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The Rise of the Influencer Economy Through the Eyes of an Influencer Marketing Consultant

Shane Barker had never been preoccupied with sexy arms, sexy legs, or big booties—at least, not until he was asked to help sell them.

The request came from Zoe Rodriguez, a then-22-year-old who had been documenting her journey from full-time runner to “certified booty builder” on Instagram. By then, she had an Instagram following of 180,000 and a collection of three ebooks: Build a Better Booty at Home, Sexy Arms at Home Program, and Sexy Legs at Home Program.

Her best seller, Build a Better Booty, had already sold 10,000 copies when she requested Barker’s help increasing sales.

“It was her story that really drove sales,” Barker says about that time, when 98-99% of Rodriguez’s sales were attributed to Instagram. “Zoe was a brand as ZBody, but then she was also an influencer as Zoe Rodriguez.”

It was his first encounter with what would soon become known as influencer marketing. While a digital marketing consultant of over 10 years (and a serial entrepreneur long before then), Barker’s portfolio didn’t include influencer marketing—and still never would for the first few years of working as Rodriguez’s marketing and sales manager.

“Back then, it wasn’t influencer marketing. It was just marketing. It was marketing through social media…and then it blew up,” Barker says.

The Early Days

No more than six years ago, influencer marketing was without a name. In fact, when you google articles written in 2011 with “influencer marketing” in their titles, you’ll get a meager 500 results compared to roughly 71,600 articles written in 2017 already.

Many companies were still toying with the idea that celebrities, whose offline lives were now more publicly and intimately shared through social media, could be powerful endorsers online.

Meanwhile, the savviest of companies were starting to look at everyday users whose fame began online, and taking, at best, stabs in the dark at how to contract and compensate these partners.

Rodriguez was offered upwards of $800 a post by one of the first companies to approach her. The deal promised easy money (“Back then, content wasn’t super creative,” Barker adds in our interview), but under Barker’s guidance, Rodriguez declined and rejected all offers that simply paid for publicity.

Authenticity was their guiding principle; Rodriguez would only partner with companies that offered products that she would ordinarily use.

But for many others in their shoes, this new form of marketing had no rules, no legalities, no baseline. Moreover, money was a powerful bait—magnetic, especially to young social media stars with nascent careers.

In a 2016 interview with Digiday, one social media executive summed it up saying, “[In the summer of 2014,] brands really, finally accepted that social media was here to stay…[My company] threw too much money at [influencers] and did it too quickly. So in 2014, they were making $500 to show up and take some photos. Then it became $1,500. Now it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

He continued, “We have no idea what to pay them. That’s the problem.”

More Than a Money Thing

By 2016, marketers were spending an estimated $570 million on Instagram influencers alone, flexing budgets between $25,000 – $50,000 per influencer marketing program.

They had adopted more sophisticated pricing models, like cost-per-engagement (CPE), cost-per-click (CPC) and cost-per-acquisition (CPA) pricing, to wring ROI out of fat contracts.

While fielding bids for Rodriguez and other influencers whom he managed, Barker also spent a good amount of time courting influencers for his clients. All the while he remained steadfast in one philosophy: “If you find the right micro-influencers, it doesn’t have to be overly expensive.”

Today, he maintains that leading with money is a slippery slope. In fact, there’s an analogy that Barker likes to share in his various interviews and consultations around influencer marketing. It goes something like this: Imagine if you and I went to dinner and I asked you where you wanted to go. You replied, “Take me to the nicest restaurant with the most expensive filet mignon.” From the get-go, it’s about money. You’re telling me, “I need to be taken care of in the highest of ways—and that’s money.” Then sooner or later, you’ll ditch me for someone who has more money than me.
 

expensive dinner date with influencer
Source: Story Monster


 

“If you’re a company offering 1,000 bucks, your influencer is gonna go with the company that offers them $1,100 or even $1,001, because now it’s just a transactional thing. It’s just a money thing,” he concludes.

Alternatively, getting to know your influencers before you ink a contract inspires more authentic, long-lasting partnerships. It can also help you discover what incentivizes your influencer besides money.

Barker’s advice comes at a time when influencers are the new brands. Preceded by a wave of new clothing lines, makeup brands, and other products by internet stars, Conde Nast Italia recently launched a new eyebrow-raising program for students seeking a degree in influencer marketing.

“What most influencers are used to is, ‘Help me, help me, help me. You gotta help me,’” shares Barker, who has been pitched a fair amount of times for his own influencer marketing services (“If I got a dollar for every email from somebody wanting me to promote their product, I would have my dream Lamborghini”).

But there’s an art to compensating your influencer in a way that’s meaningful to them, says Barker. An influencer may very well be happy with free access to your product, a discount or membership to your store, or free training on how he/she can grow as an entrepreneur.

Sometimes what they desire is for you to help them, according to Barker. In a world where influencers are seriously considering full-time self-employment and entrepreneurship, this is especially relevant.

Improvements in Data and Affiliate Platforms

Granted, it wasn’t always easy to understand influencers beyond what you saw on their timelines.

But recent improvements in technology and data, as well as in methodology, have given depth to influencer analysis. Newly available data on sentiment, associations, follower engagement, follower makeup, and psychographics provide insight into an influencers’ values, lifestyles, and other interests.

This data simultaneously helps to safeguard employers from influencers with bot followers or with the wrong type of audience (think: a female model with a large following of male admirers over female consumers who’d buy the clothes that she flaunts).

From a business standpoint: technology has vastly improved the way employers discover and score influencers at scale. Tools like Grin and Zoomph can automatically analyze an influencer’s clout over a specific audience by referencing their historic content, recent activity, growth over the years, and/or growth trajectories.

Barker further cites affiliate marketing platforms like Scoutsee as useful tools for identifying needle movers in your influencer marketing programs. Scoutsee, for one, lets your influencers build storefronts for everything they showcase on social media, giving them one central location for selling products and tracking purchases specifically influenced by them. Previously, one could only guess at who among a portfolio of influencers led to actual sales; there were too many variables, including posting cadence and newsfeed algorithms, for anybody to evaluate.
 


Barker discusses modern tech and methodologies for measuring influencer performance.

 

Though not yet a perfect science, influencer marketing has grown widely more accepted as a cost-effective customer acquisition channel. With several years’ worth of experience, Barker and his counterparts also have many words of wisdom to impart. Among them: Influencer marketing is just like anything else.

“It’s just like anything else”

Like anything else, influencer marketing takes work. Like anything else, influencer marketing is a long-term play. And like anything else, forming a relationship is essential.

“If you want to have a successful business…you need to develop relationships with your customers,” says Barker. “Influencer marketing is no different.”

Barker is fervent about this point. He’s a firm believer that influencer marketing can have extraordinary rewards if you can find the right influencers and build genuine connections. An influencer ultimately needs to know how to talk about your product and defend why he or she likes it.

“Imagine if an influencer were to post about me and someone asks, ‘Why do you like Shane?’” he explains, “and the response is, ‘Well, he gave me a million dollars!’”

The common problem? Some businesses hardly want to invest the time in getting to know their influencers or converting customers into advocates. Others simply seek one quick-win post, and still others don’t have fully fleshed-out strategies in terms of how to track or optimize success.

When asked if influencer marketing is ever not a good option for a business, Barker answers, “Absolutely.” A business must have the right attitude and expectations when walking into an influencer marketing campaign.

I surmise that it’s because of his encounters with skeptics, visionaries, and great influencers like Rodriguez throughout the years that he’s able to confidently say that like anything else, influencer marketing must be a good fit for your business.

Key Takeaways

  • Evaluate the amount of budget, time, and resources you’re willing to commit to your influencer marketing program. Are your expectations realistic? How will you measure success?
  • Don’t base everything on money. Remember that quality promotions rely on a true understanding of your brand; your influencer needs to have an actual interest in your product to defend why he or she likes it.
  • Compensation is always negotiable. It should also be relative to your influencer’s personal values and interests.
  • Find and engage the right influencer by leveraging the data, experts, and tools that are available to you. Influence is not defined by follower count—your influencer needs to have the right audience.

Want more tips from Shane? Check out his blog or tweet Shane at @shane_barker!

 

influencer marketing takeaways from Shane Barker

 

More on Influencer Marketing

 

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