December 22, 2021Published by: Paige Maguire

Why brands are taking influencers in-house

With more than 6m followers on Instagram, Molly-Mae Hague is one of Love Island’s biggest stars – and among the UK’s most successful influencers. In recent months, her fame and following has extended to a collaboration with Beauty Works on a range of hair products and, more surprisingly, her appointment as Creative Director at Pretty Little Thing.   

This role made mainstream news in August, because it felt like a big step forward in influencer marketing. It raised the question: can social influencers do more than just help brands with ad content? Can they add value to a brand as a fully-fledged consultant?

It’s certainly not the first time that influencers have been brought in-house. Take Pattie Gonia, for example, who has sat on advisory boards for companies, informing them how they can best reach marginalised groups and tackle sustainability issues. 

Then there’s New York-based Emily Ratajkowski – a precursor to Molly-Mae – who was made Creative Director at Loop Beauty in 2020. The founder of the company referred to Emily as a “tastemaker” – someone who can lead the way in an industry. 

Perhaps even more famously, supermodel Kendall Jenner was also named Creative Director at luxury e-commerce site FWRD. REVOLVE Group’s Chief Brand Officer, Raissa Gerona, stated: “Kendall is the epitome of luxury fashion, and there isn’t a better fit for this position. The world looks at Kendall to lead the industry.”

More than just #AD

The past 12 months has seen a shift in the ways top brands are working with influencers. As we move into 2022, will we see this continue and how can your brand partner with social influencers for more than just content creation? 

The first thing to realise is that influencers are often the pinnacle of a brand's target audience, and engaging with them regularly. As such, their insight is often invaluable and they can enhance the relationship between a brand and its customers massively. 

Here are a few opportunities for making the best use of an influencer’s insights:

1. Hiring an influencer as a consultant. By hiring the right individual, who understands your target market and has a significant following, an influencer can ensure the decisions you make as a brand will raise brand awareness and reputation, and ultimately drive sales. 

2. Hiring them to run workshops on their niche for teams to learn more. If you hire an influencer within a niche, they can counsel staff on anything from capturing the right social media content, to producing best-selling products. A lifestyle influencer, for example, could discuss the posts that perform best on their channel in order to increase a brand’s social success. They could also inform which products have received the best response from their following, along with the best styles and aesthetics.

3. Setting up an advisory board of influencers who you can present ideas to. Do they have any flags you might not know of from a broader audience perspective? Could they help build on the ideas? Can they make sure what you’re creating is on-trend for the audience? An influencer could be a valuable voice within an organisation.

Critical backlash

It’s not all plain sailing, though. Molly-Mae’s in-house move at Pretty Little Thing divided opinions. Some saw her new role as the perfect fit, giving her the opportunity to bring on-target preferences and trends into product creation through her first-hand insights and connection with her audience. Others, however, complain about her naivety in endorsing a fast-fashion brand for a big salary, with little evidence to show plans to overcome big issues, such as sustainability and paying garment workers poor wages.

This shows the risk for negative sentiment from loyal customers and followers when appointing an influencer in such a senior position. Both the influencer and the brand can be held accountable for all actions and wrongdoings, increasing the risk of criticism. 

Kendall Jenner’s role as Creative Director at FWRD received criticism too, with tweets questioning her level of experience in the field. Other commentators have also raised concerns about the ‘rich and famous’ taking roles from people that have studied hard for and are extremely passionate about.

There are, however, positive ways to embrace this new era of influencers. In 2020 L’Oreal rehired Munroe Bergdorf to join the brand’s diversity and inclusion advisory board. Munroe was initially ‘sacked’ as an influencer when she posted about the Black Lives Matter movement on her channels. Fortunately, the brand saw the knee-jerk reaction was a bad move and could damage brand reputation. Munroe has now helped steer the direction of L’Oreal towards a more diverse and inclusive company, using first-hand opinion and experience.

What’s next?

The significance and role of influencers has changed dramatically in recent years. Influencer strategies should go beyond just product-gifting, collaborating on posts and creating collections. Using influencers as consultants provides unique business opportunities and untapped audience insights that could drive a brand forward.

We’re not moving away from branded social content any time soon, but influencers are becoming more fussy and strategic in their partnership choices. Any smart brand should use them for more than just content, and maybe even use their insight for greater organisational change.

If you’d like to hear more about how Battenhall works with influencers and brands, we’d love to hear from you

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