How to Collaborate with Influencers – and When to Let Them Go
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How to win in today's creator economy
When you find that perfect influencer, everything just works.
Campaigns with the right influencers can deliver up to a 20x return on investment. When you achieve this level of influencer success, you can ride that marketer’s high for months.
But what happens when performance dies or isn’t there at all? In most cases, you know exactly what the problem is—the influencer you’ve been partnering with is not a good fit.
And so begins the awkward process of figuring out how to stop collaborating with that influencer. What do you say? How do you say it?
There could be a million reasons why you need to end an influencer relationship or maybe even put a creator collaboration on hold. So let’s discuss how to collaborate with influencers, starting with the kind of influencer relationships you need to succeed and how to part ways with those creators that don’t match your program objectives.
The heart and soul of influencer success
The most successful influencer programs invest resources in building relationships with their influencers. And the goal of influencer relationships is to nurture genuine brand love.
When consumers see that their favorite influencer truly loves the brands and products they promote, they will appreciate the authenticity and allow that creator to influence their buying decisions.
Brands can’t fake that authenticity.
How brands ought to work with influencers
When partnering with influencers, it’s essential to look beyond follower counts and engagement metrics. To have a strong collaborative relationship, you need creators that align with your brand and audience.
“I think it’s really easy to go out and collaborate with a ton of influencers that drive incredibly high conversions. But they’re not necessarily on brand, and they may not even be creating content that you wanna reuse. So there is a sweet spot when you can find people that align with your brand and are creating content that you could reuse and drive conversions.”– Allison Brown, social media and affiliate marketing manager at MiniLuxe
In return, your high-performing influencers deserve your attention and loyalty. The more your favorite creators feel like an extension of your marketing team, the easier it will be to build an influencer community of like-minded ambassadors.
Relationships are always a two-way street. It’s not uncommon for influencers to perform poorly because a brand was unclear about its campaign objectives. As with any professional relationship, communication is critical.
Keeping up with the “little things” like campaign briefs, email exchanges, and contracts can make the difference between vibrant and mediocre influencer relationships. In other words, if an influencer collaboration is failing, you might take a closer look at your workflow to see if you are creating confusion for your influencers.
By setting clear expectations, influencers should never be surprised when a collaboration ends. That’s because you’ve explained what you need in a particular campaign and how you measure success in your influencer relationships.
Tracking influencer performance
Establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) using success metrics helps you in every way.
First, performance tracking shows you whether or not your campaigns are working.
Second, success metrics and KPIs give you insights into which influencers are helping you reach your program goals.
Having access to “the numbers” can help you replicate success and part ways with those not meeting your expectations.
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8 steps on how to collaborate with influencers
1. Set clear goals and KPIs.
As a brand, you need to define your objectives and measure success. Begin by asking, What exactly do you want your influencers to accomplish?
The more specific your goals are, the better:
- Do you want greater visibility?
- More followers?
- More traffic to your website?
- More conversions?
Once you know your goals and your influencer’s role in achieving them, craft your campaign accordingly.
2. Be easy to work with and personalize the collaborative relationship.
It’s a good idea to share your branded collateral, such as photos, screenshots, or videos. You can also create basic promotional templates with options to customize according to the influencer’s personality.
Some brands build catalogs and orientation presentations specifically for their creator team. It includes best practices, media guidelines, and more.
Virginia Varinelli is a fashion blogger and famous Instagram influencer. Chanel invited her to their flower fields and production facilities to experience how perfumes are made. The brand went above and beyond to give Virginia everything she needed to help them launch the Chanel No.5 L’Eau product line.
3. Create compelling offers using discount/coupon codes.
Influencer-promoted discount codes are a great solution if you want audiences to “act now” and complete a purchase. Creators can integrate them into their posts and give their followers a gentle nudge.
4. Encourage user-generated content with giveaway events.
Brands can offer their products, services, or experiences as giveaway events hosted by their creator partners.
In the giveaway details, ask followers to complete specific actions such as liking, commenting on, or reposting content. Winners then take home the prizes.
Giveaways typically produce tons of user-generated content and accelerate social media word of mouth. When influencers promote these events, each post and UGC gets greater visibility.
5. Launch contests and have your influencers promote them.
Contests also attract more attention than traditional advertising. Similar to giveaway events, you can set rules for participants that include different kinds of engagement, such as:
- Attending a live event on social media
- Commenting on a post and tagging a friend
- Dueting a video
- Tagging the brand in a lifestyle post
- And more
6. Don’t forget about bloggers and vloggers.
Not only do bloggers and vloggers create content with a long lifespan, but they are also informative and perform well on search engines.
Long-form written and video content attracts highly engaged fans. Many consumers refer to these types of posts regularly to inform future purchases. Adding a blogger/vlogger to your creator team can significantly increase your credibility online and generate powerful backlinks to your website.
7. Use unboxing videos in your campaigns.
The unboxing videos are a specific vlogger video style. These posts build suspense, keep their followers on the edge of their seats, and then give them a taste of how the product works in real life.
8. Use branded hashtags to build a brand community among your influencer audiences.
Brand or campaign-specific hashtags are easy to share and can generate excitement. Influencers are hashtag experts and can help you promote on multiple channels. Not only are branded hashtags fun for brand fans, but they also nurture long-term momentum for your campaigns.
Reasons to stop collaborating with an influencer
Not all reasons to end an influencer collaboration are negative. Regardless, there are always clear indicators when an influencer relationship may not be best for the long term.
So before you part ways, you and your team should take a moment to understand why.
Bad or fake influencers
The most apparent reason to stop working with an influencer is if you discover that they’ve forged their success by purchasing followers, likes, and comments. If you look closely, fake influencers are easy to spot.
Also, some influencers might not connect meaningfully with their audience even though they gained their following honestly. As a result, their engagement is low, and their campaign performance is poor.
Lastly, a poor influencer could be unusually difficult to work with. They fail to work as a team player, or they come across as entitled and rude. If you and your team get “bad vibes” from an influencer, that could be a sign that you need to end your professional relationship with them.
One-off influencer campaigns
If you’re actively scaling your influencer program, you’re most likely going to test new influencers across multiple platforms. These one-off relationships help you gauge which influencers work best with your brand.
“Those short campaigns are also a great opportunity to pull in new people that I’m a little unsure about—see how they would handle a new product launch. And see how they deliver and how it is to interact with them.”– Allison Brown, social media and affiliate marketing manager at MiniLuxe
Regardless of the kind of content they post and the engagement that they receive, you can’t always know how a creator fits with your program until you include them in a campaign. Allison continues,
“Going back and forth via email with an influencer is different than signing contracts and then actually working with them. It’s almost like learning someone’s true colors.”
Testing influencers in this way means that you get to see actual performance and teamwork skills. You can include them in more campaigns and sign long-term contracts if they meet your expectations. Otherwise, it would be best to part ways before either party becomes too attached.
Not a creator-brand good fit
You might need to stop collaborating with an influencer even if they put up solid numbers.
Because campaign success relies on the quality of your relationship with that influencer, you must look beyond the numbers and examine the creator’s style, tone, audience, etc.
The reality is that your brand won’t jive with every good influencer, and that’s okay!
Some creators find it difficult to behave professionally, particularly when it comes to reliability and consistent communication. You and your team need to feel that you are on the same page with your influencers at all times.
Influencers that consistently fail to respond to critical emails or send mixed signals about their reliability should not remain on your influencer team. Time is money, and if you’re spending all your time tracking down responses from an influencer, it’s time to make space for another.
How to tell your influencer that you need to part ways (with scripts and templates)
1. Focus the conversation on your brand goals.
No one wants to fire an employee or contractor, and the same is true when you must break up with an influencer—particularly one who loves your brand and participated in a few decently performing campaigns.
When the time comes for you to have a difficult conversation, it’ll be much easier if you focus on your brand goals. Even though it may not feel good to hear, “We’re not a good fit,” using that script can be 100% honest without crushing the creator’s spirit.
Another good script to use is:
“Thank you so much for your help in our last campaign. The marketing team has refined their objectives for the next several campaigns and put a greater emphasis on a particular audience and content style. We don’t see this audience/style as being in line with the kind of content you produce so well.
We respect our creators and their unique voices. It would not be appropriate of us to ask you to change the personal brand that you’ve crafted and has helped you be successful.”
2. If possible, leave the door open to future collaborations.
Anything can happen in the future. So long as the creator wasn’t dishonest or rude, it may be that a poor fit or low performance now could change in a few months.
That’s why it’s always okay to say you will reach out to them if the right opportunity presents itself. Remind the creator that you have their contact information and that you’ve appreciated working with them.
Here’s a great example of how to keep the door open on future campaigns:
“We’ve concluded the campaign, and we’re so grateful for your help. If we launch a new campaign that you’d be a great fit for, we will certainly reach out again.”
3. Be kind, but be honest.
Most creators are professionals and will appreciate direct feedback. If engagement, impressions, and conversions are not where they need to be, it’s okay to say so. That said, be respectful when being honest. You can be direct without humiliating them.
Here is an example of being tactfully honest:
“Your campaign results fell below what we typically see. In our campaign brief, you’ll notice that our goals were X and that we define success as X. This is a program standard, and we must stick to it. Thank you for understanding.”
4. If the influencer has a growth mindset, consider giving them some constructive feedback.
Many creators may want feedback that will help them improve their performance. If you perceive that the influencer’s motives are genuine and you have constructive thoughts to offer, go for it. It could be that your insights help that influencer mature from mediocre to great.
And if you keep the conversation respectful, you may have an opportunity to work with that influencer after taking steps to improve their performance significantly. For example:
“We appreciate your willingness to improve your campaign approach. Here are a few things we noticed that might help you moving forward:
5. Maybe it’s time to renegotiate rates rather than let the influencer go.
Sometimes an influencer doesn’t want to let you go. If it’s a matter of performance, you may have an opportunity to negotiate lower rates with that influencer.
You can kindly explain that you both agreed on the current rate with certain performance expectations. The influencer may be willing to lower their rates to maintain the collaboration. You can try something like this:
“I think that the main issue here is that for the compensation we agreed on, we were expecting X performance. We could probably keep working together if you are willing to come down on your rate.”
6. Remember that your influencers are also customers—consider offering them a parting gift.
If you recruited your influencer team well, you collaborated with people who genuinely love your products and services. When ending the professional relationship, remember that these people are also your customers.
You might be able to ease the pain of the “break up” by sending a parting gift, such as a free product or brand discount. A great example of a parting message is:
“We will not be moving forward with a new campaign collaboration at this time. But we are grateful for you being a part of the [brand] team for our last campaign. As a parting gift, we’ve sent the following items as a ‘thank you’ for your help.”
7. If you have an affiliate program, you can offer that creator an affiliate membership instead.
If you have both an affiliate and influencer program, creators that don’t match your ideal profile may be great candidates for your affiliate program. Instead of paying a standard rate, you can offer them affiliate links/codes and pay them a commission on conversions.
This approach can help you keep some of your creator relationships alive without compromising the quality of your influencer program:
“While we don’t see a strong fit for our standard influencer campaigns, we think you’d be a great affiliate/ambassador. May I send you some details about our affiliate program?”
What NOT to do when breaking up with an influencer
1. Don’t ghost your influencers.
Not only is it unfair to your influencers to never hear from you again, but it’s just unprofessional. As difficult as it can be to end an influencer collaboration, it is never a good idea to ghost your influencers without an explanation.
2. Never react if the influencer lashes out (privately or publicly).
Getting defensive will pour gasoline on a fire. Remain calm and professional. Suppose you’re concerned that a creator has (or intends to) accuse you or your brand publicly. In that case, you should consult your legal team to understand your options or report cyberbullying to the appropriate platform moderators.
3. Don’t burn your bridges with creators—no matter how ineffective they may be.
Some creators learn to improve their performance or “settle into” their voice over time. Also, your program goals could change one day.
Either way, you may find yourself in the position of recruiting influencers that you’ve fired in the past. If you’ve burned your bridges, then you’ll be in a bind. But if you parted ways respectfully, then that creator may be more than happy to rebuild that relationship.
4. Never lie.
Being dishonest with an influencer is risky. When the truth gets out, it could negatively impact your brand, as well as the influencer’s reputation.
Again, keep the conversation focused on your goals and campaign performance. You’ll protect yourself and your brand from spreading falsehood or wrong impressions about your program, your teammates, other influencers, etc.
Debrief with your team WHY you ended an influencer collaboration.
After parting ways with an influencer, it’s essential to understand why that influencer wasn’t a good fit.
Revisit your influencer program goals.
If you find that you’re consistently working with creators that aren’t aligned with your brand, it may be that your program goals are off track.
For example, if your main goal is to raise brand awareness but only work with influencers with fewer than 10,000 followers, you need to change your objectives or seek out the right influencers. Nano-influencers are great for conversions, but their audiences are small, and it won’t be easy to expand your reach with these influencers.
Adjust your influencer outreach.
Your influencer vetting process may not focus on finding those ideal influencers.
An excellent practice for a program in any stage is examining your top-performers and searching for lookalike influencers. The GRIN platform, for example, will allow you to find creators that are very similar to your best influencers.
After ending an influencer collaboration, take a second look at your recruiting process to see if it needs an update. Doing so will lower the number of times you’ll need to let an influencer go.
Refocus your campaign tracking and performance metrics.
After a couple of influencer “breakups,” you might realize that you’re tracking the incorrect performance metrics. If your metrics don’t align with your program KPIs, then it’s likely that you’re looking for the wrong influencers, are unclear in your campaign briefs, or both.
Conclusion: How proper vetting and an inbound influencer recruitment strategy can prevent future creator “breakups.”
One of the best ways to improve your influencer vetting process is to create an inbound strategy where prospects apply to join your influencer team. While the application process doesn’t have to be too in-depth, you can ask just the right questions to determine whether or not an applicant is a good fit for your program.
Additionally, you can establish the first trial collaboration as a product gifting campaign. That way, you’ve not had to pay a standard fee until you know that creator is a good fit for your brand.
Remember that scaling your influencer program takes time, and you’ll never get to a place where every influencer relationship is perfect. But with each new campaign, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what makes your program successful.
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