An Interview With Erica Ehm: Creating Branded Content With Influencers

Last week, Erica Ehm, founder of, joined the Felicity team for a breakfast learning session to share her insights on the “10 Inconvenient Truths About Creating Branded Content With Influencers.” After her presentation, we sat down with her to chat more about how brands, agencies, influencers, and ambassadors can work together effectively to create the greatest value for each of their target audiences.


How have you seen influencer-brand relationships shift since you started (YMC)?

Some brands and agencies understand how to work with influencers, but the majority still don’t. At the same time, I’m seeing a growing number of people in the influencer space putting their hands out without a lot of skill. The challenge right now is for brands and marketers to put in the time to find influencers who are indeed influential. An influencer of this calibre understands the strategy, work, and integrity involved in doing their job well. They also need to have a strong relationship with their audience and ultimately be capable of—as well as passionate about—delivering outstanding results.

You’ve described the relationship between brands and influencers as a partnership, with which I wholeheartedly agree. Can you elaborate on how that partnership can get off on the right foot and evolve over time?

It’s a working partnership. Every relationship with a brand ambassador or influencer needs to start with a clear agreement that outlines how the partnership will work, with expectations from the brand or client as well as limitations provided by the influencer. Everyone needs to understand that the agendas on each side will be different, but can also be mutually beneficial. The agenda for an influencer should be first and foremost to create compelling, relevant, and useful content for their audience. Secondarily, they must focus on making sure that the brand’s needs are met.

The brand’s objective is, of course, to generate sales or some other sort of action—they are hoping that whatever action they’ve specified as an objective for the influencer will be met through the branded content. It’s undeniable that a tension exists between the objectives of the influencer and those of the brand marketer.

The influencers and agencies that understand these opposing objectives and how they can work together are typically the most effective. The brand will get what they want out of the partnership, but must recognize that sometimes you have to be able to satisfy all objectives without compromising the integrity of the relationship both parties have with their target audiences.

I recently read an article that looked at paying vs. not paying influencers. The author, Olivier Blanchard, did a fantastic job articulating the fact that when you compensate a blogger or influencer, it’s not a matter of paying for their opinion, but rather paying for their time and effort. What are your thoughts on this?

You’re not just paying for someone’s time, you’re paying for the years they’ve spent investing in their personal brand. You’re paying for their expertise, talent, and skills. Their integrity. Their life’s work. We must remember that blogging is personal. Bloggers write about their lives and they often expose themselves. They also take the time to go to events, to travel, and/or test products.  But it’s not just about the action that’s required—it’s also writing the post as a skilled artist. After writing, there’s also a lot of time invested in the amplification of the post.

Can you walk us through YMC’s process of developing an effective content strategy for brands and influencers?

When a brand or an agency comes to us, they’re asking us to solve a problem or help them achieve a specific goal. Once we understand what the “problem” or goal is, we then develop an entire program using the YMC website along with the hundreds of influencers we have coast to coast. From there, we also leverage all of the other YMC properties such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and our newsletter. On top of that, there are all our contributors who work as amplifiers as well. Not everyone shares everything, but they’re informed about it, and have the opportunity to share what they want to and what they believe in.

Basically, we have the discussion, develop a strategy and build the actual content, then we ask, “How do we amplify this so that people will actually see it, read it, hear it, share it, talk about it, and engage with it?”

What are some of the most common challenges you’ve seen arise between influencers and brands?

The challenge for successful influencers is in determining the number of brands they can work with without looking like they’re “selling out.” That is a huge problem many face. At some point the influencer’s editorial will start to weigh heavily on the side of branded or sponsored content, and as a result their personal voice will start to take a back seat. When the pendulum starts to swing toward being so significantly sponsored, their audience may begin to question the influencer’s integrity. It’s a challenge—how do you create enough non-sponsored content (which takes time and doesn’t actually pay the bills) and find the balance with sponsored articles and partnerships?

Which brings me to another matter of huge importance—disclosure. This is key. If you disclose [that your post has been sponsored or paid for by a brand], people will respect that and then make the choice as to whether they will believe what they’re reading or not. But if you haven’t been transparent and then people find out you’ve been compensated for your work, it suddenly puts everything you’ve ever written into question. Essentially you’re lying by omission. It also makes the brand look extremely bad and communicates an underlying message that I’m embarrassed to be working with this brand but I’m okay taking their money.

The key is to find influencers who will push back on every piece of content they create, and put their audience’s best interests above those of the brand or agency. They must protect their reputation, because all an influencer has is their reputation. As soon as you demolish that, nothing else matters.

Posted on: February 11th, 2015 by

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