Healthy brand-influencer relationships are key to both the success of the brand and the influencer. It’s crucial for partnerships to be mutually beneficial. Below are five simple, effective ways brands can create impactful relationships with the content creators they’re working with.

  1. Make it nonexclusive

Thanks to technology, brands can spread their message faster, louder and across more than one platform in today’s day and age. At the same time, consumers are becoming informed shoppers and expert BS-detectors. Consumers understand they have full autonomy over what products and brands they interact with, it is no longer the other way around. Most brand-consumer interactions take place via social media platforms, where the consumers decision making process relies almost entirely on what they see on their screens. They continuously build relationships with brands through the content they’re exposed to and they demand for that content to be authentic. This is why when building out influencer programs or influencer campaigns across multiple social platforms, transparent organic-forward content is key.

Activating influencers without exclusivity allows both the brand and the influencer more flexibility. As a brand, to work with an influencer on an exclusive basis usually requires deep marketing budget pockets. A brand is not just creating an exclusive relationship, they are taking the influencer(s) off the market for any other opportunities to work with other brands within said industry and potentially neighboring industries. Evidently, this comes with a large price tag. Of course – exclusivity has its place in time. Consumers tend to engage more though with influencers who are promoting content authentically. In fact, Adweek found in a study that “57% of millenials state they are willing to view sponsored content from a brand as long as it includes authentic personalities and is entertaining and useful.” This is common knowledge in today’s world and although impressions may tally up quickly for those paid macro-posts, the brand is most likely not acquiring new customers and the posts may have a low engagement rate. It is unrealistic for a person to use only one product; therefore, non-exclusivity translates as genuineness to consumers.

Instead, brands who lead with the strategic approach of identifying and activating micro-influencers (and a lot of them), are able to tailor the relationship to be more transparent. In turn, this transparency trickles down to how the consumer perceives the brand through the influencer. Influencers who want to grow their following are extremely cognisant of what they “advertise” on their channels and they often times won’t consider a deal unless it stems from authentic admiration for the brand or product. Partnering with content creators who are passionate and/or interested about the brand and have established brand awareness already, and are even potentially consumers themselves, structures the business agreement as relationship-first. The influencer benefits from the perks of working with the brand and likely genuinely enjoys them! The brand benefits from the organic non-overpowering approach the influencer leads with. It lessens pressure on the influencer, provides more creative opportunities and doesn’t injure existing or new partnerships with other brands. The influencer(s) may also begin to incorporate the brands products in their everyday routines which is then where the brand begins to see non-contracted branded content posts and added engagement. This is gold for acquiring new consumers in an organic manner.

  1. Provide exposure opportunities

Exposure – it’s what everyone wants. It drives most incentives behind the brand engaging with the influencer and vice versa. So how do you create exposure for the brand and the influencer, at the exact same time?

Experiential events and campaigns.

Influencers want to feel a part of the brand, without being constricted to working with that one brand. Therefore, the more exciting and fun opportunities the brand creates for the influencer, the more they’ll want to participate – whether it’s integrated into the agreement or not. These don’t necessarily need to be paid opportunities or appearances but rather exciting events, activations and marketing campaigns where the brand could benefit from the participation of the influencer and the influencer could benefit from participating. Brands can also position and structure their important initiatives as “givebacks” and “thank you’s” to their influencer community. Take a major retailer for example – Sakes Fifth Avenue. There are a multitude of ways the brand could create activations that their influencers would want to be a part of, without it being a contractual obligation:

Certain days or hours of the month/year that are exclusively open to their influencers only to shop

Exclusive events: collection launch, designer experiences, free makeup tutorials

A free personal shopping session when the influencer first partners with the retailer

Large yearly events put together for the influencers to attend, which in turn can be used to capture content (Holiday parties, gift giving, etc.)

These are just some ways the brand can provide experiences at a relatively low cost for their influencers to participate in – and when these influencers do, they will most likely bring their phones with them, wanting to show off their exclusive experience with said brand on their social channels – paid or not! Post or story- it’s free buzz.

Campaign needs can also be fulfilled through these partnerships. What better way to ooze authenticity, relatability and relevancy through a brand campaign than using their very own pool of active social influencers. The alternative? Hire an agency at a premium price and pay hourly fees for models who have most likely never used the product, and pray it resonates with the audience. Most of the time – it’s not happening. Instead, brands have the opportunity to cut costs massively which can be put towards initiatives where the spending is justifiable and can be tracked, such as experiential opportunities and support. In turn, the influencer gets a feature in a mainstream campaign, resulting in some type of exposure for their personal brand and business on their own social media platforms.

  1. Be lenient and supportive

Building off of the importance of exposure and experiences, influencers want to be able to interact with the brand sometimes on their own accord. Take Starbucks for example. Influencers working with the mega coffee house will want ways to interact with the brand beyond what is asked of them. This plays into the importance of relationship building and management – how do you create a business deal that is a two-way street? This is different than experiential events and campaigns, as these are opportunities that do not necessarily provide exposure yet still provide opportunities to interact with the brand in a personal way. There are various ways Starbucks could provide for their influencers that are not obligational and make their influencers feel valued, equal and heard:

Taste testing new products and providing feedback

Offer discounts for in-store/online purchases

– Free shipping

Free delivery through either .com or partnering retailers (UberEats, etc.)

Give opportunity to help develop a new drink/snack

Friends and Family discounts for their influencer network

Sending out a birthday e-certificate, providing friends & family deals, making exclusive opportunities to taste test, are all low-budget easy tactics for the brand to make their social media influencers feel the love and desire to continue to work with the company. In turn, the company gets great honest interactions and feedback on their products from reputable sources which can help when working on future brand strategies.

This is also where support comes in – how do you listen to your influencers? Often times brands forget that influencers are people too, and consumers at that. So how do you virtually employ someone to do something for you yet at the same time build a genuine support system? A simple end-of-year survey is sometimes all you need for influencers to feel supported, and in turn, helps the brand make sure they’re on the right track. Less restrictive asks when it comes to content are also ways influencers feel trusted and supported. Influencers know their audience best; supportive brands allow them creative freedom. Requiring posts and stories are musts yet granting leniency in how that content is created- post content, copy, day of week- is a plus.

An additional influencer strategy to cultivating supportive relationships is to have a specific point of contact on the brand side for the influencer to interact with day-to-day. This is key for influencer relationship management; having someone who is an advocate of the brand and also understanding towards influencer needs. This influencer relationship management strategy would most likely apply to ambassador programs instead of one-off influencer marketing programs, as influencers who are working consistently with a specific brand will need that relationship attention. If the point of contact can dedicate time to working with these influencers as people, there are often times more opportunities for collaborations between brand-influencer that may not have been an idea or part of the marketing strategy to begin with. If a brand dedicates its time and resources to supporting the needs and ideas of their influencers, ambassadors are in turn more likely to do “favors” for the brand; i.e., participate in an event last minute, taking part in a campaign for little to no cost, posting organic content, etc. If they feel engaged by the brand in a genuine, personable way, that attitude tends to be reciprocated.

  1. Send free product – the right way

Free product – enough said. It’s easy on the business and typically exciting for the influencer. For most brands, sending product hits them at a landed cost and shipping is typically already embedded into the overall marketing budget for the year. For social media influencers, it’s mandatory – they need product to showcase on their social platforms.

Free product can be more complicated than a business thinks though – and sending the wrong product can be a flop in not just the number of posts curated but overall engagement and relationship with the influencer. Take another CPG company for example – Under Armour. Their ambassadors are going to require specific sizing and will most likely have preferences in styles, cuts, colors and more. As a brand it is important to not just pay attention to sending the free product but what it actually is. Free often times just doesn’t cut it – it needs to be personalized in some type of way. Particularly if it is a more generic product such as a beauty product, it will then require more “presentation”.

Influencers want an experience at every level of their interaction with the brand. Once again, the more exclusive their interaction with the brand looks without being exclusive, the happier the influencer, the stronger the relationship, and more willing they are to continue long-term.

There should be an “unveiling” moment embedded into every experience, event and most importantly product shipments. Influencers expect “wow” factors and “instagrammable moments” to be integrated into experiential events; without this there is no content being produced. This is a given. There is now an expectation to take it to the next level, which is often seen in the form of personalization. Some brands have taken it as far as having famous tattoo artists at their influencer events or famous graffiti artists to create personalized designs onto whatever product the brand is promoting. This white glove treatment is also expected for when influencers receive product in the mail. It’s a hot trend- whether it be a personalized box that the free product comes in or the product actually being personalized – it works. Contractual obligation or not- they’re posting something about it. This is another way the influencer feels respected and valued, and the brand gets a free post or story in response to their attention to detail.

  1. Compensate – in the form best suited for the influencer(s)

This typically comes in two forms: cash or interactions. Cash is an obvious and can be an easy and quick way to get a transaction done. It’s easy for the brand to cut a check and is direct enough to get the influencer moving. It doesn’t create much of a relationship though and should be reserved for macro-influencer agreements, as macro-influencers are typically not looking to spend time developing a deep relationship with a brand. As for micro-influencers, which this article is centered around, they often are more focused on building relationships through opportunities, rather than being paid. Mobile Marketer published a survey which found “nine out of 10 social influencers said they must like a brand to accept its sponsorship, and that the connection they have with one is more important than money.”

Particularly for a micro-influencer who is looking to grow his or her following or become well known in their community and industry – exposure opportunities can often times be more valuable than cash. This is where experiential events, campaigns, free product etc. all come into play. Other resources are providing company gift cards, travel if applicable and certain expenses covered depending upon the initiative. One off opportunities often benefit these micro influencers more heavily. In turn, the brand also benefits, as they can control where their marketing budget efforts are going rather than writing a check, unable to precisely track the value of their spend.

Brands and influencers have a lot more in common than is often recognized when entering a relationship with each other. It is important for brands to understand that their influencers are people and need to be and feel supported. The relationship needs to be managed and nurtured. Influencer relationship marketing is something brands have to invest in to have long-term success with their digital marketing programs. Brands can do this in ways beyond cutting checks, as discussed. The opportunities they can provide to their content-creators through eliminating exclusivity and in turn providing exposure, leniency with content and leading with a collaborative mindset are often invaluable to their partners. Influencers recognize and appreciate big brands who are considerate, responsive and pay attention to the details. Tailoring relationships and managing them efficiently is key to success. Without a mutually beneficial brand-influencer relationship, both are left in the dust.