Influencer marketing is quickly becoming a mainstay for small and large brands alike to grow engagement, generate leads and increase sales, with 90% of brands recently surveyed finding it to be an effective form of marketing. Yet with more influencers and a large variety of areas of expertise to choose from, even the most experienced brands can find it difficult to make the most of this constantly evolving and progressively competitive space. As a result, brands are turning to influencer marketing agencies to help make the most of their efforts, fill their knowledge and manpower gaps and achieve outstanding results for their campaigns.
How to choose the right Influencer Marketing Agency:
For those that aren’t familiar with the term, an influencer marketing agency works directly with brands to design, run and optimize their influencer marketing campaigns on social media channels. Agencies differ from organic influencer marketing efforts, which could be run by the brand itself by its marketing and public relations staff, and from platforms or tools that could help the brand identify the correct influencers for their campaigns, run the campaign and report back on the results. Agencies tend to allow brands to “take their hands off of the wheel” when it comes to influencer marketing efforts by doing everything from selecting the correct influencers for the campaign, managing them, curating and optimizing the content, and helping brands achieve their goals, whether they are specific to lead generation or engagement. Influencer marketing agencies are brands’ partners when it comes to their online marketing efforts, helping them realize their potential by focusing the strategy on the influencers, trends and hashtags that will bring their brand the best results.
But the world of influencer marketing agencies isn’t as clear cut as one may think. According to Statista, the number of influencer marketing agencies increased seven-fold from 2015 to 2020, and there are now thousands of agencies that operate both locally and internationally. A plethora of actors in the space is good for business, but it can be a source of confusion for brands interested in selecting the agency that will best represent their interests.
So to provide brands with a bit of direction in selecting an agency that can meet their needs and help them achieve their goals, I’ve compiled my top five tips and recommendations for what to look for when selecting an influencer marketing agency.
It all starts with a detailed brief
The relationship between agency and brand starts out with a brief. And it should be a good one! Brands will reach out to the influencer marketing agency with a general description of what they are trying to achieve with their influencer marketing campaign. Some parameters that they could present the agency with include: desired target audiences, conversion rates, click through rates, ballpark estimates for the increase in the number of followers, likes, etc. Then, the agency will send a brief with details on how they would design and manage the campaign, including aspects such as:
- An action plan: A detailed outline of what will happen for each step of the campaign. Sometimes this can be presented as a GANTT to show how the campaign will progress over time.
- Creative ideas: Based on the parameters and “must haves” set by the brand, the agency will propose a few ideas for posts, images, campaign themes, hashtags and more. This is usually a big “make it or break it” for the brief.
- Potential influencers: Depending on whether the brand has already selected the influencers to work with or not, the agency could present relevant influencers based on what the brand is trying to achieve.
- KPIs: Some agencies will even be as bold to estimate KPIs for the campaign, sometimes based on the influencers selected. For instance, in the example below for a fashion campaign, the following initial KPIs for exposure and engagement could be selected.
- Content references: Brands should examine this aspect very carefully. What references or benchmark examples of content does the agency provide? Who have they worked with before? This is usually a good indication of the quality of work that can be expected from the agency.
- Reporting style: It’s recommended for brands to look at how and at what cadence the agency will report back to them. It may be a bit risky to allow an agency you’re working with for the first time to report back only at the end of the campaign, so make sure the terms of reporting, and what the reports will look like, is agreed upon ahead of time.
This list provides an overall idea of what agency briefs usually include, but this may differ depending on the agency and their area of expertise. One of my top suggestions would be to ask for a modular creative strategy that proposes different creative ideas and influencer activations that are suited to different budgets. This makes it possible to select the right strategy for the brand and for both partners to develop a fruitful relationship built on trust, flexibility and results.
Then, it’s time to select a team that can execute
This may seem a bit obvious, but in my experience, brands don’t always have a clear picture of the wide array of options they have when it comes to selecting who will be on their influencer marketing dream team. Because there are a variety of tasks involved in executing an influencer marketing campaign, agencies tend to silo tasks so that the best work is done and team members won’t be overwhelmed. Just a small sampling of the roles within an influencer marketing agency include: creative content creators, strategy experts, influencer activators and managers, campaign managers, graphic designers, and data analysts. Depending on if the agency uses an influencer marketing platform or not, some of these tasks could be automated or performed by a tech solution. But, if you ask me, the top three capabilities that are a must have for any influencer marketing team are creative, strategy and execution. These need to be done perfectly (or at least really well) in order for the campaign to be successful.
Another thing to think about when it comes to selecting a team is who will be responsible from the brand’s side of things. A lot of time, unless there is a dedicated social media marketer that can devote time and effort to ensuring that everything goes smoothly, responsibility for influencer marketing campaigns can be thrown around, impacting the success of the campaign. It is really important for the brand to be on top of things, no matter how much of the responsibility they allocate to the agency in terms of managing the campaign. Brands should assign a PMO that can oversee the influencer campaign if not on a daily basis, then at least on a weekly basis. If a regular reporting regimen is decided upon prior to launching the campaign, the PMO may only have to “peek in” to see that everything is going as planned. But because influencer campaigns are so dynamic, it’s critical that there be engaged teams on both the agency and brand side of things.
Try to find an agency that uses technology to streamline the process
Learned expertise in influencer marketing can go a long way, but technology is increasingly taking center stage when it comes to delivering measurable results and deriving meaningful insights. While there are still many agencies that are doing things sans tech, there are also many that have chosen to invest in using a tech-driven solution to make influencer discovery, campaign tracking and reporting and on-going project management much easier to deal with. Some agencies, including the one that I manage, have developed their own solutions in-house to give their agency added value, a competitive edge and sometimes even a lower price point for their services.
Let’s talk a bit about the kinds of technological solutions for influencer marketing out there. It starts with campaign management solutions that allow for automation of the posting process, setting specific dates and times for selected content to be uploaded and optimized. This should also be done with some “human” consideration, which I’ll get to in my next tip, but there are automated solutions that make it possible to passively post and engage on social media. Then there are solutions for discovering the right influencers to use in the campaign. There are millions of influencers out there, from macro (those with more than 100K followers) to micro (those with 10K or less followers) influencers, so the discovery and selection process can be daunting to those new to the space. Discovery solutions will help brands identify the influencers that they should be activating based on their desired target audience and engagement goals, and these solutions are usually based on cold hard data. Then there are solutions that will also make the influencer activation and management process much easier by automatically establishing contact with selected influencers, closing their terms based on the set budget and communicating with them when needed to upload the campaign content. Finally, there are integrative artificial intelligence solutions that are really the most advanced option when it comes to influencer tech. These solutions will optimize the campaign automatically, letting brands know which influencers are producing the best results as the campaign unfolds, the type of content receiving the most engagement and live reporting on KPI performance.
Whichever agency a brand selects, it is definitely worth inquiring whether they work with a tech solution and if the brand can be provided direct access to it. Some agencies will also enable “whitelabel” solutions where brands can actually generate their own reports and manage the dashboard themselves, making the entire process more accountable and fluid for the brand over time. Whitelabel solutions can make it easier for the brand to engage with the influencer campaign and manage it according to their needs, together with the agency, in order to derive optimal results.
Make sure they are social media experts
This is another point that may seem like a given, but it’s important to remember that there are many different types of agencies with various areas of expertise. If the agency the brand works with specializes in influencer discovery and activation, social media management and optimization of campaign content may not be one of their fortes. Usually agencies with strong creative teams will understand the importance of A/B testing and pushing the best lead generating content as the campaign progresses. For instance, once the campaign is launched organically, the agency can examine how different pieces or types of content perform with the influencers activated for the campaign. If Reels (on Instagram) are performing better than photo uploads for micro influencers, the agency should be able to identify this trend and then engage the influencers to produce more Reels moving forward.
But social media expertise doesn’t just mean identifying which types of content are performing the best. It also means being about to scale the content across different platforms and influencers, giving it a “push” with paid media and ads if needed. This is where content creation experts work together with campaign managers and strategy experts to make sure that the campaign budget is being optimized to the maximum. Sometimes, and as is the case with my agency, it makes sense to allocate some of the campaign budget towards paid media ahead of time or as the campaign unfolds to make sure that none of the content is going to waste. It can also help push the content to the desired target audience and improve click-through rates, view-through rates and conversions to sales.
Finally, another thing to consider is how attune to social media trends the agency is, especially those trends in the brand’s industry and sector. For instance, if TikTok videos are working better for beauty companies, then it doesn’t make sense to be investing in a full fledged Facebook campaign. Some brands are already aware of which platforms work better for their sector, but agencies should definitely chime in on where they see content working the best. And, of course, agencies shouldn’t be putting all of the eggs in one basket nowadays. They should be working cross-platform no matter what the campaign goals are and the platform that is strongest for the brand’s industry. Influencer campaigns are versatile, evolving beings, which means they need to be conducted across different platforms - Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, etc. - in order to affect long-lasting impact.
Clear and consistent reporting should be a top priority
As mentioned previously, setting a regular reporting cadence is critical when working with an influencer marketing agency. Brands should by no means be waiting until the end of the campaign to see results. Agencies should share details on campaign performance daily, if not a few times a week, and at least biweekly. This is important because it’s so easy to just pour money into influencer campaigns without seeing any results. And this exact pitfall has happened to the best of brands just because they couldn’t gain visibility into clear and consistent reporting. Brands should get reports that include statistics like:
- Engagement rate
- Total followers from the campaign
- Potential impressions
- Actual impressions
- Total engagements
- Total views of Stories/Reels (or other content), including VTR
- Campaign progress
- Clicks, including CTR
- Total conversions
- Cost per engagement
- Media value
- Other demographic stats: age, location and interests of the engaged audience
- Engagement spread among activated influencers
For instance, here is a look into my agency’s reporting dashboard for clients, providing this data and more on an on-going basis:
Why is this important? Because not only does it increase the level of accountability between agency and brand, it enables both sides to draw data-driven conclusions on the success of certain types/piece of content, influencers and to implement those conclusions moving forward. Influencer marketing is not a “hit it and quit it” pursuit. It’s a journey that brands are in for the long haul, so instead of looking through the narrow lens of just a single campaign, it is imperative to see how the brand is building its following and online marketing presence overtime. Only by understanding the lasting impacts of an influencer campaign over time can a brand really exceed and succeed at social media marketing, and this can only truly be done with the right data at hand.
Agencies understand that brands are committed to the social media space, but also that some of them are still clueless as to how a specific campaign fits into the larger scheme of things. In order to ensure that a brand can build a lasting social presence over time, regular and detailed reporting is a must and is not something that brands should be compromising on.
To summarize, influencer marketing is now an inseparable part of a brand's marketing strategy, but there remains a huge knowledge gap that agencies can help in closing. That said, brands shouldn’t just pick any agency as their partner for their social media journey. Brands should look for agencies that can provide a detailed brief; have strong, experienced and diverse teams; use technological solutions where possible; have expertise in optimizing campaigns on social media; and can derive data-driven reports. Once these elements are in place, a brand can feel confidence that they’ve found the right partner to guide them on their social media marketing journey.