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eCommerce Advice: Influencers who have partnerships with your competitors?

eCommerce Advice: Influencers who have partnerships with your competitors?

Question: How can you work with influencers who have partnerships with your competitors?

The original LinkedIn Post can be seen by clicking here

Answer below:

This largely depends on the nature of that influencer's engagement with your competitor.

When it's safe: If that influencer has only received some seeded products ("gifted" or "promo" products in influencer-speak), then it should be relatively safe to engage with them. This is especially true if that influencer has a solid professional reputation and is known for taking deals from multiple competitors within the same niche. 

  • The risk in this scenario isn't reputational. The biggest risk is the commoditization of your product. In other words, what you're selling will look a lot less special if it's just one of myriad similar products that specific influencer endorses on social media. In certain niches, though, doing this is necessary to be seen as a contender for customer wallet share. 

When it isn't safe: You should avoid working with influencers that are in ongoing present-tense business arrangements with your competitors. This is relatively easy to spot because these influencers typically review the same brands or stores over and over again. Engaging with these influencers rapidly commoditizes your messaging and can potentially diminish the perception of your brand/products for reasons I'll describe below.

  • The biggest risk is that these influencers may be under contract - or worse - they may be engaged in an informal business arrangement with your competitor that could potentially open up liability. Proceed with extreme caution.
  • Reputational risk is also significant in these instances. 

Some other things to consider:

  1. If that influencer has a history of long-term strategic engagements with a larger competitor it could result in legal action and/or drama if you try to work with them.
  2. Influencers can be easily weaponized against smaller businesses. Anything you say to an influencer working with your competition could very well be used against you in a campaign for that competitor. Regardless of what they say to you or their audiences, the brand that pays the most usually wins in these arrangements when they go sour.
  3. These situations have immense potential for nasty conflicts of interest that you may not know about in advance, particularly if the influencer refuses to disclose these conflicts prior to accepting payment (whether that's a freebie or actual cash). 
  4. Influencers will push boundaries to see what they can get away with; this is because influencers need to build curated authenticity with their audiences and the best place to do so is outside the range of typical advertising copy reads. You have to trust them to be good stewards of your brand. How can they do that effectively if your competitors pay their bills? 
  5. If these influencers don't care about your brand or products -- and have bigger sponsors in the same product category -- what is to prevent them from trashing your reputation for attention and praise? Essentially nothing. You have to take it on faith that the influencer is professional enough to avoid the temptation of attracting quick, easy views and kudos by making their largest benefactors happy via the neutralization of a smaller competitor. 
  6. Working with an influencer makes you vulnerable in exchange for exposure. Anytime you engage with an influencer of any kind you are essentially endorsing that influencer as a messenger for your brand. This requires you to give up some control over your own brand narrative in exchange for visibility. Knowing that you have to be slightly vulnerable to work with influencers in the first place, wouldn't you rather partner with one that isn't beholden to your direct competitors? 

This blog post is an excerpt from a LinkedIn knowledge base contribution from Heather Hershey, founder of and Research Director of Worldwide Digital Commerce at IDC. Ms. Hershey has professional experience in business analytics, global supply chain logistics, international manufacturing and product sourcing, PPC performance analytics, growth marketing, and digital content marketing. Prior to her work with IDC, Ms. Hershey also served as the primary content and SEO strategist for the ongoing redesign of on behalf of the GSA.

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