Even though Influence Marketing is not new, marketers are still trying to determine which metrics matter. We interviewed Reb Carlson, Director of New Media, at RF|Binder and picked her brain about the current state of influence marketing and its best practices, and of course, where Affinio gives her team a competitive advantage in their day-to-day operations.
The following Q&A has been lightly edited for ease of reading.
Q. There has always been some struggle when it comes to identifying influencers and what the best practices are. What does the influencer selection process look like for RF|Binder and how does Affinio play a role in identifying influencers?
A. Our influencer identification process begins with data and ends with a human touch. We first consider what kind of influencers would be most relevant for our clients, whether topical, cultural, or demographical. That’s where Affinio is useful in understanding existing clusters within our client’s social audiences or identifying the participants in a relevant conversation. We then develop parameters and criteria for our ideal influencers while using additional tools to refine our search by that criteria further, whether through self-referential terms (social bio, etc.) or through conversations and the content they post. Once we have an initial list of influencers, we qualitatively vet them based on brand affinity and quality of their content.
Q. How important is taking a data-backed approach in Influence Marketing?
A. The idea of who/what is influential, relevant, or quality is entirely subjective without data. Because conversing and engaging on social and digital is now a part of our daily lives, data allows us to gauge who true influencers are based on who is the most engaging and who drives the most conversation. More than ever, marketers need to prove ROI and generate results. Influence marketing is a necessary component of any communications strategy, so why wouldn’t you want to find a way to ensure you’ll meet your business goals?
Q. How important is it for brands to understand their audience before dabbling in Influence Marketing?
A. Understanding your audience right from the onset helps answer the question of how best to leverage influencers, especially if the objective is to find ways to remain relevant to your current audience or attempt to reach a new audience in an authentic way. When a brand evaluates its audience, they might be surprised by who gravitates toward them and in turn providing direction of what kind of audiences they should engage with and which influencers to activate to reach them.
Q. What criteria do you look for in a potential influencer?
A. Engagement rate is the most critical one. Some macro-influencers find themselves “peaking” in terms of their number of followers and might start to see a decline in engagement rate. The larger an influencer’s audience is, the harder it is to maintain an authentic connection. We also look for whether an influencer can provide a new point of view for the brand or push them in an innovative direction. There are so many opportunities with technology and the talent that’s out there to create engaging, innovative content.
Q. A lot of the time brands are concerned about finding an influencer to speak to their audience, but it’s also important that the brand fits with the influencer’s audience. How does RF|Binder validate whether a pairing is a right fit?
A. We’ve conducted Affinio reports on a client’s social audience and compared it with an influencer’s audience. This is a great way to vet if it’s a right brand fit based on the similarities of clusters’ interests or allows the brand to reach new audiences. Affinio has also been a valuable tool to identify spambots that follow influencers. Clearly, we wouldn’t want to work with an influencer who isn’t reaching actual people.
Q. In the past, influencer selection was heavily reliant on vanity metrics (such as followers), and in some ways, still is. But, it seems to be becoming more widely accepted by the industry that bigger doesn’t always mean better, and that “relevance is the new reach.” Have you had to re-educate any of RF|Binder’s clients or get them to buy-in to this idea when recommending influencers?
A. We haven’t had to do too much re-education for our clients since they understand it’s more about quality than quantity. The logic that “you can only have so many close relationships” makes sense when applied to influencers. Many influencers might base their rates off of their number of followers, but they may not drive as much engagement or reach the right audiences. In terms of the bottom line, being able to save money by working with more influencers versus one large influencer is an argument few brands could disagree with.
Q. Playing off the idea that bigger isn’t always better, we believe that the power of the long-tail niche influencer cannot be ignored. Do you think brands are more successful targeting a few big influencers or focusing on a larger group of niche influencers?
A. We tend to recommend a scaled approach to influence marketing. For example, we might have a campaign with influencers from multiple levels of reach and influence and leverage them in different ways. Consumers are quick to change their opinions of which brands, influencers or media entities they like. The social sphere is rapidly changing, so it’s possible that some influencers find overnight success and some plummet. Casting a wide net and continuing to build a larger network is always a surer bet.
Q. Do you have a success story you can share where you incorporated Affinio data into an Influence Marketing strategy? What worked and why?
A. For one of our financial services clients, we were in the initial stages of an influencer program where we were vetting potential influencers to work with. We leveraged Affinio to do an analysis of influencers we had already identified. We were able to discover that some influencers had audiences where there were a few clusters comprised of spam bots or were audiences that were not relevant for our client. We were also able to distinguish influencers whose clusters aligned with our client’s content strategy and therefore would be able to provide more value in the long term.
Q. What do you think are some of the biggest Influence Marketing mistakes brands are making today? What should they be doing differently?
A. Top of mind are paying based on reach alone, not having influencers disclose partnerships properly, not being creative enough with content, and not allowing influencers creative control. When working with influencers, it’s best to work with them as true collaborators and treat them as the creatives they are. Have them work off of a creative brief, discuss how a product might be seamlessly integrated into the campaign, and allow them the flexibility to make the content their own. They know what is going to engage their audience.
Q. Where do you see Influence Marketing going, and how do you think it will change in 2017?
A. In 2017 there will be more of a grassroots approach to influence marketing where influencers take on partnerships that provide value beyond financial compensation. We are also starting to see more emphasis on identifying influencers based on the prediction that they will eventually breakout and become a top influencer. All too often brands want to work with the influencer of the moment, versus identifying influencers who are up and coming and therefore solidifying a partnership with them early on before other brands attempt to approach them. Influencers are always emerging, so it’s worth having a strategy that includes an ongoing identification plan.
About Reb Carlson:
Reb Carlson is the Director of New Media at RFIBinder, where she focuses on integrating new forms of communication, such as social media, influence marketing, and digital with RFIBinder’s core strengths of media relations, crisis management, thought leadership positioning, experiential and content strategy. Prior to RF|Binder, Reb worked for a number of social agencies and tech companies providing data-driven social, digital, and integrated marketing strategies across a number of verticals. Her clients have ranged from Oreo to HUGO BOSS to Charles Schwab. Her award-winning work for Oreo, Oscar Mayer, and evian has been recognized by Cannes, the CLIOs, Shorty Awards and the Digiday Awards.