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The 3 phases of a steady (influencer) relationship

Learning to work together: Meiling Yeow, Senior VP and Managing Consultant for Text100 Malaysia tells us how to handle influencer relationships.

Learning to work together: Meiling Yeow, Senior VP and Managing Consultant for Text100 Malaysia tells us how to handle influencer relationships.

Many brands assume that an influencer campaign will deliver quick and easy results, but they’re sorely mistaken. All relationships require work, and influencer partnerships are no exception. Successful influencer engagement doesn’t happen overnight: it takes a large investment of time, effort, and communication between both parties. As in any healthy relationship, both parties need to benefit: brands can’t simply override influencers and hope to sell happily after.

Having worked with influencers across a range of industries and markets, I’ve identified three phases that any successful relationship will go through. Skip any of them, and you could find your influencer relationship sinking:

1. Getting to know you

Most people know to never get too serious on the first date. The same goes for engaging influencers. Opening with the hard sell and commercial terms screams “I just want you for your followers”. While influencers may agree to play ball, you’ve already based the relationship on money instead of mutual respect. As with dating, this is not the most stable foundation to build on.

What I typically do for brands is start off by “courting” the influencer I have my eyes on: I reach out to them in a way that acknowledges them as a content creator, subject-matter expert, or someone I find genuinely interesting. Sometimes that involves replying to their tweets with questions and conversation-starters, a process we’ve made easier for brands with our One Touch Social service. For others, it’s coffee or lunch to hear the story behind their platform’s growth and their aspirations for the future.

Regardless of the channel, the intent is the same: for both of you to understand the other’s motivations, goals, and whether you “click”. There’s nothing worse than jumping head-first into an influencer partnership, only to discover a major clash between their values and yours.

2. Testing the influencer waters

Once you’ve worked out the chemistry and alignment between your brand and influencer, kick-start the relationship with something small. One-off pilots or short campaigns will help both parties identify how well their working styles and processes can fit together. Starting slow also gives you the chance to work out differences and find compromises before the stakes get too high.

One common issue brands face is the amount of control that influencers require over the content they produce. Personally, I go with the influencer’s wishes unless they’re directly in conflict with the brand we’re working for. Influencers know how to connect with their audiences far better than any brand does; after all, isn’t that the point of the relationship?

Similarly, while we’ll often provide content to support influencers’ campaigns; anything from guest blog posts to animated GIFs, we also insist that their voice in how they use that content.

3. Going steady

If everything’s working well so far, it’s time for brands to make a longer-term commitment. A monthly feature or segment, for example, or an agreed number of sponsored posts every year. This shows the influencer that you’re serious and supports their content production, as well as their cash-flow.

When making this sort of long-term deal, a degree of flexibility will help both parties work together. Influencers, for example, should keep a ‘right of refusal’ over products or services that they’re uncomfortable promoting. Putting these terms down in a contract is, just like a pre-nuptial agreement, good practical sense. The terms should give both sides enough flexibility to amicably part ways if things change further down the track. This isn’t a marriage, after all; it’s just good business.

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