Looking back on a year in influencer marketing, 2018 will forever be remembered as a year of shady behaviour, in which the ASA cautioned hundreds of influencers for failing to correctly signpost sponsored content.

In 2019, the landscape is changing. If brands and agencies want to adhere to stricter regulations and improve the overall influencer space, they need to strategically rethink their approach to influencer marketing.

It’s important now for brands to think carefully about who they want to work with and how they engage with their audience. But, it’s not always easy – a study by TapInfluence and Altimeter revealed that two-thirds of marketers struggle to find the right influencer. All too often, brands fall into the trap of throwing money at one-off influencer collaborations rather than investing in long-term relationships and a well thought-out strategy. We need only look at Fyre Festival to be reminded of what happens when influencer marketing is harnessed and solely relied upon without a solid plan of action to back it up.

So, it makes sense that brands are increasingly looking to build strategic partnerships alongside one-off interactions, keeping sight of long-term goals as well as immediate gains.

When developing an influencer strategy, it is important for brands to keep in mind why they want to work with influencers – if they’re looking for traditional reach, influencers may not be the best investment. It has long been proven that social media ads are a more effective means of generating reach, as promoted ads will inevitably be seen by a greater number of people. If brands instead choose to align themselves with someone who speaks to their target audience, the end result is unique social proof that only an influencer can offer. This social proof is key for determining which influencers will work on a long-term basis.

When focusing on long-lasting relationships, the key component is risk. For brands, the level of risk is lessened when influencers align with their company values through a mutual admiration for what each represents to an audience. When this is achieved, brands will have greater confidence in a certain standard of content being delivered by influencers, who in-turn have greater freedom to channel authentic creativity into the content, whilst still aligning with the brand they are creating for. Once it has been determined that an influencer has the potential for ongoing partnerships, it is important to maintain a strong relationship between the brand and the influencer.

ASOS, with their Instagram collective, ASOS Insiders, has mastered the art of long-term influencer relationships. This collective of fashion-forward individuals has amassed a cult following from their 'style inspiration' content, which is created exclusively with products found on the ASOS website. The content itself shortens the path to purchase for its audience by including an ASOS code, allowing followers to shop the look without relying on the obviously branded Instagram shopping option. While each post is sponsored by ASOS, the style is true to the featured influencer, and this allowance of creative freedom leads to a more authentic experience for their followers.

There are twenty-five unique Insiders: men and women, spanning 3 different continents, with a collective following of over one million. Together, they’ve generated almost eighteen million engagements for ASOS. It’s the multi-dimensional nature of this core that allows ASOS to speak to such a wide range of people – establishing these social ambassadors allows the brand more opportunity for repeated exposure without putting all of its eggs in one basket.

So, if we suppose that long-term partnerships allow more opportunity for brands to stay front of mind with a wide range of people, we can expect to track ongoing ROI as well as measuring immediate gains such as engagement and sales. Ongoing collaborations also give brands the opportunity to bring influencers up to speed with long-term brand KPIs and objectives, which gives context to creative briefs and ensures that they are communicated more effectively. Ultimately, it all comes down to lessening the risk taken by the brand – having an awareness of what would benefit the brand gives the influencer more confidence in suggesting the right kind of creative concepts and ideas.

If brands want to get ahead and stay ahead in the ever-changing world of influencer marketing, they should focus on the benefits of long-term partnerships rather than the ease of one-off wins. Brands need to think carefully about who they want to work with and what they want to achieve through the partnership, but, more importantly, they should take the time to nurture and maintain a genuine relationship with influencers. The ultimate goal: to make the influencer's experience with the brand so positive that they’ll want to keep talking about it, long after the partnership has ended.