Influencer Marketing: top tips to build an authentic campaign
Updated: Apr 26
At A Thousand Monkeys, we talk a lot about having an authentic voice. If your copy doesn’t sound genuine or rooted in the truth of your brand, customers treat your messages with suspicion. In my previous role as an influencer marketer, we had the same conversation with our clients: one whiff of inauthenticity and your carefully curated influencer campaign can crash and burn.
I thought it might be useful to share what authenticity looks like for influencers – there’s a lot of crossover into tone of voice and brand identity that I hope you’ll find interesting. And who knows when you might be starting your very own influencer campaign!
A critical part of any influencer marketing activity is to ensure it is authentic, organic and fits both your brand position and tone of voice. There’s far more to influencer marketing than simply throwing money at the biggest possible name to promote your product, yet many brands are still taking this approach.
A prime example of this is the now-defunct crypto-exchange FTX who recruited the likes of Tom Brady, Steph Curry and Shaquille O’Neal to promote their platform. I’m sure these athletes’ management teams are regretting signing the contract without doing their due diligence, as they now face legal action for promoting what has turned out to be one of the biggest consumer scams of the decade so far.
Hopefully, whatever you’re planning to market won’t suffer the same fate. The lesson here is that influencers (or at least a lot of them) will promote just about anything for the right price. It’s important to pick someone who is a genuine fit with your brand as with regulations around ad disclosures being far stricter, the audience will be aware that what they’re looking at is an ad. For a campaign to be successful and convert, the viewer needs to truly believe the person they follow is a champion of the product/service they are advertising and isn’t just putting the ad out for a quick payday.
Type of collaboration
The type of influencer collaboration you choose will have a bearing on the authenticity. In my experience, the three most common formats are gifting, content creation and paid partnerships.
Just because you don’t have any budget doesn’t mean influencer collaborations are off-limits. Gifted campaigns with smaller creators can often be really effective as well. Simply reaching out to creators and sending them free products can be a great way of raising awareness.
Estrid razors supported their UK launch with a massive gifted campaign, where thousands of small-scale influencers were sent out free products to try and asked to post about it if they enjoyed using them. You won’t have control over what the influencer posts, or even if they post about your product at all. However, if your products land in the hands of a creator who really does like your brand, this can be arguably the most authentic form of collaboration and super effective as a result.
Content creation collaborations involve using an influencer to produce content for your own social channels or paid social ads, giving you content that can be repurposed in a variety of different ways. While this doesn’t put you directly in front of your chosen influencers’ followers, it can be a great way to build brand image and create brand trust by partnering with someone with an established reputation. We have another blog post on building trust which you can check out after this.
This form of collaboration is certainly on the rise, and I expect this trend to continue. With the influencer market already being highly saturated, creators often want to keep ads on their socials to a minimum to avoid alienating their audience by posting too many.
This is the classic form of influencer collaboration. Simply a sponsored post/posts on the influencers’ own social channels.
This method of collaboration could be seen as the least authentic, with ads often sticking out like a sore thumb among all the creators’ other non-sponsored posts. That makes it super important to pick not only a creator who aligns with your brand, but one with an audience demographic who matches up well with your brand as well. That way your ad will hopefully be a relevant and engaging piece of content for the viewer as opposed to an unwanted distraction from their scrolling. While it does carry a risk, when done correctly this can be a really strong form of marketing allowing you to spread awareness, tap into their specific audience and (hopefully!) drive conversions.
Selecting the correct influencer
A mistake many make is simply trying to get the biggest name possible for the budget you have available. A classic example of this would be the Kim Kardashian x Beyond Meat collaboration – Kim is shown to be Beyond Meat’s ‘Chief Taste Consultant’ yet at no point in the ad does she take a bite of any of the products. The cutaways to her chewing aren’t fooling anybody!
If you already have a certain influencer in mind, then look at previous sponsored content they’ve done. Is it compelling? Does it keep you engaged? Does what they’re saying about the product feel authentic? If the answer to these questions is no, then it’s likely your ad will fall into the same category. Not all creators put the same level of effort into their ads, so make sure you find someone who wants to make a good ad and isn’t just in it for the cheque. Also try to avoid working with someone who does too many other ads.
Another thing to be aware of is not to be fooled into working with someone simply based off their number of followers. While this may seem the be all and end all – how many people will see my ad? It is not always as easy as looking at the creator’s follower count.
Engagement rate % (likes + comments + clicks on a post / no. of followers x 100) is far more valuable, and influencers and their agents know this! Some influencers may have burned very bright at one time (former reality TV stars, one-hit-wonder musicians, etc.) but despite still having many followers, a very low % of these followers are engaging with their current output – which will include your ad! Usually, you will want to look for a minimum of around 2% engagement as a benchmark.
Engagement rates are usually a lot higher for creators who are positioned within a very specific niche. This is because their following will generally be a lot more focused on a particular subject and likely value the influencer's opinion on the topic. When Cryptocurrency first came into the public eye, the early crypto creators were able to charge massively inflated rates for a relatively low view count. This is because they knew they had small but dedicated and trusting follower bases who were not easy to access with other forms of advertising.
Platform & activations (industry jargon for posts)
So, you’ve decided what you’re going to do and who you’re going to work with. Now you need to work out where the content will be posted. Instagram, YouTube and TikTok are undoubtedly the three hottest platforms for influencer collaborations right now, but there are nuances to consider for each one to make for a successful collaboration.
Instagram still reigns supreme when it comes to influencer marketing platforms. There are tons of different bundles of activations and pretty much any influencer you want to work with will have a presence on here.
Ads can be in the form of reels, static images or stories and there a plenty of ways you can creatively combine different activations to ensure maximum impact. As influencer marketing becomes more prevalent, it has become more difficult to stand out from the crowd, so it is important to try and do something a bit different in order to stop the audience simply scrolling past yet another sponsored post.
The example below is a paid partnership between ex-F1 driver Kimi Räikkönen and Samsung for the Galaxy S21 smartphone. For such a huge brand and big name, they really have done the bare minimum here. Selfie of the influencer with the product? Check. Pre-written caption? Check. Couple of hashtags? Check.
This could all be a very clever play on Kimi’s reserved personality, but the ad really isn’t doing much to sell me the phone other than telling me Kimi has one – or at least was paid to pretend he does! There’s no call to action, no way for the audience to get involved and the post generally just seems very out of place on his feed.
There are two main forms of collaboration here, an integrated video or a dedicated video.
In an integrated video, the sponsored section makes up part of the video either through a cutaway from the content or the creator weaving an integrated section about your product/service into the video itself.
Integration is the key word here. Ideally you want the ad to tie into the video to keep the viewer engaged. They haven’t clicked on the video to watch your ad so at the very least the ad should not take away from their viewing experience.
The line ‘and now a message from today’s sponsor’ followed by a cutaway to the creator sat in their office reading from a script will be an immediate turn-off for viewers. Many will find themselves frantically skipping through to try and find where the rest of the video picks back up, missing it entirely. If the ad can be made relevant to the video and woven into the storyline, then the viewer is far more likely to pay attention to what is being advertised.
Look at this example (skip to 6:20) of an integration from MrBeast advertising the money-saving browser extension Honey. The sponsored section runs alongside one of the challenges in the video, giving the audience little choice but to stay engaged whilst he highlights all the features of the product. He also references how Honey saved him money on a TV he gives away during the video, giving a real-world example of Honey’s benefits to the user. Although I’m not convinced Honey would have provided a discount for the private jet he gave away recently!
A dedicated video does what it says on the tin, a whole video dedicated to speaking about your product or service. While this may sound great in theory, a collaboration of this nature only makes sense in certain niches where the content is quite product focused (e.g., gaming, fashion, tech, toys). If your product fits into one of these niches then great, if not don’t try to force it.
If someone tunes in to watch a vlogger and it turns out the whole video is a sponsored piece about a new pair of headphones, they are going to lose interest fast. A short integration, perhaps referencing their new headphones as part of the vlog, is going to be far more effective. On the flip side, the audience of a tech reviewer making a video on the same subject is far more likely to stick around to the end to hear everything they have to say.
TikTok appears to be slowly taking over the world, with seemingly every business convinced they must be on it in some way, shape or form. However, the platform is still very much in its infancy and influencer marketing on here can still be a bit of a lottery.
The fundamental reason for this is the way in which people use the app. Unlike on Instagram or YouTube, the typical TikTok user is mostly consuming content from the ‘for you page’ or ‘FYP’, as opposed to people they have specifically chosen to follow. The FYP serves up videos from random creators based on the viewer's algorithm (likes, watch time, etc.) as well as what’s popular. As much as you’d love it to be the case, your ad is unlikely to be able to compete with the endless stream of viral videos and climb this ranking.
TikTok also has its own built-in ads that you can arrange directly with them. Since this was introduced, the app seems to throttle anything with the 'ad' hashtag to avoid people getting inundated with ads and closing the app. They only want people watching ads they’re getting a cut from.
Setting a brief and giving feedback and amends
Once a campaign has been signed off, you’ll need to provide the influencer with a brief that covers everything you would like showcased in the ad: key product features, calls to action, details of any special offers, hashtags, etc. While providing a comprehensive brief is important, try to leave creative freedom to the talent wherever possible – ultimately, they know their audience best and what will and won’t resonate with their followers.
They are being paid to create content in collaboration with you – not to read off a script. Their followers will be able to tell if the brief has been overly prescriptive and a robotic-sounding ad could end up doing your brand more harm than good. If you want total creative control over your ad, then you’re far better off hiring actors and a camera crew so you can direct it yourself!
Once you receive the first draft of content, you’ll get a round of amends to tidy things up. Of course, if something is incorrect or poor quality then you should get it changed but avoid making tweaks for the sake of it, as this can start to detract from the overall quality of the content. A lot of re-shoots and tweaks can lead to a messy-looking final product if shots from several different sessions have been spliced together. The audience will notice if clothes, times of day, and hairstyles are different between cuts and this can lead to incongruent and jarring content.
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when planning an influencer collaboration. Above all though authenticity is key. If an ad looks inauthentic it’s not likely to have the desired results and could end up doing more harm than good to both your and the influencer's brands.
People don’t use social media to look at ads, yet they are seeing more ads than ever. In this competitive landscape, for something to stand out it must be a compelling enough piece of content for the audience to simply stop scrolling and look – let alone have their purchase intention impacted. Done correctly, influencer marketing can be a powerful tool, allowing you to benefit from the relationship between a creator and their audience that has been cultivated over many years.