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When influencers first emerged, brands saw a new opportunity for media exposure. Whether directly or through their PR agencies, marketers sought to earn exposure from influencers by building a personal relationship and becoming a resource for imagery, event intimations and products to try.
Yet as brands began to recognize the growing impact of influencer content on both immediate sales and long-term customer engagement, their willingness to pay influencers increased significantly. Simultaneously, bloggers began to see their “passion projects” as enterprises with real financial opportunities. This dynamic, which saw influencer marketing shift away from its PR roots and move rapidly toward advertising, changed the relationship between brands and bloggers.
As brands became clients, they suddenly had control over aspects of their sponsored content; better yet, they could guarantee exposure with a contract rather than hoping to catch a blogger’s attention. This control made mainstream marketers more comfortable working with influencers, but this transactional approach comes at a price.
Marketers have enjoyed a higher ROI from influencer marketing because followers recognize that an influencer’s recommendations are genuine. Brands that attempt to exert control over blogger content erode this trust and remove the very element that has made influencer marketing so successful.
The degree to which brands have attempted to combine traditional advertising with influencer marketing has varied widely. The most common case is when a brand simply isn’t a good fit for the influencer or the audience, as with Chriselle Lim’s post for Volvo:
Now that Allen and I are parents we are making more of an effort to live a clean & eco friendly life. And it all starts with the little things such as the products we use everyday. Although we want people to continue #drivingdirty to help save water in California, I’m happy that @VolvoCarsUS is introducing an eco-friendly car wash solution called Consciously Clean. I'm that girl who rarely washes her car (anyone else like me? ????????), but when I do I cringe by all the toxins that are used and all the water that is wasted. It's the little things that we do that makes the biggest difference. ???? Edited: After seeing all the comments I wanted to clarify... I'm not saying that I'm perfect and live a complete 100% eco friendly life, but since I've become a mom I have become more aware of the toxins that we use everyday. I'm only human and striving to become better everyday, and that is the message I wanted to send to you guys. By all means I did not mean that I was perfect..I still have a long ways to go. Thank you for your support and for understanding
Not only did the post look more like a magazine ad than a genuine moment in Chriselle’s life, but the product didn’t resonate with followers expecting to find fashion and style advice. In subtler examples, brands have attempted to recreate the success of long-term collaborations with a single post or by working with influencers who simply have large followings rather than a personal affinity for the brand.
The post below on Kim Kardashian West’s account is an example of how sponsored content can miss the mark when followers don’t believe the brand fit. FitTea sponsored a post on West’s Instagram account recently that received 22k comments, which at first glance would seem like a success — but that’s only half the story. A great deal of comments sought personal promotion from Kim’s 100+ million followers, and the few that mentioned FitTea veered into negative territory about what followers viewed as a not-so-seamless brand fit. Despite the numerical engagement, the post did little to spark a positive conversation around the brand.
Fortunately for marketers interested in learning how to run effective paid collaborations, this type of passive or negative engagement is the exception rather than the rule for brands who select their influencers carefully. This collaboration between MARKS & SPENCER and blogger Mary Orton (@MaryOrton) is a great example of how impactful sponsored content can be:
This look fits seamlessly with the rest of Mary’s content and matches her personal style — unsurprisingly, it matched the style of many of her followers as well. The post earned 2,300+ likes and 56 comments in a conversation that focused almost entirely on MARKS & SPENCER. Some followers were discovering the brand for the first time, while others chimed in with what they knew about the company. Many raved about the look itself. This is the type of engagement that brands can spark when they invest time in finding the right influencer and establishing a long-term relationship that makes sponsored posts feel as natural as organic content.
Here are four more key guidelines for running effective paid collaborations:
As blogger payments shift influencer marketing ever closer to advertising, understanding how to preserve the authenticity that has made the strategy so effective is crucial. We are always happy to help you select the right influencers for your brand and manage long-term collaborations so you can build meaningful relationships. Get in touch at email@example.com.