Image courtesy of Flickr.
I’ve been working for a few years now with multiple brands per year. I have worked with brands in the music industry to emerging technology companies. When I reflect on what has made for a great partnership in the past, there are several themes that crop up over and over again. Conversely, there are other trends that come to mind when I reflect on what has gone terribly wrong in some of these partnerships. I hope to illuminate both sides of the coin equally and vividly.
In my opinion, influencer marketing is still an emerging field. Like anything else, there is going to be a learning curve. There are brands that chose to take the time to get it right. Yet others, clearly rushed to adoption without putting the right infrastructure in place. The intent where influencer marketing is concerned is for brands to be able to identify and partner with people who have a significant social following and voice in their respective niches. This partnership is usually created to raise awareness, drive traffic and/or sales to the brand in question.
Did you know?
According to Huffington Post, 65% of marketers are participating in the influencer marketing space. Many recent statistics also indicate that companies increased budget for influencer marketing campaigns in 2016 and plan to do so going forward. In addition, a few brands who are reaping the rewards of this kind of advertising are making a play for separate budget to fund influencer campaigns apart from all other advertising and marketing efforts.
It is safe to say, that influencer marketing will be sticking around for awhile longer. With some tweaking, planning and synergy between brand and influencer – this kind of marketing becomes a force to be reckoned with.
Here are the five things that brands need to know before getting into the influencer marketing game:
1) Make sure you have the right people handling your influencer outreach and engagement. Influencers are people. In particular, they are people who either hold a 9-5 job elsewhere or have multiple business endeavors. In other instances, it is their only business or if they are like me – it is a part in a larger consulting business. Imagine receiving tons of inquiries for sponsored posts, vlogs, events etc. per week. What will make your inquiry more compelling than the others? The way your inquiry moves to the top is by having competent and knowledgeable people on your frontlines. For example, I had a brand representative reach out to me for sponsored work. Over 10 plus emails or so she asked me a battery of questions about my influence to determine if I was right for them. The reality is: she should have done her homework and came to the table with less questions than more. She found me and my page which means something stood out in her searches. I run a business that doesn’t afford me the time to go back and forth over email with your representative that is doing this all for the first time. Turned out to be a troublesome partnership for me in the end and it was evident from the first engagement. Pay attention to who you have representing you.
2) Start small and have clear goals for your partnership. There is nothing more frustrating to influencers than you engaging them with great enthusiasm and no plan. Let’s flip it for a second, how likely is an influencer to garner your attention if they reach out to you with an informal email that indicates no real plan for their enthusiastic pursuits of a partnership? I am pretty sure that email will be deleted. The same holds true when you reach out to influencers. Your plan doesn’t need to be perfect, but you should have some plan and/or idea for moving forward with a partnership. Serendipity is fun as you move through fine-tuning the ideas for partnership, but please have some framework or foundation for us to work from.
3) Influencers are not an extension of your internal marketing or pr department. The reason why influencer marketing is all the rage is because it differs from the “buy me because we’re great” sales push that is synonymous with traditional marketing and advertising. Influencer Marketing is like hearing about that hot new product, event or service from your best friend. While not all people have bought into believing influencers – there are many who have followed the climb of their respective influencer or community of choice and therefore respect any recommendations coming out of those camps. To that point, you partner with influencers for our unique voices and perspectives in the market. The moment you decide to control or censor the voice our communities are accustomed to hearing; you have undermined the entire partnership. This isn’t to say that you can’t have a say or editorial influence to ensure the sponsored material meets your standards, but realize the whole point of this is not to be like your traditional marketing copy. If this is a sticking point for you, you may want to reevaluate.
4) Compensation matters. Whether you are a startup or a Fortune 500 should not matter. If you want someone to pitch your business or service to a community/following they have spent countless hours building- you have to pay for that. There are many ways to compensate influencers that don’t always involve dollars leaving your bank account for ours. For instance, I had a pretty well known accounting system vendor reach out to me to do sponsored work. Funny enough, I happen to use them for my own accounting. I simply asked for a year of free service in return for my sponsored content. Their representative returned my email with a “sorry, we don’t do that.” I bid her adieu and never looked back. Besides the poor judgment of not working with a current customer who enthusiastically would have promoted their company- it was clear they wanted my endorsement for free. Testimonials are one thing and sponsored content is something altogether different. You need to be able to compensate influencers. I’m personally tired of feeling like I have to pull it out of the company representative as to whether they intend to compensate or not. Expect to pay and be upfront about your budget. Some budget is better than nothing.
5) Etiquette and Business Protocol are welcomed. As mentioned above, influencers are either intrapreneurs working for someone or entrepreneurs in their own right. We do not exclusively work for you nor do we operate in accordance with your sloppy protocols and corporate practices. If your company is the sort that has a great idea one day and abandons it the next, you had better figure out some streamlined way of communicating in a timely and consistent manner where it concerns influencers. This may be a small line item in your marketing budget, that doesn’t mean that you fail to communicate when a campaign idea has been abandoned or in other cases when you are no longer manning a community of influencers. I surely hope you would not leave other business deals/partners in limbo – why would this seem like a reasonable way to operate with influencers?
These are just a few of the many considerations that should be driving your conversations about influencer programs internally. As I was writing, I realized there is far more to share. I truly enjoy partnering with brands to help illuminate their newest services and projects. The point is for this to be both fun and beneficial to both parties involved.
Brands: Share your best practices with me in the comments. Influencers: Share your tips for partnership improvement in the comments as well.
There are still companies who are tardy to the social media party. It’s not a bad thing. Businesses have either thought social media was going to exit as a one-hit wonder or they were laying-in-wait until it became absolutely apparent that they needed to jump in.
What fascinates me is that the companies who have an interest in building an online presence via social media – seem to forget that they have some internal work to do before hitting the very public social airwaves.
Getting on social media is the easy part.
You want to be on social? No problem, head to your platform of choice, create your free account and get posting. The problem for businesses is that they jump on this bandwagon of social expecting that doing so and directing their employees to talk them up on social media is the holy grail to their success. If you are doing this or plan to deploy your company’s brand to the digital and social airwaves – please stop!
You want to be a beloved brand on social media, but your employees really want you to treat them like human beings.
Clearly, there’s a disconnect here. While you are spending top dollar with a PR or Marketing firm to expand your reach to social media, have you forgotten your employees in the process? You just spent tens of thousands of dollars on hiring outside firms to make you look good, yet your employees haven’t seen a proper raise in years – priorities much?
Customers won’t buy from you just because you have a social presence and your employees will not say positive things about your company just because you demand they do so. While it may seem that social media is a good place to “keep up appearances”, it really isn’t. This doesn’t mean you need to be perfect, but rather that people expect a real depiction of how you operate, what it’s like to work with you etc.
If the morale within your company is suffering and you choose to overlook it and head to social media – you are setting yourself up for failure. Not only are you making it harder than it ought to be for employees to share their experiences, but you risk your employees airing out your dirty laundry on social.
A mini case-study…
I was on Instagram recently and I see one of my former employers’ promoting some sponsored posts. Somewhat intrigued, I click on one of their ads to see what they are promoting. After reading the caption, I move on to the comments just to see what people are saying. Throughout the comment section is comment after comment where employees are bashing and making fun of the company for stretching the truth about how they operate. Not only were there employees on this thread, but there were people who have applied to this organization and were treated indifferently.
For the next hour, I continued to click through their sponsored posts, finding only one that portrayed a positive image and lacked any apparent bashing. Unfortunately, for this company their intentions were undermined by their lack of attention and effort where both employees, candidates and customers were concerned.
Let’s examine where they went wrong and how you fix it:
1) The morale in this company is poor and they blatantly overlooked it. As I mentioned, I worked for this company once upon a time. The morale sucked then and as I hear it – it is worse now. There’s not enough PR in the world to fix the fundamental issue of employee’s loathing where they work or customers being disappointed with their experience with you. It’s not a travesty that you have been wrong in how you operated. However, it is a cardinal sin when you know you aren’t doing right by employees and customers and refuse to fix it. Check-in with your employees, triage the issues and take action to fix it prior to heading to social.
2) They are doing a lot of pushing and not enough listening internally or on social. If I am the one managing the social media for this company, I would have retreated by the third sponsored post where employees were lambasting me. This company continues to put out more and more ads with the same result. The question here isn’t who can I fire for making us look like jerks on social media, but rather are we listening to our own internal airwaves like we should be? Companies spend a ridiculous amount of time, money, and resources pushing out engagement, post-service, pulse surveys. All of this knowledge gathering that we do every year and yet we aren’t hearing our customers and employees like we should. Less push, more listening would have helped this brand in launching successfully into the digital sphere.
3) Employee Advocacy under duress never works. This company was actually an early-adopter of social media. They were one of the ones who had the budget to explore what digital branding could do for them before it became the hot topic that it is today. Long before we had experts and established standards for social media – it felt wrong to push employees to talk you up on social. I will never forget them talking to us about the magical number of times they wanted us not only to be engaging on social on their behalf; but also directing the message. Personally, I hated my job with them at the point that this was deployed. Having them tell me that I had to say “nice” things about my experience and the company on social was not only a lie – but made me feel sick to my stomach. Social sharing should be organic and not forced. Would you want to recommend a place where you had a bad experience? I’m guessing your answer is: “no”. The same applies to your employees.
The purpose of having an online presence is to further your visibility and authentically connect with audiences and communities in a way you wouldn’t be able to ordinarily. Social is about reciprocity, transparency and being genuine. It is not only wise but recommended that you take the time to deal with any internal demons that may surface and undermine your efforts on social media. You may not be able to thwart every heckler or angry customer, but you will at least set a solid foundation for your brand to grow and thrive.
My marketing professors used to say that some companies would hire millennials to take care of digital media needs partly because they were, you know, millennials. I can understand having that viewpoint somewhat, I mean we did grow up with the technology. Over the past twelve weeks, I have been assisting Janine N. Truitt also known to many as “CzarinaofHR” in managing her brands for her businesses Talent Think Innovations, LLC and The Aristocracy of HR. In that time, I have realized that I knew nothing about social media in the business sense and could not help any business succeed in the social media part of their marketing strategy with just what I knew from college and my personal use.
Here are a few things that I have learned:
- Social Media Is Very Fickle: I have come to realize that while I might like Facebook as a personal platform, as a business platform it is hard to manage. I’ve seen firsthand how difficult it is to continuously get the same or more reach per post on Facebook and don’t even get me started on likes on the page itself.
After Facebook comes Twitter, this is my personal favorite and managing it has been so much fun. My favorite part next to engaging with people is the hashtags. It’s always interesting to see what people post under the common ones; but I especially like the ones that are used for business. The way I see it, it’s another opportunity to engage with people and possibly get some new followers. My only gripes would be: running out of characters when you have the perfect hashtag but it can’t fit. In those moments I can’t help thinking I need just one more character, especially when you have the perfect tweet.
- When it comes to digital marketing for business it’s not just about finding content, but content that represents or is related to the industry of your business: Before starting this internship, I thought brands just put their content out on social media or re-tweeted some of their followers’ content. I am so glad that it is so much more than that. Often times, people try to gain followers on Twitter by mostly posting cat videos or something that is funny. When you’re managing a business, you can’t do that and personally I don’t think it’s limiting; but rather it allows you to get more creative with the content that you do post.
- Social media is part of the marketing strategy not the strategy itself. During my time with Janine (“CzarinaofHR”), I learned that there is so much more to marketing than I thought – even though I studied it in school. Everything that I have learned during this internship is important, but I think my one main takeaway is this: there are so many parts to a marketing strategy. A business can have one overall strategy with several different components. Social media is just one component. While social media is important, it shouldn’t make or break you. As Janine says: “if one of these platforms goes down or goes away, it shouldn’t impact me so much that I have to close my doors.”
I have learned so much more during this internship than I thought I would. I look forward to having fun managing her social media brand for the remainder of my internship. This experience, has also helped me refine my career path. I know that I want social media or digital marketing as it is called to be a part of my job but not all of what I do. I love digital marketing. I wasn’t sure about that before this internship, but I am clear now. I have decided I want to be more involved in the overall marketing strategy of a company.
I want to thank Janine N. Truitt of Talent Think Innovations, LLC for guiding me these past few months and teaching me so much. She gave me the best launching pad for my career.
Kimberly Minto is has a B.A. in Marketing from Hofstra University. She is a Digital Media Intern for Talent Think Innovations, LLC. Kimberly aspires to have her own Marketing/PR firm someday. Follow her on Twitter at: . Connect with her on LinkedIn.
Campaign/FTC disclosure: This is a sponsored post. I will receive compensation for this post. I only work with companies I feel have great products, services and offerings. In accordance with my blog disclosure statement, I will only work with and showcase products, events and/or companies I believe my readers will benefit from. Dun & Bradstreet hired me as a blogger to cover their Data- Inspired Digital Strategies Forum Event in New York on December 1st, 2015. I am not formally employed by Dun & Bradstreet. All thoughts and viewpoints are created and written by me. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
Image courtesy of Dun & Bradstreet
It turns out the answer to the aforementioned question is a resounding “no”. There are a lot of ideas and theories about how businesses can effectively engage with their respective markets. Unfortunately, the limiting factor at the moment is not that we don’t have enough data or even opportunity to be actionable- but that we have too much data and very little adoption of using it for most purposes in business. This was just one of the many takeaways I gleaned from the panel discussions at last week’s Dun and Bradstreet’s Data-Inspired Digital Marketing Strategies Forum – which took place at the Sofitel Hotel in New York City on, December 1st.
Image courtesy of Dun & Bradstreet
The big question of the day was: How can we use data to better reach the right people at the right time?
Have you noticed that many of the ads that you view online now seem somewhat tailored to things you search or products, services and people you are interested in? What about the sudden shift in voice of several of the leading brands? The vintage use of catchy phrases, jingles and an impersonal tone is no longer the foundation of good marketing or good business. We’re in an age of rapid transformation on all fronts of business. Think about the last commercial or ad you viewed. Chances are the commercials or ads you viewed didn’t just cut-to-the-chase and urge you to purchase something. Of late, marketing is starting to sound and feel a little more personal. It is almost as if the company trying to get your attention had you in mind when they created said service, product etc. What is clear is that businesses must meet the customer where they are by making sure they are engaging with prospective customers with the right messaging or solution at the time when they are poised to make a purchasing decision. Anudit Vikram, SVP, Chief Product Officer-Audience Solutions for Dun & Bradstreet shared that: “Digital Marketing is about how many integrated touch points we can have with prospective customers across all channels.”
It turns out looking at “quantity” of touch points alone isn’t a comprehensive marketing approach either. Businesses have to also be mindful that the data they are harnessing is quality. Your insights and planning will only be as good as the data that has informed it. This is where many companies are missing the mark. It is key to take a step back and consider what the overall plan is. As I have mentioned in several articles this year, you cannot do the “data thing” just to do it. It was echoed in several of the talks that there needs to be clarity around the outcomes businesses are trying to achieve. It was also strongly suggested that businesses have a concrete plan for how they will harvest and synthesize the data that will facilitate digital marketing initiatives.
To ensure that you are on the right track to having good and clean data, do the following:
- Start small by piloting your data collection on one initiative or program. This allows you to triage any issues and standardize your measurements before extending your methods to other areas of the business.
- Be clear on what measures and methods you will use to measure outcomes. Data is only as good as its inputs.
- Implement the right technology resources to facilitate the collection, evaluation and application of your data. Technology implemented correctly can be helpful in centralizing the collection and management of your data- decreasing the necessity of having to manipulate the data regularly due to errors.
It is clear that the way we conduct business and market our services has changed given the digital climate we are experiencing. What isn’t as clear is: How do we get people to consistently make use of the data that is available them? Moreover, how do we get people to see that the use of data (be it in marketing or otherwise) as an opportunity and not as a threat?
Image courtesy of Dun & Bradstreet
Looking towards 2016 and evaluating the state of data adoption and data-driven marketing Josh Mueller, SVP of Digital Operations at Dun &Bradstreet stated: “2016 is an inflection point for digital marketing.” That is to say that we’re at a prime point on the trajectory and evolution of digital marketing where we are poised to “target, capture and convert” our most prized customers. It is time to decide whether your business can survive with or without the use of data insights. Better yet, can you afford to continue blindly marketing to your customer segment while settling for marginal responses and outcomes. Let 2016 be your “inflection point” and reflect on how you can start putting the data you have today to work in an effort to improve your business across-the-board.
For further insights from the event, check out two of the speaker presentations below:
Theresa Kushner, VP of Enterprise Data Management- Data, Data Everywhere: Making the most of it in the 21st Century.
Josh Mueller, SVP of Digital Operations at Dun & Bradstreet and Anudit Vikram, SVP Chief Product Officer-Audience Solutions for Dun & Bradstreet- Data-Inspired Digital Marketing.