On September 19, Cision joined 120 of Canada’s largest beauty and lifestyle brands and influencers at EMPOWER, Dx3’s one-day conference, to engage in a conversation about the best practices and tactics in influencer marketing. In addition to talking directly with both brands and influencers present, we monitored the conversations that took place on social media and will use that data here to illustrate the value that can be driven by bloggers, vloggers and social media personalities.
This guide will cover three aspects of how influencers work with brands and engage with their followers:
1. Why influencer marketing matters and the impact influencers make
2. Secrets about how to build influencer relationships that work
3. The importance of disclosure for paid promotional relationships between brands and influencers
We spoke with more than 40 influencers and brand representatives at the event and the message from both sides is clear: brands and influencers want to engage in relationships sooner in the creative process and provide more freedom to the content creator.
Why Influencer Marketing Matters
Brands that aren’t building bridges into social media through influencers are losing a generation of possible consumers.
In the mid-2000s, the digital and social media revolution was a cataclysmic event for traditional media. Upstart platforms like Facebook and Twitter became the public’s go-to source for news, leaving many traditional publishers with declining readership and shrinking ad revenue. Some outlets died while others got swallowed whole into large media conglomerates via acquisitions. This left a vacuum for content and as bloggers and social media personalities grew to fill it, they simultaneously developed a new media industry based on free smart phone apps. This allowed the audience to access the influencer’s content from anywhere, at any time.
While this has democratized the publishing industry, the creation of the “influencer” gives brands access to thousands of people who can create a wide range of content. As a result of this insurgents of new content creators—and accessible technology for them to utilize—YouTube stars like Rachel Cooper (@Rachhloves) have audiences as large as a daily national newspaper.
“I began with my laptop stacked on pillows on top of my desk,” said Cooper.
Today her channel has more than 700,000 subscribers and her recent videos are receiving an average of 150,000 views within a week of posting. That’s a similar number to The Globe and Mail’s Saturday distribution. Not bad for something that started stacked on a bunch of pillows created in a bedroom.
Audiences have moved on from traditional to social media. Readership and ad revenue for newspapers has fallen while user adoption of tools like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have risen concurrently. Canada has the highest social media adoption rate in the world with 82 per cent of the country using social media compared to 75 per cent of Americans.
With fewer readers, newspapers are struggling to earn enough ad revenue to survive. Meanwhile a handful of influencers can reach millions of people with tweets and Instagram posts for a relatively low cost—or even for free.
Individuals carry enormous audience potential.
During the week surrounding the conference from September 15 – 22, influencers commenting on the hashtag #Dx3Empower through social media reached more than 1.75 million people with just 700 messages. The impact of that reach was hyper-targeted to Toronto, where the event took place. While using the social listening features of Cision’s Social Software to monitor the hashtag, we saw that a single Instagram post about the conference by YouTube star Wendy Nguyen of Wendy’s Lookbook, earned more than 9,500 likes and 188 comments.
For brands seeking to capitalize on social media, influencers are gatekeepers to important audiences. Just look at YouTube: its audience encompasses 55 per cent of women ages 18 – 54.
Building Influencer Relationships That Work
The relationships public relations pros can build with influencers today are just as important as relationships with editors and journalists. They are both built on trust, communication and follow-through. The people brands choose to engage with are integral to the success of a promotional campaign. We spoke with influencers at EMPOWER to find out what steps companies should take when developing content partnerships.
Before beginning an influencer marketing relationship, these are the three questions to ask yourself:
- Does the content the blogger produces align with my brand’s style?
- Does their publication schedule align with our planned campaigns?
- Has this influencer worked with brands similar to mine?
Building an effective list of people to contact is the first step, but conducting research on those influencers is paramount. Tools like Cision’s PR Software give you behind-the-scenes knowledge of an influencer’s traffic numbers, posting regularity and the impact they have in traditional and social media.
Monitor your brand’s Twitter handle and campaign hashtags to see how influencers may already be connecting themselves to your brand. People who already love a product are more likely to work with its parent company, and some will even do a free post—especially if it can lead to a long term partnership.
Do your homework and read a potential influencer’s blog or watch their videos before contacting them. Understanding the content and style of a creator’s voice will be helpful while discussing campaign goals and negotiating content creation.
2. Write informed and personal pitches.
The best way to get to know an influencer is to meet him or her in person. Review your contacts and see if there is anyone who can make an introduction. Checking out their LinkedIn profile will also show you who you may have in common. Influencers are more likely to work with people they know personally. If an in person meeting can’t happen, emails work better than phone calls.
When pitching by email, reference why an influencer’s content fits your brand, provide examples of their work that are similar to what you would like to achieve together. Influencers treat their channels as a business so include terms like “paid opportunity” or “brand partnership” in the subject line. This will show them that you are serious and open for discussing the terms of a business relationship.
Pitches need to include four things:
- Product details to include
- Timeframe for the campaign’s launch and other related marketing tactics
- How you would like to see the promotion delivered on the influencer’s social channels
- Transparency on the number of influencers participating in the campaign
Doing so will help show you respect the influencer and will give them an idea of how to schedule their content around your campaign.
Before discussing budget with a potential partner, listen to what they value most. It could be co-promotion, access to your product or inclusion in a national advertising campaign—in addition to fees for paid sponsorship.
Many influencers have rate cards for their services outlining things like ad rates for buttons on their site, appearances and baselines costs for publishing promotional content on their social platforms.
Brands must be cognizant of an influencer’s production timelines. Vloggers may need 20 to 40 hours to produce good video content, whereas bloggers may need to stage a photo shoot or purchase materials to create a DIY tutorial. For YouTuber Sylvia Jade, the creator behind BeautyCakez, that understanding makes all of the difference.
“A video can easily take me 40 or more hours to shoot and edit. If I get a pitch from a brand giving me a week to produce something, I’ll either decline the opportunity or the content may suffer,” said Jade.
When discussing rates, be careful about drawing comparisons between one influencer and another. Nicole Wilson, the fashion and lifestyle blogger behind Dainty Girl, points out how tight the influencers community is with one another.
“We speak with each other, we meet at events and have a pretty good idea what brands are paying other influencers,” said Wilson. “You may have worked with a blogger with a following of a similar size but that doesn’t mean that there is the same value, process or experience.”
You also need to consider longer term commitments. Wilson will respond to one-off pitches, but only if there is the option for a six-month commitment.
“Brands are becoming more receptive to this and in terms of delivering results, [longer commitments] have a much greater impact,” said Wilson, who has worked with Turkish Airlines in this fashion.
When it comes to measuring those results, there is only so much that an influencer can provide as a sole proprietorship, which many are. They will have access to traffic reports on a blog article or views on a video, but pulling individual data points from social mentions requires additional time and notice up front to be sure the data is collected. Outline requirements for data from the outset to allow them to budget time for reporting requirements or utilize monitoring software to track your campaign’s hashtag yourself. Manual reporting of social data provides no long tail analytics and is prone to data pollution.
Influencers know what appeals to their audience better than a brand. That’s one of the big reasons companies seek out influencers. Providing strict brand guidelines reins in an his or her creativity and worse, it can harm the product an audience expects.
“Whatever story I’m producing, the first thing I ask for is full control on locations, photographer and style,” said Wendy Nguyen of Wendy’s Lookbook. “Publishers know what’s best for their audience and that translates to what will drive the best return on investment for brands.”
5. Discuss exclusivity.
To the same extent that publications will not offer exclusivity to a single car company that advertises, influencers are hesitant to enter into exclusive contracts.
“I don’t care if I’m offered a lot of money, exclusivity isn’t authentic for my brand,” said Sylvia Jade, who uses countless products in her makeup tutorials. “My audience knows which products I use all of the time and it isn’t believable that I would switch to using only one cosmetics brand.”
That being said, many bloggers and vloggers alike will hold off on reviewing a competitor on their site for a couple weeks.
“I’ll choose a single product from a brand’s line, like a hair wax, and avoid the rest of the product line,” said male fashion and beauty expert Anthony Deluca who is known on YouTube as Anthony DelucV.
Doing this allows him to maintain authenticity while still working with many brands. Furthermore, this way he avoids producing similar content to other influencers working with the same companies.
6. Provide feedback.
Honesty is the best policy. If something didn’t work discuss with the influencer what can be done better the next time. Natalie Ho, content creator behind DIY fashion site MyLittleSecrets.ca, built one of her strongest partnerships through a less-than-stellar inaugural event. Ho hosted an in-store DIY tutorial with a major clothing retailer but there were far fewer attendees than expected.
“The event was a bust and on both sides we found things that could be improved in terms of promotion,” said Ho.
After making modifications, including in-store signage and a longer promotional period, the next event was a huge success and the partnership persisted.
“The team integrates me in the creative process and we have a great feedback loop,” said Ho who noted it’s the in-person meetings and collaboration on ideas that keeps her working with the brand. She has also built relationships with brands like Joe Fresh, BEHR and Softmoc.
Influencers want to know if something is working or not. Reconnect with your content partners after a campaign and share the results or any other feedback you have. Influence is a two-way street. By making the extra effort to reconnect, brands can find new opportunities and build a stronger relationship with an invested partner.
Disclosure in a Material World
Disclosure on paid promotional relationship in Canada is not regulated, but if the pattern in media law from the last decade holds true, influencers will have to detail their paid relationships or face fines in the coming years. In the USA, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) began enforcing laws around blogger discloser in 2009. Influencers caught not disclosing paid promotional relationship risk an $11,000 USD fine. Being “paid” isn’t just restrictive to currently, but also includes being paid in product. The FTC’s guidelines state:
“The Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that ‘material connections’ (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed.”
The USA is not alone. The United Kingdom has also passed laws governing paid disclosure by tying it into their advertising standards. Earlier this year, the Advertising Standards Association issued a set of guidelines for UK bloggers to follow. Bloggers found out the hard way that contravening these laws can result in their content being removed from the Internet.
While disclosure isn’t legally required in Canada (yet), not doing so is ethically dubious. It can damage your credibility with key audiences if influencers do not disclose when a paid promotion is occurring. When reviewing an influencer’s blog or videos, look out for disclosure. If isn’t apparent, broach the subject in the beginning of the relationship and suggest one of the following means of disclosure:
Instagram is the fastest growing social media platform and has been a popular destination for brands to engage in influencer promotion. Instragramers use hashtags of #Paid #Promo liberally. As Instagram has no character cap, creators can also include their disclosure in the image caption such as thanking a brand for the free protein powder and yoga mat while showing a picture of the two items.
Disclosure in blogs needs to tell the audience that the content they are reading has been paid for in some way. That can be done with an explicit disclaimer somewhere in a post either written in the body text of an article or as a callout somewhere on the page.
Blogger Stephanie Fosuco of lifestyle blog LEOPARD is a NEUTRAL notates a paid post by labelling it as such at the bottom of the article. She customizes the disclaimer as she did for a housewarming she hosted, which Palm Bay sponsored.
Nicole Wilson of DaintyGirl holds contests for her audience like the one she did this summer for Johnson & Johnson with a summer festival gift pack including products from companies like Aveeno and Band-Aid. Wilson calls out the brand by name in the body copy and below the embedded image.
Slyvia Jade makes her disclosure really obvious and she discloses everything. A large portion of her subscribers are American and used to disclosure so she needs to make her sponsored relationships clear to avoid negative feedback. In her disclosure, she identifies the brand that is sponsoring her posts and the relationship she has with the brand.
Here is what it looks like:
For pieces that are not sponsored, Jade states exactly that:
Engaging with influencers can be a mutually beneficial and rewarding experience. Bring their creative forces to bear for your brand and learn more about working with leading content creators by contacting our team about Cision’s PR Software.