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MS of IM Post 15: Repurposing Influencer Content & Perpetual Rights


Key Article Takeaways: 

  • Many influencers and their representatives are pushing for the “show business” model, noting that they are “talent” in every sense that an actor in a movie is.
  • An influencer's "scarce resource" is the amount of sponsorships that they can run on their channel
  • The challenge with limiting the rights or seeking variable income associated with production-oriented projects is that it creates friction on those use cases that ripple outward and hands the competitive advantage back to professional production companies willing to do “work made for hire.”


There are few topics as hot in the influencer marketing space as the idea (yes, it’s bold and italicized for a reason) of repurposing influencer content. Now, on its face, this idea doesn’t make a lot of sense:

  • Influencers make content for their followers, not a general audience. 

  • Influencers are not under the direction of a brand in the same way that professionally produced content is. Certainly pre-COVID, and maybe now again, many brand managers spent significant amounts of time “on-set” overseeing commercial shoots down to the tiniest minutiae 

  • As amazing as their production skills are and as awesome as the tools bundled into off-the-shelf cell phones are, most influencers don’t have access to top of the line graphic and editing tools that streamline the creation of multiple variations and derivative content 

At the same time, there hasn’t been a bigger proponent of content repurposing than gen.video and since I’ve run the company for the last 10 years, me personally. Among other credentials, we were the first company to syndicate user generated and influencer video to Amazon and we’ve done myriad campaigns with explicit content repurposing goals. So, count me among the evangelists that have sent the industry down this path. 

Our vision for repurposing started with the insight that the authenticity of influencer content would lead to improved product page conversions in ecommerce. That has turned out to be true and so the vision has expanded out to include other formats, such as being used as the creative in paid media. For reasons beyond the scope of this post but maybe obvious, the fact that influencer content can outperform professionally created content in paid media is extraordinary but it happens. 

To be clear, none of this is easy. Repurposing any content, influencer or not, is a poster child for the saying “easier said than done.” It requires planning and a whole lot of determination to see it through. It is not nearly as fun as publishing a video on TikTok and watching the play counter spin and happy comments stream through. 

Influencers have taken notice and now that they have agents and lawyers and all kinds of smart people looking out for their interests, they are wondering what it all means and in some cases demanding additional remuneration for these additional use cases. There are even some bizarre cases we’ve experienced where they’ve taken a “just say no” approach and refused to allow their content to be used anywhere but on their social channels. So you want to be an influencer. But not….an influencer

The fundamental question: is the influencer marketing industry going to try and replicate the television and movie business model characterized by limited content rights, residuals and other economics-sharing tools? Or, is there an alternate outcome around disrupting the content production world, much of which operates on a “work made for hire” (the client owns the content that is produced)? 

Right now the answer is hanging in the balance. Many influencers and their representatives are pushing for the “show business” model, noting that they are “talent” in every sense that an actor in a movie is. Which is inarguably true. 

That said, I’d also argue that there is a bigger opportunity, an opportunity to do all things: for influencers to be fairly remunerated, to lower the substantial risks they take in trying to be a full-time influencer and extend their career-span by being nimble and contextually-aware. 

First, there is a fundamental difference between the actor who needs to make sure they participate in the studio’s revenue and an influencer. Unlike an actor who needs to negotiate with the studio (directly or via SAG) to participate in the variable upside (aka - a hit movie or show) which may result from their talent, an influencer inherently enjoys the preponderance of revenue derived from their social channels. It may not constitute a living wage in many cases but it’s definitely variable and there’s nothing that would strike a reasonable observer as economic exploitation. 

On the other hand, “production” revenue (fees based on creating content not published on the influencer’s social channels) operates in a very different way. There’s always a flat rate component to it but the question for the influencer is whether or not to try and add explicit or implicit variability by restricting the rights and usage of the content either in different environments or by time. 

The challenge with limiting the rights or seeking variable income associated with production-oriented projects is that it creates friction on those use cases that ripple outward and hands the competitive advantage back to professional production companies willing to do “work made for hire.” This isn’t a theoretical issue, it is real. In virtually every conversation with a brand about alternative uses for influencer content, the first question is “do we even have the rights?” It’s almost as if they are looking for a reason not to bother, knowing that even past the rights, the effort to capture, transform and syndicate content are material, unavoidable hurdles. 

Influencer work is hard and so the temptation to attempt to capture value through these restrictions is understandable but as an industry we have to appreciate that the competition here isn’t other influencers. It’s what in economics is called a “substitute.” The substitute aforementioned professional content producers are charging a flat rate and giving ownership and perpetual rights to the client when they create brand site, ecom and paid media content. Oh and as an industry that “substitute” doesn’t have an alternative revenue stream and is in an existential battle for survival. 

The appeal of production revenue is multi-fold:

  • An influencer’s primary “scarce resource” isn’t the ability to produce content or even their own personal time. It’s actually the number of sponsorships that they can run on their channels. Too many and either the followers or the algorithm will punish them. Production work takes advantage of the "slack" resource of studio space and accumulated talent.
     
  • It is an alternative revenue stream that is highly differentiated from their core revenue stream 

  • The variability of that core, “social” revenue stream is a double edged sword: as the algorithm shifts, or platform appeal shifts or any number of other “out of our control” changes happen, an influencer’s fortunes can change overnight. Having established production relationships can be a durable hedge to power through lean times or even a permanent transition plan.  

The question we have as an industry: can we see the opportunity and be nimble enough to go get it? Or are we going to trip over a faulty perception that we’re leaving money on the table? I feel like we’re tending toward the latter but I’m fighting like hell to make it the former.