If “good fences make good neighbors,” as Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” suggests, then the content creator/social influencer space is a really bad neighborhood.
Regretfully, I’m spending a lot of times these days dealing with bad corporate “neighbors” and the consequences of their actions.
Social platforms and the content creators building their businesses on them have created a fast-growing ecosystem of new companies and new business models: multichannel, or multiplatform networks (i.e. Maker Studios, Kin Community), automated marketplace platforms (i.e. Famebit, Reelio) and social agencies (i.e. theAudience, DBA). Presently, much of the ecosystem is fueled by brand dollars trying to capitalize on the unprecedented levels of engagement and “influence” creators have with their audiences.
Every new “neighbor” in the social influence marketplace thinks they have the right to represent content creators to brands, but most don’t. “Neighbors” include agents, managers, social ad agencies, websites, publishers, MCNs/MPNs, the guy down the street, etc. While many have the best long-term interest of content creators in mind, a large number have an opportunistic, short-term view and think that content creators are commodities.
As demand for brand content involving social influence goes up, it’s only going to get worse. Brands are dealing with rampant online ad fraud and a lack of options to get their content viewed by an engaged, scaled audience. The solution: Call in the influencers! And every Tom, Dick and Harry is now down with the hustle. Here’s how it works:
— A “neighbor” receives a RFP (request for proposal) from a brand or their agency that requires some “social activation,” which means getting a content creator to promote the brands product through videos and/or social posts
— The sales person from “neighbor” company puts together an “awesome” proposal with media, brand content and a “prospective” talent list.
— If the company putting the proposal together has the “exclusive media and brand content sales rights” to sell campaigns on behalf of the content creator, job well done.
— Sometimes one “neighbor” will ask another friendly “neighbor” who represents different creators if they would be willing to include one of their creators in a pitch. It takes trust, good working relationships and lots of communication for it to work, but I’ve seen this approach be successful.
— Here’s where the problem starts: many contracts with content creators are poorly constructed and have exclusivity “loopholes.” Often agreements allow for the creator’s agent and/or manager to field in-bound sales offers. This loophole allows for pretty much anyone to “sell” a social influencer, creating a lot of chaos in the advertising marketplace.
— What makes matters worse is that, even when contracts with creators are well-executed, exclusive and without ambiguity, opportunistic companies take advantage and represent influencers to brands with full knowledge of the aforementioned legal contracts.
What can seem like easy money in the short-term will end up destroying content creators long-term viability and reputation. I have experienced brands and agencies getting irate with the process of signing up creators for brand content campaigns.
The mess is rooted in a general misunderstanding of what a content creator is. They are more than mere talent; they are the host, producer, editor and network. Content creators are more akin to media companies then they are to talent.
Media companies, whether they are NBC, AOL or Kin Community, have invested a large amount of time and money building a sales team to work with brands. Could you imagine if ABC went into the marketplace and started representing NBC’s shows to brands? It would never happen. And yet this is what is happening everyday in the world of content creators.
Because content creators are mistakenly considered talent, people in our industry think they can just call up their agent and manager and get them to participate in a brand deal for the right price.
The truth is creators would be best served if they had just one sales team selling them to brands. I don’t have a strong point of view on what type of company that should be. It could be a talent agency, MCN, publisher, whoever.
Here’s my prescription for how to make “good fences” for the social influencer space and ultimately create a happier, more valuable neighborhood:
— The leading players in the social influencer/content creator space need to come together and draw up new rules of engagement: a Bill of Rights for social influence representation.
— Content creators, regardless of what platform you are on, should have one – and only one – sales team representing their media and brand content opportunities exclusively in the market.
— Content creators should have agents and/or managers if they need help evaluating and negotiating opportunities. Traditional agents and/or managers are incredibly valuable when negotiating traditional media opportunities, i.e. TV, movies, books.
— Brands and their agencies should not assume that anyone is able to secure social influencers at the lowest price for their brand content campaigns. If you suspect someone is misrepresenting creators, ask to see their contract with the creators or demand to speak with the creators directly.
— Neighbors who think they can sell a brand content deal and then just “get the talent” through the creator’s manager and/or agent, stop and think before you do this.
There are many talented creators and executives working hard to build a respectable and valuable marketplace for social content. If people do the right thing, and create “good fences,” we can build a neighborhood Mister Rogers would be proud of.
Please email me if you would like to discuss cleaning up the neighborhood.
Michael Wayne is the co-founder and CEO of Kin Community, a leading digital media company that empowers women’s lifestyle creators.