Influencer engagement campaigns are here to stay, here’s how to make them work for you

The Federal Government recently suspended all social media influencer campaigns, after an investigation into various departments and their relationship with influencers, prompted by an article in the Daily Telegraph revealed that it had spent over $600,000 on influencer campaigns.  

The most pressing issue was that the Departments of Health and Department of Defence were both found to have engaged with influencers who in the past, have expressed inappropriate opinions or engaged with other brands that opposed the Departments’ campaign own message, such as the women’s health campaign, working with influencers who have also promoted alcohol and extreme diet methods.

The response has been to implement a blanket ban on influencer engagement across Federal Departments. The Department of Health then proceeded to end the contract with the agency who commissioned the influencer program. This move seems to be very premature and could be easily resolved with a better understanding of influencer relations, better vetting and more strategic alliances.

Set yourself up for success

As with any public relations campaign, social media influencers should firstly be viewed in a similar way to other media channels such as magazines, TV, newspapers, news and lifestyle websites and radio. The great exception is that many aren’t professionals as we know it, and don’t adhere to a code of conduct, so brands leave themselves exposed to a higher level of risk, compared to other media channels. As well as suitability for the brand, we need to assess the validity of the influencer’s claims; some pay for followers rather than relying on organic growth, so having an experienced team to weed out inauthentic influencers is a must.

Once you are sure you have an influencer with true followers and their audience is aligned with yours, the next step is to vet them for suitability before any approach is made. What you’re looking for is authenticity and integrity; they must have a consistent voice rather than just regurgitating conflicting endorsements all the time and you should be able to see a clear personality through social media. PR teams assess spokespeople, celebrity ambassadors and anyone else being paid to represent a brand, so they should go through the same process. This step is particularly important when it comes to organisations in a position of authority, and messages to do with public health, wellness and safety.  Any skeletons in the closet? Any scandal or reputational issues that could reflect on your brand should be taken seriously and you should decide if it’s worth the risk.


Client education is paramount

The client (whether internal management or an agency working on behalf of a marketing team) needs to understand influencer and spokesperson relations. This includes what the client can and cannot control, the potential risks and the nuances of the positive benefits to alliances with that particular influencer. Most importantly, everyone should remember that the number of followers – just like readership and circulation figures – are not the be all and end all. Sure, high numbers get the message out there, but the target audience is the highest priority.

Managing expectations and having an understanding of social media influencer relations will help everyone to understand post-campaign measurement and what a successful outcome looks like.

To declare or not declare a sponsored post?

Unfortunately, Australia has no clear guidelines about declaring sponsored posts. Last year the Australian Association of National Advertisers released a code for branded social media posts, but this self-regulating and voluntary, and is based on the question ‘who has reasonable control over content’, so effectively doesn’t help social media audiences understand what is and isn’t paid for. In the above instance, government agencies may consider asking all influencers in their campaigns to use #sponsored against every post on their behalf, to better help people understand what has been commissioned.

How to get it right with influencers

My top five tips for working on influencer campaigns

  • Be strategic in your alliances, just as you would with brand ambassadors and celebrity alliances. Their brand must 100% align with yours to be an authentic, authoritative voice that promotes your brand in a positive light. Think long-term rather than one-off campaigns and build a proper relationship with them, rather than seeing them as a one-post wonder
  • Fully vet the influencer and if there is any hint of risk via their social media or in their personal lives, then walk away. From experience, you do not want to be launching a spokesmodel for a health food brand, when the previous day she issued a media statement stating that she has an eating disorder…
  • The number of followers IS NOT the most important factor in selecting an influencer.  Your message means nothing if it’s to the wrong people, or via an influencer who people don’t trust. Would you really pay Kim Kardashian to tell people all about a new aged care facility just opened in Toowoomba?
  • Consider your own brand’s transparency with the audience. For corporate brands or organisations in an authoritative position – such as government agencies – transparency and trust are a priority, so declaring sponsored posts is a must. A great blogger and influencer I came across working in beauty PR was Nikki Parkinson, of Styling You. As a former journalist she understands the importance of transparency, and declares sponsored posts, endorsements and paid ambassadorial roles at the beginning of each blog post, to avoid any ambiguity. This does not detract from Nikki’s brand, in fact her audience engages with her more because they know exactly what she receives from whom, whether product or monetary.
  • Create an influencer framework template for your marketing department, which should include a guideline of payment levels, and eeks out that all important issue of how much control you have over posts. This will vary from one campaign to another but it’s best to outline all options for you to consider each time you develop a new program strategy, to develop a level of consistency.

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