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Don’t underestimate the influencer economy

Posted by Megan Hill on 17th April 2023

It’s happened again. TikTok – or at least my For You page (make of that what you will) — has been awash with angry creators. Why angry I hear you ask?

Well, it appears that one skincare brand, which shall remain nameless, has committed the ultimate faux pas and underestimated the influencer economy.

The company in question contacted a number of influencers asking them to create content for its skincare brand without payment. The influencers would get the product (worth about $35) and a chance to meet the celebrity tied to the brand in return.

Of course, gifting is a common occurrence in the influencer marketing space. It’s so common in fact that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) updated its guidelines in the last few years to ensure that any influencer who received a ‘gift’ as a form of payment states that the content they produce is an #ad.

It’s a rule the ASA takes very seriously. Just ask Molly Mae and Katie Price, both of whom have been on the receiving end of an investigation into proper advertising conduct.

So, yes, gifting is a thing. BUT where this brand appears to have crossed the line is by expecting too much for so little in return.

The current state of the influencer economy

The global market for influencer marketing is humongous. It has more than doubled since 2019, with the 2022 valuation being a record 16.4 billion U.S. dollars…AKA, a lot of money.

This money is generated, as the name suggests, through paying social media influencers for their influence. The larger their audience, the bigger their influence and the more money they can charge for their brand-sponsored content.

Pricing up influencers from a PR and marketing perspective however is no mean feat, as it ranges from influencer to influencer, talent agent to talent agent.

For example, I’ve been quoted £8.5k for a single Instagram post from an influencer that has 1.4m followers, £4k for a post with an influencer who has 150k followers, and by comparison, the mega celebrities like Kim Kardashian are commanding up to $1million per Instagram post.

While the pay scale between influencers is not set in stone (to say the least), one thing that is known is that you cannot expect a lot for free.

Gifting a product that has a high worth is a great way to get micro-influencers onboard with your brand, but when it comes to engaging the big players or having a low value product you need the budget to support your brief…something the brand in question clearly forgot.

A $35 dollar product and a one-in-however-many chance to meet a celebrity is not a fair trade. It simply doesn’t pay the bills, and this I think is the crux of the matter when brands underestimate the influencer economy.

Influencing is a job now … deal with it

Whether you value it as ‘real work’ or not, being an influencer is a job. Simple as that.

Once upon a time when you asked kids what they wanted to be when they grow up, the answer was astronaut, firefighter, or maybe princess… now however one in four young Americans (Gen Z) want to become an influencer.

And why not? You work your own hours, you can focus your content on exactly what you want, you are the definition of your own boss.

Many find fame and fortune by becoming an influencer, others pour endless effort into social media platforms but are never favoured by the algorithm. It’s a dice roll BUT it is a career and the perception that it isn’t is affecting the way brands approach influencers.

The power is not in your hands

Like it or not, as a brand hiring an influencer you are actually not the top dog in this power balance. When the chips are down, you need this person and their influence to promote your product and that puts them in the driver seat, to an extent.

This is partly why the range of pricing for influencers fluctuates so widely — they charge based on what they believe their worth to you is.

Now, where the brand that started this blog went wrong is not just in trying to get content for basically free, but not realising that in doing so they underestimated the worth of the influencer and the amount of work they were asking them to do.

According to the many disgruntled TikTokkers on my For You page, this brand sent a full brief along with their initial email. They specified the content they wanted the influencer to make and guidelines to work within, all before the influencer had expressed any interest in working with the brand.

While some may view this as thorough, to others – and certainly the influencers contacted – it was presumptuous to say the least. But the brand is not alone.

Another brand, this time in the ladies’ fashion industry, recently reached out to influencers with a similar set of demands in return for a product that runs between £20 and £40. They even went one step further and let the influencers know that they were intending to use the content created as their global social media advertising campaign.

How much do agencies charge to create a global advertising campaign? It’s certainly not £20-£40.

So, how do you work with influencers?

The number one thing would be to treat them as you would do any other creative agency you are looking to hire. You are asking them to create promotional content after all. You wouldn’t expect an advertising agency to do that for free, so why expect it of an influencer?

That isn’t to say that working on a gifted basis is not possible but be realistic about the value of the product you are willing to send. Not just in terms of the monetary value but what value is holds to the influencer, and what you are asking for in return. Be reasonable. These influencers don’t work for you.

Secondly, a lot of what’s involved in ensuring you have a good initial correspondence with an influencer comes down to good selection of influencers in the first place. Look for people who are going to want to work with your brand, either because your interests are aligned or because they have expressed interest in working with you before. You will be starting on the front foot if you can justify your choice of influencer based on more than just their follower count.

Finally, don’t make the mistake of approaching them with a full brief straight away. As we’ve discussed, this can come across as presumptuous.

Instead, ‘woo’ your influencer, for lack of a better word. Email them expressing why you want to work with them and give them an overview of the brief.

Share your budget expectations and allow them, or their agent, to judge whether it fits within their scope. And if you don’t have budget, be upfront about the fact this is a gifting only opportunity and let them decide whether they think the effort is worth the reward.

And if your totally stuck, hire a PR agency who do this all the time. There’s a good one called Wildfire I hear.

See what I did there? Well, see what we do here.

Megan Hill