Flip The Switch Episode 64: Influencer Marketing

John Saunders
By John Saunders

JOE: Today on Flip the Switch we are joined by Sam Wormser and McKenna Johnson of our PR and influencer marketing team to discuss influencer marketing as a whole and how it’s going to impact your business in 2019, trends, tips for working with the best influencer, and what not to do if you are an influencer. Let’s get into it.

00:54 AUSTIN: Welcome to Flip the Switch, presented by Power Digital Marketing. This is episode number 64.

00:59 JOE: Our Nintendo 64 episode because it’s what we all wanted for Christmas in 1998.

01:04 AUSTIN: Hey oh! Yeah we were just reminiscing about the 1990’s and shows like… Hey what if we do this is the Nintendo 64 episode?

01:11 JOE: Well, we were on the road a lot in the 1990’s and it kind of inspired me because this is our first ever Flip the Switch episode on the road.

01:20 AUSTIN: That’s right.

01:22 JOE: We packed up the gear and we went on the road, because everyone’s traveling for the holidays and we had to make sure we got that interview as best we could and this one was important to us, so we went with the source.

01:33 AUSTIN: Yeah, so two individuals that we work with here at Power Digital from the influencer department… We were out and about this week and did a whole episode with them where we just talked about the influencer space. They let us know pretty much everything you would want to know about it: how to become one, what the landscape looks like to be successful, how to work with agencies… And then vice versa what a business is looking for in a great influencer. So as an agency partnering with influencers, what we’re looking for to basically for our clients’ sake, right? So trying to become that individual on the influencer side and then also the success rate that we need to have and what we’re looking for in that influencer. So I found it to be a pretty fascinating show.

02:17 JOE: Yeah, the content is definitely there and the discussion was very interesting. We learned a lot ourselves, I believe. And, if the only thing just bear with us on the audio a little bit. It’s not as crisp as it usually is, but you have to make sacrifices when you’re on the road.

02:36 JOE: Joining us today we have the director of PR and influencer marketing, Sam Wormser, as well as a manager of influencer marketing, McKenna Johnson, to talk about the landscape of influencer marketing, everything that happened this year in 2018, and what’s to come in 2019, how we are looking on the influencer marketing landscape, all those things. We’ve got a lot to cover today, but how’s everybody doing today?

03:02 SAM: Good. Doing well. Happy Friday.

03:05 JOE: You both just looked at me like you’re not sure how you’re doing.

03:08 MCKENNA: We’re not. No.

03:10 JOE: Now we’re really excited to have both of you on. We do all work together, so we’re all employees here at Power Digital, and they’ve been doing something very awesome this year. They actually built up this entire department over the last year, year and a half, I believe. And the landscape has changed greatly just from an idea to an offering that we have. I think we’re all curious about kind of what is an influencer marketer at this point and kind of how does that function as a service that we provide? And then as someone who is an influencer what… How that would work with you and them.

03:41 SAM: Yeah, so it’s been fun to see things progress over the past couple years. I think we were starting out making influencers list in Google Docs and Google Excel sheets and then luckily we have a great web dev team here. One of them being John in the room.

03:57 JOHN:. Woo!

03:59 SAM: Me and his team were able to create this bad ass influencer database that we call Dexter. Name of an office dog. So we’ve really grown things and it’s been fun to see how the landscape has really changed over the past couple years.

04:13 MCKENNA: Yeah, yeah. Whenever I’m hand selecting influencers… So now this database probably has thirty thousand to forty thousand influencers in it…

04:22 JOE: So, before we get a little too far ahead, could you kind of fill us in on what exactly an influencer is? We have a couple older generations, guests… That might not understand exactly what it is and it is kind of a very common term that just gets thrown around a lot today. Could you kind of give us more of a specific or in-depth kind of definition?

04:43 MCKENNA: Yeah, so an influencer is somebody that has an influential presence on social media. They leverage their network to reach their community and kind of build an authentic following where they can have their voice and kind of be a brand ambassador for certain brands as well.

05:02 JOE: And we’ve seen this kind of grow, especially to Instagram over the last year. And who would you say… Kind of in the beginning, were the biggest ones, the ones that kind of kicked this off? And where did it start? When did it start? And kind of where are we looking at it now in comparison of growth?

05:20 SAM: Yeah, and something or someone that comes to mind for me… About, I guess, four years ago or even before that, one person that stands out is the skinny confidential. McKenna just mouthed that to me too. So same page there. She started blogging like eight years ago now. So she’s kind of one of the OG’s. There’s a lot of food bloggers that are also kind of the first to forge the path. And then more recently, I mean it doesn’t take too much right now to blow up pretty easily, so it’s really those people like Lauren Everetts from City confidential, who did a lot of that herself when the industry had just started. And then nowadays it’s just grown so much that it’s… I guess a lot easier to grow. It’s just finding the niche that you fit within.

06:15 JOE: I think that that’s the key right there is it’s trying to find where you fit into this world. It seems like it’s become relatively saturated with a lot of influencers. I’m curious about differentiating yourself in this… In this place. What are some characteristics that you look for that would be someone that you want to work with?

06:33 MCKENNA: So you look for people that aren’t partnering with every single brand. You want somebody that’s actually genuine and has a voice and an opinion. They’re not just saying that they like every single brand, they like every product, or they’re just partnering with people so that they get a payment. You want somebody that has an authentic voice and actually can tell you the things that they like, don’t like, and just really be honest and transparent.

07:02 JOE: And even from that standpoint, I feel like a big… A big part of this market that’s been emerging outside of them promoting products is being content creators. And more so now kind of how that’s changing where before a lot of times you had to hire big time agencies or big time companies to help you do that. And now it’s kind of seeming like if you don’t have as big of a budget or kind of as big an impact so far, you could get influencers or you could find people on social media that can help you with that content creation, correct?

07:34 MCKENNA: Yeah, I think content is huge nowadays. It’s something that we leverage in all of our influencer campaigns. So, if you’re running influencer campaigns or thinking about doing it, content creation is a big part because these people are a great resource to tap into, because they have those photography skills and they have that creative eye and you can get a lot of diverse content. So, for example for influencer campaigns that we run here at Power Digital, we’re leveraging all of that across social media organic and paid, and we’re putting it on the website, into email newsletters. So any area that you need content for… It’s a great way to work with influencers and be able to leverage the content that they’re creating.

08:17 JOE: Yeah I think that’s kind of a good point, where you don’t necessarily need to be a personality. You could have met a professional in some sort of industry like a photographer, a videographer, and through just being hired to do those types of services for someone. And then they start paying you to use their services with your skill sets and things like that. So I think like a lot of artists, photographers, videographers like that. That’s been one of the biggest things that I’ve seen where you’re not necessarily a celebrity or just a personality that’s good at one thing. You kind of have an actual legitimate skill set that you’re able to utilize and I guess you technically kind of become an influencer per se.

08:57 MCKENNA: Mm-hmm. Yeah someone that comes to mind that is an amazing photographer is Henry the Colorado dog. We love that Instagram account. But they are travelers. They are based in Colorado and they post a ton of landscape photography. So their core competency is photography. But they also have a cat and a dog that love each other and like the cat rides the dog. And it’s pretty epic.

09:26 SAM: So now the account is based off of the cat and the dog travelling.

09:28 MCKENNA: Yeah. So they’re photographers and brands go to them for their photography, not just because they’re this dog and cat duo, but because they have amazing content.

09:42 JOE: And these people are able to make a living off of their dog and their cat loving each other and them being able to snap photos of them doing that.

09:54 AUSTIN: What is it with the virality of social media and just the impression that influencers having someone’s like… It seems like it’s almost at this point that you become addicted to following these individuals. Is it… Would you say almost something that people fantasize about? Maybe being that type of person, or what is it that makes that influencer society or someone on Instagram so attached to these individuals.

10:17 MCKENNA: I think it’s just a relatability. So there’s different types of influencers. There’s more about micro influencer, there’s a macro influencer, and then you have the celebrity influencer. So the micro influencers are ones that are really relatable. I feel like people can relate to their lifestyle, they’re kind of on the same page as them and then the macro influencer is somebody that has a larger following size and more of that voice, where I think that their audience looks to them for their advice on new products or getting that exposure or trying new things. And then the celebrity is somebody that they… I think aspire to be but can’t really relate with. Then again, just a platform where they can get new products in front of them and see what different brands there are.

11:04 JOE: So on both sides of the coin, if you’re trying to work with an influencer, what are some signs that you are looking for. So say you’re a small business, medium sized business… What would be some things that you would be looking for in an influencer and I feel like I said the word influencer so much that I am starting to trip over my words.

11:24 SAM: Joe wants to be an influencer.

11:28 JOE: I kind of already am.

11:30 AUSTIN: It’s true.

11:31 JOE: I’m an honest influencer. But back to my question…

11:36 SAM: Um… What was your question again?

11:40 JOE: What are things that you look for if you were looking to work with an influencer as a small to medium sized business? What are the things that what you think would look… Be the best or you would get the most exposure from?

11:51 SAM: Yeah, I mean we definitely emphasize working with more of the micro influencer, because kind of like McKenna was saying. The bigger the bigger that you get, the less, I guess, credible the brands they are pushing are and then the more saturated your feed is with content and just sponsored, sponsored, sponsored. So that’s why we look for people that have like a really genuine newsfeed. That might be smaller but you can work with more of them because they don’t charge the outrageous sponsored fees that some of those bigger influencers do. I think it’s definitely worth it to explore working with maybe two of those bigger influencers, see how it goes, see how their audience relates to your brand and then work with a larger number of microinfluencers where you can kind of get a bigger bang for your buck. You can still get really great content. You definitely look at the quality of their content, for people who are interacting and engaging with their content. Making sure they’re not just all follow other bloggers, that they have the average Joe.

12:56 MCKENNA: Yeah, so I think that’s one of the biggest things that we see is that there’s this thing called influencer pods now, where people are leaving comments on each other’s posts. So influencers and bloggers come together, they comment on each other’s posts to make it seem like they get more engagement, but it’s inauthentic because it’s more of a pod, where they’re all doing it to each other versus their individual audience that’s engaging and then having that influencer engage back with them.

13:25 JOE: It’s like a way to ensure that they’re all taking care of each other to make sure that they’re all making money.

13:30 MCKENNA: Exactly. That’s the biggest problem and that’s something that we see. So if somebody’s posting about a water bottle and somebody comments like wow you look great I love your hair. It’s like okay…

13:44 JOE: Yes and I think too, that’s where something that I’ve kind of noticed too over the last I would say six months. Where the cats kind of out of the bag and people are getting a lot smarter when it comes to finding or seeing and knowing when they’re being advertised to. And so that’s kind of a big thing where moving forward in 2019, what are some trends or things that you can kind of expect to see or kind of getting back to that authentic kind of grassroots type of marketing that we would be utilizing in the influencers?

14:15 SAM: Yeah, one of the things people have been talking about is… I think as soon as it becomes inauthentic for a certain space or category within influencers, you just go to people who are even smaller, and even smaller. And so first we have celebrities, so you have like TV commercials with Shaq promoting something, and athletes. And then from there it was like the social-media influencer who had hundreds of thousands of followers. And then from there, it was like the micro influencer and now people are even talking about nano influencers. So Nano influencers are like you and me of the world who have like a thousand, two thousand, just like normal people with normal friends that are following them. And people that… It’s their posting about a brand. They’ll actually be like, oh McKenna likes this brand. I should check it out because McKenna is my friend. And so I think that’s another direction that it’s going. And I think people are gonna get weeded out very easily. So if it’s not like a big focus of yours I think growing your following that actually relates to what you care about is going to be more important than ever. And we have a good vetting process but I think it’s about brands actually doing their due diligence in seeing is this person legit or not?

15:36 MCKENNA: I think on the other side of that… A trend that we just see in the space in general is that now everyone thinks they’re influencers. Everyone thinks just because they can take a good picture and put it on their network, that they can start charging these premium rates for big brands, just because it’s more of a trend, less because they have that skill set or that following size. So everyone wants to be an influencer, so it’s weeding the people that have the following, versus the people that don’t.

16:07 JOE: Well, on that topic… I feel like I’ve seen in the news too, with the FTC cracking down on a lot of these types of things. What was some of the big ones this year? I know that they’re cracking down on the life coaches this year. And I don’t know if you could call them an influencer cause that’s like a business model… But I remember there was some news coming out over the last six months or so about the FTC cracking down on influencer marketing in some certain way. I don’t know if it was something to with taxes or credibility or something like that.

16:37 MCKENNA: Yeah, I mean it mainly comes down to disclosing that it’s an ad or sponsored so I would say that every brand that’s working with influencers, just to make sure that they’re complying and educate them. Especially… The bigger influencers know this and it’s part of all of their campaigns but if you’re working with influencers who are smaller and maybe just starting off then they might not be including that. The kind of crackdown… I think it was 2017 or 2016, when FTC sent letters like to Kim Kardashian and other really big celebs because they’re promoting products and not saying that it was an ad. But I think nowadays it’s just… You have to type that it’s sponsored or an ad and if you’re the brand and you’re working with influencers then that has to be a big part of your agreement with them in your contract. So there’s essentially an exchange of goods or services, if you’re paying them or even if you’re just sending them product and you’re not paying them. You still have to have that disclosure and it has to be not buried within your hashtags or like at the very bottom of your caption. It has to be like at the forefront.

17:46 SAM: And I would say this is something that influencers don’t like doing. They don’t like making that disclosure, saying that this is an advertisement. It just makes it look less authentic in their eyes. But I think that because so many influencers are partnering with brands, it doesn’t really have that impact of somebody sees a post that just says ad and then they keep scrolling. I think that it’s kind of the name of the game now, and people understand it, so…

18:15 MCKENNA: Yeah, and Instagram tried to help combat that by putting… I’m sure you guys have seen like the paid by or sponsored by in the very top about their posts.

18:26 JOE: In small very, very light grey text.

18:28 SAM: Yeah.

18:29 MCKENNA: I think it’s black text, but yes it’s small and it’s not super apparent. So even though they did that, you still have to disclose so… And the FTC was like… I mean that’s a great step in the right direction to show people and so that you’re not like coercing someone and it’s transparent, but you still have to have that same level of disclosure.

18:51 JOE: Yeah, I’m curious about the relationship between Instagram and an influencer. What… Are they pretty active in helping influencers maybe grow their business? I know obviously they want to take their ad dollars, but maybe if they have questions with Instagram… What is the communication look like between Instagram and an influencer?

19:09 MCKENNA: I think it’s pretty separate. I wouldn’t say that Instagram is trying to like help or necessarily hurt. I think it’s definitely a controversial topic like amongst the influencer community themselves because people are always saying like the algorithm is changing and screwing up my engagement and what’s going on. There’s definitely been like this year a ton of updates to the algorithm so you never really know but it’s honestly the same for us working digital marketing and you working on the SEO team and Google having all these algorithmic updates. You don’t exactly know so it’s I guess it’s kind of like the relationship between someone who does SEO and Google. They’re not going to tell you what they’re doing but they’re not trying to like overtly hurt you or necessarily build you up. They want the best user experience and I think Instagram is essentially going in that direction of being like a big search engine like Google. So it’s kind of a weird relationship.

20:15 JOE: It is. Yeah, it sounds a lot like Google and an SEO and I think there’s a little bit of conversation at least with what we’re doing with Google. They’re getting a little bit more open to talking to us and I don’t know Facebook’s gonna go that direction. They’re in pretty hot water with a lot of the issues they’ve had this year, just legally, so I think that they probably will not try to disclose a lot of information. But I think I’m curious about… Kind of just wrapping this up… Is maybe like a tip or a couple of tips for an influencer that might be listening to this that either wants to grow their business or have a relationship with an agency. What would you say to them to basically help them start their business to grow?

20:57 MCKENNA: Yeah, so I would say a tip for an influencer is to not try and cheat the system. Not try and buy followers or drastically grow your audience inauthentically. I think even the buildup if it may take longer, it’s gonna… You’re gonna build a more authentic following size that’s gonna be loyal to you and in the long run, you’re going to build your own brand and then you’re going to be more successful. Versus the people that try and grow really fast. They don’t really have an engaged audience and then when they rapidly scale and hit a certain level, brands still don’t really wanna partner with them because they’re not reaching a lot of people. So I would say don’t try and cheat the system even though it may take a while. Authenticity is everything. So I think that’s key.

21:52 SAM: I was just gonna say on that note… To McKenna’s point. Engagement rate is something that we look at heavily. And it’s really easy to see if you have 90,000 followers and you’re barely getting 1000 likes on your post, that’s a big red flag that something is going on, if people aren’t engaging with your content. That’s kind of like an automatic no for us.

22:14 AUSTIN: Right so not just purchasing followers to get followers for the sake of it, but more so putting out content and actually interacting with your audience, understanding your audience and your demographic. Just like we do as marketers. It should be the same one-to-one and those are the influencers that we want to work with because it’s valuable to our clients. So that makes a lot of sense.

22:33 JOE: Even just to wrap things up, my last question for you is, since 2019 I feel like the influencer marketing kind of segment is gonna have the most scrutiny on it or the most eyes on it this year. Do you think that this is the last year that people stop trying to market those hair gummies?

22:52 SAM: Sugar Bear Hair Care.

22:54 JOE: Or the tea. The detox tea.

22:57 MCKENNA: Fit Tummy tea.

22:58 JOE: Yeah, that what I was thinking of. Fit tea.

23:00 SAM: No, I think… Some of those brands made a huge mistake and like over exaggerated. So I think it’s not about the quantity of who you are working with. There are plenty of bad influencers out there and there are tons of like really great influencers. Because there’s influencers all around the world. So I would say, if you’re wanting to work with a certain demographic of influencer that has a certain audience rather than trying to be everyone and work with everyone, pick a handful that will actually make an impact for you in the bottom line of your business and people definitely notice the skinny teas and things that come across as totally inauthentic.

23:44 MCKENNA: Joe wants to try it. You could tell.

23:46 JOE: I’m already trying it.

23:50 AUSTIN: Didn’t work though. He’s very bitter.

23:50 MCKENNA: See it worked. He got the… Exposure.

23:54 JOE: Well, Sam, McKenna, Thank you for coming on the number one business podcast on iTunes. We appreciate your time and your intel on the influencer marketing world.

24:09 AUSTIN: Thank you to Sam and McKenna for joining us today, or should I say this week, for that interview. I had a great time. Joe, tell me. Are you ready to become an influencer?

24:20 JOE: I already am an influencer, Austin.

24:21 AUSTIN: Oh that’s right we just talked about that on the show.

24:23 JOE: I influence people, brands, decisions, word-of-mouth marketing. I’m the whole package.

24:29 AUSTIN: Yeah, but let’s really think about the amount of information that they’ve amassed truly in this last year, and the value that brings to someone who wants to advertise through influencer marketing. I think the thing that I picked up on the most is that it’s incredibly difficult to find a valuable influencer because of engagement. So you look at that follower count, you expect you’re getting someone that would really impact your brand but it turns out that that’s not really the case.

24:56 JOE: Yeah, and I think too it’s just the interesting time where people are now starting to realize it. And you can kind of sniff them out pretty easily. And we’re kind of reverting back to the marketing ways or the advertising ways that we were trying to get away from in the digital age. So it’s gonna be very interesting to see where influencer marketing goes in 2019. Hopefully it doesn’t get too oversaturated and yeah, it’ll be a good year.

25:23 AUSTIN: Yes it will.

25:25 JOE: And that’s gonna wrap us up for today. Happy holidays to everyone. Enjoy the last… The next couple of days off, if you’re listening to this right before Christmas. We’re all gonna be with our families so I hope you are too. This has been Joe, Austin, Pat, and John signing off.

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John is the Director of Web Development at Power Digital and thrives on the balance between creative and strategy. Using his experience in CRO, John approaches website builds with the user in mind, combining psychological and technical aspects of design.