Influencer Relationship Management (IRM)

    Table of contents
  1. 1. Definition of influencer relationship management
  2. 2. Influencer relations vs. Influencer advertisement
  3. 3. Steps to build and manage long-term influencer relationships
  4. 4. Challenges of IRM

Definition of influencer relationship management

While looking for a well-accepted definition of influencer relationship management (IRM), we found that most marketers tend to consider IRM to be similar to customer relationship management (CRM). Some even claim that the whole process of IRM is simply another version of CRM that deals with influencers instead of customers. At InfluencerDB, we follow this idea by defining the term as “a strategic approach to developing strong and long-term relationships with social media influencers who have an excellent fit with a brand.” In other words, influencers are approached as partners, clients, and fans of a brand rather than simply as media platforms. To build and maintain a strong relationship, brands should consider their relationship with influencers to be as important as their relationship with customers – both are strategic partnerships that need to be nurtured. 

Just like CRM, IRM strategy should be planned and executed from an “outside-in” perspective. In order to establish a long-term relationship with a mutual strategic focus, brands need to know what influencers want, how they work and what will make them become brand advocates. Why? First and foremost, they are fans, clients or partners who support your business. Secondly, they are customers with a strong power of influence that can trigger the buying motives of their followers. That huge potential for outreach is the reason why marketers not only cannot walk away from influencer marketing nowadays but must also try their best to strengthen relationships with influencers in their network. 


Influencer relations vs. Influencer advertisement

As mentioned in the influencer marketing wiki, there are a lot of ways to approach social media influencers, from simply paying for their posts to co-creating content. These approaches are separated into two different tactics: influencer relations and influencer advertising. InfluencerDB’s specialists put them on opposite sides of the influencer marketing spectrum, as displayed in the following graph: 


Influencer advertising vs. influencer relations © InfluencerDB

This mixture of influencer relations, marketing and advertising supports a brand’s immediate as well as long-range objectives. Influencer advertising is actually quite simple. It focuses on achieving short-term goals, such as increasing reach, awareness or immediate sales. In this approach, influencers play the role of a media platform or advertisement service provider: you give them money and get the promotional posts on their social media channels in return. This approach is direct, simple and easy to measure, but does not maximize the potential of influencers nor take full advantage of the relationship with them. 

Influencer relations (or relationship management), however, aims for long-term success by communicating with influencers as people and appealing to their emotional side. This strategy focuses on long-term goals and requires more effort to build the collaboration. It’s necessary for influencers to know your brand inside out. The influencers should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What is your brand’s unique value? 
  • How do your biggest fans find your brand and what do they see in it? 

Influencer relationship management also includes getting to know an influencer well, by engaging on social media and paying attention to their content and career path. To build strong relationships with influencers, it is essential that marketers approach them on a human level instead of thinking of them as billboards.


Steps to build and manage long-term influencer relationships

Trust and honesty are the keys to a fruitful relationship between brands and influencers. InfluencerDB has some tips to help brands gain trust and prove their honesty while building  relationships with influencers and KOLs:

1. Find the perfect fit

To build a long term relationship, it’s crucial to select influencers who are compatible with the brand. Marketers need to consider the following factors to determine if the influencer is the perfect fit: 

  • Are they true influencers or fake influencers?
  • How good are their profiles? (InfluencerDB score can be a good reference)
  • What is the quality of their followers/ audience? (Audience Quality score can be a good reference)
  • What are their personalities? Are they easy to work with?
  • Are/ were they collaborating with other brands? If yes, what is/ was the result?

Finding a perfect influencer is not an easy task. Many brands are using influencer search tools available on the market to support marketers for this task. Additionally, not every influencer is suitable for a long-term relationship, and there are definitely situations in which influencer advertising might be the best approach.  

2. Maintain two-way communication

Frequently interacting with influencers is also crucial for building positive relationships. The interactions may vary, from social media activities (like, comment, and share their posts) to more personal communication (sending products, event invitations, content co-creating sessions, etc.) Brands need to maintain frequent communication with influencers through the entire collaboration process to give them the resources and tools they need to create content. 

Some brands choose to delegate this task to an influencer marketing agency. This approach has both advantages and disadvantages. While having an agency will save you time and effort in reaching influencers, there is a greater chance of miscommunication and delay in executing/ modifying the campaign. Additionally, working directly with influencers may communicate the brand’s sincere interest more powerfully, making the influencer more likely to become a brand ambassador in the future.

3. Be clear about expectations and compensation

Money can ruin relationships. Having clear expectations and mutually agreed upon goals for a relationship and/or campaign is paramount. From basic considerations like terms and compensation to more nuanced elements, such as hashtag preferences and cross-posting responsibilities, there’s a wide range of details for brands and influencers to agree on before signing the collaboration deal.
Check out these guidelines for how to create a well-structured influencer briefing. The influencer briefing provides important information regarding the campaign, including the expectations and compensation offered by the brand. A clear briefing will help maintain a good influencer relationship as well as avoiding mistakes during the communication process. 

4. Fulfill the influencer’s emotional needs

As mentioned before, influencers are people, not billboards. Every influencer is a unique individual with their own needs and personalities.  Thus, it’s important for brands to respect their influencers (and their egos) and find a way to make the partnership work for both parties. Brands should focus on achieving balanced relationships, where the influencer and brand are giving and receiving equally. Also, have patience. Influencer relationship management takes time and you can’t expect immediate results.  

5. Respect the influencer’s freedom and creativity

Influencers’ popularity and reputations are based on their unique personas. Thus, there’s no doubt about the creativity of social influencers, especially the top influencers in a topic or field. They usually have an intimate understanding of what type of content and messaging their audience will enjoy and engage with.

Of course, businesses also have their own ideas for influencer marketing campaigns to promote their products/ services. Sometimes, these ideas are not aligned or are even contradictory.  In these situations, applying too much creative control may negatively impact a brand’s relationship with an influencer, or even worse, ruin the relationship between an influencer and their followers.

Therefore, we advise brands to give influencers enough freedom to create content that maintains their authenticity and continues to attract followers. The content should not focus on product promotion too much but should be in the “sweet spot” that fulfills the needs of both parties. 


Challenges of IRM

Like influencer marketing, influencer relationship management has had to face many challenges as an emerging marketing trend. This blog post details the top five challenges that may need your attention:

1. Lack of short-term return on investment (ROI)

Unlike advertising, influencer relationship management takes time to deliver tangible results. That time can vary depending on the baseline relationship with influencers and the way brands choose to approach them. Although you may feel frustrated by not seeing any results after three weeks, keep in mind that IRM is a marathon. Your efforts will pay off in the long run.

2. Hard to measure

It’s difficult to convert the value of influencer relationship management (to brands as well as influencers) into a specific number. As with any other kind of non-monetary compensation, the value of a relationship is highly individual. Consequently, the results you get out of this partnership may be hard to evaluate. The influencer talking about your brand will create valuable new connections for you, but as with all forms of word-of-mouth, it’s difficult to measure the overall result.

3. Hard to balance the benefits of both parties

The mutual partnership has many benefits for both brands and influencers, as discussed in the following post:


Benefits for brands vs. benefits for influencers © InfluencerDB

However, as with any relationship, it can be difficult to ensure that both parties are benefitting equally. Before reaching out to influencers, brands should determine what kind of outputs they are expecting and how the influencers can fulfill those needs. Unlike influencer advertising, the expectation should not be overly demanding and should also give influencers something back in return. Each influencer will value different benefits, so customization and personalization in briefing and budget planning is necessary. In terms of how to negotiate with influencers, the possibilities are endless. 

4. Finding the perfect influencers for your brand

A necessary step but also a BIG challenge in IRM. Brands must distinguish between two types of influencers: experts and entertainers. Expert influencers are often more open to IRM than advertising. Often, they won’t promote a product simply for compensation. It’s important to convince them of the usefulness of your products and build their love for your brand; otherwise, there is almost no chance that they will promote it on their social media channel. 

Entertainment influencers, on the other hand, are more open to brands and more willing to enter into collaborations. While expert influencers confine themselves to one specific topic, entertainers are more likely to post about their lives as a whole-- and make a living from promoting many different products. Thus, they will be more open to promoting multiple products and brands regardless of their feelings for the brand. Since they make a living by promoting brands on social media, entertainment influencers usually take a more entrepreneurial approach to advertising collaborations.

5. Forgetting about influencer advertising

Even though IRM is a holistic approach that will create long-term benefits, not all brands and influencers are suitable for it. For brands that require short-term outcomes, it’s a good idea to consider influencer advertising, which requires less time and effort than IRM.