Influencer marketing is an incredibly powerful lever that all brands can leverage, here is a rundown from Forbes on how marketers should be looking at their own influencer strategy.

There’s a lot of talk as well as a lot of confusion today as to what influence marketing really is. I don’t blame those experiencing confusion. I know where this comes from. The world of influencer marketing can be a little tricky to navigate. A celebrity endorsing a brand and a popular “YouTuber” or blogger spreading awareness about a product or service they’ve used may look like the same thing—brand promotion. So-called influence scoring meters like Klout, Kred, and PeerIndex claim to measure an individual’s influence online. However, with their flawed ranking methods, they don’t give you the real picture.

Then How Do We Look at Influencer Marketing?

Influencer marketing involves talking to your audience, conveying your message through a voice they trust. When you ask people who are well-versed on a subject and have great reach (think about thought-leaders, industry professionals, bloggers, or even influential consumers) to create content or amplify content for your brand, what you are doing is utilizing influencer marketing to help grow awareness, build trust, and drive sales for your brand.

With all this said, where do we place influencer marketing? Is it paid media or earned? Many brands and digital marketers would have you believe it’s the latter. In fact, it’s not.

Influencer Marketing ≠ Earned Media

Unfortunately, many brands getting into the influencer marketing game look at influencer content as earned media. Why? Many brands expect the influencers to be their advocates for free. You may ask, “What’s so wrong in that? With a connection to a brand, they’d get lots of exposure and their reach would increase. Isn’t that a win-win?” My rebuttal would be—do these brands have employees in their offices working for free just because they are working for a brand? Are brands entitled to get free services? That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

So, when a brand pays (or should pay) someone to create content, or promote a brand, it is just like other paid programming and/or media buys. However, there’s a subtle difference between influencer marketing and fully-dedicated paid promotions. To explain further, I’d like to reiterate something I said in one of my previous posts: “When brands ask influencers to write, speak or attend events on their behalf, payment should be considered not as a means of buying loyalty, but as a fair exchange for taking someone’s time and leveraging their ideas to build your own business.”

The bottom line is, influencer marketing is not typically earned media. However, there’s a possibility of turning it into earned media.

How Influencer Marketing Can Become Earned Media

Let me be frank. The content in successful influencer marketing programs drives others to act on it, amplify it, or write about it without being incentivized to do so. And that’s when you are creating earned media.

It boils down to building a relationship where the influencer genuinely enjoys associating with your brand. When you don’t “ask” them for support, you don’t have to pay. But, to have influencers root for your brand without asking them, you need to have a solid content strategy. As the saying goes, you can’t expect to sell your cupcakes if they don’t taste fantastic!

For brands getting involved in influencer media, you need to understand that paid media leads to owned assets and earned media. Influencer content can successfully drive engagement. It can even lead to free amplification and support from brand advocates or those connected to the influencer. How? It happens when your brand is able to exert a positive influence upon the right audience. Remember, when it comes to influencer marketing, the person you choose as your brand influencer (or who chooses to be your influencer) must have an appeal within your targeted segment. At the very least, their views must resonate with your target audience.

If done well, your paid efforts will eventually turn into real earned media. How? Through the exposure, awareness, advocacy, and sales that your influence marketing efforts will create.

This article was written by Daniel Newman from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.