Whether a company features an influencer’s face on a cereal box, blasts their image on billboards or uses them to create viral social media campaigns, there’s little wonder why influencer marketing is one of the most buzzed-about topics in marketing today.

For brands large and small, working with influencers can galvanize an audience and help drive purchases. But for many, it’s still difficult to understand and hard to execute. So check out the following tips, and use them to create a strong influencer marketing strategy for your brand.

1. Approach the Relationship Like a Friendship

Companies that treat the influencer-brand relationship as a friendship are the ones who will succeed. Yes, this is technically a business transaction, but it should be approached as a long-term, two-way street — where the influencer supports the brand’s objectives, and the brand supports the influencer along the way.

Take Fossil for example. It partnered with influencer Arnelle Lozado, who showed off Fossil merchandise while she traveled through Greece. The following posts have a light-hearted feel, as if they were sent by a friend — not a brand.

A few best practices: Before reaching out to your influencer, connect and engage with them across social and introduce them to the brand through unpaid gifting (asking for nothing in return). Be sure to continue following their stories so your brand has a genuine understanding of the audience they speak to and the topics that are important to them.

How can you support the influencer as a brand? Ask the influencer what they’re most excited about in their own life. What new content are they sharing and what projects are they working on? These conversations lead to stronger partnerships and more genuine content that followers will respond to.

2. Look Beyond Numbers

Just because an influencer has 1 million followers doesn’t mean that influencer has 1 million followers that are (or will be) interested in your brand. Marketers must understand who their audience is, the content they respond to, and how that audience is evolving.

Before working with an influencer on a campaign, it’s wise to sit in the seat of the consumer to determine whether you’re picking the right partner to represent your brand. Digesting comments, spending the time to view the profiles of the users who are liking and commenting, and taking a look into past posts to see how the content has evolved, will help you understand the influencer’s audience. Also, it’s important to ask the influencer about successful brand campaigns that resonated with that fan base.

3. Supplement Organic Research with Advanced Technology

So you’ve found an influencer and you’re partnering with them to create alluring content and get interest in your products. Now what? Use advanced data analytics to figure out exactly how your efforts are driving purchase intent.

Curalate’s analytics help me and the House of Marley team track influencer sway across multiple channels, including social and eComm. The platform also provides us with in-depth knowledge of what content is resonating and producing conversion-based, revenue-earning results — at both the image and product level.

In other words, brands are now able to see which influencers are driving revenue and interest through the content they post. Use this to inform your ongoing strategy.

Here’s a snapshot of how my team works with Curalate to get it done. At House of Marley, we’ve been leveraging Curalate’s platform to strategically follow certain hashtags on Instagram and other social channels. With this information, we’re able to see which Instagrammers are using the hashtag most often — and which of those users have the most powerful reach. It helps us discover valuable influencers for gifting and partnerships purposes.

House of Marley

House of Marley

4. Create a Gifting Strategy

Remember, influencer marketing is an industry — blogging as an influencer is a career. While brand advocates (or up-and-coming figures) might be more inclined to get involved in gifting-in-exchange-for-posting, a rule of thumb is to not expect this type of activity.

For best results, especially when working with top-notch influencers, personalizing gifting with notes and items for specific occasions is the way to go. Here are two examples of posts from influencer that House of Marley partners with regularly — and our gifts go a long way in creating a smooth, reciprocal relationship:

House of Marley

House of Marley

5. Communicate Objectives Clearly, But Leave Room for Collaboration

Collaboration between a brand and an influencer should yield positive results. Instead of handing over a list of deliverables with hard dates and suggested copy, communicate objectives by having real discussions and agreeing on a method that works on both ends. It’s important to remember that influencers and bloggers have their followers and credibility for a reason; no one understands the audience more than the person behind the account, logged in everyday.

When approaching influencer marketing, it’s important to keep in mind the story you are creating. It should always be real, transparent and mutual. Let’s speak the influencer’s language first, before numbers and hard objectives come into the conversation.

Want to learn more about working with influencers? Check out Instafamous: A Guide to Taking Better Photos from 12 Instagram Influencers.