Online content creators became pillars of nearly every successful marketing approach as influencer marketing blossomed into an industry worth more than $13.5 billion globally in 2021.
This shift in the digital landscape made one thing clear: Consumers now want to follow people—not companies.
Marketers don't have to look hard to find influencers—studies show more than 500,000 exist on Instagram alone. The challenge is finding the right ones and following the necessary steps to maximize their content on social media.
Partner with brand-aligned creators
Consumers can sniff out transactional influencer relationships from a mile away. As a result, partnerships should only occur when a creator knows a brand, uses its products, and truly believes in both.
"Don't pay for people who are just going to spout your name," said Bonjoro Founder Matt Barnes. "If [your creators] don't believe in what you do, people will see through it."
For example, Organifi’s early influencer marketing efforts fell flat after the California-based superfoods company opened up its program to anyone with enough time to fill out an application and claim a discount code. But despite a hulking roster, almost none of the company's creators aligned closely with Organifi's customer persona.
As a result, the marketing team hit pause on its entire program and completely revamped its strategy. Organifi kept only 10 influencers from its initial roster and honed in on new creators who fully encapsulated the brand's mission and values.
"We realized [our program] wasn't hitting the goal we wanted," said Organifi Founder Drew Canole. "The ambassadors we have now are so quality and such a great fit that our revenue numbers are higher than ever."
Leverage creators as brand storytellers
Every brand has a story. The key is finding the right way to tell it.
A brand story draws people in, excites them, and generates the desire to take action. Creators are the perfect partners to help spread the word, but it's up to the brand to give them the tools to succeed.
"Treat influencers the same way you train salespeople," said Movetic CEO Josh Roush. "Take the time to chat with them about who you are as a brand. Talk about your products and why they are unique. Make sure influencers have all the right information they need to be effective with their audience."
Allow creative freedom
More than 75% of influencers say that creative freedom is essential to brand partnerships. Don't stifle their creativity. Stay flexible and let your influencers work their marketing magic.
"A pet peeve of mine is when a brand told you they want you to be creative, but then they send you the brief, and it's so structured that it doesn't allow for any creative freedom," said Hispana Global CEO Jeannette Kaplun. "If you don't allow that freedom from your creator, I think your campaign is going to suffer."
Marketers have to treat their influencers as trusted partners. Clear goals and deliverables are critical to keeping everyone on the same page, but creators need the freedom to produce content in their own way.
"Brands are asking [creators] to weigh in and be a part of the journey," Roush said. "They are also giving influencers the freedom to tell the story that resonates with their specific audience."
Cultivate long-term partnerships
One-off creator partnerships always have a place in influencer marketing, but long-term relationships nurture the most genuine connections and drive the highest returns.
Like any relationship, brand-influencer partnerships thrive on mutual respect and open dialogue. But it doesn't happen overnight.
Sabrina Medert, a senior social media strategist with Vera Bradley, said she spends about 90% of her time communicating with influencers and collaborating on content that best resonates with consumers.
"I do think that the influencers become our friends—they become people we can rely on," she said. "And then, at the same time, they can rely on us, too. Because that's what you do with your friends. That's what you do with your relationships."
Invest in creator management tools
A young influencer marketing program can succeed with a manual approach to campaign management. But as it grows, the right creator management tools become critical for discovering brand-aligned creators, managing content, nurturing relationships, analyzing campaign success, and automating busywork.
"You absolutely need a platform," said Allison Brown, an influencer marketing manager at Bulletproof 360. "I cannot stress that enough."
Along with hundreds of major brands like Allbirds, MVMT Watches, and Cuts Clothing, Brown uses GRIN's all-in-one Creator Management platform to run her influencer marketing campaigns at scale. Regardless of what type of creator brands work with, the GRIN platform makes the process easy, enabling brands to cut work hours in half and scale their program tenfold.
Eventually, every influencer marketer will need to invest in the tools that enable them to treat creators like their brand revolves around them. Because in the creator economy, it does.