Navigating Tough Conversations in Long-Term Influencer Partnerships

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Occasionally you’ll partner with a creator, and everything just seems easy. They align perfectly with your brand and know exactly the type of content that drives their audience to take action. You did a great job recruiting. And the two of you stand to make a lot of money together. 

But sometimes, there’s trouble in paradise. And when issues come up, it’s best to nip them in the bud right away. Having those awkward conversations with your influencers can be tricky, but they’re essential if you want your long-term influencer partnerships and campaigns to keep pulling in maximum returns. 

When to bring up difficult conversations in long-term influencer partnerships

There could be any number of reasons why you might need to have a difficult conversation with your long-term creators. Here are a few common scenarios and how to handle the conversation deftly so both parties leave satisfied. 

Content gets stale.

Scenario:

Your creator has always been super consistent with their content. You loved it at first, and it worked great with your audience. But now it’s lost a little luster. The content isn’t necessarily bad—it’s just a little “meh.” It’s time to mix it up a bit and get more creative with your content. 

Conversation:

Don’t immediately tell your creator you think their content has gotten stale—at least not in those words. Start with the good. Let them know how much you appreciate their content, and mention an example of something that performed particularly well in the past. Then you can suggest something they can do to optimize their content or mix it up a little.  

Here are a couple of ways you can start the conversation:

“Let’s shake things up.”

Encourage your creator to get outside their comfort zone and experiment with different content types. If they primarily post static images, suggest more short-form videos, live streams, or even a blog. 

And if your creator clearly favors one social platform, see if you can get them to branch out a little and take advantage of the unique content opportunities other channels can offer. Just make sure your audience spends time on those platforms before you start tinkering with them. 

“Let’s get together.”

If your creator’s content has gotten stale, there are probably some things that both of you can do better. Get together (virtually works, too) and talk about a few ways you can really elevate your campaigns by working side-by-side. 

If your creator lives nearby, try pitching the idea of an in-person experiential marketing campaign. This is a great way to put in some facetime with potential consumers and help them get a better feel for your products and brand story. If your creator isn’t local, there are still plenty of ways (live Q&As, influencer takeovers, etc.) to create an experience for your audience. 

“Let’s give away some free stuff.”

Everyone loves free stuff. If your influencer’s audience seems less engaged with recent posts, try holding a contest or giveaway that will get people excited. This is always a great strategy to accumulate likes, comments, and shares. It’s also helpful for generating awareness for a new or upcoming product launch. 

Performance begins to slip.

Scenario:

Your creator has produced some quality work for you in the past, but now their content performance is starting to slip. You know they can meet (or exceed) your expectations—they just need to get back on track. Maybe it’s time for a little pep talk?

Conversation:

If you value your relationship with this creator, the last thing you want to do is make them feel like you’ve lost confidence in them. That said, it is important to be honest and let them know their performance isn’t where it needs to be. 

Let your creator know that you think (you know!) they have what it takes to be a valuable partner for your brand. Then, if you’ve been able to pinpoint why their content isn’t up to par, let them know what you think they can do to improve. 

Otherwise, ask your creator if there is anything that you can do to support them better. Maybe they need a little more guidance for their content, or perhaps you’ve been giving them too much direction, which has stifled their creativity. Either way, it’s important to be upfront with one another and keep an open line of communication. 

Your influencer wants to adjust their rates.

Scenario:

This issue is common with creators who work on product-gifting campaigns. If you partner with successful creators who provide posts in exchange for products, eventually, they will want to start making some cash. 

If creators perform well, brands should definitely reward them for their efforts. But maybe your brand isn’t in a position to pay per post. Luckily, there is always room for compromise. 

Conversation:

Before we dive into how to handle this conversation, let’s get a little refresher on the three most common types of influencer payment methods:

  • Product seeding/gifting – When an influencer makes a post in exchange for free products
  • Commission – An influencer earns a percentage of profits from each sale or conversion their content generates
  • Flat rate – When a brand pays an influencer a set amount for a post or series of posts

Many brands set up a tiered payment system that involves all three methods. They invite new influencers on for a product seeding campaign where they might be able to earn a commission for sales, while long-term and best-performing partners have a pay-per-post option. 

But if you don’t have a system like this in place, you’ll just have to use your best judgment. If a creator is overperforming, brands should do everything they can to keep that relationship strong and pay their creators accordingly. 

However, if your brand can’t offer cash for posts, it’s best to just be honest about your compensation situation. Let them know you aren’t in a position to offer paid posts at the moment but do your best to work out a payment structure (possibly commission) that works for both parties.

How to Negotiate Payment with Influencers Download: How to Negotiate Payment with Influencers

Communication becomes difficult.

Scenario:

You can’t nurture a strong long-term partnership without good communication on both ends. But what happens when your influencer becomes hard to get ahold of or stops responding altogether? The best thing you can do is have a conversation to try to reel them back in. 

Conversation:

Let’s state the obvious first: If you’re having a hard time getting ahold of your influencer, you’re probably going to have a hard time initiating a conversation about it, too. That said, the best thing to do is try to get them on the phone or a video call so you can avoid a drawn-out back-and-forth over email or DM. 

Then, let your creator know gently that the partnership isn’t going to work unless you can count on them to communicate with you effectively. Give them some time to change their ways, but remember, time is money. And if your influencer has a knack for wasting it, maybe it’s time to cut them loose. 

You notice misinformation about your brand or products.

Scenario:

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is you’ve noticed a lot of people talking about your brand and product online since your creator promoted it on their channel. The bad news is there seem to be some facts about how your product works that aren’t quite right. You need to address this immediately before the misinformation spreads too far. 

Conversation:

Everybody makes mistakes. If your creator accidentally got some facts wrong about your brand or product, let them know where they went wrong and have them make a post correcting the information. 

If it happens repeatedly, make sure you’re giving them enough information to work with. If you are, you might need to consider whether or not this creator is as engaged with the partnership as you need them to be.

Remember, the best creators are the ones who already know your brand and use your products. If they don’t already know you before you partner with them, be sure to take the time to educate them extensively about your product or service. You can also send them merchandise ahead of time so they can become familiar with it before they start posting about it. 

Your influencer promotes a competitor.

Scenario:

Your influencer has been loyal to you for a long time. Their content converts, and you can tell they truly care about your brand and products. That’s why you’re a little taken aback when you see them promote one of your competitors. It’s time to see what’s up. 

Conversation: 

Your partnership can look inauthentic if audiences see an influencer promoting competing brands. In the creator economy, inauthenticity often means brand death. So you’ll need to get this straightened out quickly. 

Broach the conversation under the assumption that it was an honest mistake. Maybe the creator didn’t know the brand was a competitor, and you just need to remind them. 

If they don’t see why promoting a competitor is that big of a deal, be patient and explain it to them. Let them know that audiences count on them for genuine product endorsements. And when you claim to favor one brand, then turn around and promote another, it can make the content seem more like a traditional advertisement. 

Ideally, brands should stamp out any confusion about promoting competitors during creator onboarding. Just remember that contract stipulations like that could affect a creator’s rate, so you’ll need to plan accordingly. 

Brand alignment becomes disconnected.

Scenario:

Let’s say you’re a travel brand and you partnered with an influencer because they took stunning photos and shared tips about all the wonderful places they love to visit. But over time, their lifestyle starts to change. They’ve settled down a bit and now spend much more time at home than they do on the road. You still value your relationship with this creator, but maybe it’s time to see where their heart is. 

Conversation:

It’s always possible that a brand and creator might grow out of each other. If you feel this is starting to happen, it’s best to have a heart-to-heart with your creator to get an idea of whether or not they still identify with your brand’s mission and values. 

If they do, brainstorm some ways to adjust the partnership accordingly. For example: In the scenario listed above, the travel brand could offer the creator some sort of “staycation” opportunity or perhaps a weekend trip nearby.

Whatever the situation, brands should celebrate creators when they enter a new chapter of their life. It’s always possible for your brand to stay involved in some capacity, but if not, it’s probably best to end things amicably. 

It’s time to ‘break up.’

Woman staring at her laptop considering having difficult conversations in long-term influencer partnerships

Scenario:

For whatever reason, your partnership just isn’t working out. You’ve had the necessary conversations, but it hasn’t been enough. It’s time to break up with your influencer. 

Conversation:

There is no easy way to break up with an influencer, but it’s a conversation that every influencer marketing manager will likely have to have at one point or another. Just remember to be professional and respectful. Here are a few guidelines.

The do’s:

  • Focus on brand goals – Not everyone is going to be a perfect fit. Letting your creators know you respect their work but don’t see a future with the partnership is a good way to be 100% honest without crushing their spirit. 
  • Keep an eye on future opportunities – Maybe the time just isn’t right for a partnership. If you think that could be the case, let your creator know you’ll consider them in the future if something comes up that better fits their skillset. 
  • Be kind but honest – Creators are professionals and will appreciate you giving it to them straight. Just remember that you can be direct with your creators without embarrassing them. 
  • Offer constructive feedback – Let your creators know how they can improve their performance, especially if they are new to the influencer marketing world. Who knows, if you end on good terms, maybe a partnership will be back on the table if the creator ups their game in the future.

The don’ts:

  • Ghost your influencers – This is rude and unprofessional. Don’t cut ties with a creator without letting them know why first.
  • React if an influencer lashes out – Even if you handle the breakup perfectly, there is always a chance the creator will put you on blast online. Getting into a keyboard war with them is a bad look and will only dump gas on the fire. 
  • Burn bridges – It takes time for many creators to find their voice. If you burn bridges when ending partnerships, you eliminate your chance of ever working with that creator again.

Key takeaway: Difficult conversations in long-term influencer partnerships are essential for keeping the relationship strong.

Communication is key for any relationship, and long-term creator partnerships are no exception. Having tough conversations with influencers while conducting yourself with class and professionalism will help you keep your partnership strong and win the respect of your team.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Partnerships have long-term influencers when brands find creators they can trust to perform consistently well. These high-performing creators have great insight into what their audience wants and can help companies tell their stories while providing a “face” to the brand. 

Influencer partnerships occur when a brand hires a content creator to promote its products or services. The details of the partnership are agreed upon by the brand and influencer ahead of time and often include cash payments or free products in exchange for posts. 

You can find influencer partnerships by searching your social media platform of choice by keyword, hashtag, or mention. You can also use free tools like the GRIN Web Extension to quickly view important creator metrics and find the perfect partners for your campaigns. 

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Written by Quinn Schwartz

Quinn studied journalism at the University of Kentucky and now lives in Washington, DC. He’s particularly interested in storytelling in digital marketing and cost-effective creator strategies for smaller brands. When he’s not writing, you can find him at a concert, dog park, or debating whether or not to go on a run.