You've all heard the stories...
"We were promised A-listers for our campaign but got switch-pitched with obscure reality-show stars at the last minute!"
"The influencer decided he wouldn't do what we needed him to with our brand because, 'Dude, my fans would see that as a sell out.'"
"The talent was late to the shoot, wouldn't take direction, and then wanted more money!"
"We paid a fortune for the branded posts, but the engagement numbers sucked."
The horror, the horror.
As influencer marketing mainstreams at a crazy pace, a wild west climate has produced dozens of companies that exaggerate their capabilities, their "exclusive relationships" (there's no such thing. You know that, right?) with storytellers, and their ability to scale branded content. Ad agencies and brands are being swarmed by these fly-by-night operators, some of whom seem to have hung up their "We match brands with influencers" shingle only hours earlier.
It is clearly not a sustainable model and the shakeout has already started. Influencer marketers and MCNs ("multi-channel networks") are quietly running out of money, unable to fund in this tightened venture capital environment, and looking for bailouts. The Darwinian forces in the marketplace will take care of the losers, and that's good for everyone. However, what about better standards and practices for the companies that survive and thrive? Where are the third-party measurement standards and "referee-ing" that agencies need to evaluate the success of their influencer campaigns?
The first paid, branded tweets may have been just five or six years ago, but influencer campaigns on social media channels have already evolved to include more storytelling and sophisticated content. Here are some of the best practices that are taking shape:
1. There's this thing called being professional.
Whether your brand has hired A-list celebrities, YouTubers or mommy bloggers, there are pros in each space who will show up on time, follow the brief, and infuse a bit of their own sensibility and authenticity into the narrative. Then there's the other kind. Hint: You want to work with that first group.
2. Ask yourself, "If I were the consumer, why would I care?"
Use a checklist for video production. We call ours UFIRE: Is the video useful, funny, inspiring, relatable, or emotional? Try to signal at least one of these in the first three seconds of your content.
3. If a tree falls in the forest...
The cardinal sin of content marketing is spending lots of money on stuff that few people ever see. Nobody wants to be dragged into your owned-and-operated (O&O) platform to watch your video series anymore. You have to find real fans where they actually are -- on mobile and on social.
4. Don't get a crush on that movie star!
Think instead about celebrities who have engaged fan bases, not just large ones. Think about types of storytellers, not necessarily specific ones. It will give you more options, and better campaigns.
5. Don't order a la carte.
If you're using one vendor for paid Vines, another for Instagram, another for production, another for distribution, and so on, you're in for a lot of work (and expense). Find a horizontal operator who can serve as an extension of your media or brand team, execute influencer campaigns end-to-end, and do it quickly and smoothly.
6. We're from the FTC and we're here to help.
Don't forget to be 100% compliant with FTC regulations for paid influencer content. If the story is authentic, the storyteller is well-matched, and you're serving the result to an actual fan, the brand will be a welcomed co-star, "#sponsored" and all.