Working With Influencers: The Basics

October 6, 2015
Our Share A Coke influencer program was a big success.

Our Share A Coke influencer program was a big success.

This past weekend I attended the Mixed Conference in Houston, Tex. Mixed is a professional-development and networking opportunity for food bloggers. I was able to attend on behalf of our client, The Good Table, and we introduced this new General Mills product to bloggers. The weekend provided a rich opportunity for content inspiration and face-to-face conversations with influencers in a relaxed and fun atmosphere.

During the conference, Kim Quinn from Storyteller Communications hosted a session for the bloggers on “working with brands.” The session provoked a great discussion with the group about how they should approach and work with brands. The conversation got me thinking about the flip side of the relationship: What are the best practices for brands in working with influencers?

While it’s been around for years now, influencer marketing is still an ever-evolving practice. With every new content channel, the name of the game changes in who we consider an influencer and how brands should work with them. Whether you’re working with influencers from a content-marketing perspective or general awareness-building, from my experience and the relationships I’ve built with influencers, there are a few basic strategies marketing practitioners should consider when navigating the world of influencer marketing.

Find Your Friends

In my experience, some of the most successful influencer programs started by finding those that were already fans of a brand and talking about them organically. And once you find your friends, give them some love!  That could mean repaying the social currency with a retweet or share, or sending free product, but either way, acknowledging your friends is a great step in building a relationship. Which brings me to my next point…

Get To Know Your Friends 

Influencer marketing works best when you go beyond just a paid partnership and establish an actual relationship. This means making sure you’re actually following their blog and social channels, commenting on posts you like, sharing positive feedback on their work, checking in to say “hi” even when you don’t have a brand program going, and so on. All these little actions go a long way in building a strong relationship with influencers, which in turn leads to more authentic branded content, and often value-added/organic social sharing.

Manage Expectations 

Communicating the brand’s expectations from the very beginning is so critical to creating a positive experience for both the brand and influencer. At Fast Horse, we’ve established a best practice of developing briefs for our influencer partner. This not only includes the details of the business arrangement, but creative direction to guide their content, clear mandatories for what the content must include, timing and deadlines for reviews and posting, and all key social tags. Briefs ensure both parties understand what’s essential to the program’s success.

Paid Vs. Earned

While I love my job, I certainly don’t work for free, and when it comes to working with brands, neither do influencers. Content is their business, and if you’re looking for branded content, dollars will need to be exchanged.  Compensation for content ties right back into managing expectations — what exactly does the brand want from them influencer? Do you want category exclusivity?  Do you want to own the rights to the content? What kind of social promotion does the brand want? What kind of promotion can the influencer expect from the brand? Every influencer has a different compensation model, but identifying the brand’s wants and needs before engaging with an influencer will help compensation conversations go a lot smoother.

Now, that said, there is a time and place for totally “earned” opportunities with influencers. I’ve spoken with many bloggers about brands sending them free product or influencer kits and when it comes to posting something organically, the criteria boiled down to three considerations: Is it something their readers would care or want to know about? Is it unique or new? Is it from a brand I’m passionate about or interested in working with?

Also, brands should consider using earned outreach with influencers judiciously. Many of the influencers I spoke with said they get frustrated when brands continue to expect free social sharing and eventually the earned love dries up. So brands should consider asking for organic posting sparingly.


At the end of the day, brands are responsible for reporting how influencer programs contributed to business and communication objectives. Many of the bloggers I spoke with said they often don’t know how their work is laddering up in terms of brand goals. Sharing program objectives and KPIs with influencers is helpful for them to understand how success will be measured and how they can play a role in delivering those results.

Influencer marketing is something I could talk about all day, but what all of these best practices boil down to is simple: Authenticity and good communication create win-win situations for both brands and influencers.