From celebrities with millions of followers to micro- and nano-influencers, influencer marketing is a serious attraction for brands hoping to infuse their content with authenticity. Earlier this year, the influencer marketing firm Mediakix found that influencer marketing had become a $1 billion industry and is only expected to continue to grow.
At Bazaarvoice, we help brands and retailers find and embrace brand advocates on social media and incorporate visual customer content in their marketing mix. So understandably, we’ve been fascinated to watch the rise and evolution of influencer marketing in the broader marketplace.
But watching isn’t enough. To find out more about the evolving world of influencer marketing, we reached out to Dan Chizzoniti, the digital director at a PR firm in NYC, who manages social media and influencer marketing initiatives. In addition to managing influencer campaigns, Dan also works as a menswear and fitness influencer himself.
That makes him a perfect candidate to give us perspective on both sides of influencer marketing —the implications for brands and retailers and a behind the scenes peek into the life of an influencer.
Read on to see our conversation with Dan about what influencer marketing is today — and what it’s likely to become tomorrow.
There’s been an explosion in interest in influencers among advertisers, marketers, and brands. How do you explain this phenomenon?
The world of influencers is fairly new, and it’s only really been in the last two years that the field of influencer marketing has gotten smarter. Brands and advertisers are beginning to get a grasp on how it should work for them with their traditional marketing efforts.
In the beginning, brands would look at a person with a large following and send them free stuff to promote. That’s changed, and it’s become a much more mature market — brands are more particular and savvy about choosing who to work with. Marketers now set goals and desired outcomes and pick the influencers most likely to deliver on those.
At Bazaarvoice, we’re very interested in authenticity. With consumer content like ratings and reviews, it’s always really important to know that there’s a real person sharing their experiences in an honest way. How does authenticity play into influencer marketing?
It depends on the client and their goals. Whenever a client comes to me and says they want to do an influencer activation program, I ask them what their goals are.
I’ve come up with five ways in which you can work with influencers, which affect how I approach any project. Influencers can either drive brand awareness, brand affinity, growth – which is counted as social and web traffic, content, and sales.
Honestly, I’ll often try to downplay using influencers to drive sales. It’s obviously an important consideration for brands, and influencers can increase sales, but I think influencer marketing is best used to build awareness, affinity, and growth. Any brand is better served if they approach it with these goals as their top priorities.
How do you track and calculate ROI figures for your clients to show what you did for them?
It depends on the goals. If a client wants brand awareness, then it’s about the impressions, and I’ll track that. Instagram now allows influencers to access reach numbers, so you’re able to more easily see how many impressions a given post had. I can then share that across with my client.
But tracking ROI metrics really depends on what the client wants. One client I work with, for instance, just doesn’t have the resources to create content. So, we work with smaller influencers who don’t have big follower counts but have really strong content, and they will then make content products for that client. The impression counts are really low, but that’s not really the point. The client has really great content to share, and that makes a huge difference for them.
How much work goes on behind-the-scenes to create content for your account?
It’s not just, “Let’s put on this outfit and go shoot some pictures.” There’s a lot of time, energy, and effort that goes into creating compelling content. You have to start with a basic question: What kind of story are you trying to tell? From there, you have to figure out the location, hire a photographer, edit the photos, and then go about promoting the content you end up posting.
A lot of work goes into making it look like you’re not working. Like with any maturing industry, influencers have gotten smarter about the whole process over time. I find influencers reaching out to me months in advance to strike up partnerships to move things along and lay the groundwork for a client campaign.
It’s not just, “I’m pretty, let me take a photo.” There’s a lot of thought that goes into the entire process.
How do come up with the content behind a given campaign?
It’s a lot of back and forth and a lot of negotiation, especially when our management firm is paying an influencer. It will usually take two to three weeks to come up with an agreement. Sometimes, I’ve had a client who needs something turned around in a few days, and that can be challenging.
Again, everything is based on the goals of the client. A good recent example of that was a client that recently reached out to us to do a campaign highlighting their Halloween costumes for kids. We connected with a mommy blogger who had a few kids, and she was able to promote them through her blog.
We asked her to create three Instagram posts, a Boomerang, a whole Instagram Story progression, and a YouTube video featuring her family in these costumes. From there, we broke down what we were looking for more specifically. In this case, we wanted one photo of a kid in a certain outfit and another picture of a particular activity happening. The influencer then does what they have to do and delivers what you ask of them.
How do you price these services?
It’s based on the quality of the content, the number of followers they have, and the level of engagement they get based on their post.
That last part is crucial — since people can buy fake followers, you can’t always judge an influencer on how big their follower count is. You have to look at what levels of engagement they’re getting on each post.
I’ve worked with influencers for years now, and I have a good grasp on what pricing strategies should be. I know when influencers are right to price their services higher than the rest. But I always work to negotiate pricing when I’m bringing on an influencer for a project.
When a prospective client asks about what you do as an influencer and what the upside is for them in investing in it, what do you say?
I’m here to help my audience — and my clients — in an authentic, relatable way. It doesn’t hurt that I enjoy creating content and voicing my opinion, and I love being able to share things. If I can help show people something new or expose my audience to something I love that they’ve never heard of, I’m doing my job. And again, it doesn’t hurt that I really enjoy it.
When an influencer shows their audience whatever they’re using — maybe clothing or grooming products, for instance — people can picture themselves using that product. With celebrities, there’s a degree of separation. A celebrity is this aspirational figure that’s more out of reach and further away from the real day-to-day lives of most people.
With influencer marketing, there’s a degree of authenticity that, I believe, makes it easier to sell products. There’s a real person actually using the thing. That does a lot.
What’s the fine line for you between posting branded content and your own personal content? How much branded content is too much?
If you keep posting branded content, you become inauthentic. People are smart, and they’re not going to follow someone who’s getting paid to post any and every product all the time.
Influencers who do that come off as being in it just for the money, and they lose their credibility — no one wants to do that. When you’re an influencer, your credibility is super important.
My general rule of thumb: no more than 20% of your content should be sponsored, and 80%, or the rest, should not be. That gives you a nice balance and keeps you credible, while also exposing your audience to new things.
What’s the ideal relationship between you and a brand? How much creative control do you get to exercise?
Not as much creative control as I’d like, to be honest. At the end of the day, the brand is in the position of power, and I’ll give them as much advice and direction as possible. Ultimately, they’re going to make their own decision though. Most of the time, they’ll end up realizing that I was correct and that will end up setting the stage for a better relationship moving forward [laughter].
We hear terms like micro-influencer and celebrity influencer and so on and so forth. What are the different categories of influencers?
There’s top-tier, mid-tier, and then micro-influencers. Top tier influencers are the celebrities of the world who command massive followings. Mid-tier influencers have around 200,000 followers, while micro-influencers have under 100,000 followers.
But there’s a curious thing that happens as influencers get bigger and bigger. They become less relatable and, even if they’re not quite celebrities, they’re more distant. There’s a personal connection that starts to disappear.
That’s not the case with micro-influencers — they’re often very relatable and more trusted. Their audiences are also more concentrated in certain demographics, which can be very appealing to brands and representatives. Big celebrities and influencers will often pull in a huge audience, but it’s one that covers a lot of verticals and segments, making it more difficult to really target a specific group.
Do you see more value for brands working with micro-influencers because of that distinction?
Yes, especially if you’re working with a specific budget. You could go and blow all of your budget on one influencer and get one or two posts out it — whoever sees it, sees it. That’s great.
But if you want to target specific segments and get more for your money, you can split that budget with a bunch of micro-influencers. Not only are you getting more content you can repurpose, but you’re also reaching different specific segments. You’re also hitting those segments a bunch of times instead of in a one-off shot.
If a brand wants to begin working with influencers, where do they start?
Well, you can start with me [laughter].
There are a few different resources that you can use if you’re looking to get started. They all are at a variety of different price points, but they’re effective. There’s Fohr Card for instance, which offers a huge database of vetted influencers and lets you design and set up your own campaign.
But if you don’t really know what you’re doing and want to bring a campaign to the next level, you’d want to work with an agency that specializes in influencer marketing. A good agency will help you shape your campaign, establish goals and expectations, and leverage their network of influencers to do more for your brand than you could do on your own. If anything, this gives you piece of mind.
Influencer marketing — is it a fad or here to stay? Where do you see this going in five years’ time?
People thought social media was going to be a fad, and look at it today — it’s changed our society. If you look at the state of social media and how it continues to change how we interact and communicate with one another, I only see influencer marketing growing.
I think influencer marketing is in its infancy right now, and we’ll see it continue to evolve and change how we approach content and marketing in the social age. I can’t predict the future, but I can’t see influencers going away in the next five years — I can only see growth.
To see more from Dan Chizzoniti, follow him on Instagram.
To learn more about how visual content on social media influences shoppers, download our latest ebook: Content Strategy for the Visual Consumer.