Ever since sponsored posts were made popular by the likes of Izea, the question has remained: should influencers be paid for their promotion of your brand’s message, product or service?

On the one hand, you have those that say paying an influencer removes the validity of the review of promotion, since you can’t possibly remain non-biased when there’s been an exchange of money.

On the other hand, you have those that say it’s no different from any other marketing channel, and you pay for that, so why should influencers be any different?

As someone who’s on both sides of the coin – I’m a marketer who uses influencers for client campaigns, and I’m fortunate enough to work with brands as an influencer for their campaigns – here’s my take on the topic.

Time is Money

How long do you think the average blog post takes to create? If you, the marketer, don’t blog yourself, how long do you think it takes to put together what you’re reading now?

10 minutes? 30 minutes? An hour? More, less?

The truth is, blog posts take as long as they need to be ready. This might sound clichéd, but it’s true. There’s much more to a blog post than just stringing some words together (or images and sounds, if you’re a video blogger or podcaster).

  • Ideas and research;
  • Content;
  • Format;
  • Links and attribution to relevant topics;
  • Images and media;
  • Proofreading.

That’s just the creation part. Then you have the marketing of a post, along with replying to comments and encouraging further discussion. All told, a blog post can easily take up a few days of your time, if you were to add up all the components.

And that’s just one post, where the blogger knows the topic inside out and can create content on the fly. If there’s a brand message involved, there needs to be further research into the product, testing any giveaways, liaising with the brand, etc.

So that single post has now turned into a mini-campaign. And you want that for free? Um… NO.

Trust Can’t be Bought – But It Deserves to be Rewarded

When I started this blog, the one core tenet I made it my mission to adhere to was to never break the trust of whatever community managed to grow around the blog.

That meant all opinions would be treated equally, as long as they were respectful and on topic, and I would never promote or recommend something I hadn’t used myself, or didn’t 100% believe in.

It’s a big reason there have been very few ads on my blog, with the exception of the WordPress theme I use. It’s also why there has been very few sponsored posts on my blog – perhaps two in five years plus of blogging here.

Simply put, if I’m going to recommend something to my community – whether as a non-paid fan or a sponsored “influencer” – it needs to be right for my audience. There’s no amount of dollar value you can pay to erode the trust that’s built between a blogger and his or her community.

Money comes and goes; trust and a legacy doesn’t. That can never be bought back.

If you, as a brand manager or agency, want to connect an influencer’s hard-earned community trust to your client, you need to understand what it’s taken to build that trust. It’s the ultimate endorsement, for that influencer to introduce your brand to the community, and not only introduce, but honestly recommend.

You can’t buy that kind of advertising – but you can reward it.

Relevance Equals More Effective Outreach and ROI

There’s a reason today’s definition of influence – social scoring platforms like Klout, etc. – have been very slow at sharing public success stories when it comes to their influencer outreach campaigns.

While generic influence as offered by these platforms can help brands gain share of voice and brand amplification, the fact is the identification process of influencers to use lacks true context and relevance to an audience.

Influence decision process

While a lifestyle blogger with 10,000 subscribers and demographics of 25-44 year old women might be attractive to a brand looking to promote their latest healthcare product, how many of that 10,000 is right for the brand?

Let’s say the product is for women with sensitive skin; that might be one-third of the audience. So what about the other two-thirds? A generic target by score – “this blogger has a score of 72 in women’s products, they’re perfect!” – will immediately reduce your brand’s success rate.

However, get in touch with the blogger that’s 100% right for your brand, and who has a higher engaged audience around that topic, and you’ll immediately see both financial benefits and more positive sentiment around your outreach campaign.

It’s why InNetwork’s solution of filtering out the true audience size is a welcome addition to the influence software marketplace.

Instead of wasting time and resources on partnering with bloggers with 10,000 subscribers but only 900 actual interested readers, you can connect with a blogger with 1,000 subscribers and 900 interested readers.

Considering you’ll rarely – if ever – have a blog that has 100% of its readers engaged, the 90% engagement of the latter example compared to the under 10% of the initial example is much more rewarding, especially given the probable cost to work with the former over the latter due to “audience” size.

That’s a big difference in relevance and the ratio for success is much bigger. It’s the smarter way to market, and paying the influencer for connecting you to that more engaged audience means less risk, more return, and better campaigns.

Influence Marketing is a Key Business Strategy – Don’t Treat It Like a Cheap Date

At the end of the day, the old adage “you get what you pay for” has never been more true when it comes to influencers and how they can really help turn a promotional campaign into a loyalty-driven customer base.

There’s a reason people are “influential” in their community: expertise, respect, trust and the ability to make things happen.

You have the choice to pay or not to pay what they’re worth – in reality, though, if you’re serious about your campaigns, there’s only one choice to make: how much is true influence and what it can offer your brand worth to you?

Don’t be cheap with your answer.

A version of this post originally appeared on the InNetwork blog.

image: H.Michael Karshis

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  1. says

    I agree that influencers should be paid.

    Those who believe that profit and money are evil are simply wrong. In Eli Goldratt’s book, The Goal, he states that the goal of EVERY enterprise is to make money now and in the future.

    It doesn’t matter if you are a non-profit or for profit business, the more money that comes through the door, the better.

    To those who argue that companies like Enron are evil and that it disproves The Goal, I point out that it was their evilness that has made them NOT achieve the goal because the future is here and they are NOT making money.

    If a trusted influencer chooses to make a deal with Shady McShoddyProduct, then they won’t sustain their profitability or their influence.

    Profits and money aren’t evil, only people…and Nickelback…are evil.

    • says

      You know, I always smile when people say companies are evil. As you mention, mate, no, they’re not. Businesses inherently are not evil – just a few people at the top, who make all the decisions, good/bad, ethical/unethical. The proof will always come with the bottom line and, as you mention again, that’s shown to be the case for companies like Enron.

      And yes – Nickelback are a special kind of evil unto themselves…

  2. Jane says

    So, influencers deserve to be paid. But does the consuming public deserve to be informed that these tweets, pins, posts, social shares are compensated? I say yes. However, influencers are being paid and NOT providing any type of disclosure because they don’t want to look like they’re “selling out”.

    I think the public and consumers deserve to know that someone’s social engagement is the result of them getting freebies or paid to be at an event or, simply, compensated in any manner. We’ve come to the point where people do have influence and that’s great. But they’re influential because of some level of authenticity not because they’re pushing products.

    • says

      Hi Jane,

      Completely agree, and that’s why any influencers I work with on behalf of clients have to disclose all relationships, both with a Disclosure Page and an in-post disclosure. Additionally, it’s against the law not to disclose, and the FTC (United States) and ASA (Great Britain) will fine and punish anyone abusing this requirement.

      And if “influencers” don’t adhere to this? Well, I’d question their influence immediately, given they’re clearly lacking in ethics when it comes to being hones with the audience that has afforded them that privilege.

  3. says

    Spot-on, Danny. A compelling value exchange is a must if you want to grow and nourish your relationship with an influencer over time (which is what really makes influencer marketing manageable and rewarding!).

    We wrote a book on it with this philosophy:
    “If approached well, [influencer marketing] respects and believes in the influencer as a professional who has earned his or her role as a brand in and of itself, deserving of partnership, exposure, and cold, hard cash.”

    Now, there are opportunities for value exchanges outside of that, but they have to be that—VALUABLE—to all parties involved.

    I think folks are coming around on this one. Being able to really find THE right influencers for your brand via great filtering tools, as you discuss, is absolutely key for brands to see that paying influencers is truly win-win.

    Thanks, Danny!

    • says

      Thanks, Debbie. Like you say, it’s all well and good finding “influencers”, but if they have zero connection to your brand, your customers will soon see through that. Find the contextual influencers, and the rest will start to follow. Cheers!

  4. says

    Hi Danny,

    Good insight!

    I totally agree influencers need to be paid for their time & writing, whether or not they are doing promotional work for brands.

    I am blogger myself, i know how hard is it to build a loyal reader base, i know how long time it can take to write a really engaging piece of content that readers will share, in a word, it’s our hard earned traffic and readers, they are priceless.

    If brands or anyone would like to use our channel to do a giveaway or even contribute a nice guest post, it should be relationship based or money based, i am doing tons of guest posts, i totally understand some bloggers asked for money to give me an opportunity to feature me before his hard earned audiences.

    Nice angle of writing, Danny.

    BTW, i will curate your post and link to you.


    Brian Zeng

    • says

      Hi Brian,

      The way I look at it, if you’re a brand looking for exposure, you buy ad space (radio, print, TV, etc). You wouldn’t go to your ad partners and say, “Hi, have a free sample so we can get in front of your audience.” Instead, you pay for the reach and awareness these ad spots give – the rest is up to your marketing message when it comes to following through with sales.

      So don’t treat influencers, whatever shape they come in, as a lesser medium. Most times, they’re more effective because they have a loyal and engaged audience built on trust and delivering great information. It’s time more brands realized this.

      Thanks for the comment!