As the hype around influencer marketing has spread across industries, it is not only brands who have developed rose colored glasses of excitement around this tactic. Aspiring and established influencers alike have been drawn to the allure of free swag, special access, and payment for creating content. While there is nothing wrong with being excited by the thought of working with major brands, it is important to acknowledge that being an influencer involves much more than posting a blog or picture with a branded hashtag. To be successful, content creators need to have realistic expectations about what goes into being an influencer. These are some commonly heard misconceptions about the world behind the free swag.

All I Need Is A Lot of Followers

A quick glance at the profiles of influencers working with brands may inspire the belief that to get in the game, the key is to provide a large reach. Alas, it is not that simple. Influencers are valued for not only their reach, but the impact that they have on their audience and the communities they are involved in. To be influential, you must have a unique viewpoint or value add for a community or topic that keeps followers coming back. You may have 100,000 followers on Twitter, but if no one is listening to what you are saying, that reach does little good. Brands are looking to reach a specific audience through influencers, your content needs to not only make it in front of that audience but have an impact on them as well. A blogger speaking to 50,000 engaged consumers is often more valuable to a brand than one with 150,000 followers who are only half listening.

It’s Easy

One of the largest misconceptions about becoming an influencer is that it is easy. Many influencers spent years curating their personal brand, developing relationships, and refining their content to deliver value to their audience. The most effective influencers did not start out looking to become an influencer for a brand; they started talking about something they loved and became a resource for people looking at the same topic. Building influence takes time, unless you become a viral hit, in which case the staying power of your influence is questionable. Brands will not be knocking on your door the day after you start your blog, channel, etc. Further, the effort required to continually create content for channels should not be underestimated. Quality content will drive return visits. If that quality falls or content becomes sparse, audiences will turn their attention to sources that provide them with greater value. Content creators often spend the equivalent of a part time or even full time job on building their brand and developing posts.

I Can Post Whatever I Want As Long As The Brand Is In It

Continuing with the emphasis on creating quality content, it is important to note that partnering with a brand often comes with strings. While many brands will give influencers a fair amount of creative freedom to create content that is consistent with their regular content, most will have requirements for how a brand is included in a post, the type of language used, and what platforms the content is distributed on. When partnering with an influencer, brands are hoping to reach their audience in a genuine way, but they also are concerned with maintaining their brand image and integrity. Influencers are generally selected on the basis of who their audience is and whether their typical content aligns with a brand image. Brands need content to align with their goals and campaign objectives. This will often help shape the content creation process. A common nightmare among brand managers using influencer marketing is activating with an influencer only to have the influencer post something that reflects poorly on the brand or misses the mark with their audience . If you are working with a brand, expect a contract with plenty of stipulations about how the content is to be developed and shared.

It’s All About The Free Stuff

At the end of the day, influencer marketing is about relationships, the relationship between influencers and their audience, between influencer and brand, and ideally between the brand and the influencer’s audience. It is no secret that it is a business tactic and influencers enjoy the perks of the reach they have built. However, when done correctly, influencer marketing should drive value for all parties involved, including the audience. The influencers and brands that are effective understand this and make value creation for the audience a first priority.