Influencer marketing has become a popular, mainstream strategy to produce brand awareness, leads and sales. In fact, it may be too popular.

As more brands aggressively pursue influencers, the strategy has become less genuine. Costs for branded posts have skyrocketed. Unscrupulous “influencers” pad their accounts with fake followers to demand higher fees from brands. In addition, the FCC is cracking down on paid posts that lack proper disclosures, and Google’s new guidelines can penalize influencers who don’t disclose payments for backlinks.

Some say influencer marketing is dead or has become a joke. But many experts say the problem is not influencer marketing itself; it’s how companies implement the strategy.

To achieve long-term success, implementation of influencer marketing must become more PR-like and less overtly promotional. It must function more as earned media, not paid media. That means building long-term relationships with influencers and helping them produce content that’s original, newsy, authentic, interesting, educational and entertaining. That PR approach will produce increased readership/viewership and better believability. Ultimately, influencer marketing that mimics earned media will boost audience belief in the message.

These are some recommendations to improve results from influencer marketing:

Align your brand with the right influencers. Scott Disick, a television personality best known for his relationship with reality TV star Kourtney Kardashian, recently posted a photo of himself with a Bottea protein shake in a sponsored post. Patricio Robles at Econsultancy, asks why Bottea, a health and wellness brand, would align with a celebrity known for hard-partying ways and struggles with drug and alcohol abuse. Such misalignment leads to disingenuous content – and lack of credibility.

Working with influencers who are part of your market leads to more sincere content and increases the likelihood that people will believe the message.

Look beyond paid posts. The belief that brands must always pay influencers is a myth, writes Lee Odden at the TopRank Marketing blog. Odden quotes Stephen Waddington, chief engagement officer at Ketchum, as saying: “The notion that you can buy influencers like media is dangerous. It’s a relationship business, not real estate.”

Paid posts, the digital equivalent of product placements, should be considered. But when done alone, they will probably not “move the needle,” especially if they are not compelling and not clearly aligned with the influencer’s persona, experts warn.

While arrangements with paid influencers are usually clear, with written contracts and established timeframes, relationships with unpaid influencer are informal and less clear cut, writes Mention’s Content Marketing Manager Lindsey Prowse. Prowse cites the Skype Passion Project as an example of a superb unpaid influencer campaign. Skype sought unpaid ambassadors around the world to connect and share their passions. The campaign produced more than 100,000 website visits and over 5,000 campaign shares. The result: Ten percent of new website visitors downloaded the Skype mobile app.

Meet audience needs. Identify what the target audience wants to know and develop content that meets their information, educational and entertainment needs and preferences. Provide the selected influencers with bullet points of key points – and allow them develop their own creative approaches to the content. In other words, treat your influencers them like a journalist instead of a shill.

Seek product reviews. Reviews are an excellent tactic because they’re product-centric without being salesy, Prowse says. Influencers can share their individual story and experience, go into detail about using the product, and entertain their audience while still promoting the product directly.

Product reviews are often effective because people trust other consumers more than paid promotion for brands. “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is,” said Scott Cook, co-founder of Intuit.

Help influencers build relationships. Find an influencer in your niche whom you admire, and share their content on your own social media networks, recommends Steve P. Young, founder of, in an Entrepreneur article. Be sure to tag the influencer so he or she knows what you’re doing. If that’s not enough, consider a charitable donation in the influencer’s name or interview them for your company blog.

Following these best practices can help energize your PR. “Influencers help brands stay relevant. They’re like the evolved cool kids from high school. And harnessing the power and trust that people have in influencers can really supercharge your PR campaign,” Prowse concludes.

Measure influencer results. Assign each influencer unique URLs linking to your website. Use content marketing metrics to measure increases in brand awareness, engagement, leads and sales produced by each influencer. In addition to media monitoring and measurement services, CyberAlert offers a comprehensive package of customized metrics for influencer marketing.

Bottom Line: As influencer marketing has become increasing pervasive, it has become less effective. Some influencer marketing efforts have even led to insincere content due to a mismatch of brand and influencer. PR can take the lead to revitalize the strategy though unpaid influencer marketing campaigns.

A version of this article was published on the CyberAlert blog.