Because I’ve been in the blogging industry for over 12 years now, I’ve worked with a number of brands over the years, partnering to deliver empowering messages to the people I care about.
Brands reach out to influencers to amplify their ad campaigns because most audiences are tired of traditional advertising. They tune out, they’re skeptical, and indifferent. Influencer marketing has a high return on investment because our content resonates with our followers – they can relate to it and they trust it.
But there’s a right way and a wrong way to work with digital influencers, and I recently had the worst experience working with a brand that shall remain nameless.
They contacted me and pitched me their idea for a post and introduced me to their brand. I was intrigued, so I did a lot of research. I scoured the website, I called the 800 number, and read the reviews. I will only participate in campaigns that I believe in and endorse offerings I feel are a great fit for you.
I accepted the offer and went to town writing my story. I got chills, I ugly-cried, I resisted editing myself… you know, I pour my heart when I talk to you. I want you to get the most authentic account of what I experienced, what I believe, and where I am on the journey.
I sent in my draft. Sometimes the brand will request the influencer to send in the post for approval prior to publication. They usually find a couple typos or want you to use an alternate word here and there, for clarity and alignment. There are also some claims that you are not able to make when dealing with a particular brand, that may feel true you, but that would cause liability. Of course, most brands are incredibly proactive and provide a comprehensive list in advance.
I sat on the computer, sipping my hot tea, while I checked my e-mails, prioritizing, because I get so many. The draft was back, so it would be productive to open it up, make a few changes, and schedule it for posting.
My heart sank. There was my story, bleeding with red strikethrough on my voice, on a white Word document where only paraphrased key points remained. No comment, no explanation, no recommendations.
I felt silenced. Invalidated. Restrained. And I struggled with sharing that out loud, because that type of invalidation was the same type that drove me to silence myself.
It’s not that big a deal
Don’t be such a drama queen
I’m sure they didn’t mean it that way
It doesn’t hurt that much
But I was brave. I owned my emotions and I decided to speak up. Invalidation was NOT on the contract and selling my soul was not worth the price.
Writing the message was hard, but it felt empowering to defend my voice, my story, and my style. I explained it would not be authentic for me to publish an ad on my blog. “I only publish authentic pieces that come from my heart,” I said, and I couldn’t believe I hit “send” after that.
You know I can sound really passionate and enthusiastic about the products and services I share with you…because I genuinely am. And sure, after researching this particular offering, I was sure excited about it, but I didn’t have a first hand experience with it directly, but with the concept that my story described.
And if I’m really honest, after feeling all those feelings, the offering wasn’t so shiny anymore. I did ask whether we could find a way to work on an authentic piece together; maybe there was an angle that could satisfy both my need to share motivation and their goal to spread the word.
When I eventually received the message that it wouldn’t make sense to move forward, I was relieved. The part of me that wanted to “follow the rules,” “fulfill the contract,” and “honor the commitment,” was beating me up, but the part of me that said “it’s your blog, and you’ve built it with love, sweat, and tears, for 12 years, so it’s your right to decide what to publish and not to publish,” won, and listening to that voice leads me to inner peace and happiness. For a second, I felt like I understood Ariel’s feelings when she gets back her voice. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel the brand is Ursula-evil!
As influencers, we give brands access to our audience. You know, to you. That’s sacred to me, and when I partner with a brand, they must get that. It’s like I come with my own set of key points and boundaries.
The first lesson I can share is that brands must go beyond looking for traffic and social reach, and actually match the content to the creator. And in order to do that, they must get familiar with their content, especially that which relates to brands, as well as how it relates to the campaign theme.
I am passionate about motherhood and I talk to moms. I am a storyteller and my blog is my space to share stories that encourage, inspire, and empower moms. And that will happen whether there’s #ad or #sponsored or not.
When the brand claimed they “respect my content, but the differences in approach are too significant,” I realized our partnership was always destined for doom, because they didn’t take time to get to know me, and weren’t at all familiar with my approach before they contacted me to pitch the campaign. Attending conferences is a great strategy to create connections with brand reps, because they get to know you well.
The second lesson to be learned is that brands must trust the influencer’s judgment, because the creator will know what will be impactful to their audience and what will keep them engaged. Giving the influencer creative control, within the brand guidelines, helps the influencer create powerful content with the fresh perspective and a transparent, trusted voice that helped him/her build the engaged and target following they have access to.
Some of the ways brands benefit from partnering with influencers are: building brand awareness, driving traffic to the brand’s website or campaign landing page, boosting SEO, increase of social following, generating sales, promoting engagement, content distribution and amplification, and valuable feedback from the audience.
The power of working with social influencers is real. I read that 84% of consumers make a purchase after they read about a product or service on a blog post!
The third lesson to take away is to strive for alignment. Though I did love the actual offering I was contracted to review, the love went away when I learned our values weren’t in alignment.
Working with brands is a way to gain monetary rewards, have fun experiences, network, products, and more. But what really drives my content is YOU…
I got real with myself to make sure this wasn’t just a “boo hoo, they didn’t like my story,” situation, and realized that had they said “Elayna, thank you for writing this story, could you tell a different one, instead, and this is why this one doesn’t work for us,” it would have been a professional and reasonable request, and all those yucky emotions would have not flourished.
What are your thoughts on what I learned from my horrific brand experience? If you’re an influencer, what are your boundaries? If you are new to influencer marketing, what questions do you have? Share with us below, luv!