Trolling for a Match isn’t the Way to Generate Influence

The following is a guest contributed post from Steve Ellis, CEO of WHOSAY.

Recently, Dove was caught up in an issue that happens far too often in influencer marketing. The firm it was working with was anxious to sign up talent for an upcoming Father’s Day promotion. But like many in today’s influencer marketing game, it was all about the “spray and pray model.”

A brand and the firms it partners with are simply reaching out to any and all potential influencers, without examining the impact of a potential partnership (or even simple contact with the third-party).

Who are they? Where are they from? Do they have any pre-existing conflicts that could harm the brand? Are their public opinions reflective of values your brand would like to be associated with?

In Dove’s case, its firm’s search came upon Coltrane Curtis, who is an “influential” dad… that also runs his own influencer marketing firm. Understandably, Curtis had some issues with the repeated, tone-deaf overtures, and through Digiday, he discussed the underlying issues this interaction exposed

The largest issue of all? The transactional nature of the brand-influencer model that’s set in around the industry. Brands are being sold on the idea of influencers as an bullhorn for their message; a paid placement that lacks the sort of personal relationship needed to form a working partnership. As Curtis said himself: “Influencers are real people, but many look at them as media outlets. They are bigger than their followers.”

That quote lies at the core of influencer marketing’s potential, but not its current state. Embracing that sort of approach can allow the industry to rise above the ugly, “spray and pray” tactics Curtis fell victim to. And then, influencer marketing can realize its $5 billion potential.

It starts with building a casting process that’s centered around professionalism and respect for talent — and the people behind those public faces. Avoid desperation tactics just like you would in a normal person-to-person interaction. Whether you’re looking for a first date or a first interview, begging rarely works. So why would it set the stage for a successful brand-influencer relationship?

Talent outreach should be in the best interest of both the agency and brand, with influencers thoughtfully (and fully) vetted and approved before engaging the market. Conflicts of interest are the baseline for what to avoid. But the best influencers for a brand aren’t just the ones with the largest follower account. They’re the influencers with the best followers for the brand or campaign, and the one that’s going to generate the most meaningful engagement.

For the burgeoning trend of working with micro-influencers, this can be even more challenging to reach them and start an organic relationship. However, the process of research and respectful outreach should never be compromised.

One social influencer may have 40,000 followers, but in the micro-influencing game, every one of those are their own important ecosystem of valuable interaction and feedback. Erring from the influencer’s typical sharing practices or a brand appearing disingenuous could have catastrophic results for all involved, even on that supposedly smaller scale.

That trust is sacred for followers, and it’s something that must be carried over for every part of the influencer marketing industry. From the brand to the agency to the talent to the audience, respect builds trust and trust builds high-quality engagement.

It’s unlikely Dove’s situation is the last of its kind. But as an industry, we can progress to making these occurrences few and far between. The only thing stopping influencer marketing’s growth is itself. With the roadmap already in place to move beyond the old, flawed mistakes, it’s time to grow up.