Sally Krueger, Chief PR Strategist, Rooster Strategic Solutions

Every year, media companies survey farmers to ask what influences their purchase decisions. And every year, the same source rises to the top: Other farmers. While these discussions between farmers once took place in rural coffee shops, today farmers are able to follow, talk to, and learn from fellow farmers around the country.

This is the reason why social influencer programs are becoming more common in agricultural marketing – farmers around the world are now able to reach each other online in nearly real time. By leveraging a network of credible and accessible farmers who are willing to endorse your brand on their social channels, you can broaden your reach and appeal to prospects via a source that farmers inherently trust more than any other form of marketing.

But while it’s easy to become enamored with the idea of farmer-influencers endorsing your brand to their rapidly growing follower base, the devil, as always, is in the details when it comes to leveraging influencers as part of your marketing strategy. With whom should you choose to partner? How much should you compensate them? What metric will you track to know if your program is successful? Here are a few hard-learned lessons to help you launch or perfect a social influencer program.

Set very specific goals for influencer marketing campaigns. Successful farmer-influencer programs require strategic planning, just like any other marketing activity. Are you hoping to build brand awareness? Strengthen your company’s image? Increase consideration of your product or service? Drive growth of your brand’s social channels and improve engagement? Increase a specific conversion? Acquire new customers? Influencer marketing can help you achieve any or all of these goals. Knowing what you want to accomplish is critical.

In the end, it should always be about marketing ROI. In the same way you decide whether or not to participate in a more traditional media sponsorship, or select other media types for your mix, you must decide what you hope to gain by using influencers and what you’ll measure to know that the program is effective.

Whom should you choose to serve as influencers? This is obviously important because the influencers with whom you partner will serve as highly visible ambassadors and effectively serve as spokespeople for your brand. Here are a few guidelines you can use as you evaluate influencers:

  • Authenticity is everything. Do you trust this person with your brand’s story? Are they believable and relatable when talking about your brand – or any other brand for that matter? Are they endorsing a large number of brands, which can appear to followers as though they’ll endorse just about anything? Do their followers believe, trust, and respond or act upon their endorsements?
  • Good customers don’t necessarily make good influencers (or spokespeople). A common mistake is to evaluate influencers with the same criteria you’d use to choose customers for a testimonial campaign. You don’t necessarily need an influencer to be someone who has used your products or services extensively, or who can speak to every feature or benefit of a product. Although, their familiarity with your offerings can make a big difference for content creation, because personal use cases make for great content. What’s more important is that the influencer is open and coachable to your messaging, creative and collaborative with your team, and that they are credible and relatable when they’re sharing your messages on their channels.
  • Size doesn’t necessarily matter. You don’t need a rock star or reality star to front your brand. Agriculture is a very relational, very personal industry. For example, some of the most influential voices in our industry might actually be considered “nano-influencers,” meaning they have fewer than 1,000 followers on any one social channel, but they are nonetheless highly influential online (and offline) in their community.
  • Do your due diligence. This means doing a deep dive into prospective influencers’ past content and posts, as well as the comments they receive and make, on every social channel in which they participate. Again, this influencer will be a representative of your brand. Are they reactive to comments? Are they particularly negative or sarcastic toward commentors, or are they cultivating an engaged, positive community of followers?

How to put a farmer-influencer contract together. Most of us are familiar with more traditional media sponsorships. You get your logo here, your signage or a speaking opportunity for your spokesperson there, your booth can be this large, etc. For all this, you pay a package price based typically on what the offering entity has determined is the value of the package. There can be opportunities to negotiate the offering, but the price point is typically well established, as are the deliverables. An influencer relationship, however, is a little different. Many marketers don’t know how much to pay for what they think they’ll get from influencer marketing; many influencers have only a slightly better idea on what compensation they would or should accept for what you’re asking them to deliver.

Attaching a price tag or compensation to these deliverables can be tricky, particularly if you’re new to farmer-influencer marketing. It’s not uncommon to compensate influencers with free or discounted products or services, but it also may not best serve the relationship. Likewise, it’s become commonplace to incentivize influencers for the output and impact their content generates, and to incentivize the influencer’s followers to act or engage with a coupon, deal or offer made available through the influencer. At the end of the day, influencer marketing is about creating online social influence and “social proof” through endorsed content, and marketers should think about influencer contracts as an opportunity to clearly define the expectations for the relationship under which you’ll collaborate to produce content.

Understand – and follow – legal requirements. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) works to promote competition, and to protect and educate consumers from unfair, misleading, or deceptive advertising in any medium, including endorsed content and influencer marketing. That’s why the FTC requires that influencers, or “endorsers,” make it obvious in their posts and content when they have a “material connection” to a brand or business.

A “material connection” might include a personal, family, or employment relationship, or a financial relationship, such as a brand paying someone of giving free or discounted products or services to endorse them. The FTC mandates that it is the influencer’s responsibility to make disclosures to their followers around these relationships, and to comply with laws against deceptive advertising. As advertisers and marketers, we owe it to our partner influencers to support them in making honest and truthful recommendations of our brands and prioritizing best practices for disclosures per FTC guidelines. That’s why we recommend mandatory onboarding at the outset of any influencer relationship, both for the influencer to get to know your brand -– to review and coach your key messages, tone and style – as well as set clear expectations around the working relationship and expected results. Make sure your legal department is also involved in the creation of the contract or agreement, and that you’re thoroughly immersed in the latest FTC guidelines.

Influencer marketing can be a very powerful addition to your marketing arsenal. But if you have questions, need a hand putting the program together, or simply aren’t sure where to start, let’s talk about your goals and how influencers might help you reach them.