Authenticity is vital to influencer marketing and brand partnerships often don’t feel particularly genuine, says Cision's Alister Houghton

There’s no doubt that influencer marketing feels like it’s at a tipping point. It seems like every week now, there’s a new story portraying social influencers in a negative light, whether it’s uncovering fake followers, the labelling of paid partnerships, or inappropriate and off-brand posts.

For a discipline which trades on authenticity, brand influencer partnerships often don’t feel particularly genuine anymore, putting into question whether or not influencer marketing will simply fade away as a failed fad.

Looking at the results of this recent survey by Savvy Marketing for the BBC’s You and Yours programme, you’ll see that it’s arguable that “influencers” aren’t actually having much “influence” over consumers anymore. On top of that, if audiences don’t trust influencers, then are brands wasting their time and money using them as a promotional tool?

It’s this state of flux that led to Cision’s report on the current state of influencer marketing Is Influencer Marketing a Busted Flush? The report examines both how the sector reached this situation and what the future of the discipline looks like (assuming it has one of course).

A shift in strategy

After speaking with a variety of comms professionals and influencers, we found that everyone was in agreement that the nature of collaborations between brands and influencers needs to change.

The monotonous and unimaginative use of sponsored posts, which encompass a large swath of partnerships, are slowly being tuned out by audiences due in large part to their inauthenticity.

Throwing money at influencers, particularly those with large, disparate followings, is no longer going to work, assuming it even ever did. Brands are catching on, and as a result are developing new tactics to generate influence, whether through long-term partnerships, identifying micro and nano influencers early on, or even building their own advocates from staff members and genuine fans.

Influencers themselves also want brands to give them more leeway when it comes to developing ideas for their partnerships, rather than simply being directed when and what to post.

The rise of “influencer relations”

So, what exactly can bring influencer marketing back to life? Perhaps the answer is in influencer relations – the shift to genuine longer-term relationships which focus on a brand’s purpose.

Influencer relations will be dependent on targeting and building long-term relationships with the right influencers who have the ideal audiences, which the best comms professionals already do when working with journalists.

And rather than brands working with influencers once or twice and then moving on, they can build legitimacy by selecting the right individuals to work with more consistently. Whether through targeting existing influencers or nurturing their own fans or staff into brand ambassadors, it will be incumbent upon brands to sell themselves to influencers.

Influencers will reduce the number of brands they work with once these long-term partnership opportunities – and consistent revenue streams – become more available to them. Brands will need to establish relationships with influencers that are built on repeated opportunities, not sporadic or one-off ones.

Ultimately, comms professionals hold the cards when it comes to providing the sector with greater validity and originality to actually influence audiences in this new stage of influencer marketing. The question remains though, will they play their hand well?

Written by Alister Houghton, content marketing manager at Cision