What You Should Know Before Hiring an Influencer Marketing Agency - dummies

What You Should Know Before Hiring an Influencer Marketing Agency

By Stephanie Diamond

The fact that influencer marketing is a rapidly evolving practice can make it hard to evaluate and pick one agency over another. Like any other kind of outsourcing, it helps to start by understanding your budget, and what you want to accomplish with influencer marketing, including the following:

  • Who you want to reach.
  • Where and how they already interact on social media channels, so you know which type of specialist to hire. You don’t go to a Twitter agency if your target is active on YouTube.
  • What type of message you want to share and have the influencers share in turn.

Having a clear picture of what you want your influencer marketing program to be will help you set specific and actionable goals for your agency partner, and make it easier to measure the success of your program. You want to be sure that any and all activity supports your business goals. Because if it doesn’t, you’re wasting your time and money!

influencer marketing
©Shutterstock/zaozaa19

Leveraging relationships in influencer marketing

Managing relationships with influencers is hard work. Coming up with a concept, theme, and hashtag is just the beginning! Someone also has to manage the communication and administrative tasks involved with your influencer marketing program, including identifying and recruiting the right people, setting up a contractual agreement, administering payment, and even dealing with typos.

Setting up this infrastructure with each individual influencer at any kind of scale is costly and time-consuming, and around every corner is another opportunity to get it wrong and offend the very people you’re trying to convince.

Perhaps most important, very few brands (Disney is the exception that proves the rule) have enough content or interesting reasons to interact with any one influencer more than two or three times a year. Influencers don’t want to write about a brand more than that, and their audiences certainly don’t want to read that much content about any one brand!

Unless you can come up with diverse, creative angles from which to approach your brand’s messaging (for example, a recipe one month, a post about a vacation the next, favorite pets the next, and so on), while still somehow staying relevant, content will get repetitive and boring.

This is where outsourcing to an influencer marketing agency, especially one with a network of influencers, is so valuable. A capable agency will have a comprehensive database with information that helps identify and vet the best candidates to work on your project. They’ll have processes in place for quality control, systems to pay the influencers, and measurement and reporting methodologies.

A great influencer marketing agency will even offer first-hand qualitative data about its influencers as well — that is, who is reliable, whose posts produce consistent engagement, who creates the most original/creative content, and which influencers can’t be counted on to meet a deadline! This knowledge can’t be found in a database or by simply looking at statistics.

An agency that works on behalf of multiple brands has multiple reasons to contact influencers, building credibility and a relationship over time. In practical terms, this means they have already weeded out the crazies and earned the respect of the good ones.

Consider the value of the influencers’ desire to stay in the good graces of an agency that provides them with multiple opportunities to work on prestigious programs — they have more at stake than a single gig paying $150, which means they’re motivated to behave professionally.

A strong relationship with an influencer is extra valuable when consumers say they hate your product. The influencer will be more likely to reach out privately with negative feedback, and less likely to take cheap — and brand damaging — shots on a public forum if she sees a long-term value to the relationship.

How influencer marketing works: Self-service versus full-service

Approaches to managing influencer marketing programs range from fully automated and self-service, to highly personalized, high-touch, custom solutions. Most agencies skew more one way than the other. Each approach has value, and it’s smart to let your needs, rather than a philosophical preference, dictate your selection.

Think of it as a choice between an all-you-can-eat buffet in a casino in Las Vegas, or having a personal chef come to your home and make a perfectly designed three-course meal for an intimate dinner date. They both can be delicious, but when you’re in the mood for one, the other choice definitely won’t satisfy you!

I <3 control: When self-service platforms rock

Often considered the “technology solution,” self-service, automated platforms put the bulk of the control — and responsibility — in your hands. You log in to the vendor’s system and have access to a variety of program components.

Many systems let you go in and sort their influencer database according to a set of desired characteristics. This can include demographic factors like household income, education, gender, and number of children, as well as information about their social channel presence like number of followers or monthly blog page views.

Automated solutions are usually a cost-effective way to get a general message to a broad audience at scale. Some platforms allow you to review posts before they’re published, which is appealing to brands that are in highly regulated industries like financial services or have a desire to tightly control the messaging. However, the quality of the content tends to be fairly generic, and the engagement of the influencers audiences is often low. Also, there are usually few vetting or validating processes to join these automated platforms, so anyone with an email address can sign up.

This approach is fine if you can reach your goals with the lowest common denominator. For example, if you’re trying to sell gift-wrapping supplies during the December holiday season, you can afford to be very general in your targeting and selection of influencers. It’s a safe bet that pretty much every influencer out there has someone in their community of followers who needs a gift bag.

Automated solutions also make control freaks happy. Do you want, or even have a pressing business need, to check your results daily or even hourly? Great! Log on and watch the impressions roll in.

Just remember that most platform solutions don’t provide very much customer service, so you need to have internal staffing resources, who are trained and available to do most or even all of the program setup, project management, and reporting.

Just make it happen: Getting someone else to do the heavy lifting

At the other end of the continuum is the full-service influencer marketing agency that manually (or mostly manually — everyone uses some kind of contact management system, even if they don’t give clients access to it!) sets up the program. This gives you great flexibility, starting by allowing you to be very specific in your influencer selection.

Need military moms in Florida, with three kids and a family history of diabetes? They can be found and recruited! But it’ll be expensive, it’ll take time, and your program size will be limited by the actual number of people who match your requirements and are also willing to participate in the program.

Speaking of participants, the members of this type of network usually meet minimum membership requirements and consequently are of a higher caliber, with better content and higher audience numbers, as well as being more reliable.

These more expensive services come with a full suite of benefits for you the marketer, including an expert project manager, who runs the programs, manages influencer communications, and provides you with reporting that can be highly customized.

This type of service is great when you really just want to outsource it all. If you want to hand over your list of requirements and goals, and go take care of something else, you’ll be happier with a full-service agency.

Deciding which type of influencer marketing agency is right for you

Realistically, your influencer marketing program probably needs a little bit of both. And few agencies are purely one or the other, although their pricing and standard service models will start at one point or the other. See the table below for a helpful chart on when to use a self-service agency versus a full-service agency.

When to Use a Self-Service Influencer Marketing Agency versus a Full-Service Influencer Marketing Agency
Self-Service Full-Service
You have a small budget. X
You have a bigger budget. X
You have few demographic requirements. X
You have very specific demographic requirements. X
You have a highly engaged, skilled, and/or dedicated internal staff. X
You have limited internal resources to manage the project. X
You need real-time, frequent reporting. X
You have a broad topic that is applicable to most of the population. X
You have a very specific or sensitive topic. X