The Dirty Business Of Collaborating With Influencers

Andrew Soria
6 min readNov 28, 2020

Brand owners and influencer partnership managers a-like beware: Behind the facade and sexually entrancing representation of what seems to be a perfect life is actually just…. a regular person. And if you’re sending products and pouring money into this silver-lined, uncontrollable ecosystem that is influencer marketing and collaborations, let me be the first to tell you… snap out of the tits’ n glamour.

cut in half. by girl with red hat

In the beginning, it’s easy to correlate follower counts to sales growth and brand awareness. Social media apps have taken over our lives in a manner we can’t scale down into one article. I’m not talking about feature updates, but the psychology and subconscious effects of how people view content on their feeds and how it connects to their place in the world.

I’ve fallen into the pitfall of thinking if I could just get enough eyeballs on a product, sales and virality will follow. It turns out I’m not the mastermind behind Bang Energy’s incredibly sexualized and overwhelming marketing strategy.

I don’t think we should strive to be either. (seriously, WTF is that drink)

It all started on Zoom

The dirty business of influencer marketing hit me as I sat in on a zoom call with an upstart black-owned beard and skincare brand. The founder, whose marketing efforts focused on producing more engaging content on social, told me a story of him reaching out to a micro-influencer for a product demonstration.

Though Mister CEO was willing to pay up with his already tight budget, the influencer obnoxiously responded with a lost sense of humanity. He asked the small business owner to send him his most expensive product — valued at over $120 — so he can try it out himself first… and then they can start negotiations.

Did he forget we were still riding peak pandemic and small businesses needed help?

After soaking it in, I too realized I’ve had my fair share of one-sided partnerships. Here’s what we can do to even out the process:

Photo by Ben Sweet on Unsplash

So, how do we as brand movers better predict the outcome of any collaboration?

Improving the screening process.

First, we need to ask ourselves who it is we’re partnering with. Get to know them(or at least their social media personality). What do they post about on a daily basis? Does our product fit into their niche? Is your product a core piece of their Instagram feed, or is it that boring puzzle piece on the edge of a 1000 piece puzzle?

The level of knowledge they have about your industry is also just important. Understand, the people you’re partnering with have everyday jobs too. And if you think $100 is enticing enough for them to read more about why your aroma of candle has a much better chance of saving cancer, you already lost.

By not assigning a freezing point of value-based expectations, you’ll get back what I call first layer content. First layer content is the byproduct of forced collaboration.

Say you send your hand-made, buttery soft moisturizer to said influencer without a written down screening process. I don’t believe in predicting the future. But we can all learn from our mistakes. Tell me if the following lines sound awfully familiar to you:

“Omg guys so I just got my X and I cannot wait for you to see it.

*She opens the box and in a forced, overly optimistic tone she applies the moisturizer on her skin.

“This stuff is great. You can see my skin feeling soft already (WTF? It’s been 4 seconds). I highly recommend everyone to try these out. It’s so soft and it smells amazing.”

No amount of visual edits and extravagant TikTok dance moves can fix a forced voiceover. Niche down, apply a set of standards and ignore follower counts.

Authenticity is just a fancy marketing word

The word “authenticity” sounds amazing on a marketing plan but it’s repetitively abused by marketers in the industry.

Authenticity is not just about partnering with the everyday influencer. It’s about asking ourselves if the product FITS into the mold of what the influencer does in their daily lives.

Think of it as product-market-influencer-fit. Officially coined as of November 2020.

We really need to stop injecting ourselves with the idea that a few sponsored posts can take us above the threshold of relevance in the marketplace. Brands like Gymshark, Ohpolly, Billie, and all these other millennial/gen z brands sprouted out of the thin air because they leveraged a core audience from the very beginning. They understood mass marketing is a thing of the past. It’s not differentiated, sustainable, or relevant.

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

Content and virtual affirmation is the new gold rush (and bitcoin)

Enthralled by the digital gold rush and the opportunity of 10K+ followers can bring into their lives, regular people migrated and shifted their focus to creating content, starting clothing brands with their names on it, and threw their mental stability out the door.

This new breed of digital content creators often separates into two groups. There are the ones who partner with agencies, with a manager to help them guide the business side of things. These established creators rake in enough for them to live off collaborations and make sure you know about it on their social media. You know, like the overly edited Instagram photos. The ones that always seem to be too busy.

On the other side of the spectrum, are the upcoming stars with everyday jobs but a knack for content creation and staying on-trend. Are you surprised by their top-down tie-dye outfit? Of course not! It’s called fashion!

This crowd, I learned, has a sense of wonder and is easily enthralled by social media’s hype and glamorous culture. Their strongest suit may be content creation, but they lack what the other side of the spectrum has — the dirty business of influencer marketing.

My creative director of a boss once told me that the business of creativity is 30% creativity, 70% business and political pull. I didn’t know it then, but I do now.

How can we, as brand movers benefit from this side of the spectrum? Well, to cut it short, they’re extremely undervalued. With rates going as low as $50 a video, this group of people lack negotiation skills (not all, but most) and an overall lack of awareness of their market rates. This gives us an opportunity to partner and establish relationships early into the career for below-market prices.

The painting of a balanced future

The series of suggestions listed above rely more on you, as a founder or marketing manager to do a lot of self-reflection. Think about past partnerships, even the good ones, and really ask yourself if you, in return, got what you wanted.

Once you follow the systematic but self-reflecting process stated, it’s time for you, as the business owner or marketing manager to show the fuc*** money.

Stop squeezing every dollar and pay for good partnerships.

Find your community. Think past first layer thinking. Niche down as deep as you can.