Influencer marketing exploded in 2016, showing true disruption with 86% of marketers allocating budget towards the irrefutable need for this tactic. This explosive growth has established the need for the industry’s key players to evolve to keep up with the demand, while new entrants into the fray – like YouTube, which just announced the alpha testing of its YouTube Labs initiative – emerge at an increasing rate.

These new demands have created exciting advances that present a more sophisticated experience for both creators and brands who want to utilize influencer marketing. However, in this constantly evolving industry, it is important to remember the human elements to influencer marketing. Having the right relationships is just as, if not even more important than the technology. We know that influencer marketing is more than a one-night stand, so here’s some relationship advice when it comes to courting and maintaining something long lasting between brands and influencers.

Influencer Marketing Is More Than Just A Distribution Plan

Many companies make the mistake of treating influencers as automated distribution mediums. Yes, influencer marketing is part distribution, but it is also composed of a creative partnership and content production. The amount of qualitative information, understanding, and interaction demands more than a pre-filled form or checklist between the brand and the influencer. Influencers have created their followings through their own unique voice and style. The relationship and workflow with influencers should have them positioned more as creative directors, and less as a TrueView campaign.

For a campaign to be successful, brands must consider more than just the prospective influencers’ follower count, audience demographics, average views, likes, audience overlap indexes etc. Before swiping left or right, ask yourself if the influencer is aligned with your brand’s messaging and goals. Is his or her content appropriate for your brand? Does your messaging fit in seamlessly with the influencer’s content? Is the way that the influencer manages branded content and partnerships in line with how your organization works?

Like Any Good Dating App, It’s Role As a Platform Is To Begin Conversations

Many influencer marketing companies have dedicated a significant amount of time and budget to create platforms that streamline the process of creating influencer campaigns. Even with sophisticated technology, it is essential to have a proven, standardized process in place when executing influencer campaigns at scale and platforms that have this definitive workflow can be incredibly efficient tools for working with hundreds of influencers at a time. However, the deeper alignment between a brand and influencer goals cannot be automated and taking the time to get to know one another can be much more rewarding.

Don’t get us wrong, most platforms have amazing capabilities that brands should utilize. However, often when diving deeper into the influencer pool presented, you’ll often times discover a limited set of creators who simply fit your basic brand messaging and goals, or that of the hundreds of options, the majority lack the distribution and reach to make your program impactful.

At times, the platforms are simply adding another layer or communication medium into the mix, which can cause a disconnect. The creative aspect of influencer marketing means the differing perspectives between the brand and the influencer are just about inevitable. While the disconnect can come at any point of the partnership, from contracting to content creation, these situations are where historical context and a long-standing relationship can make all the difference.

If you intend to use a platform for influencer marketing, it is important to try to personally reach out to influencers and build a long term relationship with them.

As Influencers Grow, Brand Relationships Become Increasingly Important

With Instagram’s recent announcement of reaching the milestone of 600 million users, there is no question that social media platforms are continuing to grow. As these platforms thrive, influencers also grow along-side them, causing higher demand from brands.

This demand has allowed for the internet’s biggest stars to become their own business entities. Influencers like Zach King and Devin SuperTramp now employ their own production teams and managers who work directly with brands to create integrations. Influencers have started to take the process into their own hands, which not only underscores their need to have complete creative control over their content, but allows them to be more selective about the brands they work with.

If you find an influencer that fits your brand messaging and goals and you’re able to establish a relationship with that creator, be sure to keep that relationship going so that you can effectively continue to work together, even as they grow. Because relationships are the key driver for successful brand partnerships, advertising agencies, management companies and producers will continue to play a big role in the future, likely supplemented by tech as opposed to being overshadowed by it.

As we continue to watch platforms and data refine themselves, and grow our capabilities to keep up with the ever-changing industry, relationships with key players need to be the precursor to tech and forms of automation. After all, a good partnership means we are in this together, and want to make sure that each partnership is mutually beneficial and the start of a great new relationship.

Here’s Brad Davis, Director of Campaigns at BEN, distilling all of the above exposition into an easily comprehensible video:

Influencer Best Practices