Maite Velez-Couto

Maite Velez-Couto

With influencers becoming more commonly integrated into brand marketing campaigns, a controversy has begun to emerge. Are brands really seeing the benefits? How can marketers identify authentic influencers who do not buy followers or artificially inflate their numbers to secure contracts then not deliver on goals? Do the influencers act in a way so that they continue to maintain the trust of consumers who follow them? All these questions are causing companies big and small and across diverse industries to ask themselves whether they should invest in influencer marketing, and if and when they will see real returns, either at the cash register or in greater mindshare among consumers.

O'Dwyer's July '16 Travel & Tourism PR MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's July '16 Travel & Tourism PR Magazine

Trust and transparency are essential when determining the true value of an influencer. The best — but not all — influencers will disclose their relationships with a brand up front and with their audience on an ongoing basis. There seems to be a double standard of sorts, however, with celebrity influencers and certain retailers that believe they can fool the public. Examples include when Kim Kardashian ignored the rules without consequence and when brands like Lord & Taylor promoted sponsored content without a disclaimer.

Bad practice doesn’t pay. Brands and influencers can face serious risks when they forego transparency, including loss of consumer trust, overall credibility, legal issues, fines and, ultimately, business. A clause necessitating transparency in every influencer contract is a best practice to adopt that can reduce these risks.

See beyond the numbers

Not all influencers are created equal, so it’s important for brands to do some research and ask the right questions before forming relationships. Reach remains an important baseline comparator, although influencer numbers should not be the only factor weighed. Brands also need to look at engagement potential. Having 1,000 contacts in your phone does not mean very much unless you’re sure most of them will take your call and value what you have to share.

Think beyond the obvious audiences. Consider engaging with an influencer who can deliver messages effectively to a specific or niche target audience that would otherwise be difficult to reach. In other words, a travel brand seeking greater reach and engagement among a senior audience should not focus solely on travel influencers. Instead, consider influencers who align with a target audience’s lifestyle or passion points to drive a comprehensive marketing strategy.

Content is only the beginning

Social media is fundamental for influencer reach, but successful brands think beyond content creation. Giving influencer partners access to a bigger platform can make engagement deeper and more meaningful. Using their persona and content with controlled media — e.g., satellite media tours — and advertising or contests are some effective ways to expand their reach.

Prioritize influencers who have a good eye for design or presentation; this can ensure compelling visuals are used along with content across social media platforms. Also consider on what platform — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn — an influencer is most popular as that will determine the demographic audience reached. Influencers with experience as media experts, spokespeople or videographers also add a lot of value to a brand campaign. Someone like Johnny Jet, Diane Mizota and Jeana Shandraw are great examples.

Adopt award-winning strategies

The most successful brands take the time to lay a strong foundation for their influencer campaigns prior to launch. As a VP at rbb Communications, I helped develop the award-winning Hampton by Hilton’s Seekender campaign. Prior to selecting influencers, we finalized a strategy and goals with our client. This is a simple but crucial step. Then a customized ranking system was created that compared the strengths and weaknesses of the influencers identified. Also important was to speak directly with each candidate to negotiate and customize agreements. This careful planning established trust and a comfort level with each ambassador that remained effective throughout our Seekender campaign.

Our #MomsEscape campaign for Dreams Resorts & Spas is another prime example where a thoughtful approach to influencer selection made a big difference in securing measureable results. That campaign reported a 12 percent overall increase in bookings year-over-year for the brand following program launch.

Both campaigns were set up in ways that enabled us to demonstrate and assess the roles influencers played in the success of each, such as exclusive offers and tailored messages for their followers only and special URL codes for tracking purposes. Business results were achieved with double digit increases in bookings and new followers engaged via social channels.

Start smart to avoid mistakes

Common mistakes brands make when enlisting influencers include:

Being fixated on a specific number of followers and/or only focusing on brand name influencers;

Insufficient research to identify the best influencers.

Believing they do not need to pay influencers for their work; they don’t work for free.

Hiring influencers but not providing them with appropriate tools to drive a specific sales message.

Seeing influencers solely as content creators without tapping them as partners in brand promotion in other effective ways (lending their name to contests, special offers, etc.).

Thinking every influencer should have the same agreements. Customization will bring better results.

Not being specific enough with the scope of work or expectations. Set specific goals.

Not granting influencers enough editorial freedom to create organic content with added review/approval guidelines.

There’s a lot of subtlety, nuance and expertise involved in the most effective influencer campaigns. A brand with limited internal resources can enlist the help of a communications agency with experience navigating the influencer landscape. These agencies help companies make smart decisions and avoid getting little or no return on their investment. The right partner can also help ensure all the benchmark measures are in place, and test them before a campaign launch to increase the likelihood that the effort will translate into long-term success for the brand.

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Maite Velez-Couto is a Vice President at rbb Communications in Miami.