Calling all influencers – did you see the news yesterday?
I know we haven’t done a from the desk post in a while and while this may be a departure from PR 101, I figured a peek under the hood of what I do was timely given that one of the biggest influencer networks closed its doors yesterday.
Update: The original article noted MODE declared bankruptcy which is factually inaccurate – the statement has been updated.
The network was one of the first to operationalize the bloggers taking creative minds and marketing their mass influence, reach and “authenticity” to brands at scale – absolutely brilliant, right? What a moneymaker! $1 Billion to be exact.
But what happens when that system breaks down? Who’s responsible? What happens to the lost jobs, the invoices that remain unpaid and the income streams that suffer? All great questions and some that may never be answered. I had a discussion with a blog friend of mine as she asked – Is this the beginning of the end for bloggers/networks and influencer marketing?
NOT EVEN CLOSE.
As you all know my job is based on this ecosystem. The brands that want to reach bloggers, the PR Pros and managers that connect and create campaigns and the bloggers that collaborate on them. This is a function of my job at one of the top PR agencies in the world representing some of the biggest global brands and it’s not going anywhere.
Read more: Mode Media Bankruptcy: What to Do Now and Mode Media Alternatives (Via:Oh She Blogs)
A PEEK UNDER THE HOOD
Putting my PR Pro/Influencer specialist hat on – brands are hungrier than ever for authentic brand endorsing content – I see it and work on campaigns for big brands every day. What bloggers need to know is that just because a network shut its doors due to some serious faulty math, the influencer community while slightly flawed has never been stronger. In fact, rewardStyle reports (via Forbes) that through affiliate marketing alone, influencers are estimated to drive more than $700 million in retail sales in 2016. And that’s just one arm of a bloggers typical revenue stream. There’s even more money in brand partnerships.
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
Truly, besides some major life changes for those that work at MODE and some angry bloggers who are out some serious cash (including me! I’m pissed – FYI) …it’s business as usual. But instead of just sharing the article with the all the monkey emojis among blog friends, I gave some thought to some of the other kinks in the system and what players involved could do to improve them.
HOW TO IMPROVE THE INFLUENCER ECOSYSTEM
No doubt brands understand the power that influencers have. It’s a storybook situation when someone with major influence shares an authentic first-hand positive account of an experience with your product or service. These days – sometimes that influence comes at a cost. Instead of thinking of cost as authentic storytelling, great imagery, personal endorsements and mass reach – brands all too often think the exchange of a dollar means, control, a brand speak megaphone and automatic fans. So to close the gap between expectation and brand spend consider:
- Educating Yourselves – Do some digging – read the hundreds of articles out there from journalists that have done the digging to bridge the gap between brands and influencers and help marketers understand why there’s value. The more you know the more you can elevate influencer campaigns to where they need to be. There are new rules to the game! Don’t want to read? Have an agency? Lean on them to do the reading and provide you with a POV that’s targeted specifically to your brand. Your only job there will be to listen and have an open mind.
- Changing your thinking – speaking of rules – influencers aren’t just consumers and they aren’t just journalists – they exist in the middle. There’s a lot of power in that middle – they can offer personal accounts and endorsements media outlets can’t and can reach the masses unlike a general consumer. So if the rules of media and consumers don’t apply – don’t hold this new breed of content to the same standard, square peg, round hole.
- Creating Your Own Success Metrics – When you’re creating a campaign – decide, what’s going to be your measurement tactic that will deem it a success. Engagement, click-thrus, path to purchase? Decide what’s valuable and hold influencers accountable by letting them know your objectives upfront and ask them, “Can they deliver?”
Let me caveat this entire section by saying – I’ve seen all sides. The brand side, the bloggers side and worked in both. Some of my readers/blog friends I’ve even worked with on brand campaigns. It makes it fun – and it’s fun to help your friends grow their business when you believe in their product (<– key!).
I read blogs every day. I know when posts sound thrown together, when others SING with authenticity and I recommend bloggers for campaigns based on their reach and more importantly quality of output – it makes my job easier when I can justify a multi-thousand dollar spend to a client when a blogger has really taken the time to create a GREAT product.
Eva Chen was truly ahead of her time when in 2010 she urged a group of emerging bloggers at LuckyFabb to do whatever they could to be as authentic as possible, a goal we all should continue to strive for. So bloggers consider:
- Being a part of the education process – clearly brands need it! So you can decide to pull together a half-assed post and collect a paycheck, or you can be considered a true collaborator and a valued member of the campaign. You get to decide.
- Showcasing Your Value – It’s the wild west of pricing out there kids – I could tell you stories about the divas at the bottom and the top – the overvalued, the undervalued and the successes and the failures. Maybe I’ll consider writing a tell all someday but today – sorry, not happening. Until then – it’s not worth comparing yourself to anyone else, but it is worth ensuring your client feels good about the work produced. There’s a time and a place to offer your client a peek under the hood of how you got to your dollar figure and if you get the chance – do it! You’re only helping the system.
- Proving Your Worth – If done right, you’ve worked hard for your client taking their goals into consideration and creatively marrying your voice and your audiences expections. Instead of saying “no I won’t do that, my audience, my audience, my voice….” – change the narrative. Why did you phrase it that way? Why did you take your photos the way you did? Brands came to you because of something they liked – remind them of that and that the result you produced was with that same creative mindset.
- Wearing 2 hats – Your audience may be what attracts clients but clients are what pays the bills. All too often I encounter creators who don’t know where their bread is buttered and let’s be honest – money talks! So as an influencer your real challenge doesn’t lie with just pleasing your readers. It lies with the creativity that’s required to please BOTH! Your job is to work as hard as you can to marry your readers love for your voice, photos and storytelling with the expectations of a brand and top it off with the highest level of authenticity possible. No one said this blogging game was easy!
FOR PR PROS – MANAGERS, AGENTS, ETC.
There’s one last party – the “me’s” of the world! We’re the middlemen, the creative campaign creators and the advocates for those on both sides. Essential (at least I’d like to think so) to decipher expectations and outputs from each party and make a collaboration work! Just like a blogger you’re a third party, but you’re responsible for two bottom lines not one.so to prove your worth, consider:
- Mitigating the Conversation – LIke a lawyer at a settlement table, find the happy medium between what the brands expect and what the influencer can deliver. More importantly if you can’t, know when to walk away from a deal – there’s strategic prowess in admitting when something doesn’t go right either.
- Help Set KPI’s – Your ass is just as much on the line as the bloggers, set “Key Performance Indicators” that will deem a program a success. You want to show off a great result just as much as the brand wants to see one.
- Advocate for Authenticity – If you know this world you know authenticity is what the brand wants and the influencers can give. So to break down the barrier of bloggers only seeing rigid brands, and brands seeing bloggers that take advantage of a dollar, make decisions from your unique position of seeing both sides. Push brands to share conversational messaging and push bloggers to consider the brand when creating and and authentically integrate it! The brand chose that blogger for a reason and that blogger accepted the campaign hopefully because they believe they can deliver. There’s middle ground to be shared.
OKAY I’M DONE – BUT ONE MORE THING…
What I LOVE about this Influencer world and why I decided to make both a career and hobby out of it is that it rewards those that celebrate their unique view of the world, authenticity to who they are and builds business on creativity. The influencer bubble may shrink, pricing may be regulated, FTC rules may be created and the business may reach a new normal but I hope it will never burst – why, because there will always be power in consumer perception and a curiosity into what people think about anything and everything. So in the words of Common…
“If you feel passionate about something in your soul, continue to pursue it. Pursue it with all the love you have.”
MODE may be gone – but we’re not – and there’s comfort in that.
Images re. Ashley Brooke Designs.
Writers Note: Based on a few social media responses from those who may have not made it to the end of this post and got hung up on the headline – This post was not written or intended to offend or minimize the effect of MODE Media’s shutdown on bloggers – I too am a member of the former GLAM/MODE network, have not been paid on my campaigns for TargetStyle. Rather this post was to share that there is much more to this world to consider and there’s much we can do to improve it. Hope it helps!