For as popular as the term "Instagram Influencer" has become in the past few years, there are really only a handful of big brands that have taken the leap and invested heavily into influencer marketing.

Especially for brands that have been around for decades and are more than comfortable with their TV and (only recently) digital media budgets, the thought of investing six or even seven figures into having Internet famous social media stars represent their brand is a bit of a stretch. And who could blame them? Missteps like Pepsi's campaign featuring social influencer Kendall Jenner is enough to scare away the other big brands that haven't yet taken the plunge.

The ones that have, however, and done so successfully, know the power of influencer marketing first-hand. People don't want to watch ads. They want to watch stories, told through the eyes of their favorite social media influencers.

If you spend any time at all on Instagram (arguably the platform creating more influencers than any other social platform out there), then chances are you've seen a funny video by @lelepons, or a motivational entrepreneurship video by former Elite Daily founder, @gerardadams.

Well, Sprint is betting big on influencer marketing with its latest #LiveUnlimited campaign, and has enlisted help from both of the above, @lelepons and @gerardadams, in addition to musician @princeroyce, YouTuber and bodybuilder @bradleymartyn, and model @raychelc00k. Each of these influencers has a followership in the millions, making their total reach on Instagram alone a whopping 30 million followers.

The campaign is actually a collaboration between Sprint's Latin and US teams, strategically choosing influencers that hit both markets with plenty of crossover appeal. For example: in @lelepons bio, she has, "LATINA & PROUD." The storyline is simple, and weaves in narratives that pertain to each influencer's unique personal brand, explaining how they #LiveUnlimited.

What's worth paying attention to, however, is that the influencers in Sprint's campaign are being themselves fully. As a big brand, Sprint didn't insist that each influencer play a predefined role. Actually, it's quite the opposite. They looked for influencers that fit the goals of their campaign, and then wove in their unique narratives so that their brands were not taken out of context--a glaring mistake made by Pepsi when working with Kendall Jenner. When has Jenner ever led a social rights movement?

This is the biggest mindset shift brands are going to have to make if they want to do influencer marketing the right way. You can't force an influencer into a role different than who they already are to their fans and followers--otherwise, they are playing the role of an actor and that's it. The real benefit of working with an influencer is their unique style, personality, and approach to social media content. If you remove that, then you're doing influencer marketing wrong.

What excites me about Sprint's campaign is the fact that they are doing everything possible to put creative control into the hands of the influencers. They aren't boxing them into cookie-cutter roles. Instead, they're crafting the message of the campaign around each influencer and their personal story, which is only going to make the message resonate even more to their individual audiences.

Whether you're running a massive influencer campaign like this one, or you're starting small and working with niche influencers, this should be your biggest takeaway: let the influencers be the ones to define the story, not you. The moment you try to box them in, is the moment it's no longer "influencer marketing." It's just marketing, with actors and actresses, reading a script that lacks that special shine that built those loyal followings in the first place.

Get out of the way. Let influencers be themselves. They'll represent your brand a whole lot better than way.

Published on: Aug 24, 2017
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