The key decision in influencer outreach and why everyone is missing it

By Mark Schaefer

Influencer marketing is a hot, hot topic. No question about it. And when something is hot, a deluge of advisory blog posts, webinars, and eBooks are sure to follow.

As the content on influencer marketing explodes, it seems to me many of the pundits and advisors are completely overlooking a key point. There is a natural focus on relevance, reach, and engagement levels … but in my mind, these advisors are missing the biggest consideration of all … a lesson we should learn from the current headlines.

Let’s explore that today …

An economy of influence

There has been a significant wave of celebrity implosions starting with the watershed Weinstein moment.

  • Calvin Klein, HBO, and GNC have had successful advertising partnerships with comedian Louis C. K. All of this has been pulled from the market.
  • E*Trade, Olympus and Renault had multi-million endorsement deals with Kevin Spacey.
  • Closer to home, Membit, Insta360, Rackspace, and many other companies have either hired tech rockstar Robert Scoble as an influencer or lobbied to be aligned with his celebrity status.

Within a moment, the status of an individual can be ruined or compromised by charges of sexual misconduct and other improprieties. And then sponsoring companies are forced to pull away. Fast.

But it could have been different …

A matter of values

All of these stars had reach, relevance, and an engaged fanbase. But they were not aligned with their sponsoring brands in one key area: Values.

In each of these cases, the stars had a well-established record of bad behavior within their industries. As their stories emerged most of their contemporaries have said, “yeah, no surprise.” When the Robert Scoble allegations were breaking, a friend at a conference told me “I’ve seen him at parties. It was just a matter of time before this happened.”

If these sketchy reputations were so well-known by people in the industry, why wouldn’t companies know this stuff before committing their brand reputation to a toxic personality?

Are you making the same mistake in your influencer outreach program? Do you have your head down in a dashboard looking at the number of Twitter followers, or are you doing the work to figure out whether a person’s VALUES align with your company?

The influencer outreach marriage

Recently I completed an influencer marketing research project for Traackr and had an opportunity to interview many of the leading marketing leaders from companies like Microsoft, Dell, Samsung, and Intel. They all said the same thing regarding their influencer outreach strategy: This is like getting into a long-term relationship. Some even compared the connection to a marriage.

I think that’s an interesting analogy. Like a marriage, you better know everything you can about a person beyond the surface appearance. If there are skeletons in the closet, it’s best to figure it out early on. If the relationship crashes and burns, the divorce might be swift but it is still going to be a pain that sticks with you for a long time.

Amisha Gandhi from SAP explained: “You have to really research the influencer in order to create a mutually beneficial relationship. A long-term relationship should be your goal from the very first conversation. The subject of values must be considered.”

Let’s get personal

There is no fool-proof way to avoid brand embarrassment from an influencer melt-down, but I do think there is an important step you can take to protect yourself: Ask around!

Are you making decisions based on an algorithm, or are you actually talking to people in the industry? If a person is trouble, chances are most people know it already.

Konstanze Alex-Brown of Dell told me that finding the right influencers is a team effort: “As a starting point, we use algorithms and sometimes work with an outside agency to find these micro-influencers. But if you stop there, you can pretty much write off your program, because it’s not going to work. What you really need is the input from stakeholders involved in the marketplace. We start with a long list of influencers, but then I tap the intelligence of the team and ask ‘Hey, do you know this person? What do you think’? That’s how an influencer gets to the top.”

An influencer becomes an integral part of your brand identity. Arguably, in a long-term connection, an influencer might be your most important and visible employee! Don’t put your reputation at risk by taking a cavalier attitude toward your influencer outreach.

In an online world where status can be faked and the risk of a mis-step is extreme, you need to add “personal values” to your assessment scorecard.

Disclosures: I was compensated to do the Traackr study. Dell and Microsoft are clients. I was not compensated in any way to produce this content. 

Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy Unsplash.com 

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