Influencer marketing has hit the mainstream with brands leveraging the tactic to build awareness, increase traffic and drive sales. Brands are quickly realizing they need to support their influencer initiatives with paid media. Influencer whitelisting, i.e., requesting advertiser access to influencer accounts, is becoming a core component of a successful paid media strategy.
Most of the articles across the web are geared towards marketers. Because the creator’s perspective is often overlooked, we set out to better understand the perspective of the influencers who underpin this relatively new marketing channel. To do this, Lumanu partnered with Collectively to conduct a survey of 444 influencers and their managers, with audience sizes ranging from ~5K up to 1M. The answers provide some valuable insights about their experiences with having brands whitelist content and how to navigate issues around usage rights.
We found that in most cases, whitelisting is a win-win strategy for both the brand and influencer. Whitelisting allows brands to maximize the effectiveness of creator content by combining the best practices of paid social media with authentic content. Approximately 90% of influencers said whitelisting is mutually beneficial for both themselves and their brand partner, citing a bump in exposure and subsequent follower growth.
However, influencer whitelisting is an evolving tactic and does have its fair share of challenges. For example, 39% of influencers said their content has been used by brand partners in ways that violate usage terms. This isn’t too surprising, considering the lack of industry rules and enforcements around usage rights.
The following report examines some of our key findings with a focus on three overarching themes:
While the rest of this article gives more context behind the numbers, here are some highlights from the survey results:
Influencer marketing today revolves heavily around brands gifting or paying influencers in exchange for the influencer posting sponsored content on their social channels. Influencer marketing has grown immensely in the last decade, allowing influencers of all sizes to monetize their social following and creativity. This form of collaboration allows companies to reach targeted audiences with more relatable content.
A majority of the survey respondents (over 91%) said they participate in at least one paid collaboration per month on Facebook and/or Instagram, and over 60% participate at least two paid collaborations per month!
The data also indicates that influencers with higher follower counts are more likely to participate in more paid collaborations per month. 81% of respondents with more than 50K followers said they participate in at least two paid collaborations per month. This drops to 50% for influencers with less than 50K followers.
Despite the stigma of being a “pay-to-play” channel, a surprising number of influencers still participate in “gifting” or “in-kind” collaborations. 90% of the survey respondents said they have participated in collaborations involving no cash payments, which is not a bad sign for brands looking to tap into influential voices on a budget.
As more users, publishers, and brands have started using Facebook and Instagram, advertisers have noticed a precipitous drop in the organic reach of influencer content. An influencer with 100K followers seldom generates more than 15,000 actual impressions. As the industry becomes more saturated with bots, engagement pods, and other means of artificially inflating follower counts and engagements, the number of meaningful impressions has dropped even further.
In response, brands have shifted from Influencer 1.0 to Influencer 2.0, which involves whitelisting influencers, i.e., gaining advertiser access to influencer accounts to amplify influencer content through influencer handles. Even Facebook launched the Branded Content Tool to satisfy advertiser desire to get more out of their influencer relationships. 76% of influencers surveyed acknowledged that brands have asked them for some form of whitelisting, boosting, or amplifying rights.
Influencer whitelisting can help brands tap into new audiences to turn influencers into a scalable and effective performance media channel. Unlike traditional influencer marketing, influencer whitelisting also allows for better measurement using performance metrics like CPM, CPC, CPA, RoAS, and CAC.
In general, influencers have been receptive to this new shift in the industry. Only 4.5% of surveyed influencers refused brands who requested whitelisting permissions.
Since influencer whitelisting is a relatively new tactic, influencers have approached pricing in a variety of ways:
Typically, smaller influencers are least likely to charge extra for whitelisting as they stand to benefit the most from the increased exposure that whitelisting brings. We recommend advertisers have an upfront conversation about whitelisting and any applicable charges with influencers before asking for access to prevent any surprises.
As whitelisting becomes more prevalent, do not be surprised if even the smallest influencers start charging some type of fee for such a valuable “offering.”
For influencers, allowing brands to use their content in a myriad of ways, including whitelisting, can be painful and fraught with complications. Many influencers feel they don’t have consistent terms for their content usage rights. Many influencers are also uninformed on how to proceed when content is used by brands in non-agreed upon ways. This lack of terms leads to confusion on the advertiser’s end as well, leading to slower execution and poorer results.
There are no specific industry standards in place when it comes to content usage rights for influencer marketing. Therefore, it’s not surprising that less than half (43%) of survey respondents have consistent and explicit content usage terms. Usage terms can be further complicated by exclusivity requirements made by the brand or agency.
Some influencers with more explicit usage terms share their thoughts:
“My agent manages content usage and we are generally very open to letting brands boost and use content. That said, exclusivity becomes a sticking point when brands want ongoing content usage rights. For example, if I work with Home Depot now, they cannot use my image indefinitely because it can cause an awkward problem if I work with Lowes in the future...my likeness or work cannot appear in competing ads at the same time. We typically grant 30-day usage and exclusivity with a one-off post, but brands are increasingly wanting MORE time than that. This is where long-term relationships are more beneficial for both creators and brands.”
“I retain all image rights unless previously agreed upon. WITHOUT compensation, brands may use the images on their social media accounts for the purposes of promoting my posts and/or on their feed with clear credit including tagging within the first 3 lines of the comment. If brands want to use the images without credit on social, on their website, or in print, additional fees apply.”
“All the content I create can be re-used ONLY for social media promotions and as amplification of my sponsored blog posts. Any other usage (for marketing of any kind: website, flyers, commercial, etc) has to be honored separately on a licensing basis OR by purchasing the rights to my photos. It all depends on the negotiation done beforehand.”
Because of the complicated process of defining usage rights, there is typically a lengthy negotiation process around pricing and exact usage terms for each influencer activation. This process can be especially painful when working with a large number of influencers.
It’s important to clearly define what usage rights a brand has under the influencer partnership agreement. But it can still be difficult for influencers to control how brands are using their likeness and content even with terms in place. It can also be confusing for brands to understand and abide by the limitations of their usage rights. A significant number of respondents reported seeing their content being used by brand partners in ways that violate usage terms.
Influencers are taking action when usage terms are violated. 90% said that they responded in some manner when they found out a brand partner was running ads with their content without their permission or outside the usage terms of their agreement. Others said they contacted the brand directly or worked with a lawyer or legal team to ask the brand to remove the content or request additional compensation.
“I asked them to take it down BUT we managed to come to an agreement and the brand bought usage rights to the photo, including back pay.”
"I would reach out to resolve the issue amicably, reminding them of the contract and licensing terms. If the usage continued, the matter would be referred to my contract and copyright attorney.”
There appears to be a growing need to help address managing content ownership, licensing, rights, and distribution for the creator economy. The absence of defined rules leads to vague contract language which can be difficult for both brands and creators to fully understand the restrictions.
So, what benefits do influencers themselves feel whitelisting, boosting and amplifying content provides them as creators? The experience is overall positive for most influencers, but there is some mistrust of brands from some influencers, especially those who represent themselves.
Approximately 90% of survey respondents felt that whitelisting content is mutually beneficial for themselves and their brand partners, stating increased exposure, more brand awareness, and the possibility for deeper or more brand collaborations down the road as the main benefits.
“It creates momentum, mostly when it’s a part of a larger campaign including a few influencers boosting at the same time and the company is running ads simultaneously. It’s great for both the brand and the influencer.”
"They’re paying for advertising for me, which nets me better engagement, higher reach, and better analytics overall. Seems like a win/win to me!”
“It’s mutually beneficial in my opinion. I receive extra attention and the brand is promoting the content they paid for. I do however require to approve any changes.”
Those who are not in favor or are still on the fence about whitelisting cited concerns with engagement or simply not seeing any tangible benefits of whitelisting.
“Reach, impressions and likes per post. However, we also see a decrease in reach, impressions and likes per post on all other ORGANIC posts whenever sponsored content posts are boosted/amplified by a brand. It’s a 50/50 draw for us on whether or not the benefits of whitelisting outweigh the negatives. Compensation for boosting vs. decreased reach and engagement across the rest of our content.”
“It negatively affects my engagement, and depending on how much spend is put behind it, it doesn’t get seen enough. I charge for it to offset the potential harm.”
“Short term boosting brings more people to your page, but long term Instagram pull back the reach on your posts in order to keep you boosting. After coming to the conclusion, I no longer agree to boosted posts.”
Influencer marketing has exploded and influencer whitelisting, in turn, is becoming the next mainstream media channel. While the industry around digital creators has blossomed over the past few years, our survey data highlights a growing need to improve how content rights are established and adhered to in the new media world of digital content creators.