Influencer marketing campaigns exploded for brands and companies during the COVID-19 pandemic, with their powerful ability to reinforce customer loyalty, give inspiration for increased product usage, attract new demographics of customers, and drive e-commerce sales. In many cases, consumers flocked to the content and took action as a result of strategic influencer campaigns. However, there were a few cases where brands fell short of deliverables or consumer favor. To ensure that influencer marketing is a sustainable and efficient strategy for your brand, I have a few recommendations to avoid pitfalls and instead relish in the positive.

1. Watch out for influencer “bait and switches.”

Beware of big promises from influencers and influencer marketing partners. The market is hot, and everyone wants your business. It’s key to be thoughtful in choosing who you work with. Many potential partners will showcase super impressive influencers in proposals and make it sound like those influencers are within your budget reach. Yet the reality is that sometimes big names get thrown around to win business, but that level of influencer commands fees that go way beyond projected budgets. If the story seems unrealistic, it likely is. Know the market.

2. Pick influencers with a history of brand friendliness.

First, do a deep dive with an agency that keeps historical tracking of influencers who have a history of controversial posts or bad behavior. You want influencers with a longitudinal track record of successful brand campaigns and professionalism when it comes to meeting deliverables, content guidelines and deadlines. The best partners to shepherd your influencers will know what working with individual influencers is like because there’s history, vetting, relationships and comprehensive back-end tracking. There are way too many fantastic influencers developing content for brands to waste any energy on difficult creators. A team with established relationships will know this, serving up influencers who have proven track records.

3. Craft an out for any influencer misbehavior.

Anticipating what could go wrong is just as important as planning for what you want to go right in engaging influencers. This proves especially true in highly regulated spaces such as pharmaceutical or health brands or with high-profile, integrated marketing campaigns. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) compliance; adherence to messaging guidelines; respectfulness of timelines; on-brand language, visuals and attitudes; and audience-friendly content beyond campaign-specific posts are all expected of influencers in a campaign.

An influencer’s inability to meet these expectations can turn consumers against a brand and even lead to steep FTC fines. Influencers are real people, and sometimes real people misbehave socially. Don’t let this be a shocker! Have a plan in place before a campaign starts so you aren’t left scrambling. Often this means clearly communicating expectations to influencers before a campaign starts and letting everyone know of penalties like removal from a campaign, docking compensation, etc., if bad behavior that could damage your brand reputation takes place.

4. Safety first: Draft reviews.

Is your legal team still a bit nervous given some of these risks? To reduce the risk of coming across as tone deaf, arrange for a draft review agreement. A draft review done well preserves an influencer’s personal style while ensuring correct facts and adherence to your brand content. Ideally, your team should make this arduous task as streamlined as possible with carefully crafted review systems. It’s also critical you maintain influencer relationships in the process by not asking for changes that strip away a creator’s voice, come off as overly commercial, and alienate the influencer’s core audience. The balance can be delicate, but experience and knowledge will get it right.

5. Don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes to manage influencers. 

A successful influencer campaign doesn’t just mean eye-catching, engaging content; it also means a seamless experience in that content creation. An influencer marketing campaign cannot simply run itself — not unless you want to face a possible disaster. This is what many of the SaaS platforms offer with the guise of being easy, yet we’ve seen the mess unfold as a result. Working with people REQUIRES people and not automation (despite how good that sounds to a busy marketing executive!). Negotiations, post monitoring, reviews, influencer questions, campaign pivots, reporting and more actually need to happen. These steps need to be acknowledged and handled, not ignored.

Influencer marketing is one of the most high-touch, engaging and people-centric marketing strategies you can utilize. The benefits to yielding a successful campaign can be immense for consumer awareness, loyalty, conversion and voice. However, when it fails, the downfall can be harsh. What the above tips prove is that taking the human element out of a people-focused strategy, as most SaaS platforms in the space do, is ultimately the biggest mistake a brand can make. Shortcuts in influencer marketing don’t equal payoffs.

What’s the bonus sixth tip to sum up disaster avoidance in influencer marketing? Smart relationships with a hands-on approach will avoid problems and serve as both your best defense and secret to success.