Essential Steps to Creating an Influencer Marketing Strategy

Marketing Tools & Tips The Data-Driven Marketer

Brands have turned to influencers to help boost their marketing efforts.

In a time when social media has become a pay-to-play channel, and organic reach and engagement are nearly non-existent, brands have shifted their focus to influencers to get traction on social.

According to Adweek, one of the leading roadblocks to a successful influencer campaign is connecting with influencers. Seventy-five percent of those surveyed said identifying the right influencers was their most significant challenge. In 2017, 84% of marketing teams allocated resources toward influencer marketing strategies. With 71% of consumers stating that they’re more likely to make a purchase based on a social media reference, that trend is expected to grow in 2018. Marketers need more tools to help them quickly discover and connect with influencers who genuinely align with their brands.

With the rise in popularity of using influencers to cut through to audiences, we noticed more and more marketers asking questions about how to build an influencer marketing strategy. We wanted to help our customers, and fellow marketers find answers.

Since we are by no means experts in the influencer marketing realm, we turned to our contact list of expert marketers. With much enthusiasm and excitement, Chris Dickerson and Molly Hawkins from We Are Unicorns (both of whom ARE experts on influencer marketing) volunteered to discuss the essential steps to building an influencer marketing strategy with us.

Our very own co-founder, Seth Bridges asks them questions covering:

 

Full Transcript

Seth: Hey, good morning, everyone. My name is Seth Bridges. I’m one of the founders of Rival IQ, and I want to welcome you to this very exciting webinar we have coming all about influencer marketing. Now, as you know, we’re an analytics shop. We’re not really an influencer marketing shop. So, we love to leverage the smart people that are here in town with us. I am excited to be joined by two folks here, Molly and Chris, from We Are Unicorns. They’re a Seattle based content marketing agency. Molly started We Are Unicorns, what, over six years ago?

Molly: Six years, yep!

Seth: Founder and kind of creative director. Chris has been at We Are Unicorns for more than a year. He’s a partner and one of the senior strategists there. I’m really excited to have both of you here. You are doing the work, and I just get to ask the questions.

Molly: All right. Well, thanks for having us.

Chris: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Molly: This will be fun.

Seth: Yes.

Molly: I hope.

Seth: It will be fun.

Molly: You guys can tell us if it’s not.

Seth: Yeah, exactly.

Molly: [Laughs]

Seth: Before I ask the first question, though, we are recording this. We’ll send it out. So, if you’re interested in rewatching, sharing with your friends, we will absolutely get you a link to the recording. And please do ask questions. We’ll save some time at the end specifically for questions. But one of our team is over here… and I’ve actually got my… I got Slack going, and she’s going to be feeding over questions as we go. And so if it’s really relevant, I’ll try to kind of keep my eye on that and jump in and maybe even redirect the conversation a little bit as we go. So, without further ado, let’s kick it off.

Molly: Let’s do it.

Seth: So, everyone is here to hear us talk a little bit about influencer marketing – this is something that is a part of your practice. But before we get into details and specifics, let’s just start with the basics. What is influencer marketing?

Molly: Gosh, there’s no one clear definition as to what influencer marketing is because I think it varies from industry to industry, company to company. And I think that’s really important to remember. So, I would never encourage anybody to just copy and paste something that they Google. At the end of the day, I see it as almost open sourcing your conversation. It’s a way to build context around your brand and what you’re doing by including other people, vetted, obviously. But yeah.

Seth: Good.

Molly: Chris?

Seth: Do you have anything to add to that, Chris?

Chris: Yeah, it’s a great way to get organic amplification of your brands. Finding the right people that resonate with yourself and your brand, I think, is really important, and understanding the reasons behind an influencer program and why you actually want to do it.

Further Reading: “3 Marketing Problems Influencers Can Solve

Seth: And so I want to…something you both just sort of said – organic. What is it about the organic piece of influencer marketing that’s so powerful?

Molly: Well, there’s an authenticity component. That’s a word that’s certainly overused in this space. But when you have other people talking about how rad you are, driving eyeballs to your social or to your website, that certainly is a lot better than you sitting there bragging about yourself. So, getting other folks to evangelize you is certainly opportunistic. Instead of paying… Because really influencer program is…one of the aspects of them is having people tag you, shout you out, drive traffic to you. And you can do that. And another method would be just doing paid ads, social ads, to drive eyeballs to your channel. So, organic…you’re not paying for…in theory. You might be paying downstream for that partnership or trading them product. But at the end of the day, it’s more authentic, and it’s probably, in a lot of ways, a cost-effective way to do it if you can truly nurture real relationships with people.

Seth: Got it. So, that makes sense. But then it’s not… So, Chris, it’s not that it’s organic as much as it’s the authentic piece that really is the driver.

Chris: Well, I think if you’re looking at organic, I look at reach. So, the way the algorithms work…it’s looking for a relationship between two people – whether it’s a brand or an influencer. And then if you work with people with a really solid following, they get high engagement, and say you’re having a conversation on Facebook or Instagram, the algorithms are going to be like, “Okay, this is a really important brand. This is an important person. They’re talking to each other, and they’re talking about a topic that might be trending or something special.” And so algorithms basically say, “Oh, this is really interesting. I’m going to make sure I syndicate this out to more…each of their followers to get them involved in the conversation because they’re probably going to be interested in it.” And the more you can create that relationship with two important people, that’s how you can sort of beat the algorithms organically and be syndicated to more people and have high reach.

Seth: Makes sense. So, I have a feeling that as we continue this conversation, that ‘relationship’ is going to be a word that comes up a lot. It sounds amazing. I want an authentic connection with other people who might resonate with my brand.

Molly: This is authentic.

Seth: This is very authentic. We hung out together yesterday for a good long time. There were not enough drinks involved, but it was still very organic and very authentic.

Molly: We can change that after we get through this.

Seth: We’re in Seattle, by the way. So, just note, Molly… Good idea. I like you even more than I thought. But here I am as a brand… All this sounds great. What do I need to consider? What are the factors that I should be thinking about before I even consider influencer program or influencer marketing as something I might want to try or do? I don’t even… Help me out there.

Molly: Sure. First and foremost, if you guys haven’t defined what your social mission is, understand what the purpose of your social footprint really is, you shouldn’t even be considering an influencer program yet. To back that up even further, really understanding your brand, your DNA, and who you are a brand is first and foremost. I’m assuming a lot of the folks chiming in right now already have established marketing programs, probably have a mission statement for your business. You should also have a mission statement for your social – what is the takeaway for anyone who’s traversing your social challenges, going and swiping through your content. Oh, wait, this isn’t Tinder. Sorry. Scrolling through your content.

[Laughter]

Molly: And how are you using your content to get them to do that? So, everything from developing a social mission, defining what your content pillars are, understanding what your aesthetic is and your voice tone. And starting there and then figuring out, “Okay, how can you bring influencers into the conversation to maybe off set the content production that you have to do or perhaps expand on the contribution in a way that you can’t?”

Seth: What I think I heard was this is not a quick fix thing, that all of the baseline fundamentals that we should be thinking about as marketers and as digital marketers absolutely apply, and that if you’re kind of a mess, an influencer program is not a savior. Do I have that right?

Chris: Yeah. I think you can look at it just as another channel of how to get your word out. I think there’s so many other things and distractions that go on in social where if you don’t have that dialed, all this extra time and effort that you need to develop these relationships with these influencers will go somewhat wasted. And it takes a lot of time – you’ve got to foster these friendships and relationships. And yeah, you want to make sure that you know what you’re talking about, how you’re talking about it, and why – what makes it ownable. And when you’re sort of identifying those people, how can we bring them into a campaign, how can we support the brand in this particular thing we’re talking about.

Seth: So, is this the conversation…as an agency that works with brands doing exactly this kind of work, I assume that this is the first conversation you have with clients when they’re starting to ask about influencer, or maybe you’re offering it as something that you see is a viable kind of channel for some clients.

Molly: Yeah, it varies. Everybody is at a different phase in their marketing. And some people already have an influencer program going. And we might come in and make recommendations, and look at how to tweak and refine it. But often times, especially with smaller businesses, we’re starting at the bottom. And we’re helping them define what the social mission and figuring out what that voice and tone looks like. And it’s just like relationships – dating in real life. Until you really know yourself, and what you’re about, and what you want and don’t want, it’s very hard to ask other people to contribute to your life. It can be very messy, as you know, as with dating. If you don’t have the same expectations, you might be getting content…and this happens a lot. People will get in the cycle where they have this team of people who are throwing them content, and they’re spending a lot of time communicating back and forth, but it doesn’t really fit. Or maybe it’s not optimized. You’re getting images that aren’t big enough, or high enough quality, or, gosh, you can’t figure out how to get to Dropbox because you use Google Drive. So, really…

Seth: So the big and the small.

Molly: Yeah, all of it.

Seth: It’s all of these things.

Molly: Yeah.

Seth: Have you ever had to have that tough conversation with a client who’s like, “I want to get in there. I want to be doing…” Like they bring the buzz word, but they don’t necessarily have the fundamentals. Have you ever had to have that tough conversation?

Molly: Oh, God. It’s very common. I’d say 9 times out of 10, yeah.

[Laughter]

Chris: Yeah, because it’s exciting. It’s new. It’s like the big thing right now.

Molly: It’s the shiny object, yeah.

Chris: But what I sort of look at is where the company is at in their growth cycle – whether it’s growing their audiences, their engagement. Everybody is going to start hitting the plateaus. When you hit a plateau, maybe this is when it’d be the right time for an influencer program because you don’t want to start it too early because your fans and their fans might get directed to whatever content you’re promoting and be like, “What? This doesn’t make sense.” And then you lose that legitimacy, I think, right off the bat. So, you want to make sure that your foundations are correct and being executed with a cohesive message across all your channels, and then how can you layer on influencers to support that message.

Seth: Got it.

Chris: You’ve got your hand in ten different cookie jars. You want to make sure that everything is coming together at the same time.

Seth: That makes a lot of sense. So, here’s the question I want to ask you. Now, this is about sort of some previous stuff. And I didn’t really cover this at the beginning, but both Molly and Chris kind of come out of that outdoor lifestyle space. Both have been around at Evo, so here in Seattle, kind of started as an online and transformed sort of into a physical space, a meeting place for events and other things. Chris spent time in Whistler Blackcomb, so also kind of snow, outdoor lifestyle. When you all were in those roles, so kind of brand side… Influencers are still a thing, right? It’s just maybe social wasn’t as big in the mid-2000’s kind of leading on. But if people are out there sort of wondering how do I start small, how did you all approach that back in the day, as it were?

Molly: I’d love to share an anecdote. You can totally build on it since… It’s why Chris and I have had…our pathways have kind of intersected or are very complimentary. And I think he’s obviously the more analytical…

Seth: Obviously. [Laughs]

Molly: …smart…I won’t say, nerd. I come from, I guess, the squishier side of marketing and the things unseen. But when we were at Evo in 2005, I think Facebook wasn’t even open to the public yet. And we were given this challenge to kind of build this life force around this brick and mortar space that really was undefined, and people really didn’t know what to think of it. And so we were trying to figure out a way how to take those really cool things we were doing in Seattle and bring them to the web and to this base of customers that they had already established. And so we would have events, and we would do a lot of art gallery…really fun things on the ground. And we really depended on capturing that through photo, video, putting it into our digital sphere, and posting through social, sitting that content next to where the products lived on the web, and figuring out strategic ways to crosslink. And that equated to sales eventually downstream. But what’s more is we didn’t have a huge network. We didn’t have a ton of necessarily resources or much of a budget at that time. So, we really spent a lot of time nurturing what we could call now as micro influencers. So, whether it’s friends of the company, business partners, or athletes on our team, we would give them…we would build a little digital toolkit to hand off to these folks and get them to share all those stories and all that content, and that community footprint at Evo grew really quickly. And then as the company grew, and we saw success, and the idea became a reality, we started to formalize programs into a real athlete program.

Seth: So, a lot of user-generated stuff even early on.

Molly: Yeah, definitely. It was really cool to see how the community around that business was literally circling around that brick and mortar but then around our digital community as well.

Seth: So, starting small wasn’t like…it wasn’t like you said, “We’re going to start small.” It was, “What assets do you have? You have friends, you have supporters, you have customers, you have people that are just hanging.” Often, many of us have friends that are into the same things that we’re in to.

Molly: A few friends.

Seth: Some of them are more famous, some of them are better athletes. All these things go together, though, to kind of starting small.

Molly: Yeah.

Seth: I think about in our business, we have a bunch of amazing customers who love to talk about the value they get. And in a way, they are providing our voice to their network and their audience. And it’s not like we have a program. It’s just something that happens. At Whistler…at Blackcomb, was this a thing that you all were able to take advantage of?

Chris: Yeah, so with ticketing programs and shops. Especially in Washington state… We had really good relationships with all the ski and snowboard shops in town, and some of the mountain biking shops at the time. And this is when they would do discount lift tickets at local places. And so that was all about having the relationships with those shops and the employees to be like, “Hey, when you’re selling some skis, you know, the snow at Whistler is great.” And it was real life activation. When it snowed a foot, I’d go and deliver powdered donuts to places, and ya know, here’s some…

Seth: That’s a small thing, but it sounds like good impact.

Chris: Yeah, and it stoked out all the employees. And then as the internet sort of matured, and social media matured, you could see that going online, and people were stoked about…any time the snow would be happening, you would always find these people that sort of bubbled to the top always commenting on your post, always sharing your post, and really interacting with you in a really genuine way. And I just had a stack of gift cards at my desk. And every so often, when one of these people would sort of rise to the top, I’d get their information, and then send them a little pack – just a total surprise. And then that customer is a customer for life now, hopefully.

Seth: You’d hope.

Chris: Yeah. And then they’re going to of course tell all their friends. And that’s a really small inexpensive way to start a really good influencer program.

[Crosstalk]

Seth: …gift cards, T-shirts. I think about people love to get sort of swag, particularly if it’s unexpected.

Molly: Yeah, and meaningful. I guess this all kind of picks back to the authenticity component, too. It’s like look at the people around you that are real evangelists of your brand whether they’re partners, customers, and look at how you can mobilize them first and foremost. And then as your marketing and your business matures, you can look at creating something a little larger, and more formal.

Seth: So, I know my friends. You know your friends. We all know our friends, and kind of our closest customers, and people we spend a lot of time with. But if you’re going to grow an influencer program beyond those folks…obviously, this is something you spend a lot of time doing with some of your clients…how do you evaluate whether or not an influencer is something…for a brand, how do you evaluate that that’s someone that you want to work with or not? And how do you…? How does that process go?

Molly: I think there is qualitative and quantitative components to that. So, you’re of course going to be looking for whether or not they align with your brand values. That’s important. Because people can sniff out a fraud a million miles away. And you want to ensure that if they do have a sizable following that it’s relevant as well. So, make sure their audience aligns with your audience. You can obviously look at their more quantitative measures like how large their audience is, how does their engagement look, quality of their photos, does it align with your aesthetic. And there’s a number of different ways that you can find these folks through tools like Rival IQ, and there’s a lot. You can Google how to find influencers, I’m sure.

Seth: For sure

Molly: We can help you find influencers. But I think the best thing to do is ask the people…the thought leaders in your space who is at the top, or who… Define your goals for your influencer program after you’ve defined your social mission. And then that will give you something to set out and search for.

Seth: So, obviously this program…these are things you do. Do you have an example of something you’ve done recently where you’re like, “We had a mission. It was to find people to help somebody actually get after a particular audience.” Can you talk a little bit about the process that you used to…?

Chris: Yeah. I think depending on where the brand is, when we’re trying to find… For one particular brand, we were trying to find influencers that could actually make something with the product. And we were able to go through and vet a bunch of DIY people. And we had a series of questions that we set out like where they live, are they free, are they expensive. We had the whole criteria of what we were looking for.

Seth: And this is like an email, or a survey, or something…

[Crosstalk]

Chris: Well, at first we need the vetting side of it. So, we need to find these people who have blogs, who have a good following. But there’s sort of the sweet spot where you don’t want too many people because then they’re going to be unapproachable, expensive…

Seth: Expensive.

Chris: …unattainable. But then you don’t want people with too few of an audience. So, there’s sort of this sweet spot that we’re going for that are affordable and high influential.

Molly: And also, it was really important for us to define what that criterion was because different people across the company and even in our office, they’re just throwing out all these ideas. And we’re like, “Well, yeah, that could work. That could work.” And everybody knows somebody or has ideas.

Seth: Sure.

Molly: So, by defining the program, it just helped us to narrow down as well and put kind of some walls up, so it didn’t get too crazy.

Chris: Yeah, so then we sort of identified a list of 20 to 30. And this is a big list. Ideally, you’d want to…you’d probably find five people and start small.

Seth: Sure.

Chris: We’d say go out… We’ve been doing this for a while, so…

Seth: Don’t go from 0 to 50.

Chris: Yeah, exactly. So, then from there, we have our sort of target influencers that we’re looking at. And then we define okay, what do we want from there, here are their requirements. Very clear, attainable… You don’t want to overboard because then they’ll be overwhelmed and like, “This is too much.”

Seth: Yeah, right.

Chris: So, you want to make it as easy as possible for them.

Seth: So, clear but easy.

Chris: Right. And then from there, because we did our due diligence, and have our foundation, and the core of the content plan, we’re able to say, “Okay, we like you. Here’s what we’re thinking. We would basically email out our quarterly content plan saying, “Here’s what we would like from you. Here’s what we’re planning as a company as to do as a brand. Can you think of anything that would help support this whole one message across all channels?” And then we’re able to get four or five responses back from that saying, “Yeah, we’d love that. Send me the product. I’ll build it. I’ll take photos from it. I’ll even write some stuff.” And we’re able to take that and be like, “Okay, great. Now we know for January. We’re going to have this blog. We can send out this email. Here are the social posts that we’re going to do.” From there, we can share out, and then that ambassador or influencer will also take that link and share it at the same time. So, then you get more amplification. It’s more organic. And then after the organic dies down, you could always put a small ad spend behind that and just amplify it even more and get even more organic added on to that.

Seth: Got it. It’s a funnel, like everything else.

Chris: Yeah.

Seth: You’re doing a bunch of research. You’re putting a bunch in the top. You’re figuring it out. Eventually, you’re going to do outreach. You want these people, but they don’t all have time, or they’re not in the right place, or something about the relationship doesn’t go. But once you get it, being clear, setting expectations, having a plan, hopefully delivering on… It’s like a relationship – being clear, setting expectations.

Molly: Yeah, and I also recommend defining what your goals are around those influencers and then setting a run of engagement, a period where you can say, “Okay, after six months, we’ll evaluate against this criteria,” so you can actually be able to speak to was this working. You have kind of a way to…whether it’s your internal folks that lobby for this person… You’re like, “Well, they’re great, but their content is not performing.” At least have something that you can, “Okay…”

Seth: Yeah, like, “This is the plan. This is what’s happened or not.”

Molly: Yeah.

Seth: So, are there…? The hardest part for many people in marketing… When you’re working on your own channels, and you’re working with your own team, it’s easy. As soon as you start to bring in outside people who have different schedules, and different expectations…also just getting those conversations… Again, it’s kind of like dating. How do you start the conversation? Are there better or worse ways? For example, do you email people? Do you DM them? Do you…? Or does it just depend?

Molly: Oh, boy. Yeah, it really depends. And I think it’s all of the above. My knee-jerk reaction to that is trying to find the most authentic personal way to do your outreach. If it’s somebody within your network, or you can get an introduction, that’s always the best way, I think. Obviously, if you’re just finding them through searches… A lot of people will publish their email or their website on their profiles, and you can just hit them up or DM them. It all depends on the space, the people, your time and resources. But I think doing so in the most personal way… Make sure that you know what you’re going to ask of them and what you want to say. Because they’re as busy as you are, and that’s just the world we live in today. And so the more prepared you can be and the more concise your ask can be initially, the better. And get them excited, too.

Seth: You would hope. That’s why you want them, right?

Molly: Yeah. Be prepared to share what you’re up to. Don’t go straight to the ask. You got to fluff a little bit, get them excited about what you’ve got going on so that they can know. Odds are they may not know who you are or what you are.

Seth: So, maybe the ask isn’t even the first thing that you go with often.

Molly: Yeah.

Seth: It’s a… I’m going to just keep going back to data or marriage here. You don’t just go for the ask.

Molly: You’re selling yourself, too. Don’t forget it. Yeah, definitely. And make sure they understand how…when you’re reaching out to them that they can understand how they would fit into your world and what that relationship could look like. A lot of people are getting used and abused, and it’s a very transactional thing these days because of influencer programs, and Instagram, and all this is very much a shiny object. And I think if people feel like amongst all the inquiries that they’re getting that there’s something a little more special about your program, I think they’re going to be more apt to give you their time.

Seth: Yeah, I think just really connecting with people on an ongoing basis has got to be that baseline. I was talking to another one of our customers who was talking a little bit about his influencer program. And he said, “Man, it’s like I almost need SalesForce to keep up with these people’s birthdays and the special events in their lives because it’s actually like I’ve become friends with a lot of these people. And it’s work.”

Molly: Yeah, it really is. You got to nurture those relationships. And again, it’s just like dating… Whether you do it systematically – make sure you check in with them. You remind them of what their little roles are. They’re busy people. No matter what… In every situation, I think I’ve found it to be a challenge… because especially if you’re an outdoor brand, you have a program that’s based around athletes that you’re asking them to go out into the wilderness to get photos. Of course, they’re maybe not going to be as connected. So, I think setting an expectation to some degree, have a cadence or protocol for communication with them that you explain, and then maybe tailor those communication pathways to the individual. But for every post, you’re going to spend hours communicating with those people.

Chris: Yeah, and also just pick up the phone and talk to the people, too.

[Laughter]

Seth: That goes…

[Crosstalk]

Seth: That’s a good life rule.

Chris: Like, I feel like you could, there’s [INAUDIBLE]the three emails or three texts, you should probably just call them.

[Crosstalk]

Seth: I know. People say that millennials don’t want to talk on the phone. I’m not a millennial. I like the phone. But connecting with people in the way that they want to be connected with, I think is generally an important…

[Crosstalk]

Molly: And sometimes it means Facebook Messenger. In some cases, we’ve created Facebook groups that are closed for our influencer programs that are a really great way to connect those individuals directly. As well, it becomes one repository when you can do your ongoing touch basis with those folks.

Seth: Yeah, that’s great.

Chris: Yeah. Well, with Facebook private groups for influencers, what I think is really interesting here is that you’re connecting these influencers who might not know each other, especially with athletes.

Seth: Do you have a good story about something that came of connecting two athletes or two influencers in some space where it created a new project or created kind of some better…some better than…

[Crosstalk]

Chris: Yeah. What’s also kind of cool about these little groups whether…you can create them on Instagram or Facebook. And if you sort of challenge them and say, “Hey…”

[Crosstalk]

Seth: “…what are you guys doing this week? What did you do this weekend? Upload some photos to the group.” And then a lot of times, they will be like, “Oh, you’re an ambassador, too? I had no idea.” So, connecting those dots is pretty neat. And then seeing them just almost challenging each other but helping each other at the same time.

Seth: So, is this like guys jumping off bigger and bigger cliffs…

[Crosstalk]

Molly: We’re not going to ask anybody to jump off cliffs.

Seth: Well, that’s a good rule.

Molly: I think there’s…

Chris: It helps them support each other…

Seth: Yeah, I know…

Further Reading: “3 Brands That Nailed Influencer Marketing in 2017

Chris: …even outside the brand. So, you created that connection, which is pretty valuable. And then you’re going to be known as the connector.

Seth: The connector.

Molly: Yeah, and everybody still… This is a much bigger conversation, but everybody is looking for connections and community around these shared common values. And I think it’s doing something much bigger if you can help build those bonds in that way. And yeah, there’s a lot of different vehicles for doing that, but that’s a really good example.

Seth: That’s awesome. So, there’s a ton of questions coming in. But before… I have one more thing that I think want to have you guys talk about because if you’re doing a program, you’re doing it to achieve a result. We talked about setting expectations, setting goals, particularly as an agency working with a brand, or if you’re doing it in-house. You still report to someone. This is still spending time, or money, or both to achieve an outcome. How do you all think about measuring the success or measuring the outcomes of the influencer programs you do?

Chris: Well, I think it goes back to that clear set of expectations – not only what you’re expecting from them but what you think you’re going to get out of it. And defining those goals up front, I think is really important because then you always have something to go back to. If you’re looking at quantitative sort of things, I want to look at reach, performance, how their images or videos doing compared to other people…

[Crosstalk]

Seth: And you’re looking for engagement…like video engagement, driving traffic, everything that…

Molly: Yeah, and how much are they interacting with your content, too? Because hopefully, you’re having a two-way conversation as well.

Seth: Sure.

Chris: Yeah, and maybe that’s what you want, also. Like at Evo, their team, they just want to be part of a community and support progressive athletes that are driving skiing, and snowboarding, surfing, or mountain biking.

Seth: Right.

Chris: They’re not too concerned about getting tons and tons of content. I haven’t been there for a couple of years, so maybe this has changed. But at the time, it was more of a soft ask like we are here to support you to do…make the sport better. And that was sort of the mission. And they did have some criteria and things that they needed to fulfill, but that wasn’t the most important thing. It was really about driving the community and creating that relationship. And because we knew that, we were okay with what they were doing. So, understanding what you think the outcome should be is super important.

Seth: And is that something…some of that measurement…whether it’s, again, more qualitative, if you’re coming particularly from a more creative angle where you’re trying to… I could never say that’s on brand or off-brand within reason. But some of the metrics… Metrics sort of don’t lie. And obviously, it’s useful to report back to your brand, or your client, or your boss. But do you also use some of those metrics about activity and some of the participation back to the influencers to either engage more or to actually decide like, “No, we’re done with this particular person.”

Chris: Yeah, so some things that we’ll do is do a six-month review of images and posts that did really, really well and posts that didn’t do so well. So, we’ll evaluate it based upon the content of the image, the copy of the image, and composition of the image. And you can see a very clear set that wins and the very clear set that aren’t doing very well with the audience. So, you might not want the same look and feel of every single photo because you do want to make sure that you’re representing your brand. We’ve got brands that are…they do a lot of community service work. But community service posts don’t do that well. But it’s a super important brand to tell that story. So, it’s totally fine if those don’t perform well. But as a brand, as a full, it’s very important to tell that story. So, going back to what performs well and what doesn’t perform well – we’ll often send guidelines out to ambassadors and influencers saying, “Hey, these types of photos are doing really, really well right now.”

Seth: Got it. So, you’re using some of the analytics about success or lack thereof to actually coach the influencers to do things that are going to help them become more successful which hopefully, in turn, helps you become more successful as well.

Molly: Yeah. And again, there’s no one right way to do this or wrong way. And even when you set your goals or build your roadmap and your toolkit for these folks and yourself…you want to constantly assess, reassess, and refine your program.

Seth: So, as metrics nerd…we’re clearly the metrics nerds. I don’t know how we got pegged.

[Laughter]

Seth: But I’ll just own it for the moment. Metrics matter. And having kind of quick access to data about kind of every facet of this… It sounds like every facet of this funnel so far from finding folks, engaging them, keeping folks on track, coaching, supporting, and then kind of continuing who to reinvest in…at every point, there’s some qualitative, and there’s some quantitative, too.

Chris: Well, and then I think if you’ve got some good metrics, you can tell when it’s working and when it’s not working. And social media moves so fast. They will leave you guessing because that’s the way they make money. You’re chasing the carrot that essentially is changing…

Seth: All the time.

Chris: …every couple months. So, data is a really good way to find out when that goal is changed. And then you’re like, “Okay, now I got to try this. Now I’m going to tweak this program in this way.” So, it’s pretty fluid all at the same time.

Molly: And for those creatives out there, it’s a really…the metrics and analytics are a really great way to solve or answer those questions, or to solve those fights and arguments about was this photo better, or was this photo better. Because there’s the person who maybe just personally attached to this one, but you look at the numbers, and they don’t lie.

Seth: We work with a lot of kind of very visual brands that produce lots of content and have a big reach. And looking at the worst stuff is often some of the more interesting analysis because the best stuff…it’s a mix of consistency or some flash in the pan. But the worst stuff has actually some consistency to it.

Molly: Yeah.

Seth: And being able to coach based on that is really, really important.

Molly: Yeah.

Seth: So, there are a ton of questions…

Molly: Uh-oh.

Seth: …that are coming in from…hi…for you all.

Molly: Hi.

Seth: And they’re kind of falling into two or three themes.

Molly: Interesting.

Seth: The first kind of theme that I’m going to jump into here is really about this idea of is it for pay, is it not for pay, budgets, sort of…and what’s… The specific question that someone asked what kind of ties into this is, “What should I be thinking about as a starting point in terms of a budget if I want to begin an influencer program?

Molly: Oh, boy. Okay, I’d love to lead this question. So, I think the question was what should you be thinking in terms of budget. Well, since the first step is really defining your program, understanding what your goals are, that would probably be something that you could do yourself. So, that’s free, hopefully, or just time. And then from there, if you really have the ability… Brand varies. Your opportunities vary. But if you’re able to look at mobilizing that, say, micro influencer community kind of like what we talked about and develop a program that just incentivizes people to go a little further that might already be doing something to support your brand or folks that are already evangelizing your brand, that’s a great place to start. And that sometimes could just be a matter of allocating some promos, and swag, or some trade, or discounts. That said, smaller brands or startups maybe don’t have a sizable community quite yet, so it’s hard to do that. So, then from there, if you’re…you really need to start from scratch. Well, you could look at trade, or product, or discounts is always a good way to start. I think very few of our programs that we manage or have set up have a paid or cash component. I’d say it’s 50/50. It tends to be product trade because the people who are authentically going to support you and amplify your message already love your product, love your brand, and hooking them up with a discount or product is enough of an incentive. Then again…

Further Reading: “5 Tips to Kick Off your Influencer Marketing Strategy

Seth: I just want to get you going on that a little bit more…

Molly: Yeah.

Seth: …get you going on that a little bit more. So, somebody else kind of followed in with other than money…which is obviously… So, I just heard you say it doesn’t have to be money. Product trade is a thing. What are other examples of ways in which you’ve said it’s not about the money pushed toward the influencer, it’s… What are some of the things…? You talked about…gift cards are, I guess, kind of money.

Molly: Experiences, too, is a…

[Crosstalk]

Chris: Yeah, and exposure.

Molly: Exposure.

Chris: Just the fact that you’re lending your brand that you’ve put your blood, sweat, and tears into. And you’ve created this community. Sometimes they just are looking for exposure.

Seth: So, you amplifying them sometimes as much as…

Chris: Right.

Seth: And they’re gaining access to your audience…

[Crosstalk]

Chris: Yeah, and they’ll hopefully get fans from our brands basically. So, that’s usually the tradeoff right there is like, “Okay, I hope I can work with X brand. They’ve got 10,000 followers. I’ve got 3,000 followers or what not. Yeah, give me exposure, and then we’ll be good.

Seth: So, when I see UGC contests, for example… And I know you guys probably have an example of this…where you have a campaign. You want people to tag their stuff so that hopefully you’re going to blow it up on your channels later. That’s the only incentive. That’s a thing, right?

Chris: Yes, with MSR, Mountain Safety Research, another Seattle company, make the best tents, and snowshoes, and water filters…

[Crosstalk]

Molly: Technical gear.

Chris: Yeah, technical gear. They’re awesome. And they’ve got a very highly educated customer base, pretty engaged audience as well. And they happen to be really good photographers.

Seth: What a mix?

Chris: So, it’s like let’s see if we can figure out something out. So, last summer, we held a 48-hour epic contest with correlating with a product launch of this handheld water filter. And we’re like, “Okay, so how far could you go in 48 hours where you want a super light pack?” And we just put it out there. We were very deliberate on the campaign, what we’re doing, how we’re doing it. And the response was incredibly positive throughout all summer. And being really cognizant of what we’re asking for and how we’re asking for it as well as the images that were selected to be featured was also a very deliberate…

Seth: So, people were out there doing their 48-hour epic adventure. Were they using some of this ultra-light gear, or is this even before the launch? This was just a campaign…

[Crosstalk]

Chris: It wasn’t necessarily so, but a lot of times there will be this MSR tent on this incredible outlook up in the mountains. It was beautiful.

Seth: Way deep backcountry.

Chris: Yeah.

Seth: Sun setting, they get the shot.

Chris: Yeah.

Seth: And they’re putting it on social as it goes? Like they were putting it on Instagram, they were putting it…? Yeah.

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. And then hashtagging it with the 48-hour epic. And then as those got pulled into the landing page, we were able to curate a really nice collection with the type of photos we were looking for. We preceded with the type of photos we were looking for. And then as the campaign went out and throughout the summer, people kind of caught on like, “Oh, these ones are making it on the site.”

[Crosstalk]

Chris: Which if I’m an amateur photographer or whatnot, this could be some pretty awesome exposure for my career or my photography whatever, just be stoked out that I’m featured with one of my favorite brands.

Seth: So, you preceded a little bit.

Molly: Yeah.

Seth: Obviously, it was a campaign though because there was a real push around doing this. But then did it take a life of its own at some point?

Chris: Yeah, I think so. I think it was kind of…went in waves. And every time we started talking about it again and how we leveraged all the channels… And again, it goes back to having a cohesive marketing plan. I think we were able to make sure… We work really closely with the MSR team, obviously, to make sure the homepage was updated, their emails were being activated, social…everything was all talking about this. And it was awesome. So, now we’ve got a ton of really, really good content of people that are letting us use their photos and images that we can use that currently on their Instagram account, and it’s a really nicely curated collection…

[Crosstalk]

Seth: And is that campaign still…are you guys still using that hashtag today?

Chris: We’re not promoting it, but people are still using it. So, it’s sort of taken on a life of its own.

Molly: So, I think that’s a really good example of a campaign based micro influencer program that has kind of taken on a life of its own that has this ongoing momentum that maybe…who knows…maybe it’ll become an annual thing. But we were able to mobilize people who were already saying, “Yeah, I love your brand. I’m already posting stuff.” How do we funnel their energy and efforts to support what we’re doing and incentivize them?

Seth: So, it’s funny then. So, again, there are a lot of questions sort of about budget and getting started. But I think I…if I play this back…and you guys will tell me if I’m right or wrong…but the relationship, the program, it’s like all the spend is much your time or agency time into doing this work to find the people, to run the program, to make sure you have your base. That’s where you’re going to spend a lot of your time and money. And of course…

[Crosstalk]

Seth: …I heard you could go pay people, but that’s not… Typically your experience, it’s much more investment in the program and the relationships.

Molly: Definitely

Seth: And that’s where you’re going to spend.

Molly: I’d say much…for folks who are familiar with the creative process, they say spend a good chunk of time in your preproduction and road mapping what your photo shoot or your video deliverables are going to look like, and you’ll save a lot of money during production, a lot of time. So, same with this. You put a lot of energy, heart, time into the preproduction or roadmapping what the influencer program needs are. You really don’t necessarily have to put a lot of cash into… But then again, there’s also that other side of it is like you straight up… So, just doing… I’m terrible at math. But if you were to do some napkin math, say, okay, there are 365 days in the year, right? Okay. 52 weeks.

Chris: You got that right.

[Laughter]

Seth: You know what, Molly? You can do some math.

Molly: I’ve outdone myself. So, just if you were to think about it, if you were trying to figure out a budget aside from the planning…say, you are doing just say one post a week which that’s…this is just for easy math….at one post a week, there are 52 weeks in a year. And safe you were able to…you wanted your influencer program to generate all of your content. So, say it’s just photos. You could figure out okay, well, how much would it have cost me to produce these photos on my own, or can I even. And then think about, okay, well, these folks have stated that they want to be a part of our program. There is a cost offset by getting these folks to contribute your imagery. So, say if you’re doing five posts a week, and say only one of them is coming from your influencer program, there’s still a way to do some math in there to figure out what it’s worth to you. Because if you’re having to pay for those photos from a stock imagery library or a photographer, this could either augment those costs in some way and so you could kind of validate this program and that way pull some budget away from, say, your asset creation over there, put it into your influencer program.

Seth: And that’s just on the creation side, let alone the sort of accessing their network and everything else.

Molly: Yeah, totally. So, it really quickly pencils. Even if you are paying them for their participation, the benefits still are much greater than…

Seth: Sign me up. I think… She’s like, “Great. We can do that.” So, let’s see. So, I got some… Scott…hey, Scott.

Molly: Hi, Scott.

Seth: Clearly working in higher ed. He’s thinking very specifically about sort of college and universities being able to leverage their community. So, obviously, the university community is really big. You’ve got students, you’ve got student-athletes. You’ve got notable alums, Olympians, so many things there. How can universities…? Are universities any different in this regard about how they might engage those folks to amplify some of their messaging?

Molly: Oh, wow. Gosh, I haven’t been in school for a while. I’m wondering… My first question would be how digital are the universities. I’m not sure what your position is, Scott, there, what you’re doing. But first, it’s like…going back to our conversation, it’s like what is your goal, what is your digital ecosystem look like. Somebody out there is going to have to drink. Sorry, I said ecosystem. So, what does your digital ecosystem look like, what are your goals for potential mobilizing these folks, and what do you have maybe already mapped out that you could plug into that digital sphere, and then what are your asks? That’s a big question.

Seth: Yeah.

Chris: Yeah. I think with universities, it’s… You’ve got politics, athletic programs, different schools within the schools. So, I say…

Seth: There’s either a lot to pull from or confusion depending on what you’re talking about.

Chris: Yeah. Like I went to UW, and I follow “Dubs”, their mascot, the dog. It’s [INAUDIBLE], but I love him.

Seth: Yeah. No, absolutely.

Chris: I have to follow the football team.

Seth: Right. And you’re an alum, and you have been there for probably a decade. We’re not going to date ourselves.

[Laughter]

Chris: A little bit longer.

[Crosstalk]

Seth: I’m a decade, so we’ll go from there. But we work with a ton of universities. And every kind of year or so, we put out a report, and we look at some of the top performing content. And this is not even influencer based. This is just what works for universities. And celebrating their community, particularly the notable professors, the Olympians… And this is not even working with them, just sharing the success of these people who are in their community in that…like, “This person went to this university 15 years ago, and now they’ve won a gold medal.” Does that math work? Are there folks who in their 40’s winning swimmers, whatever.

Molly: Yep.

Seth: And they’re using the success of those folks. I think often working with them. But the university connection is something that sort of never goes away.

Chris: Yeah.

Molly: Yeah, I think that’s a fantastic question and proposition. I think there’s a huge opportunity there. But I guess it just makes me think what are your goals. Because if, for example, you’re just trying to engage folks to increase awareness on the university to try and drive new students, that’s one thing. Versus trying to get people to sign up for specific programs.

Chris: Yeah, and I think it’s really cognizant of what you’re posting, too. If it’s just a photo of some dude on my Instagram feed, it’s like I don’t really care about that. So, some people might, but is Instagram the right place to have a guy in a lab coat or a bunch of students gathered around a table on my Instagram feed? I probably am just going to scroll by that. But if say you use LinkedIn, you can tell a little bit more of a story, a little bit more interesting…

[Crosstalk]

Seth: So, platform matters. And so Caroline [Phonetic]…hi, Caroline…

Molly: Hi, Caroline.

Seth: …has asked a couple questions. But she was talking about thinking…so, it’s a combination of…

Molly: Impromptu question.

Seth: No. Well, so… A lot of these platforms…all these platforms are global. Right, like Instagram is global. LinkedIn is global. If you’re really looking to attract more of a local following – whether you’re a local business, or you have a local angle to what you’re doing… Obviously Evo, for you guys, with a retail bringing up, that was a local thing. But are there things you should be considered when running a program whose specific goal is to try to blow up locally?

Chris: Yeah. Funny, we’re actually just starting a project with the…give a shout out to Washington National Parks Fund. They are in charge of…

Molly: You just give a shout out.

[Laughter]

Seth: It’s good.

Chris: Nonprofit organization. They help fund programs in the Olympic National Park, North Cascades National Park, and Mount Rainier National Park. So, it’s all about supporting our parks in Washington State. So, we’re going to help them with their digital marketing and digital media strategy and some campaigns that they’re going to be launching over the year. And it’s all about awareness. But because it’s just Washington State, our whole strategy is activating people in Washington State. So, whether it’s geo-targeting… You’re going to probably naturally attract local people already if you’re only talking about Seattle, or Washington, or wherever, Denver,  wherever. You’re probably just going to attract it. Another example is with Evo and their stores in Seattle, Portland, and Denver. Well, each store has their own social media accounts, so you can keep it hyperlocal. And then you’ve got your global accounts that’s the worldwide account that has way more followers. But you’ve got to get 4,000 to 6,000 fans on each one of those accounts, so you can get really local and really specific. Because if I want to know there’s an event, or a sale, or something going on, you’ve sort of fostered this local audience.

Seth: It’s about finding the people who are here.

Chris: Yeah.

Seth: Is part of that working with other organizations that are local, too?

Molly: Yeah, that’s a huge part of it. So, I think to kind of play off of what Chris was saying, one of the first things…all these platforms have the ability to geo-target your content. Because all of them are global. And when you’re saying…whether you’re doing paid ads on social or just publishing your content, it’s getting syndicated out to the entire country or world in theory. So, to get more precise with your spend and ensure you’re not wasting dollars or to make sure that you’re not annoying people who may not care about something that you’re posting that might relate to a different country or state, you can either target your posts with specific regions, cities, times. But then also I think the big thing that you were bringing up is partnering with folks and engaging them almost like influencers even if they’re business partners, clients. Engaging with them, making sure that they’re building equity within that region and from an algorithmic standpoint in Facebook or in Instagram so that Instagram knows… So, say if all these people are talking about this thing in the Seattle area, it’s going to start showing up more on people’s Seattle feeds.

Seth: Got it. So, for that project, you’re thinking about organizations like WTA, and Forterra, and folks who are focused on conservancy…

Molly: Yep.

Chris: Right.

Seth: …who are focusing on doing things here in Washington, probably all have highly overlapping but not completely overlapping audiences.

Molly: Correct.

Seth: And firing up some of those other organizations.

Molly: Yeah.

Chris: Yeah.

Seth: Because that’s…organizations can influence for you too.

Molly: And that could be very visual, and overt, and obvious. But then there’s all that magic going on in the back of all these social channels that… Facebook is listening, and Instagram is listening. And they can see those connections and put those dots together when all these related communities are talking.

Chris: Yeah, I try to put myself in Facebook or Instagram’s shoes like I’m the algorithm.

[Laughter]

[Crosstalk]

Chris: Sometimes I make a mistake.

Seth: Wow.

[Laughter]

Chris: No, not really.

[Laughter]

Chris: So, the goal of those companies, they’re publicly traded, they want to make money. What am I going to do? I need people to stay on my platform as long as possible. So, how can I help them achieve that goal?

Seth: Right.

Chris: And if my content is helping them achieve that goal, it’s more valuable to the platform, and they can see people are interacting, and their platform becomes more valuable. My content becomes more valuable because I’m now helping them out. Hopefully, I’ll be syndicated to more people.

Seth: Right. So, this is why native video matters. This is why visual content matters. This is why links offsite get no reach because it creates the opposite of the experience that Facebook wants. And heck, you can’t even link off Instagram.

Chris: Yeah, and then with an influencer, making…setting up those goals like, “Okay, place a comment on my photo, or share my photo, or share your photo,” that sort of stuff, that just helps the relationship between you and the influencer as well as helps the platform out at the same time.

Seth: Yeah…

[Crosstalk]

Chris: So, everybody wins.

Seth: So, we’re just about out of time.

Molly: Oh, no.

Seth: I know. We have been doing this…you have been paying attention for a long time. We really appreciate it. Sort of before we go, though, let’s do one more fun question for you guys just because.

Molly: Oh jeeze…

Seth: Let’s let people into your life a little bit. Podcast folks… Are you either of you big podcast folks?

Chris: Yes.

Molly: Oh, yeah.

Seth: So, what’s the podcast that…marketing or not…what’s the podcast that’s got you kind of hooked right now?

Chris: Oh, gosh. I like the Nerdist podcast.

Seth: Okay. Why?

Chris: I love comedy.

Seth: Okay.

Chris: And interviews. It’s long-form interviews with Hardwick. And I like the NASA podcast now.

Seth: The NASA podcast?

Chris: Yeah.

Molly: Interesting.

Chris: It’s pretty interesting.

Seth: All right, Molly did have you nailed.

[Laughter]

Seth: This is the guy who’s got a Ph.D. in computer science. I’m the big nerd, too, so it’s fine. How about you?

Molly: Wow, well, this might be nerdy in another way. There’s this podcast called Podictionary. It’s like etymology. You get a word of the day, and they unpack it. I’m a big fan. And then ‘How I Built This‘ is really cool. It’s just interviews with different entrepreneurs, business owners. And it basically…it’s mostly people who have had these crazy stories. Usually, they’re at rock bottom crying on their kitchen floor to wherever they are now which is…most of them are successful business owners or sometimes folks who have moved on and… Yeah.

Seth: Awesome.

Seth: See, now I’ve added a couple more to things I need to be listening to. Again, Molly, Chris…

Chris: What are your podcasts?

Seth: Oh, me?

Molly: Oh, yeah. Come on.

Seth: So, I have to admit, I don’t do a ton of podcast listening. However, this is going to be a business one just because it’s actually the most recent thing I’ve listened to – Intercom, the kind of in-app lightweight marketing automation tool. They’ve started an interview series, kind of some internal folks and some external folks. And I think they’ve been so successful in the business that they’ve been building that it’s sort of nice to hear some of their experiences. But what’s the last real thing I listened to? Probably Serial. The thing that probably everyone is listening to.

Molly: Yeah, nice.

Seth: So, you’re not learning anything from me here. My wife swears by Desert Island Disks, though. So, if… It’s long-form interviews with really famous people.

Molly: Cool.

Seth: And yeah, she talks about it a lot, and I’ve yet to listen to one. She’s smarter than I am, though. So…

Molly: That’s the right answer.

Seth: …listen to her and not me.

[Laughter]

Seth: So, again, Chris and Molly from We Are Unicorns, thank you both so much for taking the time.

Molly: Can I leave people with closing words?

Seth: Yes.

Molly: But I want you to have the last word.

Seth: I have no last word. So, thank you all. Thanks to these two. Molly wants the last word. We’re going to do that.

Molly: Be patient. It doesn’t happen overnight. And I think that’s the thing you want to make sure that you just nurture this program and these relationships as you would any relationship, and that takes time.

Seth: There you go – relationships. Thank you, both.

Chris: Yeah, thank you, guys.

Seth: And yeah.

Seth: Have a good rest of the week, everyone.

Molly: Yeah.

Danica Benson

Originally from the Portland Metro Area, Danica migrated north to work as a marketer in the startup arena after earning her MBA. She’s a small business advocate bringing her passion to the tech world. Outside of the office, Danica spends her free time on outdoor adventures and exploring the great city of Seattle.

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