How to Build a Multi-Layered Influencer Strategy with Empathy



“The beauty of working with an influencer is that they are their audience’s friend — and that relationship is special and has a lot of trust.” — Mary Lawless Lee


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Over the last few months, millions of influencers have openly shared their experiences related to COVID-19 — good and bad. Marketers must also take this moment to reflect and find ways to bring empathy as they look to meet each of their partners where they are by asking questions and leverage digital platforms to communicate in more timely and authentic ways. During #SMWONE CreatorIQ’s Director of Partnerships, Jenny Risch was joined by Jennifer Powell, CEO and Founder of JP Inc. and influencer guest, Mary Lawless Lee, to explore this topic in depth and hear their expert insights as to what’s working or not and why.

Here are the primary insights and takeaways:

  • Being creative can be as simple as resetting at the ground level
  • Don’t overlook the power of the gentle touch of outreach
  • Influencers are as cognizant of their voice in the market right now as you are as a brand

Choosing a partner

Different influencers are likely to be impacted by this crisis in different ways — Rish stressed — so take this time to truly get to know the various types of influencers and how their goals may be shifting. For instance, mega and macro-influencers make a majority of their income from being an influencer. With this in mind, coming to them with an upfront agreement mapping our several months or more of work is essential to create a trusted long-term relationship. Looking at a micro-influencer, on the other hand, that likely treats this work as a side hustle, would more likely be interested in hearing about discounts, product exchanges, and other promotions to maintain work with brands.

A few basics practices Rish offered to incorporate into your approach:

  • Do reach out with empathy. Ask both existing and prospective partners how they’re doing even if you don’t have the budget to work with them at the moment.
  • Do be open-minded when it comes to your brief — your influencers may have fresh ideas that translate into big opportunities
  • Don’t assume business is usual just because they haven’t posted any pandemic-related content
  • Don’t engage with a partner before understanding their personal and family’s well being.

“Now more than ever influencers are as cognizant of their voice in the market right now as you are as a brand,” said Rish. As a marketer you have the unique opportunity to shape briefs and creative strategies now with your partners based on the experiences influencers are having and the new things they’re trying out from a content standpoint that may resonate and that they can organically bring to life for you.

Establishing trust amidst uncertainty

“The beauty of working with an influencer is that they are their audience’s friend — and that relationship is special and has a lot of trust. As brands reach out and re-engage during this time, trusting that influencer and their leadership to deliver the best message and leaning into what that influencer advises is important,” shared Lee on the topic of what establishing trust looks like today and how to set the right tone for a partnership out of the gate. Powell chimed in adding that constantly having a finger on the pulse of readers has been key for major players like Lee and Danielle Berstein. Specifically, this practice of social listening translates into a key data resource and helps inform constructive feedback when discussing with brands what types of content works and what doesn’t.

This isn’t to say brands shouldn’t be involved in these conversations and the gentle touch of outreach shouldn’t be overlooked especially now. “It’s so important for the brand to get to know the talent whether that turns into a compensated relationship off the bat or just to meet and to hopefully partner down the road…for me that’s always been an important part of what I do especially when considering a mega or macro influencer like Mary.”

Pointing to her own story of transitioning her brick and mortar business online, Lee added that it’s a two-way street. “The name of the game right now is supporting one another and meeting each other in the middle. We reached out to every brand we’ve ever worked with and asked how they could be supported through messaging and content as a whole. Many came back to us with gifting and we were able to take that and support them through stories via stories and posts.”

Resetting at the ground level to fuel creativity

Eighty-five percent of Lee’s readers have been with her for six years or more. Powell articulated that these stats are a direct result of her impact as a brand partner and a healthy community. “Her blog was always a passion project — never a job. From having a baby to opening the store and building a house it’s been an opportunity to bring brands along her life journey and share her experiences at different stages of her life.” This is equally if not more relevant in the context of COVID-19.

“We didn’t realize how many moms we had following us so lately we’re doing a lot more cooking, baby, and fitness content and it brings a smile to my face. I’m excited to take deeper dives into these topics because I genuinely love doing these things,” added Lee.

While not to downplay the crisis, both agreed there’s a silver lining and for Powell and Lee this means using the situation productively to experiment and go back to the beginning of why influencer marketing works and its role in the industry. They plan to continue leveraging new platforms and content approaches across Instagram Lives, TikTok, and LinkedIn to navigate the outcomes of the pandemic today and in the year ahead.

“Have a layered strategy with the inclusion of all of these different levels of influencers,” Powell shared in a final thought.

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