Influencer marketing is a very attractive way for companies to garner more brand awareness and sales. I’ve seen this trend explode recently as brands are trying to figure out how to unlock the power of influencer marketing.

Influencers are excited because they are making good money posting about products. Brands are opening up budget to try this new way of marketing. Consumers have seen this content for a few years now but my big question is: do they trust the content?

Companies I work with ask me all the time, “How do I find influencers? How much should I spend to sponsor an Instagram post?” While I’m happy to provide advice, I quickly steer the conversation to trust.

Does collaborating with an influencer increase or decrease the trust with your target audience?

Before you go all in on influencer marketing, ask yourself the above question.

I also challenge the idea of working with influencers in general. Before we move on let’s break down the three types of content creators companies can partner with.

The Big Three

Influencers – Content creators who have a high social media following and generally charge companies money to talk about their products on their social media channels. They primarily participate in short term engagements. Influencers may or may not have used the product before.

  • Pros: Quickly gain top of funnel brand awareness, low barrier to participate (money gets you in, you don’t have to foster much of a relationship), and depending on the engagement it can drive sales.
  • Cons: Partnerships can be costly to the tune of $300,000 in this case, FTC requires disclosure, and partnerships are generally short lived (less than 30 days or per event). Trust is highly lacking in these partnerships, especially when the influencer has not used the product they are posting about.

Ambassadors – These are designated people who act as an extension for your brand. They have specific duties, roles, and follow a job description for extended periods of time. Some are paid in cash, product, or a mix of both. Ambassadors generally have a strong affinity for the brand and product.

  • Pros:  More cost effective than influencers, longer term engagements (6 months+), and brand can outline specific duties for ambassadors to follow.
  • Cons: Brands can’t control what ambassadors do and say on companies behalf and relationships can be timely to manage for longer periods of time.

Advocates – I saved the best for last. Partnering with advocates truly is the best option and one that I often recommend to my clients. Advocates already know the brand and use the product. They already refer their friends to the product without being compensated for it. Brands should be working with advocates.

  • Pros: Unpaid partnerships are easy on the budget, advocates are in it for the long game, and there is no insertion order or MSA to follow specific guidelines on the relationship. There are endless possibilities. Advocates are more trusted than paid influencers because they have a closer proximity to their audience and can be more honest with their audience.
  • Cons: Brand cannot control the message advocates share on social media. But brands shouldn’t be controlling what content creators say. That is like giving Picasso step by step instructions on creating a painting you’re paying him to create. That’s nonsense. Like my friend Dave says, “Give content creators the paint brush and a blank canvas and let them do their thing.”

Why Advocates are the best to work with

I’ve worked with over 2,500 content creators, all of them unpaid, and here is what I’ve learned over the years building and managing these programs.

  • Recognition and access has more power than cash.
  • Advocates recommend products they like because they want others to have a good experience.
  • Advocates care more about being trusted than they care about getting more social followers.
  • Celebrity endorsements fall flat. Remember when Kia sponsored Lebron James? No one believed him. In fact Kia had to launch a Truth campaign proving that he actually drives a Kia. (Good luck finding the video, looks like it’s gone. Wonder if it got deleted after their partnership ended? hmmm)

Advocates are real

Advocates already like your brand. They don’t need to be swayed but they should be recognized.

Speaking of Kia, meet my pal Cody Loveland. Him and his wife both drove their cars made by Kia for 12 years and just traded them in for new ones.

Cody is an advocate for Kia. How many times do you think he told people in 12 years that he drove a Kia? How many of those people trusted his opinion? How many people purchased a Kia because of Cody?

The answers to these questions are hard to find however Cody is going to be a lot more trusted than Lebron. Does Lebron have a larger social presence than Cody? Sure. But in a world where consumers are smarter and less trusting of sponsored content, companies have to rethink their approach to marketing.

How do you find your Advocates?

There are more people like Cody out there. Every brand has an army of Codys recommending products to their friends and family. This is what influence really is. It’s a conversation infused with trust that causes behavior to change.

Why should you care? Because before a transaction takes place between a customer and a brand, trust must exist.

What do you think about working with advocates?


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