Five Things Brands Need To Know When Working With Influencers

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

I’ve been working for a few years now with multiple brands per year. I have worked with brands in the music industry to emerging technology companies. When I reflect on what has made for a great partnership in the past, there are several themes that crop up over and over again. Conversely, there are other trends that come to mind when I reflect on what has gone terribly wrong in some of these partnerships. I hope to illuminate both sides of the coin equally and vividly.

In my opinion, influencer marketing is still an emerging field. Like anything else, there is going to be a learning curve. There are brands that chose to take the time to get it right. Yet others, clearly rushed to adoption without putting the right infrastructure in place. The intent where influencer marketing is concerned is for brands to be able to identify and partner with people who have a significant social following and voice in their respective niches. This partnership is usually created to raise awareness, drive traffic and/or sales to the brand in question.

Did you know?

According to Huffington Post, 65% of marketers are participating in the influencer marketing space. Many recent statistics also indicate that companies increased budget for influencer marketing campaigns in 2016 and plan to do so going forward. In addition, a few brands who are reaping the rewards of this kind of advertising are making a play for separate budget to fund influencer campaigns apart from all other advertising and marketing efforts.

It is safe to say, that influencer marketing will be sticking around for awhile longer. With some tweaking, planning and synergy between brand and influencer – this kind of marketing becomes a force to be reckoned with.

Here are the five things that brands need to know before getting into the influencer marketing game:

1) Make sure you have the right people handling your influencer outreach and engagement. Influencers are people. In particular, they are people who either hold a 9-5 job elsewhere or have multiple business endeavors. In other instances, it is their only business or if they are like me – it is a part in a larger consulting business. Imagine receiving tons of inquiries for sponsored posts, vlogs, events etc. per week. What will make your inquiry more compelling than the others? The way your inquiry moves to the top is by having competent and knowledgeable people on your frontlines. For example,  I had a brand representative reach out to me for sponsored work. Over 10 plus emails or so she asked me a battery of questions about my influence to determine if I was right for them. The reality is: she should have done her homework and came to the table with less questions than more. She found me and my page which means something stood out in her searches. I run a business that doesn’t afford me the time to go back and forth over email with your representative that is doing this all for the first time. Turned out to be a troublesome partnership for me in the end and it was evident from the first engagement. Pay attention to who you have representing you.

2) Start small and have clear goals for your partnership. There is nothing more frustrating to influencers than you engaging them with great enthusiasm and no plan. Let’s flip it for a second, how likely is an influencer to garner your attention if they reach out to you with an informal email that indicates no real plan for their enthusiastic pursuits of a partnership? I am pretty sure that email will be deleted. The same holds true when you reach out to influencers. Your plan doesn’t need to be perfect, but you should have some plan and/or idea for moving forward with a partnership. Serendipity is fun as you move through fine-tuning the ideas for partnership, but please have some framework or foundation for us to work from.

3) Influencers are not an extension of your internal marketing or pr department. The reason why influencer marketing is all the rage is because it differs from the “buy me because we’re great” sales push that is synonymous with traditional marketing and advertising. Influencer Marketing is like hearing about that hot new product, event or service from your best friend. While not all people have bought into believing influencers – there are many who have followed the climb of their respective influencer or community of choice and therefore respect any recommendations coming out of those camps. To that point, you partner with influencers for our unique voices and perspectives in the market. The moment you decide to control or censor the voice our communities are accustomed to hearing; you have undermined the entire partnership. This isn’t to say that you can’t have a say or editorial influence to ensure the sponsored material meets your standards, but realize the whole point of this is not to be like your traditional marketing copy. If this is a sticking point for you, you may want to reevaluate.

4) Compensation matters. Whether you are a startup or a Fortune 500 should not matter. If you want someone to pitch your business or service to a community/following they have spent countless hours building- you have to pay for that. There are many ways to compensate influencers that don’t always involve dollars leaving your bank account for ours. For instance, I had a pretty well known accounting system vendor reach out to me to do sponsored work. Funny enough, I happen to use them for my own accounting. I simply asked for a year of free service in return for my sponsored content. Their representative returned my email with a “sorry, we don’t do that.” I bid her adieu and never looked back. Besides the poor judgment of not working with a current customer who enthusiastically would have promoted their company- it was clear they wanted my endorsement for free. Testimonials are one thing and sponsored content is something altogether different. You need to be able to compensate influencers. I’m personally tired of feeling like I have to pull it out of the company representative as to whether they intend to compensate or not. Expect to pay and be upfront about your budget. Some budget is better than nothing.

5) Etiquette and Business Protocol are welcomed. As mentioned above, influencers are either intrapreneurs working for someone or entrepreneurs in their own right. We do not exclusively work for you nor do we operate in accordance with your sloppy protocols and corporate practices. If your company is the sort that has a great idea one day and abandons it the next, you had better figure out some streamlined way of communicating in a timely and consistent manner where it concerns influencers. This may be a small line item in your marketing budget, that doesn’t mean that you fail to communicate when a campaign idea has been abandoned or in other cases when you are no longer manning a community of influencers. I surely hope you would not leave other business deals/partners in limbo – why would this seem like a reasonable way to operate with influencers?

These are just a few of the many considerations that should be driving your conversations about influencer programs internally. As I was writing, I realized there is far more to share. I truly enjoy partnering with brands to help illuminate their newest services and projects. The point is for this to be both fun and beneficial to both parties involved.

Brands: Share your best practices with me in the comments. Influencers: Share your tips for partnership improvement in the comments as well.

Clean Your House Before You Head To Social Media

Clean Your House Before You Head To Social Media

There are still companies who are tardy to the social media party. It’s not a bad thing. Businesses have either thought social media was going to exit as a one-hit wonder or they were laying-in-wait until it became absolutely apparent that they needed to jump in.

What fascinates me is that the companies who have an interest in building an online presence via social media – seem to forget that they have some internal work to do before hitting the very public social airwaves.

Getting on social media is the easy part.

You want to be on social? No problem, head to your platform of choice, create your free account and get posting. The problem for businesses is that they jump on this bandwagon of social expecting that doing so and directing their employees to talk them up on social media is the holy grail to their success. If you are doing this or plan to deploy your company’s brand to the digital and social airwaves – please stop!

You want to be a beloved brand on social media, but your employees really want you to treat them like human beings.

Clearly, there’s a disconnect here. While you are spending top dollar with a PR or Marketing firm to expand your reach to social media, have you forgotten your employees in the process? You just spent tens of thousands of dollars on hiring outside firms to make you look good, yet your employees haven’t seen a proper raise in years – priorities much?

Customers won’t buy from you just because you have a social presence and your employees will not say positive things about your company just because you demand they do so. While it may seem that social media is a good place to “keep up appearances”, it really isn’t. This doesn’t mean you need to be perfect, but rather that people expect a real depiction of how you operate, what it’s like to work with you etc.

If the morale within your company is suffering and you choose to overlook it and head to social media – you are setting yourself up for failure. Not only are you making it harder than it ought to be for employees to share their experiences, but you risk your employees airing out your dirty laundry on social.

A mini case-study…

I was on Instagram recently and I see one of my former employers’ promoting some sponsored posts. Somewhat intrigued, I click on one of their ads to see what they are promoting. After reading the caption, I move on to the comments just to see what people are saying. Throughout the comment section is comment after comment where employees are bashing and making fun of the company for stretching the truth about how they operate. Not only were there employees on this thread, but there were people who have applied to this organization and were treated indifferently.

For the next hour, I continued to click through their sponsored posts, finding only one that portrayed a positive image and lacked any apparent bashing. Unfortunately, for this company their intentions were undermined by their lack of attention and effort where both employees, candidates and customers were concerned.

Let’s examine where they went wrong and how you fix it:

1) The morale in this company is poor and they blatantly overlooked it. As I mentioned, I worked for this company once upon a time. The morale sucked then and as I hear it – it is worse now. There’s not enough PR in the world to fix the fundamental issue of employee’s loathing where they work or customers being disappointed with their experience with you. It’s not a travesty that you have been wrong in how you operated. However, it is a cardinal sin when you know you aren’t doing right by employees and customers and refuse to fix it. Check-in with your employees, triage the issues and take action to fix it prior to heading to social.

2) They are doing a lot of pushing and not enough listening internally or on social. If I am the one managing the social media for this company, I would have retreated by the third sponsored post where employees were lambasting me. This company continues to put out more and more ads with the same result. The question here isn’t who can I fire for making us look like jerks on social media, but rather are we listening to our own internal airwaves like we should be? Companies spend a ridiculous amount of time, money, and resources pushing out engagement, post-service, pulse surveys. All of this knowledge gathering that we do every year and yet we aren’t hearing our customers and employees like we should. Less push, more listening would have helped this brand in launching successfully into the digital sphere.

3) Employee Advocacy under duress never works. This company was actually an early-adopter of social media. They were one of the ones who had the budget to explore what digital branding could do for them before it became the hot topic that it is today. Long before we had experts and established standards for social media – it felt wrong to push employees to talk you up on social. I will never forget them talking to us about the magical number of times they wanted us not only to be engaging on social on their behalf; but also directing the message. Personally, I hated my job with them at the point that this was deployed. Having them tell me that I had to say “nice” things about my experience and the company on social was not only a lie – but made me feel sick to my stomach. Social sharing should be organic and not forced. Would you want to recommend a place where you had a bad experience? I’m guessing your answer is: “no”.  The same applies to your employees.

The purpose of having an online presence is to further your visibility and authentically connect with audiences and communities in a way you wouldn’t be able to ordinarily. Social is about reciprocity, transparency and being genuine. It is not only wise but recommended that you take the time to deal with any internal demons that may surface and undermine your efforts on social media. You may not be able to thwart every heckler or angry customer, but you will at least set a solid foundation for your brand to grow and thrive.

 

“Out of Her Comfort Zone”-The London Sessions: Mary J. Blige Album Review

FTC Disclosure: I participated in the Mary J Blige: The London Sessions album review program as a member of bLink Marketing Network. I was provided a free album to review but all opinions are my own.

Reader Comment Disclaimer: Comments submitted may be displayed on other websites owned by the sponsoring brand.

Even on Mary J Blige’s 13th studio album she is pushing herself outside of her comfort zone. With everything that I have done this year, this concept of remaining in a state of both professional and personal discomfort resonates with me. Mary was asked 20 questions that led to 20 fun facts for her album launch. My favorite question was: “when was the last time that she felt nervous?” her answer: this morning. Nothing is gained by dancing through life to the beat of the status quo. “The London Sessions” is proof that great things can be achieved when you remove yourself from your comfort zone.

Influenced by the late, Amy Winehouse, Sam Smith, Adele and young talent such as Disclosure, Mary recorded this album in 3 weeks and didn’t miss a beat in the process. The overall feel of the album is soulful, honest, and musically pure. If you’re looking for her usual hardcore Hip-Hop beats this isn’t the album for you. From the first track “Therapy” (co-written by Sam Smith); you get a strong tune with a jazz background that draws you into the album narrative immediately. You certainly fall in love with the range of Mary’s voice all over again. “Therapy” is an evolution from “No More Drama” of 2002 where the message is why be unhappy or bitter when there’s a place you can go heal. Whether it is meant for you to literally go to therapy or figuratively for you to go wherever you find healing- it is a great song.

Mary packs more power in this album with “Not Loving You” recorded with Sam Smith. The strength of this song is the lyrics: “There’s only so much I can do, if you’re not loving you”. This is another song that shows growth and a healed Mary from her earlier music that mirrored her pain and real-life struggles.

Now let’s get to my favorites…

If you are like me and you like to dance, “Right Now” is the jam. It is urban meets melodic synth house beat. Plainly, the beat is hypnotic. If you dance, it will get you dancing. If you’re kind of a background guy or gal, it will certainly make you nod your head. I love this song and have had it on repeat. It’s grown and sexy and what I think Mary fans have been waiting for. “Pick Me Up” is simply whimsical. The lyrics are all about what it is to struggle while wanting to be whisked away to somewhere beautiful to escape it all. It’s a feel-good song that had me smiling the whole time.

“Whole Damn Year” is another track that I adore. When you’ve played an instrument like I have, you tend to hear instrumentals before vocals. This song has a beautiful piano melody with subtle kicks and snares that give it almost a soft rock feel. The song was written by Emeli Sande and talks about the struggle of self-love and trusting when your trust has been tarnished by someone you love. Mary brings her usual depth and soulfulness to this song. You will feel her and her message by the end of the song.

I rarely buy whole albums anymore, unless it speaks to me musically. I am a fan of Mary since “What’s the 411” in 92′. This album feels like Mary and I have evolved together. We started out as kids in baggy jeans with our hats backwards and now we’ve struggled, grown and know a lot more about life. We haven’t lost that urban edge on this album but we’ve evolved into something more sophisticated, wiser and eclectic.

“The London Sessions” is a beautiful journey and I’m urging you to come along with me on it. The album will be available for sale on December 2nd. You can pre-order a digital copy here. Since it is the holidays, why not share the beauty of music with your loved ones. The album will also be available for sale on:

Since we’re a social community here at “The Aristocracy of HR”, here are some links to her social profiles. If you’re a fan like me, you will enjoy her Facebook page and website where you can unlock exclusive, behind-the-scenes content from the album.

This may be an HR blog, but one thing we can agree on is that we HR types love good music. I hope you will love it as much as I do. Check out the official video for my favorite, “Right Now” below. Let’s keep the momentum going on the following hashtags: #TheLondonSessions #HRMusicShare #hrjams

I participated in the Mary J Blige The London Sessions album review program as a member of bLink Marketing Network. I was provided a free album to review but all opinions are my own.

The Leadership Truth of Turnover

A friend of mine posted this blurb on Facebook from an audio book he was listening to (note: I don’t know the name of said audio book):

“Numerous studies have shown us that those given authority are more likely to lie, cheat and steal, while also being harsher in their judgments of others for doing these same things. Science tells us people with power feel less compassion for the suffering of others.

Previous experiments also show us that those who are obedient to authority are capable of the worst forms of murder, and tolerant of the worst forms of abuse. They will even chastise those of us who resist corrupt authority. They become facilitators of evil, believing that obedience to authority absolves them of personal responsibility. “

This blurb above is an explanation of today’s cesspool management and hierarchy that permanently resides in many companies. Although we speak very seriously and regularly about the importance of leadership development as HR practitioners, the truth is very rarely are managers chosen with care. In fact, I have personally observed companies who promote people to management or leadership roles based on their ability to be obedient and play the game.

What happens is the road to leadership then becomes a chess match played by cheaters. The rules are not static, but changed on an as-needed basis to suit the players. People like myself and my colleagues never stand a chance in being promoted or even surviving as an employee, because we live and work by a code of conduct. The code of conduct isn’t some arbitrary manifesto we write down to make people believe we are responsible, discerning, fair individuals; but a construct that guides our work and how we treat others in and out of business.

When we say that employees don’t leave jobs they leave bosses- we really mean they leave regimes.  Within the companies of some of your most beloved brands and products lies a regime that takes pride in beating its talent to a pulp daily with unkind words, unreasonable expectations and in some cases bullying- just because they can.

Recently, I read an article of the CEO of a company I used to work for. The article interviewed him about how he runs this large conglomerate and of course highlighted all of the philanthropic work he does for the community. Great article, nice man, toxic company.  It’s his job to speak highly of his business, but what I know after working there in HR is that the leadership from HR to the actual facilities (in many cases) are toxic and a good 3/4 of the employees are disgusted; but remain there out of necessity.

Turnover is directly linked to these toxic environments. The age of obedience and subservience is dead. People want meaningful work and positive work environments. If they remain in your employ, it is purely out of necessity. Necessity breeds a paycheck- which also means that they couldn’t care less about the success of the company.

I’m not sure when it became cool to lead from a place of pure malice and fear, but it needs to stop. If the ultimate goal of talent management is to retain the right talent in organizations, it’s time we (HR and everyone else) took personal responsibility to be ethical, fair, equitable, and provide a workplace free of toxic leadership. That may mean getting rid of a manager that has high turnover even in light of his or her considerable contributions to the company. It could mean reprimanding a manager for being a jerk, even if he or she is your happy hour cohort.

A lack of personal responsibility, the inability to tell and own the truth; as well as unethical behavior are among the many reasons why your turnover may be high. Pay attention to your workforce. Don’t look the other way and cover your ears when it matters the most. Your talent is your brand. Treat them with the same respect and humility you would want for yourself.

How are you being more intentional about being better leader?

Contact us to help you build a strategy for developing positive leadership.

Five Things Your Company Needs To Brand Responsibly

As I take a deep dive into consulting life, I am finding that businesses both big and small are pouring major dollars into digital marketing, social media and branding. The one puzzling thing is when I have conversations with these companies about their business needs for these things all they seem to know is they want and need to be doing it. The issue is the want and need to get involved with these mediums doesn’t always begin with the necessary basics of knowing what your brand is.

You can’t interest people in patronizing your business when you don’t know what you stand for. Why should they support you? What do you offer? More importantly, what is your value proposition?  These are not questions you ask yourself after you launch a social media presence.

People need to understand clearly and quickly what you are about and what the call to action is. You may be successful in business, but being able to articulate your value and purpose in this digital age is paramount.

Before you take that directive to engage your audience online-think about the following:

1) What is the brand? In considering what your brand is- think about your niche-what makes you unique in the marketplace. What is your product or service and how does it solve a problem for your customers. These are just some starters to get your branding juices flowing.

2) What resources will you have available to support your digital presence? This means considering who will need to manage this. Will it be managed in-house or do you need to outsource it? You will also need to consider what your budget is.

3) Do your research. It’s imperative that you understand how your target market searches and makes purchasing decisions on products/services like yours. Doing this allows you to meet your consumers where they are and in a way that is most meaningful for them.

4) Once you are clear on one and two, you will need to consider your strategy. Start small and measure the results of your campaigns to gauge what works for you and what doesn’t.

5) Keep it real, engage, and be consistent with how you portray your company on and offline. Any crack or inconsistency in any of these facets of digital marketing and your reputation could suffer.

Here’s another consideration: when customers take to your social accounts to resolve an issue with your product or service- how will you respond? Since transparency is a top concern for most businesses you will have to decide how transparent and actionable you are willing to be to resolve a customer complaint.

Setting out to get involved in social media and branding your company without any idea about why you are there and who you are is like driving a car with faulty brakes- you are bound to crash and burn. Take the time to seriously evaluate the above-mentioned considerations and set yourself up for success rather than failure.

Want more on how you can set your brand up to succeed? Contact us.

 

 

 

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