Sonika Sharma, PR Manager at Agent42, shares her insights about how influencer marketing can be restored to its former glory, if only brands would understand the importance of engagement.

Influencer marketing seems to be one of the hottest debates at the moment. Yet not long ago, influencer marketing was becoming increasingly unpopular.

Following breaches of GDPR, failure to declare ad sponsorship, and the behaviour of YouTubers, brands had to rethink their influencer marketing strategies. Large investments did not achieve their anticipated returns.

Consumers became well aware of the need to ‘pay to play’ for brands and in turn, trust in social media was visibly depleted.

Add to that the fact that 61% of consumers have unfollowed an influencer because “they work with inappropriate brands,” or “endorse too many products,” while 43% feel influencers are “often inauthentic” and “work with brands they don’t believe in.”

But influencer marketing as a strategy was never the issue. It was how influencer marketing was used within a campaign; it had to go beyond just mere product placement or endorsement.

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Often, brands become so caught up in their respective campaigns and launches, they can only envisage the process of consumer engagement as being directly correlating to an influencer’s fan following and subsequent monetary value.

Yet the potential lies much deeper – it’s essentially about a meaningful relationship between an influencer and the brand they’re in association with.

Here’s how influencer marketing can still make a positive difference to campaigns today.

Always value engagement over an influencers’ reach

Remember – ultimately, your end audience is the consumer.

For the influencer to have mass appeal, they must meaningfully be engaged with the content they’re making.

If the content itself is not impactful, then their reach becomes worthless. The key is to figure out what the influencer is passionate about, and whether it resonates with the long-term brand vision for a guaranteed creation of engaging content.

In order to maximise results and create authenticity, invest in long-term relationships which will eventually convert influencers into brand ambassadors.

This will ensure regular content and the opportunity to engage audiences in the art of effective storytelling.

A prime example of this sort of brand strategy has been recently adopted by Sephora, who went on the hunt for Instagram influencers to form part of its new #SephoraSquad influencer program, comprising 24 influencers who will have an ongoing relationship with the brand through the year to create sponsored content.

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Each influencer was bought on-board with meaning, purpose and long-term vision.

Collaborate and truly understand your influencers

Influencers are innately creative people with defined styles, and it’s these styles that have attracted their audiences.

They also know their audience better than any brand.

Go beyond direct product launches and campaigns.

A brand should ensure they allow sufficient time to personally engage with the community affiliated to the influencer.

Respect this style when working with influencers, and allow them creative freedom.

A relationship built on mutual trust is one that will succeed.

If there is one common takeaway, it is simply that influencer marketing is more about meaningful ‘influencer engagement’ than anything else.

Some brands are merely hiring influencers as ‘brand ambassadors’, using them as a platform rather than a medium to reach their consumers.

That is a key point from which the problems stem – not enough time invested in ‘effective’ influencer engagement.

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Trusting relationship is the key

The relationship between brand and influencer should be mutually beneficial; not limited to a paid relationship.

Influencer engagement is actually about identifying intersections between both the brand’s and the influencer’s objectives, and optimising this mutually crossed path.

The latter could range from creating relevance to a particular audience, building credibility around a theme or issue; to simply increasing awareness of its proposition – all while remembering that influencers, ‘professional’ or otherwise, have their own, distinct agendas.

In essence, influencer marketing in the past has walked in the ‘hall of shame’ purely because brands have carried out their strategies of not investing in meaningful relationships at the heart of their vision.

In reality, engaging influencers with thought and consideration is what provides longevity and meaning to a campaign.

It’s vital for brands to understand both influencer marketing and engagement as complementary, and that the key to a successful PR and marketing strategy, boils down to ‘consideration’.