Shopify Ecosystem

Opt-In Influencer Networks – Why They are Wrong for Influencers and Don’t Work for Brands


Influencer networks, or influencer opt-in networks, is a transactional way to streamline the influencer marketing process. Also referred to as the “middleman” approach to influencer marketing, brands can use these networks to find easy influencer-brand partnerships.

But before you try an influencer network yourself, there are some serious setbacks to this approach. The influencer network model leaves out critical steps in the process of building brand trust. Furthermore, influencers within these networks may not be able to deliver the results you’re looking for.

What is an Opt-in Influencer Network?

An opt-in influencer network is an agency for a group of social media influencers that wish to make themselves available to brand partnerships. 

On the surface, this arrangement sounds ideal, but the reality is that influencer networks don’t deliver the kind of marketing results that one would expect. To know why the opt-in model is less-than-ideal, it’s critical to understand the difference between authentic influencers and opt-in network influencers.

How Does an Opt-in Network Work?

Agencies launch opt-in networks by gathering influencers as clients that they can market to brands interested in influencer marketing. In most cases, prospective influencers submit to the agency’s review process before joining the network.

Typically, an influencer network focuses on follower size. And the implied message is that influencers with more followers do a better job of promoting products and services. But this is an incorrect assumption about influencer success. Influencers that participate in opt-in networks are frequently referred to as “influencers for hire.”

These networks are trying to make it more convenient for brands to find influencers that want to collaborate. However, experienced influencer marketers tend to avoid these agencies.

“Unfortunately, many brands today think they can shortcut trust. They pay personalities to promote products they don’t actually use or believe in. The result is influencer marketing that feels fake and inauthentic, breeding distrust (and anger) among consumers. The reality is, consumers don’t hate influencers—they just hate being sold a lie.” – GRIN, Authentic Influencer Marketing

Why Do Leading Influencer Marketers Avoid Opt-in Influencer Networks?

As a general rule, the best influencers have no need for opt-in networks. These creators focus on authenticity, connecting with audiences, and putting values in front of brand partnerships. As a result, influencer marketers are at their doorstep offering a brand-influencer direct relationship.

Influencer relationship managers also prefer to work with influencers and ambassadors that genuinely love the brands that they promote. Between choosing brand partnerships carefully and dedicating the majority of their efforts to connect with audiences, authentic influencers produce the best campaign results.

Why an Influencer Network is Wrong for Brands

In short, brands that learn how to vet and partner directly with influencers achieve the highest influencer ROI. Influencer networks introduce a “middle man” and can even confuse aspiring influencers about what is required to truly connect with an audience.

The end result are influencer-brand partnerships that are watered down and only mildly effective from an ROI standpoint. There are four reasons why influencer opt-in networks can’t compete with the model of direct brand-influencer relationships.

  1. Influencer opt-in networks prioritize popularity over engagement.
  2. The “influencer for hire” model is not authentic.
  3. Influencer opt-in networks mimic traditional advertising.
  4. Influencer network campaigns feel disingenuous to consumers.

Influencer opt-in networks prioritize popularity over engagement.

Influencers from opt-in networks usually have a legitimately large following. However, that influencer may not be deeply connected to their audience, and it is that influencer-audience connection that produces results.

Influencer networks base value on follower size. What your brand needs are influencers with high engagement rates. Influencers and brand ambassadors that respond to comments and questions from their followers have a greater impact once they partner with your brand.

The “influencer for hire” model is not authentic.

In most cases, influencers that join an opt-in network betray their true motivation – to make money. This mindset ignores the “secret sauce” to influencer marketing, which is that successful influencers earn respect and emotional connections with members of their audience.

Influencer marketing works because social media creators build relationships with their online communities. Those that attract attention online, amass thousands of followers, and then immediately leverage that following to make money haven’t truly done the work of achieving authenticity. 

Influencer opt-in networks mimic traditional advertising.

Working with influencer network “middleman” agencies essentially create a slightly more creative version of pay-per-click advertising. However, most campaigns run by opt-in network influencers probably won’t even perform as well as PPC ads.

At least with PPC ads, consumers understand that they are paid ads. Influencer collaborations, however, are supposed to be genuine, word-of-mouth messages. And that brings us to the final reason why influencer networks are bad for brands.

Influencer network campaigns feel disingenuous to consumers.

Consumers can sense fake excitement. Due to the thousands of authentic influencers and ambassadors that engage them, consumers will not feel compelled to respond to posts that are “ads trying not to be ads.”

Direct brand-influencer relationships usually form because the influencer loves your products or services. Product seeding is a great technique that takes the money out of the equation in an effort to develop a working relationship with an influencer.

Why an Influencer Network is Wrong for Influencers

For influencers, opt-in networks can damage one’s personal brand. Many young influencers may not fully understand the implications of partnering with these agencies. But there are similarly four ways in which opt-in networks harm influencer branding:

  1. Influencer networks don’t care about meaningful engagement between influencers and their followers.
  2. Influencer networks condition influencers to forego personal brand authenticity in favor of financial gain.
  3. Influencer networks cheapen the good work of great influencers.
  4. Influencer networks alienate audience members that long to engage.

Influencer networks don’t care about meaningful engagement between influencers and their followers.

The emphasis in opt-in networks will almost always fall on social media personalities that are popular. But popularity is not the same thing as engagement with audiences. 

What’s critical for young influencers is that they pay attention to members of their audience and carefully curate an online community with value-driven content. Taking this approach will help them earn the credibility to recommend certain products and services from brands that they truly love. 

Influencer networks condition influencers to forego personal brand authenticity in favor of financial gain.

The nature of agencies is to turn influencer attention away from authentic content toward making money with brands.

Prioritizing one’s personal brand and building relationships with followers will ultimately lead to long-term, lucrative brand-influencer partnerships. Also, taking this healthy approach to brand collaborations will endear audiences to the influencer, because they genuinely feel like the influencer wants to help them.

Influencer networks cheapen the good work of great influencers.

When influencers do the hard work of building their personal brand, creating compelling content, connecting with audiences, and then selecting brand partnerships carefully, they truly embody the powerful ROI that influencer marketing generates.

But opt-in networks “muddy the waters” of available influencers. The “middleman” model can cause marketers to lose faith in a technique that helps both brands and consumers find one another organically. The opt-in approach congests the influencer market with influencers who care more about money than they do promoting the products and services that they love.

Influencer networks alienate audience members that long to engage.

When social media users “like” or “follow” another user, they may be doing so because following that person entertains them. But most people follow influencers for deeper reasons – that influencer promotes a lifestyle and set of values that they aspire to, and they want to access the value that that influencer’s content has to offer.

When people admire and respect an influencer in that way, they will want to engage that influencer with meaningful questions and comments. Those influencers can then easily suggest ideas or recommend relevant products and services.

But influencers from opt-in networks don’t typically focus on connecting with their followers. As such, their followers will feel disenchanted with the random product promotions mixed in with unrelated entertaining content and eventually unfollow that influencer.

Conclusion: Brand-influencer relationships are what make influencer marketing successful.

Influencer relationship management is hard work that cannot be replicated by an agency model. By working with quality influencers directly, your brand can ensure a strong working relationship and build genuine brand excitement.

At the end of the day, the best influencers put their audiences first. They focus on delivering value to their followers in every post. They want to build their online communities and only work with brands that they love.

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