Influencer. {Noun}: A word that once carried substantial cachet in social media marketing circles, but is now only muttered under the darkest circumstances and forever tainted by the prospect of shelling out copious quantities of cash for the most meagre of returns.

You know them well. You see them sharing their weekly “OMG thank you!” posts, humbly bragging about the R5000 worth of cosmetics that they just scored for free. You look at their timelines wondering why they’re off to Italy again, and more importantly, who is footing the bill.

So you gaze down at your own meagre Instagram following and wonder why you didn’t pay it more attention. Sure, your brand accounts are sitting comfortably in the thousands, but you? You’ve just got your mom and your aunt Kathy (bless her and her unwavering likes).

Then you think, why not gift them a pair of your latest sneakers in exchange for a post. Surely that’s all there is to it, right? But alas, they want money too. What? Who do they think they are? And more importantly, how do we get in on this action?

But before we decide to boycott all influencers, sadly we must realise that their participation in brand campaigns could be of valuable use. And as charming as these personalities may be, we can’t overlook the fact that these social media aficionados (oh how it hurts to say it) really do have a knack for grasping the attention of those who are far too eagerly scrolling through their Insta feeds.

It’s the new generation of word-of-mouth, and if you’re looking to boost your bottom line without coming across as a sales-pushing lunatic, you may want to suck it up for the greater good.

But before you go in eyes wide shut, take a look at our top tips to avoid making some rather embarrassing mistakes. Here they are:

  1. Set goals

Often, marketing managers are too busy bending to the unbearable will of these diva-like influencers that simply getting them to cooperate at all seems to be the big win. But no, just as you would do when setting up any other campaign, you need to establish a list of clear KPIs to determine its success. @hotgirl100 simply mentioning your brand on her timeline doesn’t cut it – we’re after mentions, shares, engagement, growth within your own community and, well, ROI.

  1. Do your research

Before embarking on a grand campaign, be sure to research your influencer. They may dazzle you with their 100K+ following, but if they tend to go rogue and misbehave in public, it may be something you’d like to know before decking them out in your latest kit. Remember that your brand will be associated with this influencer during and beyond your campaign, so choose one who genuinely shares your brand values and you’re good to go.

  1. Know their audience

Their large follower numbers may be impressive, but if those followers have no interest in your brand or product, you’re simply wasting your time. Different influencers attract different people, so make sure that yours draws in a crowd that falls within your target market.

  1. Look beyond the followers figure

Sure, the number of followers an influencer has can give you a good idea of their position, but keep in mind that there are many dodgy ways to build a large and meaningless empire on social media these days. You are well within your rights to request a few stats on engagement rates and shares to assess the activity of both the influencer and their community.

  1. Establish exclusivity

Whether you’re looking to form a long-term relationship or just partnering up for a campaign, it’s important to set up some ground rules, and establishing exclusivity is a great place to start. This should restrict your influencer from showcasing your competitor brands’ products for a defined period. Because, pick a team dammit. On the bright side, this type of agreement is mutually beneficial, because it prevents them from endorsing your competitors and revealing to their audience that they’re too easily swayed by money and freebies.