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What do influencers want in brand relationships?

CEO Abbi Whitaker of The Abbi Agency’s pulls findings from her agency’s in-depth interviews of 50 social media influencers and explains how brands can incorporate more empathy into their influencer relations and build trust with the social media stars.

4 min read


What do influencers want in brand relationships?

Peggy and Marco Lachmann-Anke / Pixabay

Any successful relationship is built on clear communication. It’s true in marriages. And it’s equally true in the relationship between brands and influencers.

In a study published by my firm, The Abbi Agency, our research finds that social media influencers commonly cite weak communication with brands as their biggest headache — and a reason that influencer-based initiatives fail to deliver on their full promise.

While our study, “Travel Influencers & Destination Marketing,” focused on the destination-marketing sector, it’s clear to us that the same issues faced by travel organizations and travel influencers are common across the entire landscape of influencer marketing. (The full study is available as a free e-book download at

We’ve been reading a lot lately from marketing executives about their best practices in influencer marketing, but we couldn’t find much research focused on the influencers themselves.

So we conducted dozens of interviews with influencers, ranging in size from nanoinfluencers with fewer than 10,000 followers to macroinfluencers who command hefty fees in exchange for their ability to deliver audiences that can total 1 million followers. We supported these in-depth interviews with surveys of influencers.

What we found: Unclear expectations, unrealistic production budgets and excessive micromanagement vex influencers who are eager to deliver results for brands. “It’s hard to work with brands when they don’t outline exactly what they want,” one influencer told our researchers.

Issues commonly arise when brands and influencers fail to specifically agree on expectations about deliverables. How many posts are expected on the influencer’s social media? What messaging is the influencer promoting?

Then, too, problems often arise when influencers and brands fail to get on the same page about the metrics they will use to track the success of an initiative.

Influencers told us that they use a variety of tracking metrics — page views, swipes, likes and direct conversions of page view into sales. Commonly, brands and influencers will agree to track “engagement,” but the term is surprisingly murky. Most social media platforms measure engagement on the basis of likes, comments and shares. Twitter and Instagram also measure views, impressions and reach in their calculations of engagement. Upfront agreement on terms is critically important, influencers told us.

Potentially more troublesome are failures to establish clear parameters on issues such as content rights. For instance, who owns the photos that accompany the influencer’s post?

Influencers told us that they also need better communication with brand marketers who fail to account for the costs — both in time and money — of producing top-flight content.

“There is an incredible amount of work that goes into what we do, and many brands don’t understand the time spent behind the scenes or the amount of money it costs to acquire the equipment required to produce compelling content,” one influencer told us.

It’s helpful for brand marketers to think of influencers as mini-content agencies, ones in which the influencer is playing the roles of director, talent and writer without a lot of help. Fair budgets for production, influencers told us, create better relationships.

At the same time, influencers told us that they do their best work, and deliver their best results for brands when they’re given some breathing room.

“I believe brands will see the best results with influencer marketing if they allow campaigns to be approached creatively, while still meeting all deadlines and specifications,” one influencer said in an interview with researchers.

The challenge for brand marketers is ensuring that influencers understand the desired messaging while allowing influencers to tell the story in their own words, in their own way.

Influencer marketing, done right, marks the renaissance of word-of-mouth marketing. An established influencer now plays the role once played by the trusted friend of a consumer. The word-mouth-power of influencer marketing depends, however, on the ability of the influencer to deliver an authentic message free from the micromanagement of a brand marketer.

In the destination-marketing arena, like other sectors of the marketing profession, well-designed influencer campaigns have become a proven tool.

But influencer campaigns can blow up — failing to deliver results and embarrassing the brand marketers who put their reputations on the line — if both sides fail to pay close attention to communication, expectations and creative control.

The secrets to avoiding pitfalls: Taking time to explain. Taking time to listen. Building the trust that always delivers the results that exceed expectations.


Abbi Whitaker is owner and president of The Abbi Agency, a public relations and marketing firm headquartered in Reno, Nevada. The firm’s clients include TravelNevada, Google, Carmel-by-the-Sea and the City of Henderson, Nevada.


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