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Influencer marketing: Give-to-get or pay-to-play?

Influencer marketing doesn’t need to cost big bucks. It’s all in the relationship. In fact, the less you focus on money, the better.

Influencer marketing doesn’t need to cost big bucks. It’s all in the relationship. In fact, the less you focus on money, the better.

Influencer marketing doesn’t need a big ‘pay-to-play’ budget to succeed. In fact, the most authentic and impactful influencer campaigns occur when influencers aren’t paid. That’s because influencer marketing, when done correctly, isn’t influenced (pun intended) by monetary gain, but by relationships.

If you’re a digital marketer, particularly in Asia, you probably don’t believe this. Today’s influencers have extensively monetised their networks; marketers pay on average between $25,000 to $50,000 per influencer program, and that’s expected to double in 2017.

Almost all influential bloggers or Instagrammers will ask for some sort of fee to endorse products or services. And, as influencer marketing becomes more commercialised, it loses its original appeal: authenticity.

The move from the “earned” to “paid” puts the extremely high ROI of influencers in growing jeopardy. The solution? Invest in relationships, not endorsements. It’s more ethical and in the long-term it’s likely to be a more effective use of your marketing dollar.

That isn’t to say that all influencer marketing is – or should be – free. Many influencers do what they do as a full-time job, and need to fund themselves, just like any professional. But here are three tips to build more authentic relationships (and positive feedback) at far lower costs than most influencer marketing:

Go niche

The closer an influencer’s interests and audiences align with your brand, the better the results of working with them. While mainstream influencers with millions of followers may give you more engagement, it’s often rather superficial; widespread awareness without any impact on the bottom line. Those with smaller followings often have more intimate, trusting bonds with their audiences which can lead to more sales or stronger leads.

As part of Text100 Influence, we use proprietary techniques and third-party software tools like Traackr to identify the most relevant influencers. We combine these technologies with our experience and understanding to find that the smaller the niche, the more relevant the story and the more likely it’ll result in leads or a sale.

Start a conversation

Have an informal, online chat with potential influencers first. A tweet with a specific question, ideally from someone well-known in their field will tickle influencers’ interest. They too need relevant content to keep their own audiences coming back for more. If you can help them be successful, they are more likely to listen and support you. Typically, the only investment needed in kick-starting these conversations is time.

In 2013, we launched One Touch Social for Twitter, a service that lets brands’ spokespeople send pre-written, on-topic response tweets. This allows brands to engage with recent posts from influencers and drive discussion forwards, all with a single click. The aim is to offer busy, high-level executives the support and technical means to start these conversations in just a few minutes. The tool has fostered relationships that have led to major online coverage, viral posts, lead generation and even sales to influencers themselves.


The same rules should apply in both influencer marketing and media relations: Contact influencers through their preferred channels, and don’t harass them if they don’t respond to you immediately. Make it clear that your goal is to build a relationship built on honesty, trust, and mutual benefit, rather than demand they paint your brand in a 100%-positive light. Give them the creative freedom to shape, tweak, and even toss out entirely your suggested storylines; they know best what will resonate with their audiences.

Influencer marketing has become a multimillion-dollar industry, but it doesn’t have to cost your entire budget. The most effective campaigns work because it’s not about the budget. They involve brands who talk to niche audiences, build genuine buzz, and maintain long-lasting relationships.

Conversely, if an influencer just wants their fee rather than a lasting relationship or ongoing conversation, don’t buy it. Influencer marketing’s true value comes from authenticity, and that’s something only strong relationships can create.

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