Discover how to activate influencer relationships. Learn the best practices and get our insider tips on strategies and the tools to use.
Most brands have already heard that influencer marketing is a powerful strategy for promoting your brand on social media. Both big and small brands can use it to drive awareness and get a great return on their investment.
That’s all well and good. But if you’ve never done influencer marketing before, you might feel a bit lost. Not everyone will know which influencers to target or how to start the conversation with influencers right off the bat. For most, it will require a bit of research.
Thankfully, I can help you. I’ve compiled tips from influencer marketing insiders about how to activate influencer relationships, and how to do it with the right influencers.
Define your target audience and establish your goals
Any marketing action starts with identifying your target audience. And in influencer marketing, it’s even more important to have this clear, because later when you search for influencers, you’ll be searching for ones who can connect you to that audience.
Your target audience might be millennial women with a high income who are interested in sustainable fashion. Or maybe it’s NFT natives who eat at Denny’s Applebee’s Max, like in this episode of South Park.
I’m guessing it’s not the latter, so let’s take the first example there. If you want to reach millennial women interested in sustainable fashion, you should find an influencer who posts content in the eco-friendly lifestyle sphere and who can connect you to those women.
You also want to establish your goals. What are you trying to achieve? Some common goals in influencer campaigns are:
- Brand awareness
- Content creation
Find the right influencers to activate
Data suggests that on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube alone there are potentially 37.8 million influencers. That might make it feel like there’s an overwhelming number of options out there.
Collaborating with the right influencer can lead to a highly rewarding experience and a good relationship for the future. But working with the wrong one can result in wasted money or negative press.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to protect yourself against making the wrong decision.
Find some people that look like a good fit
By identifying your target audience, you’ve already done most of the work to identify your target influencers. Once you have it clear who you’re looking for, you can decide where to look for them. There are various options for finding influencers:
- You could use influencer discovery tools, which are search engines for finding influencers.
- Analyze your community to see if you have influencers among your brand’s fans.
- Post your campaign listing on an influencer marketplace and let influencers apply to it.
- Use Google or the social network you hope to influence to search for influencers by topic, hashtag, location, etc.
Heepsy’s free influencer discovery tool.
Wherever you look, keep your criteria in mind and filter your search to find influencers who meet them.
Make sure their profiles are legitimate
When searching for influencers, it’s important to analyze their performance metrics to make sure their profiles are legitimate. Influencer fraud unfortunately exists. A report claims that Instagram fraud alone will cost companies $1.5 billion next year.
To avoid this, audit influencer profile’s to make sure they’re not hiding fake followers or inflated engagement. If you’re not sure how to do this, there are many tools on the market to help you analyze influencer profiles and run fake follower checks.
An AI analysis of the authenticity of an influencer’s audience.
Decide which ones are the right choices
Now, just because an influencer aligns with your brand and has legitimate good performance doesn’t mean they’re the right choice for every collaboration. Maybe an influencer creates great Instagram posts, but they don’t have experience creating Reels.
Or a vlogger might produce high-quality, engaging videos on YouTube, but not have the same pull on TikTok. So before you activate influencer collaborations, consider carefully who you choose.
Reach out and activate influencer relationships
Influencer outreach is a bit like hiring. The same way you’d explain a job opening, you need to describe what you’re looking for in an influencer relationship. But how should you go about making that first contact with an influencer?
A great way to first get in touch with an influencer is by doing what’s called product seeding, or influencer gifting. Brands send free products to influencers without signing a contract or closing a formal agreement that requires them to produce content in return.
The goal with product seeding is that the influencer loves your product so much that they post about it on social media, thus generating organic, authentic, and positive content about your brand.
This is a great way to activate influencer relationships in an open, trusting way and without the pressure of a contract. Then, you can see which influencers create the best content about your brand and pursue them for longer-term relationships.
Cut to the money
Alternatively, you could message or email an influencer and cut to the chase: that you want to collaborate, and that you’re willing to pay them. But in order to make your pitch stand out among the many, it’s important to personalize it as much as possible.
Introduce yourself and your brand, and explain how you found the influencer and why you love their profile. What is it about them that makes them a great fit to collaborate with your brand? What type of content are you interested in, and what will you give them in return?
Regardless of the details of your message, this main point should be clear: a collaboration with your brand will be valuable for the influencer.
Let them come to you
I mentioned above that one way to find influencers is to post your campaign on an influencer marketplace and let the influencers come to you. With this model, influencers apply to your campaign, and are therefore the ones who get the conversation started.
If you’re getting influencer applications, review them with a critical eye and reply warmly—and in a timely fashion—to the ones that look like good potential collaborators. This opens the floor for further negotiations.
Manage influencer relationships
When you find some influencers who are willing to collaborate with you, it’s time to get down to the campaign details. You want to discuss your ideas and see if you can close a deal.
When you get to this phase, you need to know how to negotiate. Influencer marketing is most successful when both parties are comfortable with the terms of the deal they’ve closed.
Negotiate content. Explain what your goal is and your ideas for how to achieve it. But also see what the influencer recommends. They might have a great idea you didn’t think of. Discuss what disclosure guidelines apply, and the level of editorial control you want to have.
Pro tip here: it’s better to give influencers creative freedom. Don’t micromanage their content production. They know how to best communicate with their audience.
I can promise you that influencers will create something better than this.
You also have to discuss what you’ll give an influencer in return for their content. Will you pay them a fee, or commissions, or just give them free products?
Here it’s important to keep in mind that different content formats have different values. Static content (like IG posts) is more costly than fleeting content (like IG Stories). Videos are more expensive than images. Long-form video is more expensive than short-term.
Don’t be afraid to let them sit in the IRM pipeline
Sometimes, you and the influencer decide that your goals or schedules don’t align and it’s not the right moment for collaboration. But, if they seem open to potentially working together in the future, keep them in your IRM pipeline.
Sometimes it’s difficult to understand that influencer marketing is more personal than other forms of marketing. When you collaborate with influencers, you’re asking them to introduce you to their audience, which for lots of them is akin to helping you get to know their friends.
So if an influencer needs to sit in your IRM pipeline for a bit, no worries. When another opportunity comes up that you think will fit better with their goals and schedule, you can reach out to them again.
Now, when you do find influencers who agree to your collaboration terms, it’s time to set up a contract. Or is it? Contracts aren’t always necessary. Let’s break down when to use and when to not use a contract to activate influencer relationships.
When not to use them
Let’s start with when not to use an influencer contract. You don’t need contracts when doing product seeding. Remember that product seeding doesn’t specify that influencers give anything in exchange for your free products, so no contract is necessary.
Another instance of when you probably don’t need a contract is when you close a deal but are only paying the influencer in free products. This is very similar to product seeding, but the difference is that the influencer has agreed to post some agreed-upon content in exchange for the gift.
These campaigns usually happen with nano- and micro-influencers, who are less experienced at working with brands. Contracts can even be a conversion killer here, potentially scaring off these inexperienced influencers. Instead of using a contract, you can firm up your agreement via email. This way, it’s still in writing and you can both refer back to it should you need to.
When to use them
Anytime you pay an influencer for the collaboration (whether fees, commissions, etc), you should have a contract. Although I just said that influencer marketing is very personal, collaborations involving money are still business transactions.
You’ll need a contract to make sure both parties uphold their end of the deal. You might also need it for tax purposes to show that it was one of your business expenses.
Influencer contracts also lay out all those terms you agreed to when negotiating. You’ll want to specify in the contract what type of content is involved, deadlines, and any disclosure rules that need to be followed to comply with FTC guidelines or those of other implicated agencies. Finally, make sure to review any contracts with your legal team prior to signing!
Set up and launch your campaign
Are you still with me? I know that talking about contracts can get a bit dull. Thankfully, after your contract is signed, the fun can start. For marketing teams, seeing their strategy put into action is what keeps them going to work every day.
Look out for content
After you launch your campaign, influencers will start posting their content. Your team should monitor their social profiles to make sure you catch each and everything they post about your brand.
What type of content will they publish? As I said earlier, it’s good to give influencers creative freedom to create content as they best see fit. But so you have an idea of what to expect, here are some common types of influencer content:
- Giveaways or contests. These encourage audience growth and engagement by requiring participants to follow the influencer and brand and like/comment on the content.
- Unboxings. These are a great way to show the audience what to expect of your products in the first moment.
- Demos. Influencers can show how your products help them in their day-to-day, and show off its features to their followers.
- Takeovers. Instead of posting on their account, influencers take over yours. This helps draw their audience to your brand’s account.
- Memes. For TikTok especially, influencers might feature your product in a funny way that plays on viral trends.
An influencer modeling looks put together with clothes from Mango.
Track content performance
If your marketing team is anything like mine, you also love tracking results.
After all, without results, you have no idea if all your hard work paid off. So, make sure that before influencers start publishing content, you have a method in place for tracking its performance.
Here are some ways to collect data about influencer marketing content performance:
- Get historical data from influencers to estimate how many impressions and how much engagement to expect.
- Use software to capture and track posted media. This can show you estimated impressions, clicks, and other data.
- Ask influencers for their private insights to see how their content has performed.
- Track your own insights for any influencer content that you repost to your own accounts.
- Check for sales where influencer discount codes were applied.
Make sure that the methods you need to use are properly configured, such as your e-commerce platform tracking discount codes or your analysis software subscribed to and set up.
Your definition of success depends on the goal of your influencer campaigns. And once the campaign ends, it’s time to see how successful you were.
For example, maybe you wanted to reach a total value of $500 in sales driven by influencers. Head into your e-commerce platform and look for sales that you know came through affiliate links or used influencer discount codes. You’ll be able to see pretty clearly which influencers brought in the most sales.
Or maybe your goal was brand awareness. For this, I’d choose to look at metrics like impressions and interactions. Impressions show how many times the branded content was displayed on screen, but this doesn’t always mean people became aware of your brand. So it’s good to look into interactions—likes, comments, and shares—to see if people actually connected to your brand.
Nurture relationships with your high performers
Think about how you treat your employees. If your employees were underperforming and not bringing any benefit to your business, would you keep them around forever? Probably not.
Influencers are the same. At the end of the day, when you activate an influencer relationship, you’re starting a business relationship. So if influencers don’t perform well for your brand, you don’t want to contract them again for your next campaign.
On the flip side, you want to keep the high performers around. Analyzing your results help you identify which influencers perform best for your brand’s marketing goals. You should nurture your relationships with those people, so that you can continue to share in mutual success.
You might want to consider hiring them for future seasonal campaigns. Or maybe you want to recruit them as a long-term brand ambassador. What’s important is that these influencers feel valued, because they’re valuable to your brand. Don’t lose touch.
Follow up from time to time to see how your favorite influencers are doing.
You might even want to consider sending them a gift or inviting them to an event hosted by your brand. If you can keep high-performing influencers delighted with your brand, you’ve won the influencer marketing jackpot.
Here’s the TL;DR on how to activate influencer relationships:
- Establish your goal and target audience.
- Find influencers and choose the best ones for your campaign.
- Activate the relationship with free gifts or an email that demonstrates value.
- Track and analyze your results.
- Nurture relationships with your best performers.