How to Tame the Wild West of Influencer Whitelisting

By
Tony Tran
In
Guide
October 8, 2019
Why is Influencer Whitelisting the Wild West of Advertising?

It’s clear that influencer whitelisting has helped brands get the most out of their influencer marketing campaigns. Influencer whitelisting is evolving, and while the upside is undeniable, there are significant challenges and potential risks. We wrote about the pros and cons of whitelisting: Influencer Whitelisting -- The Pros and Cons of a winning media strategy. Understanding the challenges with influencer whitelisting and how to navigate them will give you better insight into the current landscape and the ability to succeed in the crazy world of influencer marketing.

Influencer Marketing = Undefined Rules and Vague Contract Language

One of the biggest growing pains with influencer whitelisting is the lack of industry standards when it comes to content and identity usage rights. There are no set norms for influencers and brands to define the usage rights for likeness and content. In most collaborations where whitelisting is involved, influencers have a vague concept of what the brand might do with their account and content. Often times contract language is vague and filled with words like “perpetuity”, “license free”, or simply “agree to full rights”. It is important to not assume both parties actually know what is going on just because there is a contract in place, that contract needs to be understood by both parties.

A recent survey conducted by Lumanu and Collectively Inc. of more than 400 influencers revealed that 25% of respondents create content as their sole source of income. Therefore, giving up access to social accounts (a livelihood if not at least a source of income) will naturally raise concern, skepticism and doubt. Some influencers downright refuse to allow whitelisting because they fear the security of their account. Others may read but fail to understand the usage rights language thoroughly, but sign on the dotted line because they are getting paid.

With vague or confusing contract language, influencers sign contracts that say they agree to something even though they’re not really sure of what they’re actually agreeing to. For example, giving the brand rights to use content in perpetuity, which can prevent a creator from doing business in the future with someone a brand considers a competitor. The problem with this is influencers may disconnect in the future when brands rely on these partnerships to drive growth.

39% of survey respondents said their content has been used by brand partners in ways that violate usage terms.

It can be equally as confusing for brands to understand the limitations of their usage rights. In many cases, the people managing the relationships (the influencer team or agency) are not the people buying the media via influencer whitelisting. They may be unsure of what content edits they can make, which pieces of content they are allowed to use and for how long, as well as what distribution channels they can use. The most confusing aspect is often simply keeping track of all of the content and timeframe it is available for use. Our survey found that 39% of respondents said their content has been used by brand partners in ways that violate usage terms, and there could be more violations the influencer isn’t even aware of. This suggests there’s a need for a structured way to understand and solve the problem of content ownership, rights, and distribution.

The absence of defined whitelisting rules leads to vague contract language which can be extremely difficult for creators to fully understand. When brands and agencies do not have a clear understanding of what rules to follow, they end up drafting contacts that fail to outline the exact terms of the agreement and details for whitelisting access and content usage. 

Worst case scenarios involve brands running paid ads through influencer accounts long after the original campaign has ended and usage rights have expired, using content that is no longer licensed, and receiving a cease and desist as a result. On the other side of the fence, influencers may regret signing perpetual rights to their likeness for brand use and want their content taken down, even though their signature is on the agreement stating the brand could use their picture indefinitely. None of these are ideal situations for the brand or influencer to be in. 

These disputes often lead to an influencer contesting that they did not agree to give the brand full reign over copy edits or provide access for such a long duration. The brand can counter with the signed contract in which the influencer had agreed to provide whitelisting access, although often times the details outlined in the contract are vague or confusing. 

There can also be miscommunication about the level of access, frequency, duration, or additional payments. For instance, if there’s no clear definition about what kind of copy edits the brand is allowed to make, the influencer may dispute the changes. If they feel like the changes do not fit their natural voice they might even turn off the ads or remove the partnership. This can be extremely problematic because ads often have a short shelf life, and turning off for a few days to resolve the dispute can result in a significant amount of missed sales. In other words, it could undo all of the planning and scheduling you’ve done to ensure that your ad delivers optimum impact.

Brands need to be specific with their language to ensure that the influencer has a full understanding of what the permissions entails. This is one of the essential boxes to check off before moving forward with all influencer partnerships. The more specific you can get in your contract, the better your chances of avoiding future conflicts.

The future of whitelisting will move towards standardization, it’s up to all parties to adapt and improve to get there. The rules will adjust over time as the industry continues to grow and brands and creators see what is necessary for a fulfilling partnership. While industry regulations catch up, these are some current strategies and solutions that will address some of the pain points involved with influencer whitelisting.

How to Approach to Influencer Whitelisting to Build Win-Win Brand-Influencer Relationships

Despite the potential for confusion and headaches, whitelisting influencer content should be an integral part of (almost) every influencer marketing strategy. Success comes down to planning and execution. If you know exactly what to prepare for, you can execute it without wasting too much time on inefficient partner agreements.

First, make sure you agree with the influencer on the following specifics, and make sure they have a clear understanding of every detail.

Content Ownership and Usage Rights 

As mentioned earlier, there are currently no industry standards when it comes to content usage and ownership rights in influencer whitelisting. Different brands have different expectations and with that, different language.

The brand or agency should clearly define several key factors of the influencer partnership, including contact term length, exclusivity, deliverables, and talent fee. They should also understand that not everyone, especially micro influencers or those new to the industry, have access to lawyers or talent managers who can review agreements and set clear guidelines for each engagement. It’s paramount for the success of the campaign that  that everyone involved has a solid understanding of the extent of and limitations to their rights. 

Once the influencer creates content for your campaign, does the content belong to you or does the influencer retain ownership? In most cases, especially when the creator’s likeness is in the content, the creator retains content ownership rights and gives permission to the brand to use the content for a set time period or term length These rules may vary depending on the type of content they are creating and the type of campaign you’re running. 

To avoid confusion or discrepancies over content down the road, it’s important to create contracts that explicitly state the campaign terms and address the following usage rights questions:

  1. Who owns the content and how can the brand repurpose it? Establish who owns the content and how the brand can repurpose it throughout the duration of the campaign. The contract should include guidelines for how a brand can reuse content across social media. Other channels, such as on a website, in email marketing, etc. are often more restrictive.

  2. Will the brand require Whitelisting? Determine whether paid media promotion will be done by repurposing content through the brand’s social accounts or though the influencer’s social accounts (with media paid for by the brand). It is also important to clearly define the channels and what whitelisting will entail.

  3. Will the brand make content and copy edits? Define permissions and procedures for the brand to modify images and/or text when whitelisting. This includes making copy edits, testing variations of copy, and the ability to turn images into slideshows. Outline if there is a process to review and approve before publishing or create a pre-approved approach for potential copy edits.

  4. What are the required account configurations and technical requirements? The influencer must set their Instagram profile to business for duration of campaign in order to access audiences for amplification. This is often left out of the contract and causes ambiguity and confusion. With creator accounts it is possible to run amplification but not access influencer audiences or lookalike (LAL) audience. (note: the Lumanu platform also supports creator accounts)

  5. What is the time period for whitelisting and content usage rights? Establish the campaign term, or amount of time for all content and whitelisting usage. Content reuse sometimes established as in perpetuity (co-owned content rights). Whitelisting through creator accounts should absolutely be defined within a specified period time period and are typically set based on when content posted organically, when amplification begins, or by a defined end date.

  6. What is the content posting schedule and requirements? Campaign details will include posting schedule, types of posts, required captions or hashtags, placements, etc. Also include proper FTC disclosure.

  7. What is the fee and payment terms? Typically, payment terms are defined as net (number of days) with some upfront and the remainder after completion of deliverables. Payment terms should be set to encompass exclusivity if applicable.

  8. Are there any restrictions around exclusivity and social activity? Define the terms for exclusivity within a clearly defined product category. Typically, for a limited time before (a week or two) as well as during the usage term. 

Limitations and Extent of Whitelisting Permissions

This is where things get a bit tricky. Some companies may state in the contract that the influencer gives them whitelisting permission with no specifics about what the permission actually entails. There may be no specifications about how the brand can use the influencer’s account and whether there’s any additional payment specifically for whitelisting usage rights. 

If you don’t get specific with the details of whitelisting permission, you’re setting yourself up for failure (or at least, confusion and dispute). It’s crucial that you also define what level of whitelisting access the influencer is going to give you and whether you’re paying an additional fee. In other words, both parties should have a clear understanding of the limitations and extent of whitelisting permission. 

That’s why you should clearly state the following details and ensure that the influencer is in agreement:

  1. That your brand is not allowed to access the influencer’s account for any purpose other than to run and manage paid ads on their behalf.
  2. The ability to access and use audiences.
  3. The platforms on which you intend to run your ads.
  4. The duration for which you’re allowed to use their content to amplify influencer marketing campaigns.
  5. Whether you’ll be paying any fees for the whitelisting permission.

When breaking out the fees paid for whitelisting, it often makes sense to include an option agreement to extend the usage term if the brand wishes to. This offers potential upside for the influencer and lets the brand extend whitelisting agreements as it makes sense without going back through negotiations.

Copy and Content Editing Permission

Once a brand gains access to the influencer’s account, they might want to make changes to optimize the copy or creative in order to use it in paid ads. Running all edits by influencers for approval is time consuming but with getting content specifically approved by the influencer, you could end up unintentionally causing conflict with your influencer. In fact, dispute over copy edits is one of the biggest challenges in influencer whitelisting. 

This calls for more specificity with your copy or content editing permissions. You should agree with the influencer upon the following details:

  1. What kind or level of edits you can make? Whether it’s simply proofreading and improving an existing caption or creating new copy from scratch.
  2. Whether or not you have to inform the influencer before making edits and testing ad variants.
  3. Whether or not the influencer needs to approve content edits before ads goes live.
  4. Whether or not you can modify the creative, such as cropping or photoshopping
  5. Whether or not you’re able to use other creatives (e.g. brand) in addition to the creatives the influencer provided

For the true performance marketer, making edits is not an option, it is required to deliver performance. Any sort of approval process may sound good to influencers in theory but they end up taking time and causing frustration. “Trust and verify” is often an approach that works as long as the brand is upfront in the contract for what the influencer can expect.

Whitelisting: A Winning Approach To Influencer Marketing 

There’s no doubt that influencer whitelisting is becoming the next mainstream media channel. When an influencer whitelists, brands gain control over how a post is amplified and can actually scale their influencer program. However, the process can be cumbersome and is prone to user error, creating headaches with a lot of back and forth and wasted time. This time commitment makes influencer marketing difficult to scale. The lack of industry standards and transparency around how content is distributed further compounds these issues.  

The good news is that there are technologies available to help brands address these challenges. We built SocialCert, an industry-first tool specifically for influencers, to help manage how their content, usage rights, and data are used by partners across the web. The Lumanu platform fully automates whitelisting and provides creators insights into how their content is being used. Lumanu helps advertisers manage influencer whitelisting at scale without wasting valuable resources on compliance and execution. For example, using Lumanu and SocialCert, M.Gemi is able to easily whitelist all their influencers (with the click of a button) on a monthly cadence and the process takes less than 90 seconds for influencer to complete. The results speak for itself - with a 600%+ RoaS from prospecting audiences alone. 

One of SocialCert’s main benefits is the ability to protect influencer security and privacy, while providing brands with the exact kind of access they require to leverage influencer content in a multitude of ways, including in whitelisted ads. Influencers have complete control over what level of access the brand has at no risk to their account privacy. Brands will have permission to choose which audiences to target and make edits to the boosted posts directly in Facebook ads manager. At the same time, they won’t be able to access influencer contacts or messages or post organically on influencer feeds. 

SocialCert takes a huge load off the minds of all parties involved because advertisers get the kind of access and control they want without demanding the influencer to risk the security of their account.

The Future of Influencer Whitelisting

It’s important to remember that influencer whitelisting is an evolving space. While whitelisting can lead to disputes and confusion, it has huge potential to deliver measurable ROI for brands. Just like with every other type of partnership, there needs to be transparency and open communication for influencer whitelisting to work. 

That’s why we developed the industry’s first universal protocol for usage rights and permissions, which values the interests of both parties. We should expect to see better understanding from influencers and brands moving forward. At the same time, policies should also follow suit and start catching up to the demands of the influencer whitelisting industry.

Tony Tran is co-founder and CEO of Lumanu. Prior to Lumanu, Tony was at Outpace Systems, McKinsey, and Google in various product management and business strategy roles.
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