How to Build a Relationship With Influencers, Not Just a One-Night Stand

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It is more than coincidence that the language used to describe finding and working with social influencers overlaps with terms normally reserved for more romantic activities.

“Finding the right influencer is  a lot like dating,” says John Walls, director, brand PR, luxury & lifestyle brands, Hilton Worldwide, who’s newly married. Agrees APCO Worldwide managing director Lisa Osborne Ross, “[Beginning a relationship with an influencer] is like starting any relationship…you have to be honest, real...[and] etiquette is etiquette…[and the relationship] really clicks when each side has something to offer…I’ve been married for 28 years…I’m very clear what my husband offers and what I offer,” Osborne Ross says in deadpan jest during a session at PRNews' Media Relations Conference in Washington, D.C.

There’s a serious point here, though, both Osborne Ross and Walls agree: At the initial meeting the brand and the influencer must be clear about expectations and needs. “To have a long-term relationship [with an influencer], make a “crystal-clear ask,” Walls says. Hilton lists specific deliverables it’s seeking from influencers “right at the outset,” he adds.

Due diligence is critical. “We’ve all been approached by people who have no idea who you are (but haven’t done their homework),” Osborne Ross says. Walls recommends researching your potential influencer “as if you were working for the” National Security Agency…"go just short of doing a background check.” (We’re unsure that works so well in dating.)

By the same token, communicators should look deeply at their brand. Ask whether working with an influencer is right for your brand. And “go beyond [an influencer’s] engagement score and really look for a connection between your brand and the influencer” beyond the aesthetic.

And, as you must in any relationship, be responsive and engaging with influencers, Walls says. “Answer your phone and your emails…be available…engage with them” on their various social platforms, but avoid stalking them. “Influencers are very needy…respond to them,” Walls says. (By the way, Osborne Ross and Walls resisted the temptation to say spouses and love interests also can be needy.)

And then there’s the issue of trust. “Give [influencers] the freedom to do their thing…don’t be a helicopter PR person,” Walls says. Adds Caitlin Romig, senior manager, digital, Rosetta Stone, “Authenticity is critical.” But, as with a prenup, it’s important to cover “in a contract…[how to do handle when] things go wrong” with influencers, Osborne Ross says. (Things never go wrong with dating and marriage, right?)

Follow Caitlin Romig: @ceromig

Follow Lisa Osborne Ross: @LisaRossDC

Follow John Walls: @whereswalls

Follow Seth Arenstein: @skarenstein