I recently started a new series, Meet the Teamlancers, where we get to peek at the behind-the-scenes routines of collaborative freelancing teams supporting major agencies or brands. This time, we’re going to meet with teamlancers who regularly work with influencers and brand ambassadors.
And to offer a fair representation of the process, this article will be split in two with the first part sharing insights from the teamlancers who hire or collaborate with ambassadors and influencers while the second part of this feature will share the point of view of the influencers and brand partners themselves. Stay tuned for the second part of working with brand ambassadors and influencers who will share their points of view.
Still with me? Good, because the Teamlancing™ collaboration shared by ambassadors and brands or corporations can become multi-layered, and on some level, even more nuanced than a traditional teamlancing relationship. Where else do you have someone who is known in their industry for being one type of expert, partnering with someone else potentially in an entirely different industry to figure out a way to best co-promote each other?
Brand ambassadors and influencers are almost always teamlancers
Up until a few years ago, most of us hadn’t even heard the expression influencers, much regularly worked with them — or aspired to be one. But with the ever-changing careers market comes gigs that once sounded a bit unusual and now are just another part of doing business.
When lecturing or keynoting, I frequently refer to cross-branding partnerships offering elevation by association for one or both parties. It’s an expression first shared with me some time back by a pal I’ve since lost touch with, Russell Barnett, My/Mochi Ice Cream managing director and chief marketing officer. Barnett inherently understood the value of brands promoting brands, even before we all had a name for it.
In a successful influencer or brand ambassador relationship, both parties benefit, be it in the form of expanded brand reach, increased viewership or eyeballs, or quite literally when one is paid to promote the other’s product. And yet, of all the teamlancing relationships there are, the ambassador or influencer remains steadfastly true to their own brand ideals while hopefully in support of another.
Transparency and consistency are key
Brand ambassadors bring teamlancing to a different level. They do their own thing but work closely with brands/team members, and for the length of the campaign, are part of a team building the brand, connecting and using their expertise while the rest of the time they’re working on their own projects or with other organizations. It gets tricky when egos are involved or when managing multiple teams of ambassadors or other individuals representing — though not actually part of — the brand.
When working with an influencer, it’s crucial to first understand your own brand before expecting them to represent you. Meredith Jacobson, influencer marketing strategist & founder of We Are Boosters, a teamlancing collaborative of 20+ influencer marketing specialists, began her career in the more traditional elements of talent management.
From there, she progressed to managing brand partnerships for digital talent and worked closely with brands to educate them about influencers. As her career evolved, she reviewed proposals from all of her former competitors and other vendors and realized “just how many inconsistencies are out there, how some agencies operate with an astonishing lack of transparency, and on a positive note: how many interesting and valuable partners/solutions are out there.”
3 things to keep in mind when hiring an ambassador
- Have a clear understanding of the potential ambassador’s audience. It doesn’t matter how many followers they have if these people ultimately aren’t your own target audience.
- Choose someone genuinely interested in your brand. Have they tweeted or posted about your product in the past? Great. They already seem to have expressed authentic interest or knowledge in your product.
- Try each other on for size. “I always recommend that the brand starts with a one-off test campaign to see how the partnership goes,” Jacobson said.
Do your due diligence
No one likes to admit it, but we’re often taken in by huge numbers and the claims people make about their reach or past partnerships. But if you scratch the surface, you’ll see the seamy underbelly of influencer marketing complete with so-called brand ambassadors pretending to represent products they have no ties to.
WWD had a really interesting article in early January where they delved into the popularity of micro-influencers and even nano-influencers and took it a step further to the genuinfluencer, the genuine influencer.
As explained by the trend forecasters at WGSN, the rise of genuinfluencers was a direct result of past health and political misinformation. It might blow your mind to know that the World Health Organization asked Dude With Sign to post accurate COVID-19 information to his 7.4 million Instagram followers. Then again, that particular dude is part of the frequently sketchy F*ck Jerry manufactured group of influencers, so despite being incredibly popular, how much of a genuinfluencer is he really?
To ensure that you’re creating the best possible brand partnership for your client, Christie Childers, founder & influencer marketing consultant of Best Day Ever says that it’s crucial to “be very thorough when choosing partners for your clients.”
For Childers, that means “doing a deep dive into their past content and ensuring brands they’ve partnered with recently are aligned with my client and wouldn’t raise any red flags for them.”
Most importantly, Childers says that “you need to understand your potential partners’ audience, as those are people your brand will be having a conversation with in the storytelling of a branded endorsement.”
The potential influencer might tick all the right boxes in theory, but not be someone your client’s audience can relate to on any level.
Really listen to what they’re saying
I’ve sat in on a few ambassador searches along with my colleague and fellow teamlancer at The Content Factory, Brian Markowski, who’s been working with brand ambassadors for about the past three years. While I’m used to interviewing people to draw out their stories, I noticed that Markowski’s process felt a bit more circuitous, and he explained why.
“Every client has their varying needs or quirks or unique aspect they’re looking for.”
There’s generally an interview process that can go about an hour-long, during which time Markowski said that he’s “gauging their knowledge and what they can bring to the table.” More than that, he’s also interviewing them and learning if they’ll sound good on TV or a podcast.
What to listen for when interviewing a potential ambassador
- How much fresh information are they offering? If they keep repeating the same two things, they won’t prove to be interesting to potential press or partners.
- How well-versed are they on their topic? If they keep stopping and starting or tripping over their words, they won’t come across as experts and that could weaken your own brand in the process.
- Do they take themselves seriously or not seriously enough? Only you can know what the right fit is to represent your brand.
You’re going to have to put in some hard work too
I’m so sorry to be the one to break this to you, but working with ambassadors and influencers means that you’ll have to at least have some working knowledge of their topic. Markowski listens carefully when interviewing potential partners.
“Do they sound like they really grasp the specialty?” More than that, if it’s a company around medicine, he prepares questions in advance and asks them about current events.
“I do my research on what is the bleeding edge information. That’s how I know if they’re a good fit.” He also listens carefully to their voices. “Passion comes through in conversation.”
In that way, you know if they’re excited about their topic and representing your brand.
Manage everyone’s expectations
Most of us know the feeling of starting a new gig and feeling pressure from all ends to keep everyone happy. There can be an added level of anxiety when working with influencers and brand partnerships since you’re inviting veritable strangers in to represent you or your client’s brand.
One of the keys to keeping everyone happy is understanding that this isn’t necessarily a traditional partnership, it’s one that for all intents and purposes is built on exchanging skills or reputation for promotional purposes… and it’s all based on trust. To ensure that all parties feel the partnership is a success, one must create a roadmap for success.
“From the beginning, it’s important to clearly lay out timelines for everyone involved,” Childers said. And it shouldn’t be one-sided, everyone involved has to agree to the timeline. Childers added that “you should have specific deadlines laid out for your influencers and your clients alike if you will need assets and deliverables from both sides.”
Two other tips she offers are to keep up consistent communication to keep your project on track. Most of all, keep in mind that “you also need to show a little grace, as influencers are real people with real. Roadblocks may arise and timelines may shift.” So it’s crucial to remain flexible at all times.
Despite the best-laid plans of agencies and influencers, sometimes brand partnerships fail, but you’ll really want to take action instead of allowing a poor fit to fester.
“If it’s decided they’re not a good fit, you want to find out quickly,” Markowski said. Depending on the field of expertise, he said that “It can take months to build a successful brand/ambassador relationship but if you’re paying the ambassador and you don’t see ROI relatively quickly, you might want to take action.”
But before you give up entirely, you might want to try to rescue things first. “Look for solutions, not excuses,” Jacobson said. “Mistakes happen all the time, and while there’s a time and place for a moratorium, the best way to handle them is to figure out how to fix the problem rather than harp on who or what caused it.” She also reminds us not to commit to a long-term brand ambassador program with someone you’ve never partnered with before.
3 things to think about before working with influencers
- Identify shared issues: No partnership will work if you’re each promoting your own angle. Find the thing that unifies you and promote that outlook or product or vision together.
- Decide who gets the link: If the backlink is your priority, you want to make this crystal clear to your ambassador. That said, most journalists will choose the more impressive pedigree, so if your ambassador outshines your brand, you might want to shift your messaging slightly.
- Part friends: There’s no worse feeling than sharing the keys to the kingdom with an outsider only to have them reject your vision. Even if a partnership fizzles, try to find a way to split amicably — you never know when you might work together again.