Relationship Management

What is relationship based influencer marketing and how to implement it

Theory is fine, here's what to actually DO that makes a difference.
Posted on
April 26, 2022
5 minute read
Yash Chavan
Founder at SARAL

Most brands approach influencer marketing in the wrong way. I call it “transactional” influencer marketing.

In this post, I’ll share what most get wrong about leveraging influencers to grow and how you can take the right approach.

Disclaimer: This isn’t for those who dismiss influencers as a nice-to-have channel. This is only for those who want to eliminate their dependance on paid media and set up influencers as a robust, long-term, growth channel for their brand.

What transactional IM looks like

It’s not too hard to define as some of this stuff is thrown around as “best practices” by the blog posts written by people who built tools to enable transactions.

It’s like FB asking you to spend more money on ads. Don’t buy into it.

Purely quantitative approach

Transactional influencer marketing means looking at influencers only in terms of their follower count or engagement rate and dismissing other, more important, qualitative factors.

When you look simply at their numbers and hard metrics, you take an extremely myopic approach to select influencers. You’re looking for numbers as they’re easy and tools enable it.

But as you know, you need to do hard things to get better results.

Would you hire someone who got straight A's by mugging stuff up but didn't really understand the subject?

This is what you fall for when you only use metrics and demographics to find influencers. You hire straight-A influencers that don’t perform in the real world.

Hiring from Marketplaces

Marketplaces force you to look at influencer placements like they’re being sold in an open market. Everybody is a commodity and everybody is (by default) judged by their numbers and metrics.

The marketplace ends up owning the key part of your program - all your relationships with influencers. If you decide the marketplace isn’t serving you, you lose all of your network and have to start from scratch again.

When you look at thousands of influencers together, your brain sees abundance and automatically de-values each individual relationship.

Focusing on the immediate result

When you fall into the trap of transactional influencer marketing, you focus too much on the immediate results and ROI from every influencer. This is when you do short-term deals and never focus on whether the influencer even wants to recommend your product.

You just pay them to post as you need to get the ad out there. This also turns off influencers and it reflects in the kind of content they create for you - it’s dull, boring, and not persuasive.

Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

Let’s change all this with relationship-based influencer marketing.

The new world of Relationship-first influencer marketing

When you take this approach, you put relationships first. Not numbers, demographics, and metrics. Actual human connections are the primary driver of your program. Everything else is in an important supportive role.

Let’s dive into how you can adopt this approach.

Looking beyond numbers

Don’t focus on numbers too much. First and foremost, understand if their message and philosophy aligns with your brand. Do they care about the same things your brand cares about?

Do they speak about it vocally?

A good example of this is sustainable fashion. If your brand is all about ethically sourced cotton, you don’t want to work with influencers who promote expensive leather products. I’m not making a moral judgement here, just talking brand alignment.

Once you have this foundation set in place, look at how charismatic they are.

How good are they in creating content their audience relates with? Are they engaging thoughtfully in the comments and stories, etc.

You want to test for “connect” here. There are many small things you need to verify, but don’t fret about getting everything right. No one is perfect. As long as you get a good vibe from their profile, and their content looks like something you’d like consuming - you’re good to go!

As an additional check, you can also look at the past promotions they’ve done on their profile. How did that content do as compared to the other normal posts? Were they persuasive enough?

All this will eventually become second-nature to you.

Building long-term relationships

With relationship-based influencer marketing, we do not focus on the immediate result. We focus on the long term compounding value of the relationship.

It’s just like sales. It’s about building a relationship over time by adding value. It’s not about “making them buy”. Those tactics are old and the new market does not care about your special closing tactic. They want to be served first, see value first. It’s the same with influencers.

You never want to leave an influencer relationship after you do the first collaboration with them. If it works for you, do more. Do unique ones, try different placements and different social media channels, see what ends up working the best and double down!

If the paid promo doesn’t work, offer them a spot on your affiliate program. Assuming there’s alignment between your brand and their message, they will likely hop on and shout you out occasionally. The world is your oyster here, keep the relationships going!

This is where using a purpose-built CRM to track all your relationships would help tremendously.

Influencer relationships view inside Saral

Imagine getting reminders for influencers whom you have not worked with in a while...and more!

Leading with a GIVE

Creators are bombarded with requests to share people’s products non-stop every day of the week.

You don’t want to be another ASK in the stack.

Lead with a give. Just ask for their address and send them free product. Worst case scenario, they don’t post organically but like your product and want to do a paid collaboration with you. Best case scenario, they post about you organically and you get a shoutout for nothing more than your COGS.

Sending free product before you decide to work with influencers is a great way to show your commitment and trust in them. You only want to work with influencers that really like your product, so much so that they want to share it.

Giving does not stop after the initial stage. You gotta keep making it better for them.

Offer higher affiliate commissions after hitting certain milestones, do giveaways, launch special discounts for their audience, etc. Your brand equity grows when you do this and it’s the most long-term profitable thing you can do.

How it helps

When you take this approach instead of the archaic transactional one, you’ll see a more active and happening influencer program.

More people will post about your brand. More people will buy. More people will care. Which also means more money in your pocket. There’s no reason not to do it.

When you realise that you can strike gold with just one good influencer becoming an advocate of your brand, you will instantly move away from doing transactional partnerships and put relationships first.

Using the right tools

There are two main ways you can find influencers to partner with using technology: Marketplaces and Databases.

Part of the blame towards the transactional approach to influencers falls on the way technology that enables influencer marketing is built. Both marketplaces and databases put metrics and numbers first, not people. This forces you to take a myopic view and ultimately build a sub-par (at best) and unprofitable (at worst) influencer program. You don’t want that.

Much of the advancement of modern science can be attributed to better instruments being created that were able to detect what we otherwise could not detect in the past. Sometimes, our tooling restricts us from seeing broader and doing better.

This is why we’re building Saral. We put relationships at the forefront of our tool and help you put this philosophy of relationship-based influencer marketing into action.

I hope I’ve been able to communicate how transactional influencer marketing is the ineffective old way of operating and why you need to move to relationship based influencer marketing as soon as possible! You’re literally losing money if you don’t.

I’ll soon work on a checklist that you can follow during your process of doing relationship-focused marketing with creators. To be notified, get on our weekly influence marketing newsletter 🙂