Sunday, 27 October 2019

I asked on Instagram what people REALLY think about Influencer Marketing | Part 2 | Brands & PR Companies

And now for blog post number two where I share the feedback I received when I asked on Instagram what brands and PR agencies should do differently when it comes to influencer marketing.

For the benefit of anyone reading who isn't familiar with how Influencer Marketing works in practice, generally it starts with a brand or a PR agency contacting a blogger on social media or via email to ask if they would like to work together on a product launch or to create some brand awareness.

When it comes to influencer marketing, many bloggers prefer to deal directly with the brand. It allows you to get closer to the brand and what they need to share and sometimes there's more freedom in terms of content creation. But it can result in a PR flop for a brand if they don't work with the right influencer - someone who understands what they're trying to achieve and can actually deliver on it. I've met many businesses who've had their fingers burnt working with bloggers and are wary of doing it again.

The benefit of using an agency is that you'll generally get the right people involved, delivering the right message and there will be cohesion across the content, especially if there are other PR channels being used e.g. TV/newspapers. I've had some great experiences working as part of a wider PR project run through an agency. For instance, I did some work recently with Forestside shopping centre where they created professional video clips that I was able to use on my channels too. However, the challenge for Influencers is that this content can sometimes jar with the very relatable/down to earth nature of a blog - and there's a risk of it disengaging followers. We might be buzzing about a professional video or photos but our followers might start to think we're selling out too much. And therein lies the challenge...

Typically Influencer Marketing will take one of these forms:
  • A 'launch' style event where press and bloggers are invited along, usually food and drink is provided and there are hashtags and content that should be shared.
  • A press drop of product - where press or influencers are sent product to their place of work or home with a press release, in the hope that they will share on their channels.
  • Gifted product, as selected by the blogger, is sent out with a (mostly loose) agreement in place about how this will be shared.
  • Attendance at a specific brand-sponsored event as a guest - sometimes to host or present.
  • Brand ambassador - where the blogger works on a long term basis with the brand either on a rolling retainer arrangement or for a fixed term.

Some or all of this might be paid for, there may be commission arrangements in place for sales generated or there may be a permanent discount or free product arrangement in place to compensate the blogger. Often there's just product that exchanges and no money at all. All of this is usually related to following - the bigger your following and engagement, the more likely it is you'll be paid.

When it first started, influencer marketing was a unique way to achieve brand awareness and consumers largely loved it too as it was more authentic than traditional advertising. 5 or 6 years on with many more bloggers on the scene, it's become a victim of its own success. As an authentic and respected blogger myself, I'm getting a push back on it more and more. When a friend challenged me about it, I knew it was time to ask the question. 

Are we all completely fed up of how brands and PR agencies are working with bloggers?

Throughout the feedback, there was a clear desire for a more innovative, non-formulaic approach to influencer marketing and for brands to move away from the 'one size fits all' approach, becoming more choosy about who they work with and not being too prescriptive with briefs.
My overall take from it is that there's a need to get back to a situation where brands are targeting actual consumers (not other bloggers!) with clever and creative brand collaborations.

I did get some PR agency and brand input so I understand the challenge of making a small marketing budget work. I can see how the scattergun approach is a good way to target as many potential channels as possible and that it is often all that budget allows. But have a read of this and please feed back to me - there are some good ideas as well as some ways to tweak what you're already doing to perhaps make it more effective.

Gifting
The main feedback that I got is that mass gifting is creating a largely negative impression of the brands involved and that people are increasingly flicking past this content or unfollowing. I had many comments from followers telling me it has put them off buying that product completely. Why should they have to pay full price when it’s been gifted to all and sundry. 
The suggestion made repeated times was if gifting happens, it should be accompanied by a decent offer for the customer, either in the form of a giveaway, discount or free gift with purchase.

Waste
There were many messages about the issue of waste - the boxes and packaging that these multiple gifts are coming in. Oftentimes items that a blogger doesn't want or need. Where does it all go? I have branded coolbags and water bottles galore - admittedly I use them but I didn't need them in the first place. I was once sent a giant plastic balloon filled with coloured sequins that floated out of a huge box. I literally could not work out what I was supposed to do with it apart from bursting and putting it in the bin. A nice PR stunt but a complete disaster for the environment.

Content Creativity
There was a big push for creativity and difference when it comes to content. Lots of suggestions that brands use bloggers at different times rather than taking a blanket approach. And also a strong push for working closer with 1 or 2 bloggers, developing a more long-term authentic relationship that delivers unique, sharable content.

Using Customers More
Again and again, I read the words 'why can't businesses use their customers more'. While many brands do, I can understand why others want to use influencers with following as they get an instant audience in return. 

But I had many great ideas in this space including why not send a product to a group of customers and one blogger. That one blogger would be paid to collate the review research and present it back, using quotes and feedback from all involved, thereby creating a more balanced and authentic review.

This could also apply to the event space where a blogger could bring along some deserving followers to enjoy the event also. Perhaps healthcare workers who have to work Christmas Day, parents of special needs children or some small business owners who are struggling to get visibility for their business? Genius ideas that won't stretch budgets by a massive amount.

Product Information
In terms of press releases and events I was surprised how many people said to me that they didn’t always get the point of the event nor did they feel that they were supplied with the necessary information that they need as consumers. Where to buy the product/How much it costs/How to use it/ Where to book the service etc and this was a lightbulb one for me - I've been to many events lacking a clear call to action. This is easy and inexpensive to remedy.

Follower Crossover
Brands and PR were being encouraged to understand the crossover effect, especially if influencers have become good friends & attend events together. This invariably leads to the sharing of followers and repeated content - something that was frequently mentioned. Seems like a waste of PR budget if the same content repeats across two almost identical channels.

PR/Blogger Friendships
A surprising number of people commented on symbiotic relationships between agencies/brands and bloggers. The former need to be careful of publicising friendships with bloggers as this has been picked up on a number of campaigns and has diminished the impact of the marketing. Keep the professional distance when it comes to work as it will benefit the client better.

Bloggers vs Press
Throughout, it brought back to me how bloggers are still being treated as press and how this doesn't work in practice. The sending of press releases to bloggers with the expectation that they will be reproduced on a blog or on social is a case in point. Equally, think differently about inviting bloggers to Christmas events in September. There isn't a long lead time for blogger content - as there would be for a magazine. Perhaps if bloggers are asked to attend events like this, they should be encouraged to share the content strategically closer to the occasion e.g. Christmas/Easter/Halloween.

Measurement
Measurement didn't come up directly in the feedback but it crossed my mind as I read how many people are swiping away or unfollowing. It should be established practice to request these measurements from a campaign. Measuring how many people saw a first story vs how many were still watching at the last story is an easy one. I so often only get asked for the first story as agencies want to give the highest figure to the client. 

Now what??
What to do with all of this? Well, I'm hoping that as many brands and PR companies as possible allow some of this to feed into their thinking around influencer marketing. I appreciate that it's not quantitive research...it's the personal views of about 400 people who follow me but it's the feedback of real actual consumers in the 35-55 demographic - not other bloggers, brands or businesses. What's powerful about it is the level of agreement that was evident across the board. Also powerful is that so many people took time out of their busy day to type out often quite lengthy messages explaining why they feel influencer marketing needs to change. 

I guess as a follow on to this, it makes sense for me to offer to help further should you need the input of an objective person with a foot in both camps. I work in marketing & communications and help businesses with their social media in my day job and I run this blog in my spare time. I want blogging to be a respected and valued marketing channel, as well as a relatable and authentic source of information for consumers (though honestly, I care about the latter more than the former).

Let's keep the discussion going - email me on avril@alifetostyle.com with your feedback. I'm particularly keen to get the biased PR feedback, the challenges you face when working with clients and the challenges you face when trying to get influencers on board. I'll update this post as and when this feedback comes in.


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