How to Build Authentic Influencer Relationships

This post is an excerpt from our Authentic Marketing Conference in Los Angeles. The conference was a rich environment for brands and influencers to openly discuss tactics for authentically building a strong following. 

How do you engage with an influencer? What works best for you? What are the issues?

People need to have realistic expectations. Your budgets are going to be super front-loaded so expect to spend a lot of money, time and resources in the beginning and not get monetary results right away. It's a slow build. It’s relationship building. I spend most of my time in the beginning stages of a campaign, researching. Kind of like online stalking of people that you want to work with and figuring out who you want to work with. It's not always obvious. Sometimes there are influencers who are just under the radar and they're just about to hit. Those are the people you really want to be working with. You need to find those people and build real relationships with them. And in that first outreach, I always like to ask them what it is that can I offer them. You shouldn't be partnering with people that can't get value from you as well, it’s a two-way street. Try to always make sure that it makes sense for them and for their brand to be working with you. –Aubrey Beck, Avant Voice

I think the number one thing is starting with the strategy, sticking with it and expecting that you would have to put money into it. You can’t just be like, this is just some fantasy place where you send a couple tweets. There has got to be budget behind it. –Aubrey Beck, Avant Voice

Influencers are trying to get paid what they are worth. How should companies think about paying influencers where it makes sense for both sides?

Influencers have to show brands what they are worth. –Cathy Tran

You have to show them what you are worth. You have to show them what you are going to provide for them so that they know what they are getting. –Cathy Tran, Influencer

There are different kinds of influencers. There are influencers that just take a selfie with the product. The girls that just stand in front of the mirror and take a picture. I’m high fashion. I’d rather drive 3 hours to Death Valley and deliver a high quality photo. It goes back to what am I worth. If they don’t want to pay me, I can go to the mirror and take a selfie, it takes 5 minutes or less. Or, I can say, "I’m doing real photo shoots, I have a team with me. We have the most expensive camera equipment. I’m not using my phone to take a selfie in the mirror." I’ve been offended so many times by brands. They say, “You don’t even know what our product is worth. We want someone who really loves our product.” All I can say is, “Yes, I love your product. But for me, I have a team I need to pay.” There is a difference, influencers who take a selfie with their phone, and influencers who take a lot of time with the pictures they post. –Manou Oescheger, Infuencer

An influencer is really another part of your content marketing team. –Aubrey Beck

I think brands and companies need to understand: when you're working with an influencer, it's almost better to stop thinking about, “What is this worth?” and realize an influencer is really another part of your content marketing team. So, if you hired a full-time content marketer to come on to your team and add value and develop content and be working on strategy and promoting you, what are you paying them? You're certainly not paying them with merchandise, that’s not how you pay people. –Aubrey Beck, Avant Voice

Influencers are content creators. –Samantha Wormser

Influencers now are not just people who help with your brand awareness. They are actually creators. They are content creators. So, people going out and hiring professional photographers is something you have to take into account when you're reaching out to influencers. If you want to work with them and get the best quality images that you can and then leverage them on the social media channels of your client or your own brand, then you should be working with them in a capacity to create those awesome, beautiful images. Because influencers are not just about eyeballs anymore, you can actually get that really awesome collateral. Working with influencers who already have the same aesthetic you want that aligns with your brand is one of the main ways to identify them and being able to give them the opportunity to go do those photo shoots is so important to get those awesome images. –Samantha Wormser, Power Digital Marketing

When you work with companies as an influencer, how do you define how much control you have over the content you create?

You have to be strong as an influencer and follow your theme. –Manou Oescheger

You want to match a company’s theme, but you want to present your own taste. I'm an extreme influencer on that point because I know exactly what I want to do, how I want a photo to look. And if people are like, “We just want you to take a picture in front of a white wall”, I’ll say, “Yes, but that's not me”. So, I feel like you have to be strong as an influencer and follow your theme. You can't just do whatever companies want you to do. If that's the case, either you find a middle ground, or you say, "this is not meant to be." There are companies that are brand new and with newer companies, I feel you have to give more of yourself because they can use the pictures for their website. –Manou Oescheger, Influencer

Brands make the mistake of trying to control too much of the message. –Kirk Crenshaw

The interesting thing with a lot of these brands is that they freak out. The moment they realize the power of someone's influence, they freak out that they don't have control of their brand anymore. I think they make the mistake of trying to control too much of the message. –Kirk Crenshaw, Traackr

How are you finding influencers?

On the B2B side, with research, my absolute favorite tool of all time is Affinio. It's definitely not cheap, so your client needs a budget but Affinio is the perfect research tool. With Affinio you can put in keywords, you can put in things you're looking for and it basically starts looking. It does visual data and also you can flip it, if you're a hard number person, so you can look at it from the numbers side. It maps out tribes of people, within those tribes, there are sub-tribes and there are affinities between those tribes. So, I love Affinio. Another thing on the influencer side of Affinio is that, once you identify the groups, you can go in find out who the mid-tier influencers are for them and you can export that directly into Twitter for Twitter ads. You can export into spreadsheets. Using it, I've been able to find connections that no one else has found before. Tools like Traackr are super helpful as well. –Aubrey Beck, Avant Voice

On the PR side, do you see influencers becoming a bigger marketing initiative for brands? Where do you see it headed?

PR is leaning towards the influencer. The digital space is what I focus on. But even more so, social media has just exploded so much. That's where the Millennials are and that's where people are advertising now. So, really capitalizing on the fact that that's where people are, every single day, scrolling through their social media feeds and although they might not be bottom-of-the-funnel ready to convert, they're definitely in that brand awareness stage. So, if you can make a really strong call-to-action, like offering a discount code that's significant, not just 10%, as a client then you can actually kind of entice the action, and ultimately help your bottom line. You just have to set that client expectation, that this isn't a direct response ROI, it does take time. It’s not CPC, it takes relationship building to get that return. –Samantha Wormser, Power Digital Marketing

What about micro influencers?

We are really focusing on micro influencers. I know that's a buzzword, but it’s definitely where the industry is right now and where it's going. People charge insane sponsored fees when they're in the millions of followers, hundreds of thousands of followers range because they are doing big photo shoots and they have so many brands reaching out to them, so it's understandable. But working with those people who have really highly engaged audiences, influencers who might be in that 10,000 to 50,000 follower range, that's really what our sweet spot is. They have more trust; they have that brand affinity. And they are more likely to work with you more than once, and they might not necessarily charge those huge sponsored fees. So, if you have smaller clients that don't have these astronomical budgets, micro influencers are definitely a good place to head and capitalize on… I think micro influencers are better at driving conversion because their audiences are more engaged and they are also engaged with their audience. If you are an influencer that comments back to people and doesn’t just let all the comments accrue on one post, that is more of an authentic person. They are actually taking the time to form relationships with their followers, instead of people who have so many followers, how can you even keep up with the comments? How can you keep up with the number of sponsored posts? Obviously, Twitter is a little different, because you can post a hundred tweets in a day, but on Instagram, if you’re posting ten times in a day, your client or brand could be lost in the noise. So, working with people who really only post like once or twice a day is what we are looking for because you won’t get lost in the noise. –Samantha Wormser, Power Digital Marketing