TRS 006: Influencer Marketing for Business with Ellen Borza
Influencer marketing is all about communicating your brand’s message directly to a loyal following through your consumers’ voice. And when you think about 92% of people trusting peer recommendations over advertising, this exploding marketing channel makes sense for a lot of businesses, both B2C and B2B. Web Talent’s own Manager of SEO & Online PR Ellen Borza shares with us how influencer marketing is changing the way brands are engaging with their customers, successful strategies, and what’s next for some of today’s top digital influencers.
Though you can’t buy trust, influencer marketing can definitely give your brand a leg up. Are you looking for authentic brand advocates? Ellen has the tried and tested influencer strategy for you. Listen now.
Marcus: Hello, marketers and business leaders! I’m Marcus Grimm, and welcome to The Revenue Stream, the podcast from Web Talent Marketing. Here we discuss everything you need to know to build brands, generate leads, and convert sales from some of the brightest minds in marketing.
Marcus: You know, it wouldn’t be a marketing podcast if we didn’t use buzzwords. And today’s phrase is something that has only become part of the marketing lexicon over the past three years. Now look, if you don’t believe me, go to Google trends right now in search “influencer marketing.” And what you’ll see is that beginning almost with the new year in 2016 influencer marketing starts to move ever so slightly upward. And then boom, beginning in 2017 that hockey stick really takes over. So today there are agencies entirely dedicated to influencer marketing and others, like us at Web Talent, we’ve added it to our service offerings.
Marcus: So today we’ve got Ellen Borza on the program in her role of Manager of SEO and Online PR for Web Talent. Ellen also heads up our official Influencer Marketing Program. Ellen, welcome to the program!
Ellen: Hi, Marcus!
Marcus: Well, we’re thrilled to have you here. Before we dive into this new thing that everyone’s talking about, influencer marketing, tell us a little bit about your background. Where are you from? Where did you go to school, and, most importantly, at what point did you look in the mirror and go, “You know what? Digital marketing is it for me. That’s what I want to do.”
Ellen: So I was born and raised in Lancaster. I went away to school, to the University of Pittsburgh, to study Communications, and I’ve always really been into writing. I had kind of wanted to always work for an agency but didn’t have the opportunity until after school when I came to Web Talent. And what I really liked about SEO and Online PR was that I could still use my writing skills and also do a lot of pitching, which I had had some experience with from other jobs and internships. And then I also started, in college, a blog on the side which is how I got to really learn about influencer marketing. So it’s been interesting to learn, you know, from the influencer perspective and the brand side of things, working at Web Talent, which maybe we can get into that a little bit later, but that’s really what sparked what I do now for Web Talent.
Marcus: So you’re not an accidental marketer. You were kind of like born to do this.
Marcus: Yeah, so as we call it at Web Talent, what we call it Online PR/ SEO. What is it? But before we go in to influencer marketing, what are all the different things that your department does for clients?
Ellen: So my department, essentially, at the end of the day, we’re trying to help our clients grow online, right? That’s what we say about whether it’s paid search, online PR. Specifically what my department does is we’re trying to help our clients show up in the organic search results. So everything that appears below the paid ads, and our goal is that our clients are going to show up for relevant queries that matter most to their business. So within that, tactics that we’re using include content marketing (so writing/ optimizing for a client). We do a lot of online PR, which could include link building, content outreach. And then organic social media also falls within what we do.
Marcus: So a perfect, perfect role for someone with a strong communications background like yourself. Now let’s talk a little bit about this buzzword, okay. It’s influencer marketing, and it means different things to different people. So how do you define it?
Ellen: So influencer marketing is really all about trust. Ninety-two percent of people trust peer recommendations over advertising. So influencer marketing kind of branched out of everything else we do in terms of brand marketing. So really it’s about using influencers to communicate your brand’s message through their own voice to an audience of people who follow them, are loyal to them, trust them for recommendations about things they should buy, decisions they should make, things like that.
Marcus: So what are some top influencers or campaigns for people that still don’t really understand what this is? Give us some examples.
Ellen: So there’s a watch brand called Daniel Wellington, rooted basically entirely in influencer marketing. They were reaching out to people who had a strong Instagram following, asking them to create content in exchange for a free, really awesome watch. Lacroix, the water brand, has done a ton of influencer marketing as well. Fab Fit Fun, the subscription box, again does a ton of influencer marketing. So there’s a lot of brands that you may interact with who may buy from already that are engaging in a lot of influencer marketing already.
Ellen: And then alternatively you might actually be buying from brands that started as influencers. So there’s a brand called Cupcakes and Cashmere. Um, she was a blogger now she has her own clothing and accessories line at Nordstrom. Something Navy’s another one with a similar story: started off as an influencer now has their own brand. So that’s really interesting too with how influencer marketing has evolved; that a lot of these influencers have turned themselves into their own brand.
Marcus: And that’s something that I’m trying to wrap my head around: this kind of gray area. How is influencer marketing different than celebrity endorsements? You know, when I was a kid 30 years ago, it was who was on the Wheaties box. So how is influential marketing the same or different than your traditional celebrity endorsement?
Ellen: Right, so it’s difficult, and the lines are definitely blurred. Could you consider a celebrity like Kim Kardashians to be an influencer? I mean, yeah, she’s influencing people, but I think influencers tend to have a more loyal following. They’re more connected to the brand or product- at least that’s the hope. They’re recommending something they actually genuinely care about versus celebrity endorsements. I think it’s a lot of, you know, “Hey, this company is giving me money to endorse this product, and I’m going to endorse it. Whether my followers like it, believe me, eh, I don’t really care.” But you’re right in that the lines often really are blurred. And really anyone who’s creating content and has a loyal base is, could technically be considered an influencer.
Marcus: Got It. Can you tell me a little bit about… it would also seem to me that sometimes these celebrities are so big that you might, as a brand, put all your eggs in one basket. And it seems to me that for a lot of these influencer accounts or influencer marketing, what they’re doing is they’re saying, you know, we’re not going to just go with one, we’re going to go with 10 or 15. Is that what you see in the industry?
Ellen: Yeah, I think, I think that’s very valid. You might be able to reach maybe the same number of people working with multiple influencers versus what you could potentially with a celebrity.
Marcus: So let’s talk about the various channels for influencer marketing. It feels like there’s a lot of attention on Instagram. Is that where all the influencers are or are they on other channels as well?
Ellen: So you’re right in that a lot of influence or marketing definitely does take place on Instagram. It’s a very visual platform. So for a lot of brands that are in visual industries, like the fashion industry for example, it just makes sense to be there. YouTube is another one where we see a lot of influencers spending their time. But both Instagram and YouTube are really kind of extensions of what a lot of influencers are already doing. They started with blogs and then Instagram, these other social channels, kind of became an extension of that. Now what’s great about working with an influencer who has their own blog is at the end of the day, that’s still what they can control versus, you know, Instagram with everything going on with the algorithm updates, things like that. So there’s a lot of benefit to working with influencers on the channels that they own, ie: their blogs.
Marcus: So that’s a great point. As we always talk about these other social channels, but if I really have a good audience following, they’re going to come to my own blog, which is interesting cause we can kind of pivot that now. So a brand comes to you with a certain product, what do you do, and they say, “You know what, we’re curious about this influencer space. What would you do, Ellen? If you were advising or managing that particular brand, do you go to the channel first? Do you find the right influencer first. How do you even decide how to set up or, or where to set up an influencer?”
Ellen: So if a client comes to me and is like, “Hey, where should we be?” I would turn it around back to them and say, “Well, where are your customers going for information?” Are you a beauty brand where people want to see what your beauty product looks like? Do they want to know how to do it? Alright, so then maybe it makes sense for you to be on YouTube- maybe it does make sense for you to be on blogs, but I think focus on the channel first. Focus on where your audience is going for information. Then find an influencer who has an audience who’s in that niche that aligns with your business.
Marcus: That makes tremendous sense. Now, emerging platforms are often difficult to quantify, but at the end of the day, one of the reasons people love digital marketing is bceause of all these metrics and the accountability that are inherent within the platform. So now we’re talking about some, a little bit new here. We’re talking about something fuzzy. We’re talking about influencer marketing. How in the world do we quantify the effectiveness of influencer marketing?
Ellen: Yeah, living in the SEO and Online PR world, this is a question that we get a lot- is how do we measure the success. Looking at an influencer marketing campaign, I’d kind of break it down into three different areas. So if I’m looking at brand awareness, I want to know reach. I’m going to look at how many people you know, saw that post or had the chance to see it. If I really care about engagement, I’m going to think about social metrics like likes, comments, and shares. If I’m thinking about traffic or sales, I’m really going to use what we would call UTM parameters. So I’m going to create special URLs that I’m going to ask an influencer, “Hey, put this in your content.” And then with those URLs, anytime, say for example, somebody clicks from a blog post to a product, I can track that that user came from that post and maybe that user actually ended up buying something from that post. So it really helps to know what are your campaign goals. And then Web Talent can work with you to recommend, “Okay, here are some key performance indicators you should look at based on your campaign goals.”
Marcus: Outstanding. Now I want to talk just for a moment about some of the darks- and you know, it’s fascinating. Every piece of marketing, you know, and you could go back in the old days when when newspapers were printing copies of their magazine, and then throwing them in the trash can and calling them, you know, 20,000 readers that were actually in the local dumpster. And then we talk about click fraud as it relates to PPC. And guess what? People are also concerned about the dark side of influencer marketing, too. And we’ve heard about these influencers with inflated or fake followers. What are some of your thoughts? First off, is that true? Do you find that influencers are faking their metrics and, or what do you even do about it?
Ellen: Yeah, it’s absolutely true. Unfortunately, there are a lot of influencers who are inflating their follower count. And unfortunately that’s kind of rooted in the fact that I think brands kind of had a misconception that, “Oh, I need to work with an influencer who has a certain number of followers or this campaign isn’t going to get me anywhere.” So I think kind of what happened was, in response, influencers were like, “Okay, so I’m just gonna use this tool that’s going to generate some followers for me that aren’t really going to engage with my content, but hey, this brand is going to look at my Instagram profile and realize, ‘Oh, I have 100,000 followers, we’ll work with them!'” So I think, too, part of the problem that happened was that brands had misconceptions about influencer marketing and that it really is more than just reach. It’s about engagement too.
Ellen: Really, that’s what the focus is. So kind of as brands started to realize this, like Unilever CEO came out this year and said, “Hey, we’re going to crack down on transparency and honesty. We don’t want to work with influencers who have inflated follower counts.” Instagram too recently, this is very new, just said that they’re going to crack down on accounts that are using third party apps to help inflate followers. So both social platforms and brands are now kind of turning around and saying like, “Hey, we don’t want to work with an influencer who has a fake audience because now we’re realizing that the engagement is what we want.” What’s the point of working with an influencer if you’re not going to get anything in return and get that engagement?
Marcus: So specifically, what’s your role at Web Talent, then? Do you believe that one of your roles is to kind of vet those influencers and say, “Hey, listen, here’s a big number. I’m not so sure you know how genuine it is,” or you know, where do you fit in there?
Ellen: Yeah. So what we can do at Web Talent is, when we’re looking for influencers who we think are a good fit for a campaign, we’ll look at their engagement metrics. Does it align with, you know, their follower count? Does it seem too good to be true? I can go on an Instagram photo and, if I’m noticing there are hundreds of comments and say they have like a bunch of emojis or the comments don’t really make sense with the content, that’s usually a pretty good indication that that influencers probably using some sort of app to gain fake followers. And too now, there’s a lot of tool out there that can help to verify how authentic a following is, which is really nice as well.
Marcus: So you’re telling me those emojis that I’m getting on Instagram that it probably means something not good, right?
Ellen: It could mean a bot’s looking at your content, yeah.
Marcus: Well listen, like all initiatives, it seems that influencer marketing is simply a tool, and it seems to me that it would work really well with some brands but not for other brands. So I know one of the things we really, really love is when a brand comes to us and they’re like, “Hey, give us some cool ideas.” So what type of brand comes to you that you go, “Oh, you know what? These guys have to be looking at influencer marketing.”
Ellen: Yeah, I definitely think it helps to have a product or service that really appeals to the masses. That’s not to say that you have to have a tangible product to do influencer marketing, certainly there’s a lot of B2B companies doing influencer marketing too. So we don’t want to forget about that. But I think it definitely does help to have a product, something tangible, that you can either, you know, send to influencers, influencers can talk about that people will hopefully want to end up buying. I also think a brand really needs to, for an influencer marketing campaign to be successful, I think they have to kind of give up a little bit of control. And that sounds hard, but when you’re doing influencer marketing as a brand, you’re saying, “Hey, influencer, I really like the relationship you have with your followers. I really like the engaging content you create. Here’s our brand, how can you make it fit with the content you’re creating and make it engaging and interesting for your followers?”
Ellen: So that’s kind of a hard thing to wrap around if you’re new to influencer marketing, the fact that I’m not going to create the content. Sure you can provide some brand guidelines, “Hey, we don’t really want to include competitors in the content,” things like that. But again, the whole point is an influence or has that trust with their audience. So if you’re creating that content for them, their audience is going to realize that it’s disingenuous.
Marcus: It almost sounds to me like this is kind of the next iteration where 10 years ago brands were like, “Oh my goodness, if we create a Facebook page, people are going to be able to comment on it!” This is almost just the next level of that.
Ellen: Yeah, yeah.
Marcus: So tell me a little bit about how you and the team decided now’s the time to formalize this, and what does a formalized influencer marketing program look like?
Ellen: Yeah, so we have kind of been doing influencer marketing already for clients, but we were doing it within the Online PR retainer because influencer marketing kind of branched out from Online PR. But they are still a little bit different. It is important that we have it as its own separate service. Forbes did a study this year that found that 79% of marketing decision makers, were going to invest in influencer marketing, and 43% planned to invest more. So we see that marketers now are finally realizing, “Okay, this, this has value, so I need to put money behind it.” So it was a natural evolution for us to start to market this as a separate service.
Ellen: As far as what we can do at Web Talent. We can do everything from developing a strategy for your campaign or maybe you already have the strategy and you just need someone to execute it. We can help find influencers. Again, looking at those things like engagement, following, what the type of content they’re creating, are they a good fit for you? And actually doing all of the outreach and handling that communication, which there can be a lot of- great back and forth with influencers. They might have ideas to contribute, things like that. So handling all of that back and forth, contracts, we can help with that. A lot of bigger influencers will require contracts, and just nowadays it’s a good thing to do with these influencers. And then, importantly, measuring and monitoring. So was the campaign successful? What did we learn? What can we do better? Is this an influencer we should develop a longterm relationship with? So all of those things really from start to finish, Web Talent can do.
Marcus: So it’s a formalized program wrapped around a word that wasn’t even really treading on Google until 2017- which brings me to my final difficult question for you then we’re going to have a couple of fun questions. But my final question is, we’re really early in this game, so I’m curious, Ellen, if you bring out your crystal ball, what are we going to see from influencer marketing both in the short term and the longterm? Where do you see this going?
Ellen: Yeah, so, um, I think in the short term we hear a lot about the FTC cracking down on transparency- even Google is very honest about transparency as well. And I think you’re going to continue to see that push for influencer content to really, you know, you have to be honest if it’s a sponsored post… if it’s an ad. And there’s research out there that says consumers don’t care, as long as you’re being honest with them, that “Hey, this is an ad.” So I think for brands and marketers, it’s really important to continue to keep that in mind. Keep those FTC guidelines in mind because at the end of the day, if something- if an influencer’s content- doesn’t follow those guidelines, it falls back on the brand. Another thing that I kind of had alluded to earlier was I think all of the changes we’ve seen with Instagram and Facebook and these algorithm updates and those platforms just want you to pay to be on there.
Ellen: I think you’re going to see a lot of influencers go back to, again, their own channels, so their blog, because that’s what they can control. So I think you’ll see a lot of influencers and brands focusing more on their blogs versus something like Instagram where, again, it’s a little bit up in the air right now and it’s a little bit out of your control. I think as far as the long term, you’re definitely gonna see a lot of brands working with fewer influencers but for the long term. Again, influencer marketing takes a lot of work. There’s a lot to balance working with many influencers, and I think brands are seeing that they can develop trusting relationships with influencers and create really awesome campaigns and longterm content that engages with their followers. So I think you’ll see fewer influencers and those longterm relationships. And then I think too, we’re going to see more influencers, like I was saying, who are essentially building their own own brands and that’s really cool to see. And I think more consumers are going to be shopping from brands that began in influencer marketing.
Marcus: Would you expect, that the things that are within the wheelhouse of your department, that three years from now influencer marketing is a much more significant piece of the pie than it is today?
Ellen: Yeah, I think it’s only gonna get more sophisticated. And again, I expect more brands will continue to make it a bigger part of their overall marketing efforts. Influencer marketing can be a really great compliment to your overall marketing strategy. Again, you’re doing a lot to communicate your brand’s voice; influencers really can complement that in a really authentic way. So yeah, I definitely expect that.
Marcus: Well, that sound means we have now reached the end of the program. So, Ellen, I’d like to welcome you to the Marketing Minute! I hope you’re excited. I know I’m excited. So here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to ask you a handful of simple questions and all you gotta do is answer from the mind of Ellen. Are you ready? Here we go. Apple or Android?
Marcus: Ad blocker or no?
Ellen: Uh, ad blocker.
Marcus: Email or text?
Marcus: Facebook or LinkedIn?
Ellen: I guess Facebook.
Marcus: Snapchat or Instagram?
Marcus: Timex, smartwatch, or bare wrist
Ellen: Bare wrist.
Marcus: Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, or Don Draper.
Ellen: Steve Jobs.
Marcus: And finally, cord cutter or cable-holic.
Marcus: Cable-holic all the way!
Marcus: Well, thank you! Hey, that brings us to the end of this program! We have had Ellen Borza on the program. Ellen is the Manager of SEO and Online PR for us at Web Talent Marketing. We have had a lot of fun today. My name is Marcus Grimm. You have been listening to The Revenue Stream from Web Talent Marketing.
Ellen’s blog article How to Measure Influencer Marketing Campaigns