“Do you trust me?” Jack asks Rose in one of film’s most iconic scenes, on the bow of the Titanic, tangerine sunset cinematically framing their immortal, if doomed, romance.
It’s a beautiful, tragic, and nostalgic nod to the weight of trust, the sanctity of granting one’s vulnerability to another human in the service of something greater.
But that was 1912 (also 1997), and the scene’s gravitas today feels like a motif from a bygone era. In 2023, the word “trust” feels as though it’s gone the way of words like “love” and “literally” and “amazing.”
No longer reserved for our deepest intimate relationships, we love our virtual fitness instructors, our friend’s new shoes, the latest episode of whatever’s big on HBO right now, and dole out little hearts on social media to countless passing pics.
Everything is amazing, from the weather to the weekend, to trips abroad and nights in, because we literally love traveling or just literally need some self-care.
Similarly, common vernacular today tosses around trust as easily as it’s once regaled forebears: “trust yourself,” “trust the process,” “trust me bro.” The word can even be employed singularly, to “exclaim a point” as one Urban Dictionary entry defines it (user example: “Dude, that deal was phat, trust!”). With such cheap, quotidian overuse, is it any wonder why we all brood about our “trust issues?”
And yet, trust is still as fundamental as ever to relationship building, whether in the timeless bonds of friendship or romance, or, as it relates to my own professional interests, in digital marketing, particularly the relationships between brands, agencies, and their influencer partners.
Trust is earned, not given (at least in the real world, not in the belief-suspending universe of James Cameron and errotic sea voyages), and it often grows organically over time.
Unfortunately, in the demanding and fast-paced world of social media and influencer marketing, large swaths of time are a luxury we don’t always have. But ignoring the important work of trust-building not only threatens meaningful brand-influencer connections, but also risks incurring bottom-line busters like negative social media sentiment, de-influencing, and word-of-mouth antagonism.
Fortunately, marketers can implement several strategies for trust-building to give them an immediate jumpstart in securing those long-term, reciprocal relationships required for successful influencer partnerships.
Commit to Custom, Meaningful Influencer Comms
With tools like Slack, Zoom, Gmail, and every other kind of communications app becoming commonplace, it can be tempting to rely too heavily on our digital facades. But marketers looking to build solid, lasting relationships with influencers should take extra care to personalize their communications, especially during the outreach and vetting process.
Mass emails, Bccs, or Google Forms should be used only in the most dire circumstances (I’m looking at you, 24-hour turnaround campaign), and in-house templates should be adapted, sincerely, for each individual influencer.
And while email has its place, marketers should always offer to get on the phone or a video call. Doing so not only puts a friendly face or voice to a name, but also demonstrates the brand or agency’s willingness to make time for an influencer, answer questions on the spot, and ensure they’re comfortable with next steps. Even better, marketers looking to secure strong months or years’ long partnerships should consider meeting influencers in person when possible. In a remote, digital world, these in-person efforts carry significant weight, and go even further in showing a brand or agency’s commitment to building a mutually beneficial relationship.
Transparency Is Critical to Success
As a rule, influencer marketers shouldn’t gate keep. Instead, we should be conduits for positive relationship building. Always be upfront about the campaign or partnership’s goals. Is it mass awareness, engagement and traffic driving, or down-funnel sales? (and if you need help choosing between macro or micro influencers, we have a 101 for you). Have open conversations with influencers about how a campaign’s goals can and should affect the way they frame their concepts and content, setting influencers up for success from the start.
Offer to answer any questions or concerns influencers have, whether it’s about budget, timeline flexibility, usage terms, or creative freedom. And be honest; if creative freedom is limited (more about that later…) or timelines inflexible, don’t shy away from (gracefully) explaining the realities of the brand or client. An influencer should understand the environment they’ll be working in, whether it’s a bastion of creative license, or a tighter editorial ship.
Finally, consider establishing post-campaign debriefs with influencers to review content performance. Often, influencers are left in the dark after the campaign launch, unaware of how their content performed compared to brand benchmarks or if the client was satisfied with the results. Including influencers in post-campaign conversations and maintaining open communication are excellent ways to illustrate a two-way relationship.
Build Influencer Partnerships Beyond the Paid Campaign
Influencer relationships shouldn’t end after a post goes live and analytics are collected.
Showing support for influencers outside of a paid activation demonstrates a brand’s appreciation of an influencer’s work overall, not just the handful of sponsored videos they can produce for a fee. To build trust and establish strong connections, follow your influencers across platforms, engage with their organic content, send them encouraging DMs, and champion their work with other (non-competitive) brands.
If budgets allow, consider gifting important influencers throughout the year with anything from gift cards to brand merch, or even unbranded items like a holiday gift basket or handwritten note. Just don’t expect, or imply, that influencers need to share these gifted items on social media; gifting is part of investmenting long-term in the relationship, not a quid pro quo.
Embrace Strategic Influencer Feedback and Creative Freedom
When it comes to content and performance, influencers know their audience best. Forcing creative concepts or mandating a laundry list of key messages not only minimizes the influencer’s agency, but quickly foments distrust. Any seasoned influencer marketer can recount at least one experience, if not several, when a brand’s refusal to listen to an influencer’s advice heeded awkward, overly branded, and poor performing content. While key messaging and product placement are necessary in sponsored content, their creative incorporation should rely heavily on the influencer’s expertise.
Surveying an influencer for post-campaign feedback (a great time to use that Google Form) also demonstrates that you value their opinions and helps audit an agency or brand’s ways of working. Nothing is worse than a marketer (or person, for that matter) who thinks they’ve got it all figured out. Humble thyself. Trust your influencers to share what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and use their feedback to make noticeable improvements. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn from your influencers.
Trust may be eroding in the broader culture, but that doesn’t excuse us from the important work of building trust when forging relationships with influencers. Behind nearly every email, contract, or sponsored post is a person who genuinely wants to build successful, long-term partnerships with brands they love. And while every influencer relationship is unique, the best ones are always built on the bedrocks of integrity, transparency, and effective communication, foundations that translate into long-term benefits like brand advocacy, authenticity, and viral storytelling.
Trust me bro.