Balancing the real with the reward – authenticity versus accountability in influencer marketing


See what is happening in our world – who is influencing whom and why.

Balancing the real with the reward – authenticity versus accountability in influencer marketing

November 4, 2020

The influencer marketing industry has grown exponentially in the last few years, partly because people – not consumers, people – are desperate for a personal connection. The irony of the world becoming more accessible through the web but also more insular due to current geopolitical tensions is not lost on the next generation, and it is causing them to actively search for the real in the world.

They are no longer content to be viewed as consumers. They are people and they want to connect with other people. They want to be seen as people and treated as people.

Above all, they want honesty. This is where the tension in the influencer marketing industry is beginning to rise.

Influencers know that their audience wants real stories, real experiences and real connections to the brand.

Brands need to accomplish goals and ensure they maintain and expand on their brand equity.

Influencers want to showcase their creativity and have the freedom to be themselves.

Brands are risk-averse and seek to direct and control how, when and where the influencer engages.

Influencers need to ensure their reputations live up to the brands’ values.
Do brands do the same for the influencers?

With accountability being the go-to word of the moment, every aspect and detail of public figures’ lives is under scrutiny. From their current opinions to their history. From who they follow to who follows them. A scandal, even a minor one, can ruin an influencer. A small mistake can lose them followers. And a brand will not hesitate to cut an influencer loose if they feel the influencer may be bringing negative press their way.

The influencer often doesn’t have the same recourse. If a brand does something that goes against the current zeitgeist, the influencer is, by association, also caught up in the ensuing storm and their reputations are damaged.

So, how do we ensure that the rights and reputations of both influencers and brands are protected?

It seems obvious on a surface level that the influencer should be responsible for everything that they post, and that they should be forthright and honest about their pasts. They are, after all, being paid to be the ideal version of themselves for the brand. But remember, influencers are people. They make mistakes, just like all people do. The only difference is that their mistakes can damage a brand.

At the same time, brands are these monolithic entities that often take on a life of their own. They are businesses and so it would seem simple to keep themselves out of the negativity spotlight. But they are staffed by people, they are run by people. And, as we have mentioned, people make mistakes.
This is where the words dreaded by creative and free-spirited influencers and the teams that run the marketing for brands makes its appearance – contracts and management.

The only way to ensure the reputations of all parties is to have contracts in place. Creative minds look on contracts as some form of stifling document that they must sign in blood, while brands and corporates see contracts as legal minefields in the event something goes wrong.

They shouldn’t. A proper influencer contract set up by experts and managed by experts in influencer marketing takes the risk away from everybody. The influencer now knows what is expected of them and is secure in the knowledge that they will be paid and will be protected. The brand knows that they are not dictating terms, they are partnering for mutual benefit and that they too have a responsibility toward ethical behaviour.

Two of the biggest issues during this time of global uncertainty brought on by the COVID pandemic is the abrupt cancelling of work by brands leading to financial losses by influencers, and the unheard-of restrictions that are limiting how influencers can go about their work leading to a dip in the brand’s perception and reach. Tailored contracts give influencers protection from loss of income due to no fault on their part. Contracts also give brands protection from loss of exposure or negative exposure during a crisis.

Expert management gives both influencer and brand a far greater benefit than just protection, it gives them access to teams that are able to help them through any crisis, advise them on how best to manage situations and ensure that a positive outcome is available to everyone.

At R-Squared Agency we have a global connection to influencers and brands and we know how the industry can shift and change. Our expertise allows us to manage the processes and ensure professionalism, protection and positive outcomes for all parties.

Influencer marketing, by its very nature, is fluid. Our presence on various international boards means we are able to both see where the industry is moving and help guide its course. But it will take more than oversight to ensure the validity and growth of influencer marketing, it will take partnerships and understanding.

True partnerships between brands and influencers and the understanding that we are people working with people for people.

With all the flaws and mistakes, the laughter and the tears, the good times and the bad times that come with them.

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Standing the test of time


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Standing the test of time

October 20, 2020

A taste that stood the test of time. Every South African knows these words. It elicits an almost Pavlovian response to raise a glass and shout out: To Charles!

You may be wondering what sparked these thoughts. Well, the big news for R-Squared Digital was our move into stunning new offices at the Old Castle Brewery in Woodstock, Cape Town. This bright, airy and amazing new space is sure to get our creativity and our joie de vivre amped up to record levels.

But it also had another effect, on me anyway. Walking around this building, seeing walls that have been here since 1901, imagining what has happened, what people did, how they lived and what they dreamed about in an iconic location that is over 100 years old got me thinking about our modern life and, in particular, our modern industry of Influencer Marketing.

And what history will say about our young industry in 100 years. Will we still be relevant? Will we still have a place in the bigger scheme of things?

I must say that I believe that the answer is a resounding ABSOLUTELY YES!
History has shown the power of having a recognised face to drive interest in your brand. Aunt Jemima (controversial now, but a major turning point for how advertising became personal), Santa Claus (Coca-Cola), the Marlboro Man, George Clooney and Nespresso.

Influencer Marketing took this lead and amplified it exponentially by giving brands the power of a personalised voice, authentic engagement with an audience that was receptive and opted-in to the messaging. And it has proven to be massively effective, especially in the modern pandemic times where people are looking for connections in a time of quarantine.

The future can only build on history. We will learn from our successes and our mistakes. We are already aware of how our audience reacts to false impressions and fake endorsements and it’s driving the industry to actively create unique and authentic content that resonates. It’s showing agencies and clients that Influencer Marketing is about more than a face, it’s about a connection, a personal touchpoint that is a part of the influencer’s life story that is then woven into the fabric of the campaign.

And we are just scratching the surface.

Already we are seeing virtual influencers becoming a part of the story. Whether or not they will become entrenched is something we will only see in the future. At the moment they are a fad, a trend that is different and new and therefore interesting. How audiences respond in the long run is unknown but we are watching – and participating with great interest.

Advertising and marketing have been around for thousands of years.

Wherever someone has something to sell, whether it’s a product, an idea or an innovation, you will need people who best know how to reach and engage with an audience. That will never change. What will change is how. Technology, human needs and interests, the situation, the world are all mutable, are all ever-changing. And how we interact changes with them.

But one thing never changes – our yearning for a human connection, our need for validation and recognition and the understanding that comes with finding someone who shares our voice.

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Influencer Marketing: Adapting to Markets and Cultures


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Influencer Marketing: Adapting to Markets and Cultures

May 11, 2020

Managing influencer campaigns within specific territories or cultures can be very challenging, particularly for brands and marketers who don’t have expertise within particular regions. There are challenges related to culture, audiences and legislative requirements and restrictions.

At R-Squared, we operate globally, running influencer campaigns for multi-national groups in a variety of vertical markets. We have expertise in managing campaigns within a range of regions and cultural realities. We believe that understanding how influencer marketing differs from region to region is fundamental to the overall success of a campaign, affecting engagement and campaign costs.

Setting individualised missions for influencers is essential, factoring in all of the market and influencer-related specifics. Questions to be considered include market maturity – is influencer marketing well established in the region, or is it still a developing market? The answers will affect how competitive the market is, whether an audience will click on a link (conversion rate), influencer fees and influencer availability.

Once a brand or agency has established the above in the specific local markets internationally, and has created a brief for the influencers, the brand or agency should work with the influencer to understand their lifestyle, and how to integrate the brand concept into authentic content.

By sending one brief to all influencers for the same campaign, all influencers will produce very similar content. Within specific verticals, there is often an audience overlap, in which case, followers following several influencers who are all part of the same campaign will see the same type of content produced, which may alienate the audience. At this point, the importance of influencer mission setting plays a role in the success of the overall campaign.

It’s paramount to match the missions to the influencers and not the influencers to the missions. With the influencer tailoring lifestyle journeys, the content the influencers’ create will reinforce the brand message in their signature style. The tasks the brand or agency set should be a framework for the influencer to work from, not a script.

Thinking out of the box is necessary when it comes to dealing with influencers. It’s all about creating the perfect framework that allows for full creativity, authenticity and engagement while remaining aligned with the brand’s objectives and protecting its brand equity. Authenticity in the content is crucial to ensuring the message resonates with the target audience, in a way that is original and organic. In our opinion, agencies discussing individual missions with the influencers, and agreeing on those missions and objectives together, ensures that the content perfectly tells the influencer’s story, while aligning with the needs of the campaign.

Michelle Marais, Digital Marketing Manager

Michelle Marais

Michelle Marais is the Digital Marketing Manager at R-Squared, a leading influencer marketing agency partnering with some of the largest brands in South Africa and internationally. Our team focuses on out of the box solutions for authenticity in influencer marketing.

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