The answer to the channel and route to market on everyone’s lips is not as straightforward as whether reach and audience figures reach a level of significant impact. Or even just about ‘fit’ with your brand.

If that was the case, we’d be talking about influencers as a guaranteed ‘media buy’, and that is far from how it should be seen, even if payment for a partnership is part of the reality of doing business.

What is essential is that influencer content feels like editorial to its readers and viewers. And why it belongs under the stewardship of PRs who own the earned mentality in the comms mix.

Recent stories in the national media have highlighted the artificial nature of some social media influencers’ work with brands. Too perfect. Too staged. Too shallow. ‘Instashams’. And therefore too brand managed and directed. Which is when, as the headlines ask, they lose their influencer potential.

This failure to connect properly with audiences through an influencer approach can lie in something pretty basic. The art of listening and conversation, and dialogue. Or specifically the lack of it in planning stages.

Pay someone to do exactly as you ask and you can risk getting what you want, which is in essence an ad rather than a story, and this is not the space for that.

The age-old desire for control can overtake the need for authenticity. And yet reality dictates we aren’t really in control of brands any more in the era of storytellers and opinions. A messy kitchen backdrop? A casual way of throwing ingredients together? Language that is paraphrasing rather than approved message delivering? Yes please, that’s real life captured as content. It will feel ‘earned’ rather than uniform, and earned cut through remains the most powerful of brand wins.

So if it’s interesting and what the influencer thinks will work with their own audience, then we would encourage more of a trust the messenger approach. It still has to deliver a brand message and context, and the storyteller does need to fit the brand values well, but there is more than one way to tell a natural story.

As an agency we spend time talking through the big picture with the chosen influencer while listening to and working with their own creative thinking, and from this collaboration the cut through and audience positivity we want will be more likely to land. And still deliver the outtake we all want, just in a more credible shape.

We use two phrases to act as a checklist around influencer content: is it relevant, and will it resonate? If those aren’t in play, the risk is delivering noise over impact. And potential media/audience cynicism.

So think partnerships. Think relationships (in the same way we manage those with more traditional media channels). Buy into the benefit of stories rather than brand messages. And embrace collaboration. This way the influencer gets to deliver on their job description and we can ensure that the most important thing on our agenda, managing levels of trust, authenticity and transparency for you, is never compromised.