Never a dull moment in the world of influencer marketing. Last week, Digiday wrote an article essentially claiming that agencies are destroying influencer marketing (influencer marketing agencies, in particular).
This should surprise no one.
These influencer marketing agencies and networks have always seemed to me a little like the former mom blog networks. Transactional–not cohesive or built for long-term impact. Especially not for brands.
So, why would any brand partake? Because they don’t know any better, for starters. But, more so, because they want (or, NEED) influencer marketing to scale. Which, when you say it out loud, kinda seems ridiculous.
You want to “scale” something that is built on developing relationships with actual people?
You want to scale something that is based on creativity and cutting through an increasing impossible social media content landscape?
You want to scale something that is built on TRUST?
Don’t give me this “scale” garbage. Influencer marketing isn’t something you scale. Influencer marketing requires the exact opposite: It needs a lot of care and feeding.
And, one of the core concepts of this all working from a brand perspective is simple: You need to own the influencer relationships.
Not an agency.
I see five big reasons, and they seem fairly simple:
#1: The influencers are telling you they want to work directly with you!
According to the Digiday story, one influencer says “I prefer to have a relationship with a company rather than put in a bid. The networks’ approach “seems a bit impersonal.” That’s not surprising. You put a middle-man in between any two parties and you’re bound to get confusion and frustration.
#2: Direct, fast access
If you’ve worked in IM at all, you know the old adage applies: What can happen, will happen. That’s not to say things go wrong all the time. But, things do go wrong. And, when they do, wouldn’t you rather have direct access to the influencers you’re working with vs. going through an agency that may or may not be your top priority at any given moment?
#3: Long-term contracts, pulling them in closer to your brand
Sure, you could definitely lock-in long-term contracts with influencers using an agency. But, in general, what I hear about agency/influencer relationships is it’s very transactional. They’re looking for that “scale” I mentioned above. Whereas brands should be looking for a long-term partner. Someone they can create content with. Someone they can invite to employee events. Someone they can do media interviews with. This is the future of influencer marketing–and I’m not sure it needs agency involvement.
#4: IM is not transactional, at least it shouldn’t be
According to the Digiday article, there’s been an uptick in solicitations from agencies and these influencer networks. One influencer believes that’s because brands are looking to achieve short-term goals. He’s almost certainly dead-on with his take. Brands are frequently focused on a campaign mentality–and that’s probably no different with influencer marketing. Brands want results by the quarter–and they’re willing to pay for them. Hence the transactional comments we’re seeing in this article. But, what brands should be doing is the exact opposite. Focusing on long-term relationships with brands that include much more than 2-3 Insta posts per month.
#5: I’m not 100% sure IM should really even “scale”
There’s one quote that particularly bothered me in the Digiday article: Kristy Sammis, executive director of the Influencer Marketing Association, said: “Brands are now willing to allocate significant budget to strategic influencer programs. This means they need scale, benchmarks, and guarantees. That’s simply not possible with one-on-one influencer relationships.” It’s great that brands are devoting more resources to IM. But, scaling is something IM doesn’t do well. This is where all the frustration is coming in. And, the comment about “guarantees” is troubling, too. Sure, you can forecast what an influencer might bring to your brand in terms of impressions, engagement and even traffic. But, to “guarantee” such results is absolutely preposterous. I can’t even believe the director of an association devoted to IM would say such a thing.