We've covered trends in the influencer industry a lot and you may have seen our recent predictions for influencer marketing for 2019. One thing we haven't talked about much though is the growing desire for brands to have more control over content produced by the influencers they're working with. We get it! As influencer budgets grow, there are more internal eyes on the content that influencers publish about your brands. And as brands run more and more influencer campaigns, there's a greater chance they've been burned by an influencer who didn't stick to the brief and live up to expectations.
As valid as this sounds, we're seeing a very concerning trend take over as more and more brands ask to review influencer content before it goes live, so below we're covering recommendations for how to handle giving influencers creative edits -- a nuanced approach that cannot follow the same rigidity as the feedback you give to your internal creative team or agency.
Your creative team is not only made up professionals who draft copy and build designs for brands for a living, but they are likely to be very well versed in your brand guidelines, key messages, and product details. What's more, they're creating content on your behalf to come from the brand voice and live on brand-owned channels.
You cannot hold influencers to the same set of standards you put on your creative team for many reasons.
1. Influencers Need Clear Guidelines Up Front
First, influencers know, understand, and represent one brand -- their own. The very reason to work with influencers is to leverage the brand they've built for themselves, so asking them to morph their own brand into a replica of your brand is not an option. That said, influencers want to be good stewards of your brand and wouldn't work with you if they didn't feel like your brands could mesh well together. But they need your help to do that.
As seen on Forbes - 5 Things Influencers Want from Brands by Jim Tobin, President of Carusele
At Carusele, that help comes in the form of a Welcome Packet. It's part creative brief, part assignment requirements, part content guardrails, and part contract. It's designed to help influencers best represent your brand in a way that you want, while allowing them the creative freedom to apply these same requirements to their content.
As an added bonus, it sets clear expectations up front -- saving the brand and the influencer painful rounds (and rounds) of unnecessary back and forth because of the natural knowledge gap that exists between them. Don't be fooled, regardless of how professional they may act, putting an influencer through rounds of edits will ruin your relationship with them. By giving them clear guidelines up front, they're able to deliver work they and you can be proud of.
Components of a Strong Influencer Brief
1. Introduction to the Theme -- help the influencer understand WHY this campaign is relevant to them and their audiences.
2. Objective -- What is this campaign designed to achieve?
3. Product Details -- Limit these to need to know facts. Proper naming conventions, how to use, disclaimers or watchouts.
4. Do's and Don'ts -- This list should be short but very clear. Are you a candy brand that doesn't want to position your products as a reward to children? Are you an alcohol brand that doesn't want to suggest over-consumption with a photo that has more than one drink per person shown? Should your product always be shown with dimension, never laying flat on a table?
5. Assignment requirements -- How many posts? What channels? How many photos and/or videos? An event they must attend?
6. FTC Guidelines -- To us, these are clear. However, many brands requirements are much more lax than ours. You should be clear with exactly how you expect the influencer to comply with FTC guidelines as it's likely whatever you tell them will be different from how they've worked with other brands in the past.
2. Don't Force the Expression of an Opinion
It's becoming less common these days, but we still see brands who attempt to guide influencers into "key message" language that is expressed as opinion vs. fact. For example, brands might want an influencer to say how easy their product was to install. WATCHOUT folks. The disclosure your influencer uses in their content may get you in trouble.
Let's use the ease of install as an example:
- If your brief requires the influencer to mention ease of install - Their content must be presented as "created in partnership with BRAND"
- If your brief requires the influencer to share specific reasons they liked the product, such as ease of install - Their content can be presented as simply "sponsored by" or #ad.
Why must they go through greater lengths in scenario #1? Because most influencers say either within their sponsored content or in a specific place on their website that addresses how they approach sponsored content, "all opinions are my own." If they don't feel that your product was, in fact, easy to install, but you compel them to include it, then you (the brand) are now co-creating the content. You've also lost a big chunk of your authenticity.
3. Natural Language vs. Your Perfect Trademark
Our first consideration pointed out that you'll need to include naming conventions within the influencer brief to ensure they properly state your brand/product name, but to help your influencers out even more you should also include some alternative terminology that's brand approved.
Influencers tend to write their blog and social content in a very conversational tone, and if you're requiring them to repeat a full trademark repetitively throughout the entire piece, it's going to feel unnatural and over-promotional. Instead, let them write naturally and provide them with these guardrails to adhere to. This way they're still including the full trademark but also utilizing a list of different approved terminology to use throughout the piece. It's a win-win for both parties involved.
4. Grammar Mistakes and Word Choice are Different
Hand-in-hand with number three comes our next consideration, understanding the tone of voice the influencer uses and that they write the same way they speak. Not all influencers are experts on proper grammar and their blog isn't a corporate website. The conversational tone that they use is what drew their audiences in to begin with, and it's that tone that will help sell your product in a more natural way.
Now you can of course ask an influencer to fix typos, but if you're asking them to change their writing style to better suite your brand, perhaps you shouldn't be partnering with influencers in the first place. Remember, it's all about meshing your two brands together for a complementary piece.
5. Avoid the Back and Forth Requests as Much as Possible
If you're requiring the influencer to take extra steps to let you approve all their content, make sure you're checking for every detail and fully approving the entire piece in one fell swoop. Influencers are not fans of approvals in the first place and may get irritated if there are seemingly-endless revisions requested of them.
Additionally, many times influencers assume that once they've submitted their work that there won't be any edits. They then begin moving on to the next project and brainstorming for a completely different brand or product. Nothing is more frustrating than having to stop what you're doing and return to work once your brain has already moved on from.
This is part of the reason that our clients love the Welcome Packets we laid out at the beginning of this post. We collaboratively create them with the client and ensure they include as much information as possible about the product to avoid this type of back and forth. If you don't have a system like this already in place or know you have to approve everything, be prepared to not only frustrate a few influencers but to also increase your budget to compensate for extra work they're now required to do.
In short, the best brands recognize that they are engaging influencers to provide their unique perspective on a product and how it makes their life better in some small way. Heavy handed editing is going to make the content less effective, dampen the influencer's own enthusiasm for the project and result in lower overall campaign performance. Choose carefully when someone on your team says, "We should make sure we approve all the influencers' content." Watch out...
After all, this is very different from normal content marketing.