Influencer Whitelisting: Everything Retailers Need to Know

influencer whitelisting for retail

Given that 70% of social media users follow more than ten influencers, it’s no surprise that influencer whitelisting is a marketing tactic on the rise for omnichannel retailers. With this innovative advertising method, influencers give retail brands permission to leverage their owned social media properties for advertising purposes.

Compared to traditional influencer marketing, influencer whitelisting gives brands more control over how they want to leverage influencer content and run ad campaigns. Add to this the first-party data insights companies get through operating influencer channels, and it’s clear to see how these efforts often result in higher sales conversions. Along the way, brands also gain valuable user engagement and audience data through their digital marketing.

In this article, we’ll dive into this advertising strategy and explore how retail brands are using it for customer acquisition. 

What is influencer whitelisting? 

Influencer whitelisting is the practice of running paid social ads for a brand using an influencer's account. Instead of featuring an influencer collaboration on a brand’s owned accounts, the brand directly runs the ad from the influencer's account. 

HelloFresh’s whitelisted ad below is a great example. Mindy Kaling posted about HelloFresh as a part of a paid partnership on her own account (with 6M+ followers). This was followed by a whitelisted ad that HelloFresh advertised through Mindy’s account to reach a much larger audience, one well beyond both partners’ existing networks.

influencer whitelisting for retail


Why create an influencer whitelisting strategy?

Data shows that 49% of consumers believe influencer recommendations more than branded content, and that it plays a significant role in their purchase decisions.

Influencer whitelisting ads can take this potential to a higher level and help brands drive results at scale. Other key benefits include:

Amplified reach through advertising

Whitelisted ads go far beyond the organic network of an influencer. Since retail brands have access to first-party data through the influencer’s account, they can define multiple target audiences to reach potentially interested buyers who are not already following the influencer. This approach can help get more users to watch their ads, engage, and ultimately purchase. 

Optimized content through A/B testing

Whitelisting gives you the flexibility to optimize influencer content for improved performance. 

Rather than approving one ad and hoping to get results through it alone, brands can run multiple versions of the same ad. Then they can use the ads’ performance data to refine ad content and maximize Return on Ad Spend (RoAS). 

Performance data insights 

Influencer whitelisting allows brands to evaluate how ads are performing with every influencer. Instead of asking an influencer partner for analytics every time they partner up, retail brands can collect data firsthand to optimize their strategies and achieve better results. 

Metrics like impressions, engagement, click-through rate, and conversions are crucial to evaluating your ad spend and refining the strategy—and whitelisting helps you gather rich data right from the source, with no middleman.

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Improved targeting 

Influencer whitelisting promises a higher ROI because brands can advertise their offerings more easily, and ensure the ad and brand messaging are on point to generate results. If you do this by collaborating with influencers who have similar target demographics, your ads have a higher chance of reaching the right audience and resulting in conversions. 

With access to audience and content metrics, you can create high-affinity lookalike audiences to further enhance your targeting strategy. 

5 best practices around influencer whitelisting 

Influencer whitelisting lets retail brands put paid advertising on a whole other level with direct access to an influencer’s account, insights, and controls to create more on-brand content. Without a well-designed strategy, however, whitelisting campaigns can fail to bring in solid results. 

Here are five best practices you should consider for your influencer whitelisting strategy. 

1. Choose niche influencers—both micro and macro

The success of your influencer whitelisting strategy is closely tied to the type of influencers you work with. Instead of chasing vanity metrics like number of followers, choose creators who are aligned with your brand values and personality to make sure your messaging is consistent and maximize ROAS. 

Given that almost 45% of Instagram influencers have a following of between 1,000 and 10,000, it's a good idea to pick influencers with different followings to understand engagement levels and invest more of your budget in those that bring you the best results. Interestingly, micro-influencers enjoy a better engagement rate, 3.86%, than mega-influencers at 1.21%. 

Here are a few criteria to help pick influencer partners for whitelisted campaigns: 

  • Audience: the demographics they cater to and their relevance to your brand
  • Authenticity: the type of content they put out for their personal and sponsored posts 
  • Quality: the creative appeal of the content they post to entice your prospects
  • Reliability: their communication style, turnaround times, etc. 

For example, take Jones Road Beauty’s collaboration with Carolyn Gray. The cosmetics brand picked a micro-influencer who posts honest reviews about cosmetics and beauty products—fitting right into Jones Road’s values and helping them reach their target audience. 

influencer whitelisting for retail

Once you have a shortlist of ideal partners, the next step is to brief them about the concept of whitelisting and how it’ll benefit them. Be sure they understand what the relationship will look like and what both parties will gain from it. Bottom line: You’ll both get more eyeballs on the content, which means more sales for you, and more followers/engagement for them.

“Remember that not all influencers are familiar with the concept of whitelisting, so it’s vital to share all the information and benefits of whitelisting when creating a relationship with them," says Savannah Sanchez, founder of The Social Savannah.

2. Create a targeted content strategy 

A comprehensive content strategy will form the foundation of your whitelisting ad campaigns. By providing a clear idea of your brand messaging, preferred content formats, campaign goals, and KPIs, you’re giving influencers the information they need to create content that hits the right spot.

Some tips to help you create an impactful whitelisting content strategy:

  • Define your messaging before you shortlist the ad type, platform, and format.
  • Evaluate your content performance to see what your audience likes. For example, compare your Instagram engagement rate for stories and carousels to choose the right format.
  • Keep your core focus on creating short-form videos, since video ads are among the top-performing ads on social media channels.

You’ll also want to experiment with your whitelisting arrangement with the influencer to find the best way to collaborate so that it’s a win for both of you. 

“Once you find someone who genuinely loves your products and makes good content, you can start talking about paying for content. You can either use existing content or pay them to produce new content that you can run through their handle," says Cody Plofker, Director CMO at Jones Road Beauty.

38% of shoppers base their buying decisions on influencer reviews, so whether you're paying them to produce new content or reusing old material, whitelisting gives you the key to unlocking massive sales potential. It provides better targeting through custom and lookalike audiences, first-party data for optimizing ads, and consistent messaging across your marketing channels. 

3. Define custom and lookalike audience sets

Whitelisting influencers opens up a whole other way of reaching new audiences. You can create custom audiences by merging followers from your top-performing creators with your primary target audience. Imagine coming up on the feeds of users who fit into your target demographic but are completely unaware of your brand. 

Creating lookalike audiences for your influencers’ network is another great way to get more eyes on your ads. Through whitelisting, you have direct access to the influencer’s account so you can analyze which users have engaged with the influencer’s content or visited their profile to make your lookalike audience more specific and accurate. 

Your ads can also reach a bigger audience of interested prospects beyond those you were initially targeting, thus getting you more conversions and informing you about potential opportunities with a new audience. 

4. Prepare a plan and test often

One of the biggest reasons brands prefer influencer whitelisting over traditional marketing is that the latter doesn't offer the ability to edit a post. Whitelisting lets you test the impact of your ads through A/B testing and make data-informed decisions, resulting in better targeting and thus  enhanced revenue. 

So create a solid testing strategy to optimize the content of your creator ads. Here’s a three-month framework to test whitelisted ads, optimized for one parameter every month. Notice how each test is followed by a performance analysis and brief creation process based on the previous experiment’s performance.

influencer whitelisting for retail

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Here’s what you can test and iterate:

  • Ad format: identify which content format produces the maximum brand lift. 
  • Creative design: review and rethink the overall appeal of the ad’s design to deliver the best viewer experience.
  • Call to action: discover which CTA copy works best and the ideal placement for your CTAs.
  • Video subtitles: add subtitles when necessary and decide the style of subtitles. It should be on-brand with your colors and font to build recall value and further advance brand awareness. 

A/B testing gives you a mathematical analysis of how your creative assets will perform, with actionable suggestions for improvements. This can translate to more reliable results and a higher conversion rate. 

5. Pick your metrics to assess progress 

Over 15% of brands spend more than half of their marketing budgets on building creator partnerships. So ultimately, the success of your whitelisting campaigns boils down to how well you calculate your advertising ROI and optimize your strategy to get the best bang for your buck. 

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to evaluating your progress, you can define relevant key performance indicators aligned with your campaign goals. An advantage here is that you can use the influencer’s in-app insights to assess impressions, engagement, and clicks. 

You can then use a tool like Google Analytics to cross-reference and get access to more significant insights like conversions, traffic, and traffic-to-conversion ratio.

Here’s a list of metrics for your whitelisted ads, mapped to popular goals:

  • Building awareness: evaluate metrics like impressions, reach search volume and mentions for your brand, and website traffic. 
  • Boost engagement: review the number of likes/comments/shares, number of new followers, number of post saves, and profile visits.
  • Increase sales: calculate the number of conversions through attributable link tracking for each ad and sales through personalized promo codes.

Tracking your ad performance and moderating your whitelisting strategy is the easiest way to enhance the results of your ad campaigns. Combine quantitative and qualitative metrics to understand the accurate value of your influencer ads and tweak your strategy to create more targeted content with influential creators at a cost that gets you the best ROI. 

Influencer whitelisting: A marketer’s secret weapon?

While influencer whitelisting is a relatively new acquisition channel, the potential is vast. It allows you to level up your influencer marketing game and get the best out of social ads, while providing detailed customer data that should inform future decision-making. Expect to see more retail brands leaning into this approach in the future.

Attract local shoppers with Shopify

Only Shopify gives you all the tools you need to reach new customers and keep them coming back. Attract local shoppers on Facebook, Instagram, and Google, boost sales, and run your business from a single place.