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Influencer Marketing Matures

While there are all sorts of measures for gauging the growth of influencer marketing—this study from the Association of National Advertisers, for example, or this one highlighted in Marketing Dive or this article in Adweek,—the biggest indicator of the practice’s increasing maturity may be the fact that influencers are finally starting to get contracts that treat them more like traditional talent than industry outliers.

This shift is significant, not only for the influencers whose importance to brands deserves to be recognized formally and compensated fairly, but also to the industry as a whole for the way these contracts have the ability to address some of the thorny issues around relationship transparency, including regulatory compliance, follower authentication and campaign measurement. Here are a few key developments in talent and rights management that herald the next stage of growth for the influencer industry.

Putting a Ring on It
According to the Digiday article referenced above, contracts with influencers are evolving from the one-off agreements of the past few years to long-term agreements of six months to a year. These more formalized commitments are not only being extended to those with huge followings, but also to “micro-influencers” with more niche audiences. And while these extended partnerships offer a degree of security for the talent, they also put more caveats on the relationship than in the past, including additional asks such as in-person appearances, cross-platform rights and even morality clauses in hopes of avoiding Logan Paul or Laura Lee-type PR disasters.

Cracking down on Fraud
In addition to formalizing the terms of the partnership more so than in the past, contracts are also aiming to take on the issue of audience inflation that has surfaced as a problem among some influencers. The issue of fraudulent followers has been as pointed as brand safety, and one that Unilever’s Keith Weed felt necessary to address a number of times, including recently at Cannes. The trend is for contracts now to include clauses that give brands the permission to use verification platforms to determine the authenticity and validity of an influencer’s audience as part of the terms of agreement to ensure the influencer’s following is a real one and will deliver the promised reach.

Maintaining Authenticity
Of course, as influencer marketing matures, there’s the risk that the regulations and standardization that are helping to establish the practice more broadly, eventually undermine its authenticity. Contracts that try to regulate the influencer too much—by overscripting the content or requiring the influencer to conform to the metrics of more traditional TV or digital campaigns—risk sabotaging influencers’ appeal to their audience. Consumers follow influencers because of the independence of their content and their individual points of view. Contracts that codify the brand/influencer relationship are important, but if they go too far in pushing sales over engagement, the influencer might lose sway with audiences and make the whole campaign moot.

As Jon Wexler, VP, Global Entertainment and Influencer Marketing at Adidas says about the practice, “If a brand is telling you how cool they are, they’re not that cool. If your peers are, it sticks.” In other words, marketers should respect the authenticity of their chosen ambassador and take steps to nurture the influencer’s organic storytelling rather than trying to control it. This means choosing influencers based on relevance to the brand instead of the number of followers, measuring success by consumer engagement instead of product sales and letting the influencer guide the content and timing decisions based on what they feel their audience needs. Influencer marketing is a powerful and cost-effective tool for advertisers, but one that requires advertisers to give up a little control in order to earn the authenticity that consumers are increasingly crying for.