Once upon a time, influencers were just regular people who used social media to share their opinions, lives, projects and passions to those who would listen. And listen they did.

Studies show 92 percent of people trust recommendations from other people over brands. Teens have a seven times higher emotional attachment to YouTube stars than to ‘traditional’ celebs. And 49 percent of people rely on influencer recommendations when they’re making a purchase. That’s rely as in trust.

Because of this power, brands have become addicted to influencers—and like most addictions, it’s led to increasingly diminished returns for the same action. With influencers now representing a billion-dollar industry populated by innovative and inventive creators, influencer marketing needs to become deeper than a product sent in the mail and a post on Instagram. It’s time to explore a new model that benefits both brands and influencers.

The 3 (traditional) levels of partnering with influencers

Until now, brands have practiced three levels of influencer marketing.

Level 1 uses PR to send free brand product and information to target influencers, hoping for earned media (or at least a response).

Level 2 allocates media spend to pay relevant influencers with desirable audiences to create “cool” content that showcases the brand in a positive light.

Level 3 builds meaningful, advocate-level relationships with influencers who authentically love and embrace the brand in a way that spans beyond a video, campaign or launch.

Most brands have accomplished level one and two. Only the smartest, most integrated brands have stepped up to Level 3.

Before we get to the next level, let’s reaffirm that levels 1, 2 and 3 are fine, good and necessary. We’re not here to say it’s time to abandon these other levels. But today’s influencers are operating as businesses, not just communities—and as businesses, they want more from the brands with which they work.

In fact, my company, OMD, commissioned a study with influencers to find out what they need (not just want) to evolve. Here’s what they told us:

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