How to Collaborate with Influencers – and When to Let Them Go

GRIN also recommends: Quick Guide to Earned Media Value 

To Collaborate or Not to Collaborate - What to do when an influencer is not the right fit - grin influencer marketing influencer collaboration

When you find that perfect influencer, everything just works.

Campaigns with the right influencers are capable of delivering 5, 6, even a 20 times return on investment. When you achieve this level of influencer success, you can ride that marketer’s high for many months.

compared to other channels, roi from influencer marketing is comparable - grin influencer marketing

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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 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

“Effective influencer marketing all boils down to real, genuine relationships.” – GRIN, Authentic Influencer Marketing

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 that 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 important 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 that 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.

Setting expectations

Relationships are always a two-way street. It’s not uncommon for influencers to perform poorly because a brand was unclear about their 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 own workflow to see if you are creating confusion for your creators.

By being clear in your expectations, it should never be a surprise to an influencer if the collaboration is coming to an end. 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 by way of success metrics helps you in every way. First, performance tracking shows you whether or not your campaigns are working in the first place.

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.

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 can part ways, you and your team need to understand why.

Bad or fake influencers

The most obvious reason why you would 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 often easy to spot. 

Also, some influencers might have gained a lot of followers the right way, but they’re not connected with that audience. As a result, their engagement is low, and their campaign performance is poor.

Lastly, a bad influencer could be one who is unusually difficult to work with. They fail to work as a team, or they come across as entitled and rude. If you and your team get “bad vibes” from an influencer, that’s often 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 that 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. If they meet your expectations, then you can include them in more campaigns and sign long-term contracts. Otherwise, you should part ways early on 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!

Poor communication

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

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 the 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’ time. 

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 that 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 they’ve taken steps to significantly improve their performance. For example:

“We appreciate your willingness to improve your campaign approach. Here are a few things we noticed that might help you moving forward:

  • X
  • X
  • X”

5. Maybe it’s time to renegotiate rates rather than let the influencer go.

Sometimes an influencer just 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 the current rate was agreed to 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 were 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, then 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 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 actually 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, the right answer is never to ghost your influencers without an explanation.

2. Never react if the influencer lashes out (privately or publicly).

Getting defensive will just pour gasoline on a fire. Remain calm and professional. If you’re concerned that a creator has (or intends to) malign you or your brand publicly, 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 actually learn to improve their performance or “settle in” to 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, if you 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 important 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 and you only work with influencers with fewer than 10,000 followers, you either need to change your goals or seek out the right influencers. Nano influencers are great for conversions, but they’re audiences are small, and it will be difficult to expand your reach with these influencers.

Adjust your influencer outreach

Your influencer vetting process may not be focused on finding those ideal influencers.

A great practice for a program in any stage is to examine your top-performers and search 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 influencer “break-ups,” you might realize that you’re tracking the wrong performance metrics. If your metrics are not aligned 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 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, as well as knowing when and how to end an influencer collaboration.

Don’t waste any more of your time with the wrong influencers. Find the perfect influencers for your brand in just a few clicks with GRIN.

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