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Influencer Whitelisting: Pros vs. Cons

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What is whitelisting, and why should it matter to influencers?

Whitelisting is when you're going through your Instagram feed or your Facebook feed. You see an ad that's not from a brand's page but instead is from an influencer's handle with content promoting that brand or whatever service, or product that is within the content that they produce, it's coming from their page, and it's a sponsored advertisement. You see these constantly scrolling through your feed, but instead of coming from a brand, it's coming from an influencer's page, which is called whitelisting.

Why is whitelisting valuable for brands in general? Why wouldn't they just take the influencer's content and put additional dollars behind it on the brand's handles?

So the value of influencer marketing is not only their distribution channel; they have an audience, they have that capture. But, you know, their content, their ability to create content. So many of these influencers built their following off of their ability to create captivating, engaging, thumb-stopping content. That in itself is very valuable, whether it will get distributed to their audience or the brand's audiences. Agencies recommend brands try to figure out a deal structure where they can take and use the influencer's content and repurpose it across their distribution channels. With that said, and that's very valuable.

Why would a brand not only just do that, just take that content and repurpose it on their distribution channels? It's like saying your work with an influencer to create a piece of content to post organically, but they don't post it, and the brand posts it. You want that influencer to be the one posting it because that's where the influence takes place. That's where the clout is being had. And that's where they can really gain traction with their audience on behalf of this brand, where it looks authentic, where it seems organic. And so a less aggressive way for prospecting purposes on behalf of a brand.

Organic reach has massively decreased over the last number of years. That same thing occurs to brands who have pages on Facebook, Instagram, or whatever. It's this kind of pay-to-play idea now. Where you're having to not only post the content on the social platform but put additional dollars to be able to reach the people that said that they wanted to follow your page, to begin with. So is the point to reach a higher percentage of an influencer's audience, or is it to reach new audiences who may not be following that influencer?

So organically, you can compare reach, you can compare engagement, you can compare frequency. And when I mean frequency, the number of times you can reach this audience with content from the influencer. We can compare customer journeys and conversion rates. All of the above typically favor where you can extract more value out of a whitelisting type partnership. Organically speaking, the reach has become more and more limited from posting on the influencers' end. If you're somebody with over 100,000 followers, the average engagement level of that person is 2% to 3%. And that's decent and standard. So for somebody with 10,000 to 100,000 followers, if you have 3% to 5%, you're in the 90th percentile, typically. 

The engagement level there is just not that much. The number of impressions that post gets, you're looking at 10% of your entire following at that point. So organically, the algorithm has really become limited on the organic social side of things. But when you do whitelist, you can reach that entire audience. So when you have whitelisting, you're able to create what's called an engager audience over the past 365 days of that influencer's Facebook and Instagram. And so basically, that's not only their followers, but people who don't follow them have engaged with their content in the last 365 days. So ultimately, you'll probably get a bigger audience to target off of if that person has 100,000 followers. Their engaging audience could be 150,000 people or 200,000 people. Because there are always people that engage with your content that don't necessarily follow you. And so you have a bigger audience, and not only are you going to be able to reach 10% of those 100,000 followers, but you're gonna be able to reach the entire 200,000 at that point. And you can not only reach, but your engagement will go up because you optimize for that. Your frequency level will go up. That's the number of times you can target these people with the content that you have from the influencer. Because you're in control of the distribution at that point.The brand is putting paid media dollars behind that influencer's handle and that content to reach their audience. And the entire one of them, all of them at that point. And so you're able to get a lot more bang for your buck at that point, and it's much more effective in its ability to reach this influencer's audience that they have clout over. So if brands are looking to maximize their opportunity with them, that's how they should go about doing it. An influencer may say, "Wait, I don't want them to over-saturate my audience. I don't want them to have the ability to just target my followers and target the people that have engaged with my content over the last year, and just hammer them." And so they say typically for an influencer, "Hey, we won't reach a frequency above a two, which means your audience will not receive the content that we're pushing in paid media through our advertisements on Facebook and Instagram more than two times.

So let's talk about the pros and cons of whitelisting for an influencer. 

So let's start with the pros. The one that I always think of is, especially if a brand is gonna be putting a ton of paid media dollars behind it. It could mean a lot of exposure for the influencer. If all these consumers and followers are seeing the content being pushed from the influencer's handle, they'll be like, "Oh, who's this person?" Influencers don't want one-off partnerships. So a lot of the time, they're looking for long-term partnerships and these brands that they can really have a strong affinity with, build out an entire brand story over the years, and become a brand ambassador. And so, to ensure success right off the bat, this enables that more value is extracted on a month-to-month basis. This leads to greater levels of conversion and greater levels of attraction and engagement. So one, it enables a more successful partnership that will take a one-off test run partnership, which is what you see a lot of the time in this space. Influencers are getting a smaller activation to begin with. And if all goes well, a longer-term ambassadorship or partnership may take place. This type of partnership can enable that a lot of the time.

Another pro is a brand's obviously reaching out to this influencer because they have a high affinity with the brand. They have similar audiences; there's an audience that they're trying to go after. And so, not only does the influencer have an audience that the brand wants to get in front of. But the influencer should be attracted by, "Hey, you can use my name, likeness, and content in front of your website visitors. You can retarget that audience that doesn't necessarily follow me, but I could definitely have influence with the content that I'm creating." And then all of those people not only can click the shop now button on an ad, but they can click to your social page and go follow you. It's going to add to your audience's density since there is such a brand affinity with your audience and the people following you. So a lot of synergies there and usually beneficial in that sort of partnership.

So whitelisting is often talked about most frequently with Facebook and Instagram. Is this also being done on YouTube or other social platforms in the same amount?

As of right now, no. It's under the umbrella of Facebook that gives us the ability to target ads in this way. That entails all of their placements: Messenger, Facebook, Instagram, and all the 20 plus placements on Facebook's platform. And just to clarify that last point, I know I made a big point about influencers targeting their audience at the beginning of this. But I want to explain that the brand can use that same method, that exact mechanism of targeting their audiences, or their website visitors that don't follow you. You definitely want to ensure contractually that you don't allow this brand to target your audience with a higher frequency of two. To make sure you're not diluting your followers, you're not over saturating them with content where you're looking super salesy, one. And also, make sure in your contracts that, "Hey, I would love for you to put X amount of spend behind this content and my name. You put the same level of spending into my audience and the audiences you're targeting. Because that obviously can add to the follower account of your audience already that exists.

Frequently a brand or an agency is not going to disclose or not agree to stuff like that contractually from a media perspective. Maybe it's the PR agency contracting the influencer, and the media agency says, "Just get the rights from the influencer to be able to whitelist." I really hadn't heard before where mandating contractually that a brand can't use a frequency greater than two for content until recently. 

What are other gotchas, to be aware of when they grant rights to a brand to use their content?

One of the things that I think is not very often discussed is that frequently a brand will want a certain amount of exclusivity. Let's say, 30 days or 60 days, they can't work with a competitive brand or whatever. But they want whitelisting rights for 12 months, six months, or some term longer than the exclusivity. And you could get into this scenario where six months down the line, the influencer wants to partner with a competitor, and that competitor wants to do paid media too. And then you've got this scenario where there's like boosting for competitive products from the influencer's page. 

What are other considerations around whitelisting?

Typically there's not really a need in an initial partnership to partner in this capacity more than 30 days, to begin with. Basically, say an influencer has 100,000 followers or even 1 million, whatever it may be, it's not gonna take a significant amount of spend to hit that frequency level of two within that audience. At least again, whitelisting can be had outside of that audience. 

In that audience, it's not gonna take a high amount of spend in ads to reach that entire audience that follows that influencer, whether it's 100,000 followers or a million followers within 30 days. We're going to hit that frequency of two quickly and exhaust our ability to target that audience. Again, hitting a frequency level above a two on the brand side isn't beneficial either. A person's gonna buy or not buy after they see the same piece of content twice. At that point, we need to retarget those people with different content to get them to take the next steps in their customer journey. So I would say I would just do whitelisting partnerships if I'm an influencer, to begin with, for just a 30-day term. If they want to use your name, likeness, and whitelisting ability to target outside of your followers. Or if you're going to do another 30-day term where they can hit a frequency level of two for the next 30 days as well, 100%, go ahead and do that. But a 12-month term for a brand to be able to target your audience, there have to be parameters. Make sure that frequency level isn't super high, so they're not just, again, draining your audience with this content. And so, I would just be very conscious of that.

Another thing that happened to my wife and me in partnerships with brands when whitelisting first started is that some brands will do whitelisting and target audiences that are very different from yours. My wife is a Millennial mom, so her audience is heavily 18 to 34 female. And some brands will go out and target audiences that are very broad, male and female, like up to 65. We would get tons of troll comments on the post because of that. Where it's like people just responding, like this is not relevant to me, or just making jokes, or things like that. And so, it was a learning lesson for sure. 

Is it a good idea to put parameters like that in place? The audience you're targeting with my posts should be relatively similar to my audience demographics.

You don't want to put too many restrictions on the brand. At the end of the day, again, you want to make sure it is mutually beneficial. And that's also why I would start by doing 30-day partnerships because it's a mutual opt-out at that point. If the brand's happy and you guys are winning, they're also gonna try to renegotiate a contract with you. And if it went well, you're gonna have the leverage to continue because they obviously want to use you. So you can actually up the ante on the price there. If it doesn't go as well as the influencer wished it to, they can opt-out with the comments they are receiving from the trolls that have come upon these ads. But I would say a lot of these trolls are only gonna be trolls on these ads on behalf of the brand. And they probably aren't going to go to your page and go to your content and start trolling you there. And so, at the end of the day, these are ads representative of the brand. These aren't people going to go into your audience, infiltrate your community, and roast you there.

At the end of the day, it doesn't hold much weight on how it's gonna impact you negatively. It's really more so how it's gonna impact that ad. But that brand should definitely have some sort of customer service rep controlling the comments.

One of the most often asked questions by influencers is how much should I charge a brand or an agency for the rights to do whitelisting?

And something that I've seen over the last year or two is influencers are starting to get a bit savvier with this and are starting to charge a monthly rate for whitelisting. It's not just a blanket, 25% on top of the campaign fee or whatever. Here's my fee for the statement of work for Instagram posts, Facebook posts, and all this stuff. But then it's also $1,000 per month or whatever your rate is for whitelisting. 

What type of premium should whitelisting add to your rate?

Paid media and whitelisting can be super beneficial to the influencer if targeted outside of their followers. Because it can add and provide the influencer value at that point. The brand uses its name and likeness to consistently push out content from its handle on behalf of the brand. So they should be compensated. If you are an influencer looking for new ways to build your audience without putting your own money behind it. I would definitely seek out these partnerships with brands that have a high affinity with your audience and have a captured audience that has unique people to your followers. So it's definitely mutually beneficial in that way. But if you're looking for a way to value this, have the brand give them viewership access. Do a deal like this and charge an upfront fee initially. Again, like you're saying, do it on a 30-day basis and charge that same fee every 30 days. Figure out what that fee is for you. 

This is very much still the Wild West, because like a lot of things in influencer marketing, unfortunately, this is definitely making it a lot more attributable. Because once you get into the Facebook dashboard with Instagram and Facebook ads, there are metrics for everything, through rate, ROAS, return-on-ad-spend ROAS wise, conversion rate, how much revenue you're generating. So I would have the team grant viewership access to the content they are running for whitelisting with the influencer for you to see how it's performing and what level of revenue has it created? Ask the team, just trying to get a little bit more involved in their strategy. You don't have to get super deep in all of this, but there are certain things that you should ask, like, you know, what is your cost-per-acquisition target, also known as your "CPA." If it's $10 or, let's say, $100, and your content with whitelisting is achieving a CPA of $50, they're making an additional $50 of revenue, every purchase off your whitelisting partnership. If their target was $100 and you're achieving $50, why don't 50 additional dollars go into your pocket per purchase?

How about deals where you get paid a flat fee and on purchases, like a hybrid affiliate model? 

This is 100% what I recommend to an influencer. Figure out an upfront fee for month one because, at the end of the day, some are gonna be successful, some are not going to be successful. And a lot of the time, influencers can be out of control of that. It could be a brand that doesn't have that much credibility, validity or it's simply not the best product. Whatever it may be, it could be on the brand for a failed partnership here. But the ones that do, do well charging upfront fees across the board for month one. And if that goes well, obviously the brand's making money if it's gone great. Figure out and identify in month two, and after that, what is their CPA target? If you beat that per purchase, that's how much money you make.

A great story about where using whitelisting has been a win-win for both the influencer and the brand. One of the brands that do a month-to-month basis with sourcing different influencers to create content with and whitelist, so the brand can advertise from their handles on back to them, is LaserAway. And that is just a skincare company where you can go on for appointments and get different services done. So basically, their objective through whitelisted ads was a CPA target of $40. They wanted a cost per acquisition of $40. They had a total level of spending that they wanted to budget in paid media, which is the amount of spend they want to put behind these ads to achieve that level of performance. So they set up appointments for the influencers. They created content around their experience at these appointments, cut up different iterations of those ads, worked up the copy, which is basically the captioning of the ad that they were gonna run, and got approval. Everyone was happy and on board with it. 

Facebook gives the ability to create what's called a lookalike audience. And basically, you can take the influencer's engagers over the last 365 days, build that audience on Facebook, and Facebook's ability to create a lookalike audience off of that as well. Facebook makes an audience of 2.1 million people to 10 million-plus people unique to this engager audience of the influencer, but are most similar to them. And as you all know, Facebook's plethora of data gives them the ability to identify and insanely target people. Where not necessarily do these people follow this person, but Facebook is saying, hey, their content will resonate with these people incredibly well and deeply in a way that will probably convert them with the action you're looking for them to take. 

These are people that LaserAway had never targeted, and they're all completely new to everybody already within their community. People that have gone to their website, people that have already had an appointment. Those audiences didn't even come close to this $15 CPA. And these are people that are already a part of their community. And they're a warm target at that point. This whole prospect of audience achieved 60+% above everything else across the entire funnel and ad account. And so it benefits the brand for obvious reasons in that light. 

But secondly, this lookalike audience, this is Facebook saying, these are the people who are almost exactly the same as the people who follow this influencer. And are most likely to not only resonate deeply with their content but also go and follow them. And they're all unique to the people that don't already exist as followers of the influencer. So lookalike audience targeting if successful on behalf of a brand, those are the most mutually beneficial partnerships. The dynamic of those are incredibly favorable to both parties. And so she had $13,000 of ad spend put behind her name into this lookalike audience. So her following definitely went up. 'Cause if you think about it, people post stuff and boost their posts a lot of time as micro-influencers to increase their following. This person just got $13,000 of ads for her name and on a piece of content that did incredibly well for her and the brand.

What is in the creator's control in that scenario? You obviously have to have a savvy enough media team to create the proper targeting, the audience, and all of that. A creator can only do so much, right? They can only create a really compelling piece of content. That's all they have control over. Is there a formula of things that an influencer can do to make it more successful, like editing the asset or filming it? A lot of it comes down to their personality and how well suited they are to the product. And how well they're speaking to the audiences that are being targeted. 

So a lot of the time, the brand will always want control over the content. So if you want to be someone that the brand is looking to work with, they're definitely going to want the ability to have control, if they want to edit the asset that you provided or if they want to put text overlay or anything else. If I'm an influencer that's really concerned about the content getting put out on my behalf, which you should 100%, I would just make sure that you have final approval. At the end of the day, brands have enough hoops they need to jump through and steps they need to take. But if you want to ensure that this content isn't a negative reflection of your name, the influencer's final approval should be done by the influencer and included in their agreements. And the brand should respect that. I would ensure that the brand knows what they're doing and not make you look poorly. But on the brand side, they just want the ability to use the influencer's content in various ways at various levels of the funnel, in the ways that they're targeting.

The biggest takeaway that I want creators and influencers to get from this is to educate yourself around this topic because the more savvy and sophisticated you can look when you're having these conversations with brands, and kind of understanding what they're trying to accomplish by whitelisting your content. So you can basically say, "Oh yeah," and ask them what their KPIs are. What are you're trying to accomplish? Are you trying to optimize for conversions? Are you trying to optimize for engagement? Just saying things like that when you're talking with a brand or an agency is a significant advantage. You immediately come off as someone with credibility and savviness. The agency or the brand wants to keep working with you because you understand that this is mutually beneficial.

You want to be able to build case studies for yourself. So, asking these right questions of what your CPA is and then getting the ability to have viewership into what the actual CPA your whitelisting, your content actually achieved, is huge. At the end of the day, there are so many influencers out there that don't really understand the value they're providing because they typically don't have this viewership into the campaigns that are being run through paid media whitelisting. So there are brands that can get these micro-influencers on board for $100 and sell them on a variety of different things that are kind of deceitful at the end of the day because we still are in the wild West. So there are a lot of influencers that don't still understand their value at this point. But if you get that viewership access, you get that case study under your belt, and you're able to provide that to the brand. "Hey, you know, this is what I'm worth." It's fair; there's nothing they can argue, or come back to you with to make it justifiable, to pay you $100 at that point.

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