receive lots of holiday cards and small gifts from top influencer advocates. The influencer has developed a relationship with the brand outside the strictly professional setting of a campaign.
These are the types of traits that advocates demonstrate that you typically won't see from an influencer purchased out of a database. The brand and influencer have developed a symbiotic relationship that is mutually beneficial for both parties.