By Lisa Singelyn, Vice President, Influencer Operations
I recently returned home from my annual trip to the mecca of online content creation: VidCon. VidCon has evolved significantly over the years – with a Viacom acquisition in early 2018, the addition of dozens of big-name and big dollar sponsors, and expansion into Europe and Australia. Interestingly, one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for sessions such as “Creators Tell Brands and Agencies How to Work with Them.”
And this isn’t just a VidCon-raised issue. The Marketing Arm presented this same topic at a Q&A with creators Deva Dal Porto of My Life Suckers and Brodie Smith at our internal creative conference last fall. The Internet Creators’ Guild, a collective action group for Internet creators, and influencer platform Crowdtap, among others, have done surveys on what makes influencers want to work with brands.
This is the third year in a row I’ve sat in on this same session at VidCon. And yet, according to creators, they still have to plead with some brands to “let me do my thing” with branded content.
“My best performing branded videos are the ones where brands let me let me say what I want to say,” said massively popular beauty vlogger and Streamy Award winner Kandee Johnson emphatically.
Johnson was joined both onstage and with similar opinions by Founder and Chief Creator of mega-media company FBE Benny Fine, Stacy Hinojosa of Stacy Plays, Andrew Huang, who commissions songs based on personal requests, and fashion and DIY vlogger Andrea Brooks of Andreas Choice.
Fine says that while brands are getting better, many are still looking at online media as they did traditional media. “Brands need to value digital content and creators in a much different way than they used to,” he said.
Johnson added, “if you give me some degree of control and say over the content, your brand becomes part of the story of my channel. It becomes a true partnership rather than an obligation.”
Here are six ways these creators say brands can make that symbiotic relationship happen:
- Take advantage of what creators have to offer you. “We absolutely want to want to be creative for the brand,” says Fine, who with his team creates much of FBE’s concepts. “We want our content to do well for the brand and for ourselves. We don’t just want to drive traffic, we want the entire project to succeed.” Creators say bringing them concepts or thought starters and then allowing them to come up with the final treatment actually makes them more excited to be working with you, which leads to deeper investment in the brand.
- Know their channels. Does your campaign integrate in an authentic way into what they already do? If not, Fine and others say they are a-OK to walk away. Do your homework, they beg. “Don’t tell me when to upload my content, ask me when I get the best engagement,” Hinojosa said. “We know what our audience is expecting of us. We do this for our fans. We won’t be inauthentic to our channel, and you shouldn’t want us to.”
- Huge long sheets of talking points never work. This is a direct quote from Johnson, while each of the other panelists nodded and moaned in agreement. “Trust that our organic creativity is going to drive things without hitting scripted talking points,” she said, eyes rolling. “Brand jargon just makes us upset.” Brooks added, “I’ve sold things out that I just talked about for nine seconds. It’s because I talked about it in way I want to talk about it, other than FTC rules. My audience knows when I’m lying. Let us sell things how we want to sell it. Letting us do it in our own way is always more beneficial for both the brand and the audience.”
- Go all in. Creators are more invested when they have long-term, established relationships with brands. “I’ll consider a 2-3 video deal over a single video deal any time,” says Hinojosa. “Content is always best when there’s a good dialogue between the brand and us. We try really hard make it right.” “And trust gained over time can also lead to affordability and efficiencies,” Fine says. “Creators are professionals, and we all want to forge deeper brand partnerships. Show us you value the relationship, and I promise you our content will show the same.” Each agreed that they respect brands that allow them to make more content for their channels, and specifically, more good content.
- Let us do things we don’t normally get to do. Creators are indeed open to “amazing opportunities” that may not be monetary. However, they want brands to think about the cost of them being out of the office for three days, or the editor they have to hire to shoot content, so “just paying for a flight and hotel” is not well received. Johnson says she would pay a brand to meet Gwen Stefani, for example, and Fine says it was a lifelong dream to partner with Major League Baseball. The experience doesn’t have to be over the top, either. Hinojosa will forever be grateful to the brand that allowed her to play a game online as Princess Leia, because playing as female character was important to her.
- Know that we care about metrics. “And what about brand goals and metrics,” the moderator asked, reminding them that indeed brands are the ones who bankroll most of their content. Huang spoke for each panelist when he replied, ”good creators want brands to set and communicate goals for the content well ahead of time. We also want you to tell us how it performed and what the results were at the end. We care about the results. There’s just no reason to do brand deals unless we can hit the goals.”
TMA has been deeply involved with influencer marketing for more than two decades. If your brand needs help understanding how to work with content creators or who the right creators are for your brand, or with your overall influencer marketing strategy, let’s talk.