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The Special Relationship: Building Meaningful Partnerships Between an Influencer and Brand

3 MINUTE READ | March 28, 2017

The Special Relationship: Building Meaningful Partnerships Between an Influencer and Brand

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Wes Lacson

Wes Lacson has written this article. More details coming soon.

On the surface, the way that influencers, or highly visible people on social media, and their sponsor companies interact can seem purely transactional. We see a celebrity mentioning a new shoe line in a tweet, and many would assume that it’s as simple as a quid pro quo. We give you money; you post about us. However, the speakers in the SXSW session “Trust Me, I’m Influential” took a deeper look at what really makes a successful relationship between influencers and their corporate partners. As it happens, those relationships can often go far deeper and be more meaningful than they appear.

In reality, the most successful, long-lasting partnerships are often the ones that don’t provide tangible benefit right away. Brian Salzman, founder, and CEO of RQ Media Group explained that at his company, which shows brands how to build strategic relationships with influential partners, the first few meetings have nothing to do with money at all. Part of working with an influencer isn’t just to gain access to the consumers that follow them; it’s also to give them the opportunity to influence your own brand with their experience and insight. Influencers resonate with their followership, and the smartest brands are the ones that recognize this and lean on the influencer’s counsel.

Once the influencer feels valued and validated by their brand, the following steps of devising and releasing posts related to the brand come much more naturally. The influencer can speak with their own voice, and convey authentic enthusiasm about the product. This strategy also has the bonus of occasionally providing the brand with free, incidental sponsorship when the influencer is speaking with fans or friends. By starting the relationship as something where both sides gain something more than just money, it builds the goodwill needed to sustain a partnership for years.

Just like interpersonal relationships, both the influencers and the brands often find themselves turning more offers down than accepting. For companies, the reason is obvious: money must be allocated only to projects that will yield a return on investment. Influencers are no different, and companies like Samsung even maintain hard, numerical criteria to screen out potential partners.

Similarly, influencers must ensure that the visibility and association that a partnership begets does not preclude them from working with another brand in the future. The example given by Zach Iser, Senior Concert Agent for a talent and literary agency for celebrities, is that of an alcohol sponsorship to a well-known hip hop artist. By doing, say, a commercial and a video short with Cîroc, the artist could very well be blocking a future endorsement by Grey Goose. For the influencer, the visibility of the partnership matters almost as much as influencer-brand fit.

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It seems, in general, that partnerships must be treated as not only as a financial investment, but also a personal and professional association that matures over time. As both sides become more familiar and involved with the other, the messaging will be made more natural, as both entities can speak with their authentic voice. Without authenticity, a partnership can be nothing more than a transaction. With authenticity, the partnership can be a cornerstone of a marketing strategy for years.

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