3 Rules for Influencer Marketing: Recruit, Retain, Remain

By Trygve Jensen, President of Current at Pattern

We’re in the performance marketing era, and most brands want marketing investments to follow the logic of a Facebook ad: $1 in, $2 out. But this mindset is leading brands astray when it comes to influencer marketing, which is an attempt to build communities around your brand. Communities don’t come easy. So, your foray into the creator economy will only succeed if you treat influencers like people and build lasting relationships with them.

What makes influencer marketing so powerful as a channel is that it’s not just a series of algorithms; it’s an investment in people who have an intimate connection with your target audience and ideally your brand. But capitalizing on that connection means doing more work than pulling the levers on Meta and Google.

That work boils down to three steps: recruiting creators, retaining them once they’re onboard, and remaining in the game for the long haul.

Make the case to creators

Brands waste a lot of time and money partnering with the wrong creators or attempting to force themselves into a marketplace or platform. The best creators for your brand don’t just have a large following; in some cases they may not have an especially large following at all. Rather, they already have an interest in your brand and an audience that overlaps with yours.

Once you find the influencers who have a natural connection with your brand, the real challenge begins: recruiting them. Creators with traction are being courted by legions of brands who want to get close to their audiences. To cut through the clutter, you need to study the people you’re recruiting, customize outreach, and articulate the value proposition of partnering with your brand.

It’s common for brands to build long lists of creators with whom they would love to work. But those lists mean nothing if those creators don’t want to work with you. So, instead of starting with your ideal hypothetical ambassador, look to the communities already popping up around your brand, and build on that foundation. Those people are likely to communicate better about your brand, and they’re far likelier to respond to the case for a partnership.

Nurture brand-creator relationships

In the age of marketing efficiency, many brands want partnerships with creators to work like display advertising. But creators aren’t ad units, and most of them aren’t multi-person companies, either. They’re people, and the brands who will be most successful in working with them will treat them that way, not like mercenaries or bots.

The tricky aspect of creator-brand partnerships is that they are a one-to-one game and a volume game at the same time. Brands often want to work with thousands of creators, but they also need to collaborate effectively with every creator, each of whom has their own tone, exact content topics, platforms, and audience. This is where tech comes in, allowing brands to communicate on a one-to-one level with creators about the content they’ll create while executing at sometimes massive scale.

As long as brands set up a system to communicate their own guidelines while respecting the autonomy and creativity of creators, they will get the most out of the channel. Don’t send creators a perfect script you want them to push out as if they’re platforms spitting out an ad. Creators know their audience best, and it’s their voice and content that grew their following. So, enlist them in a collaborative creative process to promote your brand in a way that is true to their content and audience by using a well thought out brief that allows for the nature of the creator to show: creativity.

If brands are not ready to act with the empathy required to build a real community, influencer marketing is not the right fit for them.

Get into influencer marketing for the long haul

Brands are eager to get in on influencer marketing for good reason. At a time when consumers are flooded with bland promotions on every channel, creators who have authentic, intimate connections with a brand’s customer base offer them the opportunity to cut through the clutter. Brands are right to envy competitors who have thousands of people talking about them, posting content about them, and building organic social proof, which is often worth millions in ad spend.

More than half of shoppers have used social media to discover products, and nearly six in ten have bought directly from social platforms. The social proof on these channels is a moat around your brand. But as is the case with all extremely valuable business assets, it is valuable in part because it’s hard to do. You can’t just pour $100,000 into influencer marketing for one quarter and expect to build or capitalize on a community. You’re in or you’re out. You take the steps to forge the long-term partnerships that build communities over time, or you don’t. Your community is your brand.

Brands who view the creator economy as an opportunity for long-term partnerships that improve their reputations and ingratiate them with potentially millions of potential customers will win. Those who look for immediate ROI are bound to lose. Influencer marketing is a powerful brand growth channel. The question is whether you’re ready to do the hard, long-term work of making it work for you.