The rise of social media influencers has opened countless new doors for connecting with consumers in meaningful ways. Influencer marketing works because it taps the experiences of consumers who “get” what other consumers want to know. Influencers have genuine relationships with their audiences and know how to build human connections on a level that brands simply can’t achieve through traditional forms of advertising.

Let’s back up a couple of years to when I first started at TapInfluence: I was fascinated by the idea of influencer marketing—I still am. I rarely make a purchase decision without first Googling, Yelping, consulting Pinterest, or asking my friends or family, so it’s a concept that I relate to. I remember meeting with my manager on my first day to learn about how it all works:

  • How do you know what to pay influencers?
  • How do you negotiate terms?
  • Does the Tap platform really automate the process?
  • How much creative freedom do you give them?

Over the years, I’ve worn many different hats and learned the industry from many different angles. Running influencer programs in our software, onboarding and strategizing with customers, collaborating with our product and engineering teams to address user feedback, nurturing and engaging with a rapidly growing marketplace of over 45,000 opt-in influencers — never a dull moment. Through it all, I discovered that running influencer marketing campaigns demands a different type of stamina and strategy than traditional marketing—and many brand marketers and their agency reps are sometimes surprised by this.

Here are 5 things that I’ve learned about working with influencers:

1. They are people-pleasers.

They want to do a great job for you. Don’t assume that they’re trying to do as little work as possible—it’s simply not true. They want to contribute to your brand’s goals, so spend a bit of time cultivating relationships. Never in my professional career have I used so many exclamation points and smiley faces, but that’s the secret to building relationships with influencers. I’m kidding—sort of. Be professional, but be friendly, constructive and show enthusiasm. They are an extremely enthusiastic group and they will pick up on your excitement. The smallest gestures go a long way. Let them know you loved their post or, better yet, re-tweet or share out their content on your social channels and find a witty way to comment on their work. Plus, it’s yet another opportunity to align your brand with their personal brand.

2. They are extremely hardworking, and they aren’t afraid to take chances.

Starting a new business is not easy. Influencers have spent countless hours researching the space, building their site (and then completely re-doing it), identifying their voice and personal brand, networking, and learning new technologies, software, and media to continually build their following . For many influencers, their business started as a hobby and passion and turned into something greater.

At our recent State of Influence event, one blogger explained that the moment she realized she had influence was when her readers starting asking her exactly which cooking spray she used. Her answer? “Whatever was on sale, of course! But it occurred to me that my readers wanted to be able to replicate my recipe exactly as they were seeing it on my site — and that was my ah-ha moment.”

Building and maintaining a business, especially in an ever-changing industry of online media, requires tenacity, grit, patience, and a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears. That’s why it’s also important to pay influencers, if it was ever a question. “It’s just a tweet – it takes 5 minutes” isn’t “just a tweet”. It’s years of building a brand, a business, and building an engaged following.

3. They are incredibly creative.

Influencers give you their best work when you allow them the creative control. Instead of providing them with directives and one-size-fits-all assignments, give them some freedom. Provide them with your goals and what you are trying to accomplish. Influencers know their audiences better than you, and they know what is going to resonate best with them and most importantly — in an authentic way.

I remember being absolutely blown away when influencers were generically tasked with creating lifestyle content with Silk and Horizon Organics. Toni Dash of Boulder Locavore created a beautiful post about how to create a DIY Home Spa Treatment for Mother’s Day using a milk bath (with Horizon Organics milk). Creative, right? I was impressed.

4. They are real people.

That’s right, real people with real families, real responsibilities, and real desire to succeed and earn a living. I can understand how the process of running a campaign through our software can make the entire process seem transactional and it’s easy to forget that you are working with multiple contractors — sometimes up to 100 contractors for 1 campaign. Occasionally, things happen. Their child gets sick, and they are up all night. Their entire home flooded and they are without internet, or their husband was kicked in the head by a horse and they need to take him to the ER (true story). Whatever the case may be, I have always found it best to be flexible and understanding, but firm with what you need to move forward. Worst case scenario, offer them compensation for their time and efforts and give them the option to opt out of their contract.

5. Their time, like yours, is valuable.

In many cases, their time, quite literally, is money. If they are spending time revising a draft for your campaign for the 5th time, it’s taking time away from cultivating their business in other ways. Influencers often pitch brands directly, applying to campaigns with the hope of being selected. That’s why it is important to clearly outline campaign expectations both at the beginning of a campaign as well as throughout its entirety as elements change. Seemingly simple changes, like replacing a photo, isn’t a quick fix. In some cases, you may be asking the influencer to recreate a recipe, re-set up a photo shoot, re-shoot, re-edit and only THEN can they replace an image within their blog post, for example. It can be a 10 hour change. Be cognizant of your expectations for content at the beginning of your campaign, and be willing to compromise if you weren’t crystal clear up front, or if changes are made to the scope of work throughout the process.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for influencers. They are building a life on their own terms and following their true passions — something many of us want and not everyone has the courage to do. Treat them with respect and courtesy, give them the creative reigns, and you may just be surprised how your influencer marketing efforts will contribute to your bottom line.