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    Influencer relationships (with consumers & brands) are evolving—what does that mean for marketers?

    Do you have a “comfort influencer?” The one whose content you go back to again and again. You’re more invested in their personal life than any celebrity or other internet personality. No, you don’t know them. But you trust them.

    Our favorite influencers really do feel like friends, and we take their product recommendations seriously. According to the 2024 Influencer Marketing Report, almost all (86%) consumers make a purchase from an influencer at least once a year, proving the hold influencers we trust have over our buying habits.

    Influencer relationships (with consumers & brands) are evolving—what does that mean for marketers?

    Yet, many of us underestimate (or are embarrassed to admit) how much influencers impact us. The same report found that only 16% of consumers rank influencer marketing as having a significant impact on their buying decisions.

    But the truth is influencer relationships are becoming ubiquitous—for consumers and brands alike. More than 80% of marketers agree influencer marketing is an essential part of their overall strategy, according to a Q3 2023 Sprout Pulse Survey.

    As algorithms become more personalized, fandoms become more intense and influencer marketing grows even more mainstream, the potential risk of influencer harassment and brand backlash heighten. Brands should be mindful about protecting themselves (and influencers) by forging long-term relationships built on trust, respect, transparency and mutual benefit.

    How have influencer relationships with audiences evolved?

    In the past two decades, influencers have emerged as powerful figures—shaping trends, opinions and consumer behavior on social and beyond. Central to this phenomenon are the parasocial relationships influencers foster with their audiences.

    In the mid-to-late 2010s, influencers were viewed more like distant celebrities, admired from afar, with hyper-curated content (including some #vulnerable posts mixed in) and limited interaction beyond likes and comments. However, as social media platforms diversified and user engagement deepened, so too did the nature of audience-influencer relationships. This shift coincided with a move from curated perfection to “authentic” vulnerability that fostered deeper emotional connection.

    Sometimes these connections can manifest in ways that harm brands, influencers or both. Like the influencer whose fans flooded UCLA’s comments after she was rejected from the school.

    A TikTok video from @xoavreett. In the post, the creator explains how UCLA's comments have been flooded since the influencer @nicole was rejected from the school.

    As influencers’ relationships with their communities continue to expand, so too have audience demands from influencers and the brands they’re associated with (directly or indirectly). And these exchanges are taking place on public forums for the whole internet to see.

    What consumers expect from influencers and their brand partnerships

    According to the Influencer Marketing Report, consumers overall look to engage with influencers who align with their personal values (53%) and seem authentic (47%), even when posting sponsored content and taking part in brand campaigns. Across ages and genders, honest and unbiased content stops audiences mid-scroll, while aspirational content is least likely to catch their attention.

    A data visualization with a yellow background that reads 53% of consumers engage with influencers who align with their personal values.

    But the report also found that authenticity is losing steam among younger generations. While influencer trust is holding steady—and growing among younger consumers—only 35% of Gen Z care about authenticity compared to almost half of Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers. This suggests that younger generations are more aware of the influencer-brand relationship (and how it impacts their buying decisions), but they’re okay with it. They tend to care more about other signs of trustworthiness like follower count, posting frequency and community loyalty.

    As influencer marketing continues to become the cultural norm and the line between traditional and digital media blurs, influencers’ reach will extend even further than social. Our research found that 80% of consumers would be more likely to buy from brands who partner with influencers beyond just social media content—from in-person event activations to billboard campaigns to traditional advertising. Just as audiences become more enmeshed with influencers (both in their buying decisions and fandoms), they will expect brands to follow suit.

    6 ways to build stronger brand-influencer relationships

    To harness the full potential of influencer marketing and effectively reach audiences, marketers need to be just as thoughtful as consumers when tending to their influencer relationships. When you find the right influencer for your brand, you should think bigger than one-off collaborations. By fostering long-term partnerships with influencers who are aligned with your brand values, you can mitigate risk and uncertainty, tap into a deeper understanding of your shared audience, and build more effective messaging and product strategies.

    Here are six steps to building influencer relationships that keep you in good standing with your audience and fulfill your brand’s goals.

    Compensate influencers fairly (and efficiently)

    According to the Influencer Marketing Report, influencers say brands who share their values and have clear budgets and payment structures are the ones they’d most like to work with. But without payment benchmarks, it can be hard to discern a reasonable price point.

    A LinkedIn post from creator Jayde I. Powell where she describes how frustrating it is not to be paid on time by brands, and why she added a penalty fee to speed up payment delivery.

    More than 50% of influencers charge between $251-$1,000 per post, but most give a discount for multiple posts (and others would consider it in the future). Which suggests long-term relationships are as valuable to influencers as they are to brands. The influencers who are willing to negotiate and offer bundled price packages are typically fans of your brand and products, which will translate to more successful content.

    Remember to clearly state the terms of your agreement upfront, and ensure all parties involved are on the same page when it comes to what kind of content will be created, how it will be used, and how the influencer will be compensated.

    Involve influencers proactively in content and campaign brainstorming

    When asked in the survey for the Influencer Marketing Report, influencers said the number one thing they would do to make brand-influencer relationships stronger is be involved in creative and content brainstorming earlier. Bringing influencers (or even your own social team) in at the last minute to create a post or campaign with strict creative guidelines is a recipe for failure.

    Discerning audiences can spot an overly promotional post when they see one, which is why posts like that tend to flop. Instead, giving influencers a seat at your creative table will allow them to share their critical audience and internet culture insights.

    Bring influencers into new product and service development

    The second thing influencers would do to improve relationships with brands is be involved in product and service development meetings before promotions even begin. Again, influencers are on the pulse of your audience’s needs and wants. Like when food blogger and influencer @SmittenKitchen convinced premium cookware brand Staub to bring back their cast iron braiser.

    An Instagram post from blogger and influencer about her partnership with Staub, and how her feedback encouraged the brand to bring back one of their fan favorite products.

    Allowing influencers to inform the direction of innovation will ensure your new products hit the right notes and don’t fall flat. This is especially useful when they already use your products or services themselves.

    Collect customer feedback from influencers

    Over 60% of frequent buyers (those who are influenced to buy something on at least a weekly basis) and 41% of Gen Z consumers say they are more likely to share product feedback with an influencer over a brand, per the Influencer Marketing Report.

    To make sure those audience learnings aren’t left in comment section purgatory, connect your influencers and customer care teams so you can capture and address that valuable customer feedback. Taking on the labor of responding to customers will also make your influencer partners feel more supported.

    Share performance metrics with influencers

    According to a Q3 2023 Sprout Pulse Survey, almost half (45%) of brands always share performance results from influencer partnerships with influencers, while another 48% sometimes do.

    Just like brands, influencers are keen to review and analyze their engagement metrics, follower growth and link traffic. By sharing metrics from their efforts on your owned channels, you can help them continue to refine the content they create for your brand, build trust and collaboration, and maximize your ROI.

    Continue investing in your own organic strategy

    The Influencer Marketing Report found that 93% of influencers agree the quality of a brand’s existing social content impacts whether they agree to partner. Just as you look to their content for signs of quality and genuine community engagement, they will do the same to your brand.

    Influencer collaborations aren’t an antidote for teams who underinvest in their organic social strategy. Instead, it should complement and amplify your existing efforts.

    Build positive relationships with influencers and their fandoms

    Consumers are emotionally invested in parasocial influencer relationships. When your brand establishes positive, long-term influencer collaborations, you can tap into these relationships and turn influencers’ fans into customers.

    Doing so protects your brand from the liability of working with influencers on mismatched, one-off activations. Which can backfire on your social performance and brand reputation.

    Looking for more insight into what influencers want from brand partnerships? Check out The 2024 Influencer Marketing Report: In Influencers We Trust.

    The post Influencer relationships (with consumers & brands) are evolving—what does that mean for marketers? appeared first on Sprout Social.

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