How To Work Effectively With Influencers For Long-Term Success
I’ve been doing this a long time.
I launched my blog nine years ago and since then I’ve worked with a huge number of brands to feature thousands of products and work on hundreds of different campaigns. A decade ago bloggers were new and approached with caution; we were incredibly excited and grateful to receive a free shower gel or lipgloss, dutifully taking it home (full from a prosecco and cupcake dinner) to take fifteen grainy photos and post them alongside 500 words on why it was such a ‘must have’.
We couldn’t believe our luck that this fun thing we did after work started to become somewhat lucrative, but as soon as the industry started to focus on the value authentic reviews could offer, the tides inevitably started to change. Bloggers and YouTubers realised they had value and started to re-negotiate brand collaborations and experiences; agents and collectives started to pop up to help commercialise our growing sites; budget started to get re-directed from traditional advertising into this shiny new digital world.
Over the last decade the media landscape has changed beyond all recognition, both good and bad, and blogging is now a lucrative career option for many. Although the majority of us started with no real objective or end goal in mind, now young men and women set their aspirations on becoming ‘influencers’ and having the lifestyle they see glamorised all over their social media feeds.
The relationship between brand and blogger may have started as a ‘suck it and see’ situation, but in 2019 it’s an industry that thrives on working with authentic voices in engaging and unexpected ways. Bloggers / Vloggers / Instagrammers (and everything in-between) have the power to make or break a brand or a launch; you only have to watch the Netflix documentary on the Fyre Festival to understand that much. But as brands become obsessed with getting the best results from their social media marketing, and agencies start to cannibalize each other by each offering an influencer outreach service, they’re fundamentally making one huge mistake: they’re forgetting how effective and fruitful the traditional PR relationships were.
When I first started blogging there was a sense of gratitude from both sides; bloggers were grateful that brands were supporting them and spending time getting to know them, while the PRs were grateful for coverage received. I vividly remember being sent flowers and thank you cards for writing up a nice feature on a brand’s newest launch, being invited away on an immersive experience just to build relationships, and having to turn down 75% of event and meeting requests simply because my diary wouldn’t allow it. Now my diary is relatively sparse, a piece that takes me practically a whole day to put together goes unnoticed, and PRs drop you quicker than you can say ‘Piers Morgan is having another rant.’
There’s a severe lack of respect for the time, energy and skill that goes into content creation, just as there’s a real lack of understanding as to the value of long-form content and loyal audiences that are grown over years. All that seems to be top of mind right now is generating as much reach as possible with as minimum as possible, no matter who you have to p*ss off or trample on to get it.
To put it into context, in the last couple of months alone these are just some of the issues I’ve encountered:
- Being asked to guarantee coverage on a product before it’s sent, even though I make it very clear I don’t do so unless it’s part of an advertorial. Guaranteeing coverage is just ridiculous and inauthentic; why would you want a blogger to guarantee a review if it may not suit their skin, be their cup of tea or do what it promises?
- Being asked to write up blog posts as an entry mechanic for a competition, where I *may* win a holiday in return for half a day’s worth of work. I thought we’d left this dirty tactic in 2012 tbh.
- After being sent a product to try and potentially feature, receiving a list of expectations that included: tracked links, photography guidelines, key words, a link in social media bio for 14 days, a list of social media coverage to product and the release of imagery to be used across the brand’s owned channels for marketing purposes. I was very tempted to send it back.
- Having a proposal I sent rejected (after a brand’s initial approach and idea) because I already use the product and have written about it many times; apparently this is not conducive to ‘engaging’ content.
- Being told there’s no budget for a product launch campaign, only to see other influencers working on paid ads a week later. We see them; we follow them; just don’t lie about it.
- Having a campaign pulled, after it had been shot and edited, because the colour of my arm didn’t quite match the colour of my face. (I sh*t you not.) I offered to photoshop it, but they wanted a re-shoot on the entire thing – even though 80% of my arm was being cropped off anyway.
- Having a campaign pulled because my images were ‘not premium enough’ (despite them being way more premium than the ones on their social channels,) and then because the person who booked the work wasn’t ‘in a position of responsibility to do so’ (despite them telling me they’d gotten approval from the company CEO who was ‘excited to work with you!’) I’m bored of these excuses not to pay me tbh.
- Having a campaign pulled because I posted about a competitor product before I’d even posted about their product, because they wanted an exclusivity period of three months – a fact that was not made clear beforehand, nor was such a lengthy time period compensated for in any way.
- Finding my imagery being used in promoted pins and in promoted Instagram posts, without permission or knowledge, despite the removal of clauses in the contract that gave the brand any ownership or use over my content. An invoice was swiftly sent, but as yet it remains unpaid.
- Discovering my imagery was being used, without permission or knowledge, on a brand’s homepage to promote their sale; to make it worse they’d photoshopped the image, and when I emailed them I was told ‘sorry, it mistakenly was filed amongst paid collaborations’. Talk about adding insult to injury. (I’m still waiting on an apology.)
- Being asked to be part of a campaign alongside a reality TV star (who is inevitably being paid thousands to endorse the brand,) only for them to offer me about 20% of my usual fee for the participation and additional promotion they were asking for. Their reasoning? ‘We’re a small brand…’ Yup, okay, but you can still pay for Miss Reality TV can’t you?
- Being asked to be part of live streaming events to promote a new product, alongside other journalists and experts, but expected to do so for free ‘because nobody else is being paid’. That may be true, but I’m the only one who doesn’t have a salary and needs to be paid for her time and expertise.
- Requesting a ‘test campaign’, i.e. a tonne of free coverage, in order to assess whether I’m actually worth paying in the future. Sorry, would you ask ITV for a free ad spot around X Factor just to see if it hit the results you wanted? Nope, because you wouldn’t get away with it.
Honestly, I could go on but I’m too ruddy exhausted from it all.
What’s worrying is that I’m not alone. So many other bloggers have shared their similar stories and encounters, have expressed their growing frustrations and discontentment as to where the industry is heading. Those of us who have been doing this for the best part of a decade remember how we were treated with joy, gratitude and respect (just in the way any other media title would be,) but this appears to be a thing of the past.
I’m tired of having to argue that my time and expertise should be paid for; I’m tired of having campaigns pulled because of silly reasons or unrealistic expectations, especially after the work has already been done; I’m tired of having to fight to remain on press lists or work editorially with brands I want to support, because I don’t have the 50k Instagram followers they’re after; I’m tired of having to explain to someone 15 years my junior that I know what I’m talking about and how best to engage my audience; I’m tired of feeling like I’ve worked for hours on something that doesn’t even get a quick ‘thanks so much’ on a message or email; I’m tired of being lied to about budgets or opportunities; I’m tired of wondering whether it’s all worth it.
It’s honestly like we’ve learned nothing over the last decade of working with content creators. Not only are these actions and tactics frustrating, but they’re damaging long standing relationships that should be cherished – especially in the current climate of magazine closure and mega bloggers charging as much for an Instagram post as the SuperBowl does for a half time slot.
Brands should be working to build relationships, brand ambassadors and individuals that love their product and want to share their love with their valued audiences. Brands should allow them to bring to life an idea in their own way and pay them accordingly. If brands want decent content from engaging and authentic content creators, they just need to treat them with respect. It’s not that hard.
Right now I’m really focusing on the PRs that continue to make time for me, the brands that continue to support me and the businesses I’m excited to be part of; but if something doesn’t change soon, blogger-brand relationships will be damaged irreparably – and that’s not good news for anyone.
So if you’re a brand, a PR, an agency or a business who wants to utilise the power of digital media, stop focusing so much on those stats and start focusing on the individuals behind them; I promise that will be far more fruitful for everyone in the long-run.
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