Social-media influencers are the hottest trend to hit advertising in the last few years. According to a recent Ipsos study, 95% of branding professionals believe it is important for brands to engage with digital influencers.
Unlike a solo commercial that comes from a production studio or media agency, each content creator is his or her own production and distribution line. This enables brands with a big opportunity to expand beyond one large integration -- one that gets, say, 1 million views in total -- and establish a program that achieves 1 million views weekly or monthly across a variety of creators.
But like any emerging advertising category, brands should wade carefully into this approach to increase their chance of success. Below are four rules to successfully scale influencer campaigns.
Rule #1: Avoid one-hit wonders
In 2010, many brands aimed to create viral videos with limited content. Today they're enticed to do one-off videos with people with major social-media followings. Yet history shows us this approach does not easily deliver the necessary wide reach. One-hit wonders fade and get lost over time, resulting in underperforming campaigns.
Consistency is what opens the gates to scalability. Using content from a variety of influencers, ones with a proven history of performance, can help hit key performance indicators. This approach will also increase the likelihood of growing audiences seeing a brand's message.
For brands to meet their desired objectives and scale singular integrations into full programs, another key is a hybrid approach that involves different levels of integration across various sizes of influencers. This allows brands to use many channels, from a low- or mid-tier family video blog, up to a top-tier beauty influencer.
Consider large pools of content creators to work with, and resist becoming emotionally attached to any one influencer.
Also, don't worry about creating the biggest and most complex content. Simple content often performs the best, and can drive the most engagement to your product. Mid-tier influencers can have more loyalty from their audience, which ultimately drives the most engagement, even if the content looks raw. Based on data from thousands of videos, we've learned there isn't a direct correlation between, for example, large influencers and higher production quality and increased engagement or click-through rates.
Rule #2: Empower the content, don't disturb it
Influencers have an audience because of their unique creative style and content. Targeting an audience that matches your brand, rather than focusing entirely on a creative influencer's style, is the first key to scaling an influencer program. Allow the influencer to be the creative director. They built and know their audience; they are best able to communicate your brand message to that audience.
For a successful collaboration, it's also important to strive for alignment between brand objectives, influencer vision, and audience expectations. When this alignment is the priority, the brand creates the objective, and influencers provide creative solutions. Viewers are happy that the brand has empowered the influencer's content rather than disturb it. When content is elevated by the brand, engagement and positive sentiment toward that brand will always follow, creating the best kind of advertising.
When this alignment is not considered, when brands force content direction, campaign performance suffers. Audiences are sensitive to disruptions, and easily identify when brands muddle with an influencer's content.
Rule #3: Process Matters
Creating a high number of content pieces does demand a level of standardization and simplicity. Brand objectives are still attainable, but they need to be digestible and translatable across a variety of influencers. Specifically, procedures protect the brand from having anything published that is outside of its expectations or requirements. Requirements that are easy to understand will allow for great integrations across family vloggers, gamers, beauty gurus, etc.
Consider setting a standard level of expectation for each placement type. For example, each call-to-action style should have a few basic talking points and a link in the description box; each themed video should have rough approved concepts.
Make sure that expectations are simple and clear. The contract should be bulletproof but simple, so that even unsophisticated influencers don't get lost in the details. Systems and processes should allow for the creation of effective and engaging content, as well as perfectly positioned branded material.
For branding quality assurance, three sets of eyes should see every piece of content before it goes live. Also be sure to have an infrastructure that allows your team to keep things organized. There should be 100% alignment between internal teams and external influencers at all times. This is achieved by up-to-date records and management of content.
Rule #4: Know how to disclose, and don't be ashamed
Whether you're producing one or hundreds of pieces of content, don't forget the disclosures. Stay up to date on disclosure guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S., the Advertising Standards Authority in the U.K., and agencies in other countries. Have your team frequently trained regarding FTC disclosure guidelines, particularly as they have been updated a number of times in the past few years.
While the standard for disclosure has been somewhat ambiguous, since 2015 the FTC has made it much more clear:
Disclosures should be clear and conspicuous, straightforwardly identifying the relationship between the brand and content creator. Generally, this means, at a minimum, disclosures in the content that match the form of endorsement (verbal vs. written), and a disclosure at the entry of the description area.
Make sure the influencer also understands this obligation by including a simple document, separate from the contract, that outlines disclosure expectations. Also include disclosure requirements in review materials (requirement checklists) so all parties ensure they are covered.
Have multiple individuals, including a compliance officer, review the material for FTC compliance. The content should also be monitored after it is published to ensure it is continually compliant.
Keep in mind that striving to have content appear authentic does not justify dishonesty. Being upfront and clear that material is sponsored is not only required, it will drive better results than deception. Contrary to what many marketers may believe, research from Peg.co presented at a recent conference has found that adequate disclosures do not negatively affect the performance of branded content. As a matter of fact, the last 10 years has seen a 10% increase of positive sentiment, as measured by "likes" versus "dislikes," toward content clearly labeled as sponsored, according to Peg.co. Viewers appreciate transparency and understand that brands are simply supporting the creation of the content they already love.