Tell us about TapInfluence and its unique value in influencer marketing.
TapInfluence provides software and services to brands and agencies looking to amplify the creation and distribution of social content about their brands or products. Influencers are those on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs who have built key audiences of followers who trust their stories and opinions. While the concept of partnering with influencers is not new — the sports industry has been doing it for decades, as seen with brands like T-Mobile and Chipotle sponsoring Tour de France riders — there are challenges brands must overcome.
Challenge 1: One major challenge is simply identifying the right influencers — many brands start with Google searches to determine which bloggers are starting conversations in their space (and have a big enough following to be considered influential). TapInfluence gives brands access to a digital marketplace of influencers. They can search this marketplace across more than 35 criteria, such as geography, education, number of kids, pets, languages and topics. The platform tells them instantly who the influential content creators are in their vertical, even by social platform.
Challenge 2: Another challenge is managing relationships with bloggers once you’ve identified them. Most brands manage this via email and spreadsheets. Inviting bloggers to participate in a campaign means making sure they understand the requirements, negotiating pay rates, answering questions, ensuring all the bloggers have the approved brand assets (logos, images and links) and managing an editorial calendar. It’s a huge task to manage 10 bloggers, so imagine how much time it takes to manage 100. TapInfluence lets brands manage this communication right from the platform, including providing a place to upload brand assets, manage an editorial calendar for blogger content and process blogger payments.
Challenge 3: Once you’ve partnered with influencers to create social content, it’s important to maximize the value by distributing it on platforms that matter to your audience. Isolating content to one platform (like blogs) is a common mistake. Consumers are engaged with lots of social channels, so be sure to share content on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other channels. Brands can get more mileage out of influencer-generated content by curating and aggregating content and feeding it to a microsite or content hub page. For instance, if part of your program included having bloggers create videos, feed those videos to a hub page where visitors can see and interact with them, giving them incentives to pin, like, share, tweet or even vote on their favorites. It’s also important to make sure content is mobile-optimized.
Challenge 4: The last — and often biggest — challenge is quantifying the return on influencer marketing programs. TapInfluence tracks when content goes live, how many people it reached on which platforms and how many people engaged with it. Brands can assign a dollar value to each type of content and see how much “Total Media Value” was created during a campaign. We typically see returns in the 300 percent range, meaning if a brand spent $30,000 on an influencer marketing campaign, it can expect to see upwards of $100,000 worth of content created.
What impact do social media influencers have on brand promotion? What should marketers look for when seeking out social media influencers who will most effectively promote their brands?
Social media influencers represent a perspective a brand never can: that of another consumer. Consumers want an increasing amount of information before they make a purchase decision, and they’re turning to the Internet to get that info. However, they’re relying less on brand sites and are instead turning to their peers on social media. They’ll ask what others think and get like-minded opinions.
For instance, a mom looking at car seats will talk to other moms about what car seats they use. Runners talk to other runners about which shoes they like, and those on gluten-free diets often look to other gluten-free people to see what products they like. In this respect, brands have to embrace working with influencers if they want to participate in that early conversation before buyers walk into a store. Influencers can often have bigger followings than a brand; they can get the word out faster. Strong influencers will often create much more creative, engaging stories than a brand could develop itself.
Brands should resist the temptation to just look at influencers’ traffic numbers. Most brands only want to work with the biggest bloggers, but traffic is just one metric. Brands should also look at content relevancy — does a blogger’s content match the values of the brand and product? Often, parent-friendly brands choose not to work with bloggers who mention alcohol or use profanity on their sites. But perhaps a liquor brand looking for an edgy audience would be a better fit.
Consider post frequency, audience data and audience engagement; determine whether a blogger is reliable when it comes to working with brands. The best influencers are those whose content and audiences are so aligned with a brand that their posts leave readers with a sense of authenticity, transparency and consistency with previous content.
How does TapInfluence make working with social media influencers easier through automation software?
We’ve been executing influencer marketing programs for brands for five years and have relationships with over 100,000 influencers. We’ve built software and services to automate the most challenging parts and have professional services for those who want a higher level of account management or want custom content distribution. We address the four major challenges I touched on previously, and we help brands create a scalable, consistent process for influencers, which means they can now work with dozens or hundreds of influencers — instead of just five — without hiring additional people.
What tools are available in your software that allow agencies to track performance metrics on their campaigns? How do these tools translate to measuring ROI?
The TapInfluence platform includes an analytics component that allows a brand or agency to track when each piece of content goes live. They can see how many impressions each piece received on a blog, Facebook or Twitter, how many people that content reached, how much engagement it got and what the dollar value of each piece of content was. They assign a value to each type of content; the software then calculates in real time what the overall value was.
The other cool thing about this is that most marketers stop measuring a campaign once it’s over. In reality, people will continue to share good content online when they come across it, whether it’s during a campaign timeframe or not. For instance, take a campaign for a food brand, where bloggers create unique recipes using that product. The Total Media Value of that influencer marketing campaign continues to go up weeks or months after the official campaign has ended! These metrics are also broken down by influencer, so a brand can see who the most influential content creator was on each platform.
Content marketing has redefined the role of the marketer into one more concerned with media and publishing. What are two lessons marketers can learn from editors and publishers?
One lesson marketers can learn from editors is how to be a good storyteller. Content marketing is all about the story, not about a carefully controlled brand message. Content is useless if it doesn’t inform, entertain, inspire, educate, motivate or leave a reader feeling like he got something out of it. Publishers do this by telling a good story.
A second lesson is to know your audience. One size doesn’t fit all, and this is especially true for content. It takes work, research, time and focus, but putting in the effort is worth it. Is your audience parenting, health-conscious, young, middle-class, frequently traveling, tech-savvy or well-educated? Having demographic and psychographic data about your audience helps you craft better content, which makes it more useful and more likely to be engaged with and shared.
Many brands approach content similar to creating an advertorial. Why doesn’t this work in influencer marketing?
This doesn’t work because advertorials are about controlling the message. There’s a great quote from Scott Cook: “A brand is no longer what we tell consumers it is — it is what consumers tell each other it is.” Advertorials are typically about the product or brand, but like we said before, consumers want authentic opinions and stories from people they trust and follow, not always from brands. Content needs to be focused on providing useful, meaningful information to the consumer first and promoting a brand second.
Another reason the advertorial approach doesn’t work is that it’s about taking one message and pushing it through a distribution pipeline. Pushing a brand-driven message across social channels doesn’t work because it’s not social. Influencer marketing is about joining the high-level conversation, contributing useful information that serves the audience first and having it be so interesting or meaningful that its gets shared and distributed authentically by influencers.
What trends in content marketing do you find most interesting and why?
I find content distribution and the use of different platforms to be very interesting; this is the distribution pillar of the four areas that TapInfluence focuses on. Brands are starting to understand why they should leverage social channels and influencers. The next advancements and market demands will come in the area of content distribution. We have lots of tools to listen to conversations — like Radian6 or Crimson Hexagon — and there are great tools for creating and managing content — Marketo, HubSpot, Eloqua — but the next wave of need is going to be tools that get that content distributed to the platforms that matter.
Facebook is the best way to reach women between 18 and 29. Tumblr is where Millennials hang out. Visual content gets more engagement on Pinterest and Instagram, and Twitter is where you can best reach African-Americans, adults between 18 and 29 and urban residents. How do brands optimize each channel and customize the distribution of content? This is the battleground that will heat up in 2014.
One reason you love what you do: I’ve been fascinated with social media since Facebook and Twitter took off in 2007. My first job out of college was with a big telecomm company in New Jersey with 80,000 employees. The average timeline from product conception to launch was four years. Can you imagine if that were the case today?
I moved to Boulder, Colo., and saw entrepreneurs who had a good idea one day and were building it the next. I joined my first startup in 1995 and could never go back to a big corporate job. TapInfluence is the sixth startup I’ve been involved with, and the first I co-founded. I love building technology for a really cool space and working with brilliant people who are passionate about innovating and creating something where there was nothing before. It’s the coolest thing ever.
Must-read book: “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.