How to think about influencer marketing—doing it in-house OR agency OR platform?

Note: This post is part of the series, How to think about influencer marketing. As we learn about the challenges and successes marketers are having with influencer marketing, we’ll share them with you.

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For marketers thinking of launching an influencer marketing program, one of the questions they ask is, how?

• Should I do this myself in a spreadsheet? 
• Maybe an agency can do this for me?
• Maybe I should buy some tech? 

Marketers are mostly picking between one of those three options.

Whatever option you choose, know this: not putting the right effort from the beginning decreases the likelihood that this channel will perform for you. Some brands don’t have the resources—money or people—to give influencer marketing the attention it needs, and it reduces the likelihood of success. 

If you’re just going to add “influencer marketing” to someone’s long list of responsibilities, or crown your new intern the official “influencer marketing specialist” without any support, the program is bound to fail.

Think through how you want to execute. Here are some things to think about as you find the best solution for your brand.


Executing in-house

Running influencer marketing yourself can be a great way to get started. It’s really affordable, so it’s a low financial risk. Doing it yourself also allows you to own the relationship with the creator. There’s no in between. No middle person. It’s all you.

If you’re going to do it on your own, remember that it’s going to take a considerable amount of your time to do it right. 


→ Sourcing

The biggest challenge marketers face when building an influencer marketing program is finding influencers. Some marketers spend hours every day searching for influencers online, reviewing their content, combing through comments to see if they’re legitimate, and checking to see if they’ve worked with competitors recently. 


→ Engaging

Second biggest challenge marketers face when ramping with influencers is engaging them. Remember that, very often, you’re one of many brands reaching out to them. Standing out takes some thought. Here’s some advice engaging influencers from Joel Backaler’s book, Digital Influence:

1. Pick one person in your org to manage and own the outreach.

2. Build goodwill with influencers over a period of time—share their content, promote their work, like and comment on their posts (and make sure you’re not just leaving generic messages).

3. Finally, craft your message. Make it personal. While social channels are great for warming up, Backaler says that email still works best for reaching out in most countries.

4. Most importantly, don’t just fire that email off. Look for the right moment. Monitor their social channels to get a sense of when they’re active—posting, commenting, etc. Send a DM giving them a heads up, and then send. You want to “avoid your email getting stuck in an inbox black hole.


→ Managing

When it comes to management, think of it in two parts:

• Creator management
• Campaign management

Creator management is the admin work that has to be done for every influencer you partner with, and every campaign you run. You need to negotiate rates, make sure contracts are filled out, and get the legal clarity so you know how to reuse and repurpose content. And if you’re paying them, you need to make sure money gets to them (and if you’re paying them in advance, making sure you don’t get ripped off). 

Campaign management is the work you do to make sure this whole thing actually goes live. It’s on you to manage the approval process, so that creative concepts and content are appropriate for the brand. And of course, you want to make sure that deliverables are in on time. It helps to work in a spreadsheet to monitor the different stages you’re at with each creator. 

→ Measuring

Finally, the whole purpose of adding influencer marketing to the mix is so that it can drive growth for your brand. You’ll have to measure. That means setting up a system where your influencers are sending reports back to you. Some marketers move all the info into a spreadsheet, which is better than saving the screenshots they send you in a google drive or something. Unique links and UTM parameters are a good way to validate a lot of that data, too.

One final thought: think about which team is going to own the channel. Depending on your objectives, I’ve seen influencer marketing owned by everyone from corporate comms, PR, to brand, and even digital. Think about who’s going to own the relationship with creators, and who’s going to be held accountable for performance of the channel.

Agency partners

Another good option is working with an agency. They’ll do a lot of the work for you.

You have options here, from small to large agencies. If you’re going this route, connect with one that serves your niche. 

I’d also recommend working the ones who have a track record of driving results, not just executing. Or else, you’re no better off than when you were doing this yourself.

During vetting, ask them if they have prior relationships with their influencers. That’s one of the benefits of working with an agency. You can get access to people you normally might not have been able to connect with. 

The thing to watch for is whether their network is big enough to support you. Since they’re often working from a limited talent pool, you might be working with influencers the agency knows well, and not necessarily the ones that are a fit for your brand.

Some agencies don’t have relationships at all. Some use tech platforms to source influencers for you. That’s ok. Not necessarily a bad thing. When you think about it, you’re getting indirect access to tech, without paying for it.

It’s more about asking the right questions, and being aware. 


Platforms

Sometimes, you’re better off buying and using the platform yourself. 

A good platform will reduce a lot of the creator and campaign management work, and actually make it possible to run influencer marketing with your existing team, in-house.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when decided on a platform because there are hundreds. I find it helpful to break them all down into three groups:

• Discovery: Some tools help you find influencers.

• End-to-end management: Some manage influencer marketing end-to-end. That means finding them, contracting and legal, rights management, content management, communication, etc.

• CRM: Some platforms just focus on managing relationships between brand and influencer.

A lot of the vendors in every category will call themselves “all-in-one” platforms, so just dig in to see which of these three they do really well. 

And remember this space moves fast. Not just the channel itself, but the platforms that this channel feeds off—Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc.. What was all-in-one last year, may not be all-in-one today. Few brands have adopted creator whitelisting, for example, but it’s one of the more powerful ROAS drivers for brands right now.

One of the benefits of platforms is that they have insight into life stages of your creators. At #paid we are always collecting information like whether a creator is getting married, having a baby, or buying a house. Without a platform, that insight is very difficult to get.


Moving forward

The one important thing to take away from all this info is that success with influencer marketing requires the right resources. If you’re managing in-house, make sure you have people to support the heavy lift. Agencies can be great partners, but good ones are tricky to find and can get expensive, so make sure you’re vetting them (or else you’re no better off). 

A platform like #paid can be a great way to launch into influencer marketing—without committing too much time or money. 

You keep full control of your campaign, which saves you the expensive agency costs. But all the admin work, from sourcing creators to managing them, is automated, so you don’t have to make this your full time job. It’s a low risk way to see if this channel is right for your brand.