Apparel and accessories retailer Jane relies on hundreds of influential online enthusiasts to get out the word about its daily deals. Here is what vice president of marketing Meagen Johnson has learned about best practices in working with influencers.

Meagen Johnson, vice president of Marketing, Jane

Meagen Johnson, vice president of marketing, Jane

It should come as no surprise that the Federal Trade Commission continues to push on the validity of influencer marketing—it has become a channel that’s unfortunately rife with fraud. The lucrative impact influencer marketing can make on a brand can be significant, especially when everyone’s struggling to be found and stand out in the current “retail apocalypse” we continue to find ourselves in (year after year).

It just takes one misstep, one program where rules aren’t adhered to, and your entire program—and brand reputation—could suffer. The FTC continues to cite Lord & Taylor and Ann Taylor as examples for being too lax with their programs as paid influencers for both brands failed to disclose posts as part of a paid advertising campaign.

While we prefer to see a 2.5% engagement rate, we also expect comments to be authentic (not from bots) and relevant to the creator's content.

At the same time, over the years, influencer marketing has become an equally powerful strategy as the online equivalent of grassroots campaigns. Here at Jane, we wouldn’t have rallied our passionate community without finding the right creators and partners to help us tell our story. What started as a small initiative we handled ourselves has evolved into a full-fledged program with hundreds of active influencers promoting our brand across multiple platforms.

Here are some of the best practices we have honed over the years.

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Invest in Technology Early On

One of the best practices I wish we’d figured out earlier is why it’s critical to automate the process. We started out by sending gift cards to Target and other retailers as a form of payment in exchange for product reviews and promotion on blogs. And it wasn’t until the latter half of last year that we stopped an extremely manual vetting process and finally engaged an influencer marketing platform to help us weed through our collaboration inquiries and find the right brand champions.

Solutions like AspireIQ, IZEA, Upfluence, and others do the vetting for you, which allows you to focus on the more strategic aspect of influencer marketing: telling a creative story that brings new audiences into your journey. It’s always risky associating your brand with an independent third party, but the more careful and methodical you are in vetting, the more likely you are to successfully execute an influencer campaign for your brand and find partners who are willing to adhere to rules and regulations.

Establish and Adhere To Your Guidelines

We have only ever accepted partnerships with content creators who match our customer demographic, have true authentic engagement, and whose audience aligns with ours. Because we spent a number of years diving into influencers’ accounts to cross-reference followers, comments, we now can quickly determine if we want to move forward with a partnership based on an influencer’s social accounts. That alone often isn’t enough to guarantee success, so figure out what additional information you need to know and build a set of guidelines.

Setting your own standards adds another layer of assurance, and engagement is one of the most important metrics you should pay attention to. While we prefer to see a 2.5% engagement rate, we also expect comments to be authentic (not from bots) and relevant to the creator’s content, and we choose not to work with influencers whose comments run “spammy” or participate in “comment pods”.

While those numbers and stats are the first step to influencer vetting at Jane, quality of content is equally as important. We also vet based on geography (an audience located primarily within the U.S.), demographic, and a low ratio of fake or inauthentic followers. Establish the norms that work best for your brand, and your program, especially if you’re routinely engaging a high volume of collaborators.

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Don’t Forget the Relationship Is a Partnership

We have a number of influencers who want to work with us, and we’d love to turn everyone into a Jane advocate! However, you have to be diligent about making sure the influencers you hand your brand over to are actually a good fit for your brand.

Creators’ content should match the products or services you are trying to sell and their voice and style should be representative of what you want your brand to portray. We’ve adopted a 3:1 ratio as a standard content evaluation, meaning we look for influencers who post and create more organic content than sponsored content. It doesn’t benefit Jane if our stories get buried in the mix.

Making sure the content matches your own brand aesthetic is equally important when it comes to being able to repurpose influencer assets across your additional marketing channels. The partnership has to benefit both parties—influencers don’t gain followers or build their own brand with inauthentic content, and neither will you.

Launched in 2011, online retailer Jane offers daily deals in such product categories as women’s fashion, accessories, home, pet, and baby/kids.

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