CJ Johnson is an award-winning photographer and content creator, a GQ Insider and Google Next-Gen Policy Leader, and a well-known “brand guru.” We wanted to learn more about his process and asked for his perspective on the state of influencer marketing.
KG: How do you as a social influencer create partnerships, and what is your criteria before aligning yourself to an opportunity?
Typically, I say yes to partnerships or sponsored opportunities with brands if it’s an industry I’m knowledgeable about and interested in already. That’s important. Then, I want to be sure the ROI makes sense and is beneficial to me and my time. More and more, I’m starting to explore social causes, too. Creating these partnerships varies – some come organically my way, others I reach out to. If my goals are aligned with those of the brand or cause, then it’s off to the races.
KG: Recently there have been headlines about consumers feeling “influencer fatigue,” as they voice feelings about inauthentic content. How should you and other social media influencers respond to this sentiment?
CJ: Influencers who are frustrated or misunderstood by this discussion are feeling a bit judged. There is always room for improvement – everyone can agree on that. The “fatigue” mentioned is stemming from every influencer trying to compete with one another, and the inauthenticity is felt because of a lack of imagination as people copy each other. To help the state of influencer marketing, people need to be more educated about this industry and there also needs to be a culture that fosters more creativity.
Additionally, a more standard pay structure would help influencers understand their market value and how to better negotiate their pay. Right now, influencers – and the brands they collaborate with – are in the dark with what the market asks for. It’s a bit all over the place. Someone with 100k followers on Instagram can demand $1,500 per post while someone else can ask for $500, and both parties don’t even know the real value of either ask.
KG: You say there needs to be more education on the industry. In what ways do you see that playing out?
CJ: For content creators and influencers, there needs to be a clear understanding of professional etiquette, the deliverables they’ll create for companies they collaborate with, and their overall value as a business. On the other side of this, companies need to understand what really incentivizes these content creators and influencers. It’s not just about free stuff or monetary value. Content creators and influencers honestly care about their messaging and the impact they’ll make on their community. With every collaboration there is a lot more risk involved than you’d think.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to learn on both sides of the aisle. We’ll see more workshops, webinars and events that will center around these topics in the future, for sure.
KG: Do you think the influencer space is becoming too cluttered? Is there still room for individuals to make their mark and curate authentic community online?
CJ: For every article that talks about the pitfalls of influencer marketing, I see another that talks about how fast it’s growing into a lucrative sector. Two things stick out to me. First, the critiques often come from someone who is attempting to be an influencer, someone who is frustrated with not being recognized, even possibly experiencing a bit of “FOMO” (fear of missing out). The second thing is a difference in audience perception due to the influencer strategy – one sees content from influencers as annoying advertisements, and the other has no idea they’re looking at an ad in the first place. In any case, I think transparency and authenticity is key to growth and success in influencer marketing.
Even if it’s cluttered, it’s a growing industry. Influencer marketing used to be a thing only a few people were doing online, and now there’s an upcoming generation whose sole goal it is to grow up and be an online influencer. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bubble waiting to burst – I think of influencer marketing as evolving just as the acting or entrepreneur industries have done.
KG: What is your advice to companies considering influencer marketing as a part of their strategy?
CJ: First, consider why you need it in the first place, and then what your goals will be. Too many times, I see companies that “heard from a friend” or are following a competitor that is growing quickly because of influencer marketing, so they want in too. But that can lead to unrealistic expectations or experimenting without quite understanding the value of an influencer. So, please recognize the “why” before you begin. Secondly, you need to understand there are several strategies with influencer marketing now, including:
- Getting as many influencers on board as possible
- Recruiting a smaller number of influencers to act as brand ambassadors
- A combination of the above for a specific limited campaign
- One-off influencer-promoted posts
- Repurposed influencer content and posts
When you know which plan fits your goals, set aside the time to do authentic research. Yes, there are automated tools and databases, but it might be smart to also have a team-member (here’s looking at you, interns) do some research on influencers that fit your criteria. After researching, make sure your collaborative efforts bring as much value and long-term relationships as possible. Again, influencer marketing is incredibly impactful and a lot more cost-effective than people give it credit for.