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Brands and agencies use the term “digital influencer” to label a variety of content creators on multiple platforms (like YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat), who create meaningful content that drives meaningful action to a coveted audience. Digital influencers are in high demand as they’ve become the hottest trend to hit advertising in recent history, a kind of modern iteration of the traditional brand spokesperson. According to a recent Ipsos study, 95% of branding professionals believe it is important for brands to engage with these digital influencers.

The greatest appeal for brands is that influencers produce custom content for loyal and established audiences who trust them. Having built these audiences from nothing, influencers know how to communicate and engage with their fans and followers better than anyone. This gives influencers the power to continue to be the creative directors of their work, all while partnering with brands to help fund their creative endeavors.

With this high demand, a great deal of opportunity emerges for influencers to build their content portfolio to attract and sustain brand partnerships. And since 2008, our integration experts at Branded Entertainment Network (aka BEN) have been fostering brand deals with these digital influencers and content creators by the hundreds and thousands. During this time, we’ve learned how to best work with brands and influencers to create successful, mutually beneficial campaigns.

With that in mind we’ve boiled down our experience across years of work and innumerable activations to this concise list of 4 Tips On How Creators Can Work With Brands. Some of the ideas may be new to the uninitiated or second nature to the seasoned pros, but they should be of use to the influencers in the audience of all levels of expertise, helping them to reinforce previously held beliefs or navigate the industry and their relationships as they take on more product integrations and brand sponsorships.

Tip # 1: Stay True To Yourself And Your Content

You have spent a lot of time and effort building your audience, so it’s imperative that you stay true to yourself, your content, and that audience with all product integrations and brand sponsorships. Being selective in the brands you work with gives you the ability to best communicate brand messages to your viewers, while protecting the integrity of your content.

When considering product integrations and brand sponsorships, ensure the brand’s objectives are in line with your vision and audience expectations. It’s okay, even encouraged, to say “No thank you” to brands whose messages don’t feel appropriate for your personal brand. In fact, the majority of experienced influencers that we work with turn down over 50% of the opportunities presented to them because they don’t feel that it is the right fit.

Some agencies and brands are new to the process of influencer marketing and might not yet understand what works best, so they’ll thank you for saying no once they have experienced launching a few campaigns and understand the process. They’ll also trust you in the future, knowing that you’re honest and know your content well enough to figure out what will resonate with your audience and perform well.

You are the Creative Director of all content that you create and share. When brands force content direction, your audience will catch on and can and will react negatively towards it. Make sure to work with the brand to figure out a way to best integrate the messaging in an organic, natural way. It is equally important to recognize that sometimes it just doesn’t fit. If this is the case, don’t force it and consider passing on the opportunity.

Only accept projects you know you can be passionate about and are excited to share with your audience. Your audience can tell when it is about the money or if the project is something that you are not truly excited about, and won’t be afraid to call you out.

Tip #2: Know How To Disclose, And Don’t Be Ashamed

The majority of influencers are very good at disclosures about their paid promotions and advertisements while maintaining a high level of authenticity, but it is important to stay up to date on disclosure guidelines from the appropriate agencies in your country (such as the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S. and the Advertising Standards Authority in the U.K.).

Years ago, the standard for disclosure had been somewhat ambiguous. Since 2015, however, the FTC has made it much more clear:

Disclosures should be clear and conspicuous, straightforwardly identifying the relationship between the brand and content creator. At a minimum, this generally means disclosures in the content itself that match the form of endorsement (if it’s a written endorsement the disclosure should be written, if it’s a verbal endorsement the disclosure should be spoken, etc.), and a disclosure at the entry of the content’s description area (like in the YouTube descriptions below videos).

If you are unsure if your disclosure is adequate, ask the agency or brand that you are working with as they should be trained regarding FTC disclosure guidelines. Have them provide you with a simple document, separate from the contract, that outlines disclosure expectations avoiding any confusion. However, it is best to familiarize yourself and stay updated on the guidelines to make sure you are properly following them in each integration. It’s your content and you’re ultimately responsible for knowing what kinds of disclosures should go along with it.

Striving to have content appear authentic does not justify dishonesty. It is not only required that you are upfront and clear that material is sponsored, but it will produce better results than if your viewers perceive deception on your part.

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Contrary to what many marketers and content creators believe, research from Peg.co has found that adequate disclosures do not negatively affect the performance of branded content. In fact, the last 10 years has seen a 10% increase of positive sentiment, as measured by “likes” versus “dislikes,” toward content clearly labeled as sponsored. Your viewers will appreciate the transparency and understand that brands are simply supporting your creation of the content they already love.

Tip #3: Think About The Long-Term Relationship

Maintaining long-term relationships with brands and agencies ensures additional opportunities down the road. As someone who has spent time developing a channel, you already understand the importance of setting goals, making a plan, and hitting key deadlines. Working with a brand requires the same level of organization. Remember, at the end of the day, this is business.

Be sure to hit the deadlines laid out in your contract and stay communicative throughout the process. It is unprofessional for brands to have to chase you down for your deliverables, and it won’t go unnoticed. If you stay professional and make it easy for brands to work with you, it is extremely likely that the relationship will expand and they will consider you for future opportunities.

Ensure a full understanding of the contract so that expectations from both sides are simple and clear. If the deliverables and deadlines aren’t clear, don’t be afraid to ask questions. It is better to have everything over-clarified early on so you don’t miss any deadlines and there’s less confusion down the road.

Tip #4: Focus on Solutions

While many brands have started to integrate influencer content into their marketing mix, it’s still an emerging practice with a learning curve. Obstacles may arise as well as points in the process where your vision may not match the brands.

Focus on the solution rather than the issue. Listen to the brand’s concerns carefully and use your expertise to find an answer that works for you, the brand, and your audience. Stay flexible while trying to find a solution and remember that brands are looking for good partners in the space so at times, compromise may be necessary.

Educate the brand where necessary. If their approach is not the best for your audience, present to them multiple options which work better, and explain to them why each one would be a good fit to absolve issues coming from both sides.

The best campaigns that we’ve seen have thrived when brands and content creators are in sync, putting their audience first. To do that, both sides must be invested in a collaborative ecosystem, so you can focus on making great content that speaks both to the brand messaging and your voice while resonating effectively with your audience.

With more sponsorships and brand deals than ever, this is an exciting time to be in the industry of influencer marketing. Following these four tips aims to help you secure more sponsorship opportunities and have less headache during the deal-making process.

ricky-ray-butler-headshotRicky Ray Butler joined BEN in 2015 and serves as the Executive Vice President, Global Client Services where he manages all brand relationships and campaigns. Prior to joining BEN, Ricky founded Plaid Social Labs, the leading social media influencer product integration company, which was acquired by BEN in 2015. Ricky is considered a pioneer in the digital video space with an emphasis in integrating global brands into influencer content. Ricky Ray holds a BA from Brigham Young University.

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