To crack the code on influencer programming, brands shouldn't be asking, "How can we use influencers?" They should be asking, "How can influencers use us?"
Think like an influencer. What do you, the influencer, want? Experiences, a reputation, audience growth, monetization. If you're a member of Gen Z, you want opportunities to use your platform for good. You don't necessarily see brands as partners. They’re a means to your end.
Now, think like a consumer. Do you follow someone for her product posts? Probably not. You follow her for entertainment and information. Product posts are the price of admission: the ad before we return to the program. We tolerate them.
As influencer marketing evolves, PR pros have gotten better at collaborating with influencers on content. But we can do better. We can collaborate with them to create compelling products too.
Start with newsworthy product creation
Every product has a conception story. Most are boring. Start from scratch and write a story behind a product that doesn’t yet exist. Create the product. This isn't storytelling; it's authorship. Write one so compelling a critical editor will find it interesting. If you check that box, you can be confident consumers will pay attention later. Set out to create a product or a line of products with great stories baked into them from the start.
Choose influencers who've earned their followings
The vetting process shouldn't begin and end with determining if an influencer's followers are real. It should question whether they have a following because they're good looking or are great at something on-brand. The latter are those you want: people with an intense passion or skill, which ties into your message.
Unite them into a cohort
Don't approach each influencer as a one-off. Start with a community. Influencer communities can be close-knit, and all the influencers you need probably know each other. It's the birds-of-a-feather rule. They show their faces at the same events and comment on each other's posts. You may even find one key influencer you trust and hire her to bring the rest together. Build a cohort of influencers, unite them around a single initiative and make a program of it. That's how you make a dent worth noticing.
Take them on a journey
Influencers almost never get the chance to create beyond the media they produce. Work with them to create products. Consider naming the products after them. Make it an unforgettable experience. Inspire a contagious level of emotion that can't be bought or faked.
Marry the online and offline
Every chapter of the story should have a real-world component with a visual that works online. Help influencers document their first gathering, the collaboration sessions and the launches. If the campaign has a cause element, capture the influencers' delivery of funds to their chosen nonprofits. Every offline phase should be designed to tell the next chapter in the process.
Feed it into your media outreach
When the products become real, do what PR has always done and promote them. You know the backstory will be worth hearing, because you've written one worth telling. Trickle them out. Each launch gives you another opportunity to refresh the narrative and earn media. Do it across many months.
A better way forward
Approach each project as an opportunity to push the profession. Go past promotion and into creation. Don't just sell what you're handed; make something new. This is where PR smashes storytelling -- which every communications discipline claims to do -- and elevates itself into authorship. Invention is the future of the profession. Story-making is where it begins.
Adam Ritchie is principal of Adam Ritchie Brand Direction