ImageLike a new bride, influencer marketing is suddenly getting fresh attention from brands, agencies and service providers alike. But talk to practitioners and they will tell you that building successful programs takes a highly concerted effort—not unlike that required for a fruitful marriage. Here are 7 vows to consider before making the plunge into influencer marketing.

1. One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Influencer programs come in all shapes and sizes. Small efforts to simply surprise and delight customers with free stuff can work wonders and build buzz. Advocacy programs can start as unpublished loyalty programs and evolve over time. And third-party influencer programs, including using “pay-to-play” bloggers, can help provide desired scale. Regardless, let strategy drive your tactics and not the other way around.

2. Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Most pros agree that it is a mistake to rely only on industry scorecards like Klout or Kred when choosing your influencers. These tools tend to overemphasize reach and don’t take into account the intangibles that often relate to genuine influence. While reach is a starting point, relevance to the topic and relationship with the brand are two other important criteria. Someone who has only 100 followers on Twitter but carries influence in a particular community could be the person who propels your story to worldwide coverage.

3. Get Engaged Yourself

It doesn’t seem coincidental that many influencer marketers are also very active social networkers themselves, but getting engaged is more than just practicing what you preach. Kelly Tirman, Social Strategist at Wells Fargo and also a well-respected mom blogger, explains, “As I blogged, I formed friendships and it was actually those relationships that taught me what I needed to know [for my day job].”

4. You Can’t Hurry Love

A common theme among influencer marketers and those they seek to influence is that relationship building takes time. Tami Cannizzaro, IBM Global Director, Social Business, for example, built up relationships with 25 bloggers over the course of two years. Cannizzaro advises, “These programs need to be nurtured by someone who will invest the necessary time—it’s not a one-shot event.”

5. It Really Does Take a Village

Cannizzaro’s program for IBM also created the opportunity for likeminded bloggers to get to know each other and continue the conversation in a closed group on Facebook. This “community” of IBM-friendly voices has become a force unto itself, amplifying each other’s work and helping to generate nearly 300 million impressions and counting, including this newsletter!

6. You Get What You Give

Tirman notes that the advantages of a give-and-take relationship with influencers goes well beyond the parameters of a given program. “As I participate and collaborate with other bloggers, my mind is able to use those experiences as a jumping off point for new ones,” she explains, adding, “Technology changes fast; it is the power of your tribe that keeps you all ahead of the curve.”

7. Have Faith (and Don’t Overpromise)

While the potential of influencer marketing is always boundless at the start, the reality is not quite as a predictable. So, when embarking on such programs, do your homework and establish objectives, recognizing that the ROI may not be of the CEO-preferred linear variety. Warns Cannizzaro, “The hard part is that you have to depend on good faith that the investment will yield.” 

Final Note

You can find my complete interview with Cannizaro here on SocialMediaToday and a similarly informative Q+A with Kelly Tirman on TheDrewBlog.com.