This shift in thinking is changing how brands engage with influencers. Most have recognised the need to balance a long-term influencer relationship alongside audience engagement, which requires that they move past the once-off post towards more deeply aligned and entrenched influencer programmes.

A change in dynamic

Instead of the scattergun approach, brands are focusing on working with a select number of profiles over a set period of time. This allows them to cut down on the time required to discover the right fit, vet for fraud and manage quality.

It also benefits both the influencer and brand in that they learn how to collaborate with one another over the long term, achieving a smooth flow in communication. Influencers learn what brands like, their voice and their preferred ways of communicating, which allows for increasingly effortless working relationships.

This shift has also impacted how brands select the type of influencer they want to engage with. Mid- and micro-influencers have become increasingly relevant. They talk directly to a very specific niche – a warm voice over a cup of tea that speaks a very clear and familiar language.

For brands, this means very targeted engagement that can potentially deliver far greater reach and authenticity. The size of the audience doesn’t dictate the level of influence.

What really changes the game is the level of trust that the mid- and micro-influencers bring to the table. Not just trust with their audience, but the ability to build a long-term relationship with the brand.

Leveraging technology also allows brands to work with a variety of influencer profiles simultaneously with ease. They don’t need to limit their options to a handful and they can use the technology to measure the performance of each influencer and audience response.

This allows for brands to work towards creating a powerful ecosystem of social media fans and advocates, which will be at the centre of their influencer marketing strategy.

Two-way communication and mutual respect

Brands need to recognise the value of forming true partnerships with the influencer, and the influencer must respect the brand’s needs and understand the complex environment within which they operate.

Brands are not just cash machines and influencers are not just tools. Collaboration requires empathy. Influencers are people who need to be treated with respect and trusted to know what will work best for their audiences. Brands, on the other hand, have business goals and strategic objectives that have to be met. They both need to meet in the middle.

Of course, collaboration between the brand and the influencer is an important aspect of the relationship, but it is critical that in between the negotiations, strategy and execution that neither one of them forget the audience.

The latter is often a second thought in the tangle of politics and campaigns rather than front and centre – a tragic twist considering the audience is who the brands are trying to 'woo' in the first place. The audience has to remain central to the conversation for both the influencer and the brand, while the influencer is the gateway.

Ultimately, successful influencer campaigns today hinge on collaborative engagement across the three central pillars of success – influencer, brand and audience. They also rely on the right platforms to support collaboration and that ensure both brand and influencer are discovered, vetted and aligned from the outset to deliver the right results.

There is a great opportunity for brands to start their influencer programmes today and find the best influencers to partner and engage with. Many brands are not doing this yet, and it’s one of the main reasons they are not experiencing the successes they read about in case studies.

With long-term influencer programmes, brands are able to truly test and measure what works and what doesn’t, rather than look for results in haphazard and sporadic bursts. The brands who recognise the power of true partnerships and long-term collaborations are the ones that will be successful with influencer marketing.

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