Influencer marketing has seen massive shifts over the past years – from FTC regulations creating industry-wide transparency, changes to API and policy affecting metrics, through to the recent threats that Instagram may consider removing likes. The shifts have made drastic impacts to influencer marketing as whole – forcing influencer marketing experts to analyze, adapt, innovate new ways for brands to be effective in their influencer marketing efforts.
As a result of these changes, HireInfluence is leading change through its debut of a brand new website look and fresh-perspective on influencer marketing strategy, challenging the brands we work with to be more than just “another ‘ad’”. New intent-driven context urges brands to design more complete experiences that bring together what brands need promotionally, what is authentic to influencers and their style, and what audiences seek from following the influencer. We call this the “sweet spot” where a campaign has immense value to all audiences and positively affects brand awareness, brand sentiment and brand conversion.
We had the opportunity to sit down with our VP and Senior-most Strategy Director Stephanie Stabulis to talk about the new changes and how HireInfluence is changing the influencer marketing industry for brands and influencers alike.
Q: I’d love to start this talk discussing the big changes to influencer marketing in the past few years and exactly how influencer marketing was impacted. Can you talk a bit more about what happened as a result of the FTC regulation, API changes and potentially removing likes?
SS: The biggest change that FTC regulation brought was transparency between influencers and their audience that drastically shifted consumer psychology. Influencer marketing is the digital form of “word of mouth” marketing – only at scale. Word-of-mouth – pre and early social – was never a monetized act. Brands weren’t paying consumers to tell a friend about their product – they did it because for real love of a brand and wanted to tell friends. When influencers were forced to relay that they have been paid, via #ad, #sponsored or new tools, it became a threat to the believability of that “real” recommendation that influencer marketing is built upon.
As the market got more saturated, people aspired to be “influencers” so they could cash-in on making recommendations (more on that another time!), brands started using influencers to simply relay messaging about their product, and we slowly started to see “#ad” being tuned-out by audiences. “Influencers” starting to look more like billboards than humans.
We recognized that we, as an agency, had the power to really change this trend by assuring that the campaign strategies and creative we put out considers the audience’s feelings when viewing content, bringing influencers and audiences together through the branded experience. Social media is for human interaction – it’s one of the benefits of social and influencer marketing – and we wanted to do our best to preserve this element in our campaign strategies.
API changes and the threat of removing likes, only pushed us further in the direction of considering the value that an influencer’s content has to its audience. When likes are removed, the metric that matters and can move audiences toward a brand’s end goal is how well an influencer can capture the attention of their own audience and move them toward some action. That is where the concept of campaign “intent” was born – to answer the audience’s question, “what’s in it for me and why should I do this [action]?”
Q: What is the difference between a campaign with intent and a campaign strategy?
SS: Intent sits one level above a campaign strategy. It’s the first thing we think about when brainstorming a creative angle for a campaign, to assure that our “creativity” is still strategically in line with brand goals.
We consider the campaign intent to answer the question “How are these influencers bridging the client goals with what their audience is seeking?” We devised 6 core ways that influencers interact with their audiences. They INSPIRE audiences with their authentic actions and choices, help facilitate the DISCOVERY of new products that have real use and benefit, they PLAY with their audiences by having fun together, they INNOVATE new ideas worth duplicating, they COLLABORATE with like-minded people to bring in new ideas and thoughts, and they help EDUCATE on their own areas of passion and expertise.
Great campaigns keep intent in mind when developing campaign context so that brands can tap into the existing “magic” between an influencer and their audience.
Q: How can brands enter this conversation?
SS: When devising strategies we look for the sweet spot between what audiences want to see from these influencers, what is organic and natural to an influencer to create for the brand, and what the brand’s end objectives are. This sweet spot is where brands can enter and be part of the conversation.
All strategies revolve around partnering brands and influencers to add some kind of end-value to the consumer. Gone are the days where this is just about spoiling an influencer for their on-going loyalty – this is now about providing for an influencer’s community in a way that is impactful to help lift and grow brands.
Q: How has this changed who brands should be partnering with and the way we fulfill talent at HireInfluence?
SS: We are adding additional layers of vetting now to assess whether or not an influencer has the potential to “create” and carry through the intent of some of our campaigns. Can and do they add value to audiences through their content? Are they authentic and believable in their previous sponsored work? How are audiences responding to their content? All influencers on our campaigns are now assess on their ability to do more than just provide “pretty” content; we want content that moves.
This is one of the reasons we still preach that there is immense benefit in going with an agency such as ours that hand-validates talent and has deep experience doing so. We know what to look for, have experience around characteristics of influencers that lead to best results and can assess this in both the strategy and talent portions of campaign execution.
Brands should be thinking about influencers who successfully provide on of the 6 intents to their audience, as part of influencer vetting.
We also predict that this will more naturally weed out those influencers with inauthentic followings.
Q: How has this changed the management of a campaign?
SS: We are seeing an increase in the amount of time and manner in which we brief influencers. Each campaign influencer is recommended to join a briefing call. Our aim is to have influencers better understand what and how we want them to create utilizing both brand guidelines and best practices. We have seen influencers create better content when we spend more time with them on campaign objectives and context.
Q: How has this impacted reporting?
SS: It puts a renewed focus on qualitative measurement, including items like sentiment, response and ad-recall, as well as the actual content value that is beyond measurement. Influencer marketing is very much the act of changing consumer perception – if a piece of content has done that, you have succeeded at getting closer to the end goal. We are looking at all areas in which we can use analytical data to show campaign effectiveness and continually raise the bar on reporting standards in our industry.
Q: How do you see this impacting influencer marketing as an industry in the near future?
SS: Influencer marketing has been on the rise for several years now – as more brands enter the space, brands will have to continue to be creative to stand out from the noise and we believe we will see more memorable campaigns that cut through clutter, deliver complete brand experiences, are more meaningful and have social impact.
As a whole, we hope to make positive impact – no matter our client’s industry – by continuing to bring high-value content to consumers that they will feel good about consuming to increase overall engagement rates in the communities we work in and change the overall sentiment of influencers as thought leaders, creators and change makers.
We hope to inspire influencers to focus more on building community around values and pushing their limits creators, and we also hope to inspire brands to recognize the full value they can make as a social and lifestyle brand through the way they partner with influencers.