The Drum recently published this article by our Senior Strategist, Cristina Sarraille, looking at Unilever’s recent move to crack down on influencer fraud and how forging long-term relationships with influencers could be the answer brands are looking for. They've been kind enough to let us reproduce it below.

Unilever’s move to crack down on influencer fraud can only be welcomed. From last month, the company has pledged that it won’t work with influencers who buy followers – nor will it buy followers for any of its own brands, and it will prioritise working with partners who work against bad practices and increase transparency. As an industry, however, we should already have embedded in our everyday work this kind of thinking.

Tackling fraud and lack of transparency ensures brands nurture authentic and mutually beneficial relationships with relevant influencers and their audiences.

Cleaning up the influencer ecosystem is quite a challenge, and one that shouldn’t only be the responsibility of brands or agencies. Platforms need to up their efforts to tackle these issues - from ‘click farms' to fake followers on Twitter and Instagram. Only then can we say we’re on the right path. When companies are freely selling hundreds of thousands of followers to celebrities, politicians and sports personalities; it can leave you wondering what brands and agencies can really do - beyond what platforms are currently doing - to tackle this new type of fraud.

One key recommendation we always offer to brands we work with is to look beyond just follower numbers and likes as metrics for measuring an influencer programme’s success. Platforms such as Instagram have recently introduced ‘shoppable’ posts and Stories, so elements such as conversations and link clicks are another level of valid success metrics which can be added to the mix.

Plenty of platforms such as Traackr, Dyzio, and Deep Social can also bring a wealth of influencer insights for agencies to make an informed decision for brands. It’s essential to have more rounded measurement frameworks, in order to provide us with the initial data needed to drive more robust inclusion criteria for brands when choosing influencers. However, establishing long term relationships is as equally important.

That said, it’s not only the data that matters but also the quality of the content, the personality match, the audience we want to reach and the human relationship we craft with those influencers.

We Are Social Sport’s Adidas Football Tango Squad programme tapped into micro-influencers from a hyper-engaged and dedicated sports audience; its success lies in the relationship we crafted with the young footballers and the value exchange between them and the brand over the past few years. The opportunity this created was, Tango Squad FC; an elite crop of the top 16 micro-influencers touring Europe in search of footballing greatness, helped by the likes of Xabi Alonso, Pogba and James Rodriguez.

The show went where Adidas had never been before. The journey of the ‘Social Football Team’ was delivered via a long-form fly-on-the-wall documentary series on YouTube that's had over 20 million views, smashing engagement metrics for the category at every turn.

The word influencer has started to gain a bad rep, but it’s up to us, the agencies, to help our clients navigate this ever changing ecosystem and help them make the right empirical choices for their brand. We push for establishing longer-term relationships between brands and influencers: as it’s beneficial for everyone.

The influencer’s audience sees the partnership as genuine and more exciting, and can build that trust so crucial for success (from transparency to impact to creative freedom). We often see influencers jumping from one brand to another in search of short-term (financial) gains. However this ultimately undermines their audience’s trust and can devalue your brand's efforts.