7 questions brands ask me about influencers in every meeting

Top influencer, Zoe Sugg (aka - Zoella) at VidCon 2014 / Gage Skidmore

I will be the first to admit that when it comes to influencer marketing, I’ve made every mistake. It’s hard. Really hard. Dealing with talent, developing creative that is on-brand for both talent and client and enjoyable to the fan, being FTC and SAG compliant — the list goes on. With that, I’ve been privileged enough to be a part of some amazing campaigns for Fortune 500 brands.

After over 250 campaigns, working with countless talent and creating thousands of pieces of social and mobile-first content, I’ve learned quite a few lessons — some the hard way — but I’m here to save you the time and trouble.

Here are the top 7 questions I get from brands and their agency partners that I think are worth answering.

1) How do I get the most bang for my buck when working with influencers and celebrities?

There is an easy answer to this question. Set. Clear. Goals. By offering specific direction to your creatives and/or influence marketing partners, they can make better decisions on behalf of your brand.

And there are a lot of choices to be made. Is it overall brand awareness you’re going for? Engagement with a piece of content or specific message? If you are looking for engagement, what exactly are you looking for? Video views? Comments? Action or purchase? Or is it overall positive sentiment?

These programs require creative ideation in content, talent casting, distribution and amplification, so help us creatives help you by doing your own due diligence and getting the brand aligned with what exactly they are looking to accomplish.

2) Is it a safe bet to pay an influencer to create content for our brand (on their own), instead of with our brand (produced by brand or partner)?

Sure (I say nervously as I shake my head NO). In all seriousness, the honest answer is: not really. I’d recommend taking the time and making the investment in a high quality partnership that will output assets (images, videos, gifs, boomerangs, etc) that are custom created (in a controlled environment), with professional storytellers (who will actually show up).

When it comes to both talent and creative, the absolute best way to approach influence marketing is with an open mind. I always recommend coming up with a creative idea, and then taking it about 80% of the way. Cast your influencer, whether they be a celebrity, pop culture or micro-influencer, and work with them to drive the concept home in a personal way that will have an authentic appeal to their audience. In the end, you get what you were looking for, with some fun surprises along the way. (Note: On social, these surprises or as I call them “hidden gems” are great for performance! Show fans something new that they haven’t seen before.)

3) When working with influencers, will we get the best engagement with photos or videos?

I suggest always working through a creative storytelling plan that integrates multiple media formats, taking into account who you are looking to reach (for example, moms vs. tweens interact with different types of content).

A mixture of short-form video, photos, GIFs, maybe even some live content is relevant today and covers your bases. Plus, you can capture all of this content at the same time and tell a much more comprehensive story.

Think about a campaign as flowing, and not just one set of posts or one video. It’s a fluid story that is told through various media formats over a period of time. There is a right piece of content for a right time.

4) Why would we invest in photos if video offers more branding and a story?

The notion that video gets higher engagement than photos is a common misconception. Images actually drive clicks and comments, generating 5x the engagement of a video. And, fans really do take the time to read and interact with the text associated with an image.

I recommend photos for the fashion and beauty category especially, while Instagram and Snapchat stories are really great for travel and tourism. Additionally finance and healthcare often require more storytelling, making video a priority within those categories as well.

5) What are some best practices for creating video for social?

There are a couple of ways to approach this in terms of length, captioning and value. There is a lot of competition for attention out there, so be mindful of length. Keep it tight — maximum 30 seconds — and call out or showcase the brand or message and the influencer within the first three or four seconds. Keep it casual and natural — no forceful branding here unless you feel really confident that it will add to a user’s experience. Also, in the first few seconds, use larger font captions that people can read on mobile to increase video completions by 20%.

Finally, the content should have its own purpose. Make sure there is a reason for someone to watch the video. What is the value exchange? Does it inspire them to go do something? Does it make them laugh and think of their son? Does it remind them of something sentimental? Make sure that you are respecting their time and lifestyle by providing a piece of content that is meaningful and somehow benefits them.

6) What are examples of creative fit to fulfill certain goals and KPIs? Do I really need to be so specific or can I just hit a mass audience with a blanket message?

The answer to the “how to set KPIs” question all depends on your what you are trying to achieve.

  • Awareness: For an awareness campaign, tease content prior to pushing live with photos and/or some sort of selfie or unfiltered video. Peak interest with a widely targeted ten second video, and then deliver a longer form unit to the audience that engaged most with that teaser content. The best networks for optimized distribution, in order, are Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube.
  • Engagement/Action: For Engagement and Action campaigns, leverage platform tools to spark an interaction. For example, on Instagram, release a video call to action for fans to like or comment in order to see the influencer do something special. Or on Facebook, organize content into a shoppable Canvas unit. The best networks for optimized distribution, in order, are Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter
  • Sentiment: For Sentiment, longer, story-based videos have more impact on sentiment and positive commenting. Leverage key tentpoles and/or relatable events such as the holidays, back to school, Mother’s Day, etc, as an excuse to discuss your brand message.

I can tell you this: if you do this correctly, and mix great creative with the right talent, you will be able to deliver and measure superior results in every media category. This stuff works.

7) Does #ad prevent engagement? Is it the elephant in the room?

Listen, if I had it my way, I’d nurse a magnum of ‘Summer in a Bottle’ Rosé at my desk with Beyoncé blasting and my feet up — but that’s not appropriate and doesn’t follow our company policy. Follow the rules.

Clients are desperately trying to find a way around #ad, suggesting terms like #sponsored, #sp, #partner #ClientPartner #paid and more. You must use #ad no matter what. And, if not that, then a term that you are 100% certain is FTC compliant. It’s not even a question; always be compliant. So does using #ad prevent engagement? No! If your creative is good enough and the brand is being authentic, fans will engage.

From all that I’ve learned, the key takeaways for developing a successful influence campaign are:

  • Focus in on what it is you are looking to really do with this campaign. Work in partnership with the influencers to craft content that is original, authentic and provides value
  • Use the right platform for the idea, and capture assets in various formats to cover all bases
  • Follow best practices to optimize engagement
  • Use #ad

I wish I could say follow your gut and your content will be great, but this industry is only getting more complex by the day, so put more thought into why you are creating content. Influence marketing can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be if you do it right.

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