All posts by Brian Zuercher

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Six stats on the importance of trust in influencer marketing

Successful influencer marketing depends on trust. 

Influencers need to establish trust with their audiences in order for their posts to resonate. Brands and agencies conducting campaigns must establish trust with their influencers if they want their campaigns executed effectively.

Consumers are inundated with media competing for their attention, and consumers’ trust for brands is lower than it’s ever been. This makes establishing trust with your audience harder and more important than ever.

Generally, people trust their peers and the recommendations that they provide. So to cope with this battle for trust, savvy marketers are turning to influencer marketing to take advantage of these peer recommendations and build trust with their audiences.

Don’t just take my word for it — look at the statistics.

Image by Walter Lim, available via CC BY 2.0

“Only 22% of brands are trusted.” (Havas Media)

That’s a frightening metric for any marketer. Without establishing trust between your brand and your audience, it’s nearly impossible to market your product or service. So marketers are faced with the difficult question of how to create and maintain trust with their audience.

61% of women said they won’t engage with an influencer’s sponsored content if it doesn’t feel genuine.” (Bloglovin)

Trust and authenticity are critical for engagement in any influencer campaign. Without trust, the content that you’re hoping will build engagement won’t feel genuine and won’t resonate with your desired audience.

Low trust equals low engagement, and a pattern of this can erode an influencer’s audience over time. While this report references women specifically, these principles are applicable across the influencer marketing sphere.

“43% of millennials rank authenticity over content when consuming news.” (Forbes)

According to a survey of 1,300 millennials carried out by Forbes, young people prioritise trusting a company or news site before they will look at any content it produces. As Dan Schawbel of Forbes wrote, “Millennials connect best with people over logos.”

If trust isn’t established, millennials may not even interact with your content. An influencer can get a lot of attention, but the only attention that matters for your brand is authentic, genuine interaction that builds trust between you and the audience.

“60% of YouTube subscribers say they would follow advice on what to buy from their favourite YouTube creator over a traditional celebrity.” (The YouTube Generation Study)

Celebrity spokespeople have long been considered a surefire way to build positive associations for your brand among your target audience. H&R Block wants to establish trust with their audience, so they recruit Jon Hamm to be their spokesman.

But savvy brands are turning to influencers on YouTube and other channels who have built audiences related to a shared set of interests. These placements are more authentic, and drive more brand-relevant recommendations than the generalized appeal of celebrity spots.

83% of consumers trust recommendations from their peers over advertising.” (Nielsen)

Consumers take recommendations from their peers much more favorably than the ‘recommendations’ they see in ads. They trust the opinions of their friends because they know they’re both unbiased and providing recommendations that are personalized to the individual. Influencers fit this bill nicely.

The best influencers turn down deals that don’t have a natural fit in their feed and approach branded deals without bias. Either they already love a product and are happy to endorse it, or they agree to test the product and give an honest review or endorsement.

If you find the right influencers whose personas fit your brand values, targeted to your area of interest, the recommendations they share are more personalized for their audiences.

54% of consumers believe the smaller the community, the bigger the influence.” (Technorati)

Although influencer marketing can help you reach a larger audience, ultimately, that audience doesn’t matter if it’s not the right audience. It is more valuable to show your brand to 30K likely buyers than it is to show it off to 200K totally uninterested viewers.

Finding influencers whose content and style perfectly match your brand, no matter their follower level, is a much smarter strategy than just getting as many eyes as possible. Influencers with smaller followings may have a more relevant, engaged and trusting audience because they haven’t “blown up” yet. Check the comment sections on a Kardashian-branded post and you’ll see what I mean.

To build trust with your audience, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. But you do need to foster trust between your brand and the influencer — trusting them to make content that will capture your brand values while also engaging their followers in the best way.

You can take advantage of existing marketing principles to build a playbook to engage your audience. Make use of peer recommendations from authentic influencers to drive engagement with your brand.

Brian Zuercher is CEO & Founder of SEEN, and a contributor to Search Engine Watch.

Influencer marketing: where we’re headed in 2017

Early in 2016, we promised that this would be the year that influencer marketing would become mainstream.

We wrote about the progress that influencer marketing made in 2016, but as a marketer, you always need to be looking forward to be prepared for what the future holds. So what direction can we expect influencer marketing to take in 2017?

We’ve seen the tactic grow, but we’ll see it explode in 2017. Here are a few things that we expect to see in the New Year:

Less is more

Influencer marketing’s growth across each individual network can largely be credited to the growth of the big player “celeb” influencers. The Logan Paul’s and Andrew Bachelor’s of the social world. These are the big names who are getting the headlines from mainstream outlets like “60 Minutes,” taking the marketing tactic away from a niche specialty among forward-thinking marketers, to an everyday occurrence.

Though they’ve made influencer marketing popular, what’s made it successful is the use of “micro-influencers”. These are creators who may not have the audience size of some of these big names, but they’re creating the type of content that grabs a consumer’s attention–and they’re able to much more authentically connect with their followers.

Often with the celeb -influencers like Kim Kardashian, they have their following because of who they are rather than what they create. In our time in influencer marketing working with some of the top brands, we’ve found that the best results come from the people who’ve built engagement with their audience based on what they’re creating. The “micro-influencers”, as they’ve often been called, have come into prominence in 2016 and will see their heyday in 2017.

Influencer relationships approached more as partnerships

The brands that will find success with influencer marketing in 2017 are the ones who will approach their relationships with their influencers as business partnerships, and not as line cooks who can churn out content for them.

Too often, brands use influencers as an opportunity to just promote their brand to a large audience. And they would tell the influencer to share about their brand in exchange for some free product. But as influencer marketing has grown, influencers are now able to command the respect they deserve for the amazing work that they’re creating.

Building a relationship with the influencer means actually collaborating with them on the program, and getting their input on what will work with their audience in order to ensure that ever-important authenticity. This is why communities such as Snapfluence, which defend the creator’s position, are so important. These communities help to level the equate both sides of the table to bring everyone on a fair and even playing field to build amazing programs.

Creating meaningful experiences

The brands that find success with influencer marketing in 2017 will do so by creating meaningful experiences for their audiences. The type of experiences that are both interactive and tangible for your community.

In 2016, TAKE5 set out to have influencers capture the remixed TAKE5 bar’s new branding by creating a series of experiences throughout 2016 that “remixed” everyday occurrences. At SXSW, they invited influencers to the TAKE5 Swag Exchange to swap their unwanted swag for some awesome remixed swag– like a free Uber ride, or a line-sitter, or a year’s worth of candy bars. The experience embodied the fun, surprising and uncommon spirit that the brand was trying to inspire in its content creators.

We expect to see more brands provide their communities with direct and unique ways to interact with the brand and its influencers.

Decline in influencer “networks” and “marketplaces”

With 2016 came the rise of influencer “networks”, or rosters of influencers that are purported to have some degree of exclusivity to the network over others. These networks were billed as the simplest way to find influencers for your brand, and–due to the “exclusivity”– the easiest way to negotiate rates with the best influencers.

But like dating sites, we all know people rarely belong to just one network. Influencers and daters alike join multiple networks in order to increase their odds of being found. Discovery on these networks was also found to be pretty limiting as the searching was restricted to just the individuals in their databases. And moreover, these networks also tended to treat the influencers simply as commodities that could be bought and sold for your brand’s need, ignoring their unique ability to create amazing content for your brand.

In 2017, we’ll see a decline of these supposedly exclusive networks and a rise in agnostic searches that find the true best match for your brand’s program.

A network agnostic strategy

Many 2016 marketing predictions called for a huge surge in Vine campaigns, and in the same year, we saw the network shut down.

With social networks constantly evolving – new ones growing, old ones shutting down, features constantly being added or removed – we forecast a more network agnostic strategy for brand influencer marketing programs in 2017. This will allow for an increase in focus placed on the right audiences to target and the best ways to do that with various networks for each campaign.

FTC will clamp down

In 2016, we saw a lot of enforcement on the part of the FTC on various influencer marketing programs. Brands such as from Warner Brothers and Lord & Taylor saw the FTC crack down on their activations due to a lack of clear disclosures.

And all signs point to the FTC continuing this enforcement in 2017. Brands will need to prioritize ensuring that their programs abide by all of the FTC rules and regulations on influencer marketing in 2017.

Self-regulation from brands and agencies

With so much growth and change in 2016, it’s no wonder there were so many mistakes from influencers like Scott Disick and from brands like Lord & Taylor. Influencer marketing is still operating like the Wild West, with brands and influencers alike attempting to determine the best way to connect with audiences and stay within the rules.

In 2017, we’ll see more brands and influencers learning from their own mistakes and the mistakes of others (after all, there are plenty of resources sharing best practices). Will there still be slip-ups, mistakes, and fit tea posts? Absolutely. But we’ll see incremental improvements and even more badass campaigns.

If 2016 was the year of growth for influencer marketing, 2017 will be the year where it all comes together. The growth that has occurred over the past year has led to a few bad practices among brands and influencers, but we’ve already seen glimmers of hope in both parties correcting these practices. In 2017, we’ll see influencer marketing grow up to become a more meaningful and practical marketing tactic.

By Brian Zuercher is CEO & Founder of SEEN, and a contributor to Search Engine Watch 

Influencer marketing: the strides we’ve made in 2016

Influencer marketing saw a huge bump in popularity in 2016, and it’s expected to grow even more in 2017. The social media marketing industry is evolving faster than ever, which is why it’s important to stay on top of the industry changes coming in the New Year.

This is how your brand or agency will stay ahead of the curve to be better prepared for your influencer marketing strategy:

Marketers are investing more in influencer marketing

Recent “60 Minutes” reports show that influencer marketing is rapidly inserting itself into the mainstream conversation and is becoming more familiar to average consumers. As a result, marketers are investing more in influencer marketing.

This will cause influencer marketing to grow rapidly, relative to other marketing tactics. Brands are finding a lot of success connecting with their audiences through targeted influencers and this will only continue in 2017.

Influencer identification is top priority

Brands and agencies are learning that they will only be able to generate authentic content if they put in the necessary work before a campaign’s launch to find and recruit the right influencers for their programs.

Getting enthusiastic participants to create meaningful content and expose their audiences to your brand hinges on one thing: knowing who is a good brand match. SpaghettiOs knew that their product was a childhood favorite and a choice for busy moms everywhere. They chose moms and dads on Instagram who posted frequently with their families to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this beloved childhood snack.

Additionally, they worked with influencers who loved Sci-Fi, comic books, and video games to help promote the launch of their special edition Star Wars cans. The resulting content perfectly captures the fun spirit of the brand.

This type of effective influencer matchmaking is what drives the authenticity and engagement critical to a successful program.

Authenticity is the cornerstone of influencer marketing

Authenticity on the part of the influencer and the campaign strategy is key to any successful influencer marketing strategy. This authenticity comes from a confluence of the influencer’s posts and the audience’s expectations of that influencer’s content. This need for authenticity on the part of the brands and influencers becomes dire with the proliferation of spammy posts from some influencers. The brands and influencers who are able to build authentic programs for their audiences will succeed and see a measurable positive reaction from their audiences.

So in 2017, the onus will be on brands and agencies to build programs that enable this and find the right influencers who can post in these styles.

Brands giving influencers more room to create

As influencer marketing grew in popularity, more brands began jumping into the fray. Some that did were prescribing too strictly what they wanted their influencers to share. But this tendency takes away from the influencer’s skills and abilities to drive authentic engagement.

The brands with the most experience began giving their creators more flexibility and creative liberty to create content for the programs. These brands saw results with the authenticity of the influencers’ content and the response from their communities.

Hilton Garden Inn wanted to learn about the best spots in 19 different American cities so they could create an interactive map for guests visiting those destinations. They selected talented city-insider photographers to document their favorite spots around town. The result? An unfiltered guide to non-touristy destinations in some of America’s best cities and a major value add for Hilton Garden Inn’s guests.

In 2017, we expect brands to do a better job of setting up their influencers for success by giving them more creative opportunities such as this.

Using influencers for content creation

Some of the best accounts on Instagram are professional photographers who used their feeds to showcase their work. These creators were getting hired both as influencers to promote content on their Instagram accounts, and separately as commercial photographers.

More and more those lines are getting blurred and influencers are getting hired by brands simply to create content with no expectation of sharing publicly. Brands have an insatiable appetite for amazing visual content and influencer marketing is one of the best ways to keep up with these demands.

Consumers demand less spam

Though consumers are more familiar with influencer marketing in general, they’re also familiar with the dark side of the marketing tactic. Too many consumers have come to know the tactic as one associated with fit teas and body scrubs promoted by attractive models on Instagram. This is not only an ineffective way to promote any product; it also gives influencer marketing itself a bad name.

As consumers continue to view these types of promoted posts less favorably, we’ll see a decline in their frequency and an increase in content from the quality creators who are inspiring thoughtful brand activations that are authentic to their audience’s expectations for their feed.

Redefining success metrics

In 2016, every brand and influencer marketing agency set out to determine the ROI of influencer marketing. But the brands that were the most successful understood that the true returns of influencer marketing came from the influencer’s impact on the awareness building for the brand and their ability to add to the true story of the brand.

The savvy marketers went from pushing straight for downloads and sales success, to story building success.

Measurement in 2017 will move beyond simple vanity metrics like engagement and sales. Brands will begin to build a better understanding of where influencer marketing fits in their customer’s lifecycle and the brand’s storytelling.

Early in 2016, it was clear that influencer marketing was going to move beyond the practice of a few savvy, forward-thinking marketers to become an essential part of most marketing strategies. We’ve even seen a handful of traditional advertising/marketing agencies launch their own influencer departments this year in an effort to innovate. We’re excited to see how influencer marketing grows in 2017.

Brian Zuercher is the CEO & Founder of SEEN, and is a contributor to Search Engine Watch.  

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Understanding FTC guidelines for influencer marketing

The FTC is cracking down on brands that aren’t following the rules and regulations for influencer marketing. Where they are and aren’t enforcing these rules, though, has left many confused.

To help with your influencer marketing planning, we’ve outlined what you need to do in order to keep your brand compliant with the FTC Guidelines.

Include disclosures

The important point is for the influencer to get the message across to his/her audience that the brand is compensating him/her for the post. Surprisingly, there is no single correct way to do this.

In the FTC guide, the organization outlines these two options for statements as a way of properly alerting audiences that the brand provided products for the influencer to post about:

“Company XX gave me this product to try . . .”

“Some of the products I’m going to use in this video were sent to me by XX’s manufacturers.”

The FTC’s guidance is to make the audience aware of the nature of the influencer’s relationship with the brand. If you’re providing both product and additional compensation, then the likelihood is increased that the influencer will give a favorable review.

The addition of compensation beyond product trial could bring into question the validity of the review. This makes disclosure especially important.

The only two hashtag versions that seem to fully cover your bases are #ad and #sponsored— these are the briefest ways to declare that an influencer is receiving financial compensation, as well as products, for a post.

Make disclosures clear & conspicuous

The basic question you should ask yourself when evaluating a caption for a sponsored post is, “Could anyone mistake this for a non-sponsored, organic post?” If the answer is “yes,” then the disclosure is not sufficient.

The FTC requires that disclosures be “clear and conspicuous.” Clear, meaning you can’t mistake it for an organic ad. Conspicuous, meaning you can’t miss it.

When you’re giving creative direction to your influencers, make sure that they understand the basic rules and give them some examples of disclosure statements that they can use in their posts.

Thinking that your influencers can bury their disclosure tag in a second comment amongst a bunch of other tags? Think again. The FTC guidelines clearly discourage that: “Preferably, design advertisements so that ‘scrolling’ is not necessary in order to find a disclosure. When scrolling is necessary, use text or visual cues to encourage consumers to scroll to view the disclosure.”

In short, these are the FTC’s criteria for gauging whether your disclosure message meets their standards:

  • Close to the claims to which they relate;
  • In a font that is easy to read;
  • In a shade that stands out against the background;
  • For video ads, on the screen long enough to be noticed, read, and understood;
  • For audio disclosures, read at a cadence that is easy for consumers to follow and in words consumers will understand.

Make the posts honest

Brands cannot make false claims about their products in any kind of advertising. This rule applies to influencer content, as well. If the tea can’t really help you detox, or the strips can’t really whiten your teeth, you’re not allowed to purport that they can.

Furthermore, disclosures do not absolve false claims: “A disclosure can only qualify or limit a claim to avoid a misleading impression. It cannot cure a false claim.”

If you are identifying influencers who are smart lifestyle matches and who believe in your products, you’re off to a good start. Most content creators will not partner with brands whose products they would never actually consume.

If influencers believe in the product they are endorsing, their content will be much more meaningful to both the audiences and the brands. In addition, you can be comfortable that the claims they’re making (if any) are truthful.

The FTC provides these three guidelines for avoiding false claims:

  • You can’t talk about your experience with a product if you haven’t tried it.
  • If you were paid to try a product and you thought it was terrible, you can’t say it’s terrific.
  • You can’t make claims about a product that would require proof the advertiser doesn’t have.

Understand the consequences

So what if an influencer doesn’t disclose their involvement with your brand? What could happen?

The FTC has been cracking down on companies and influencer marketing agencies that do not have disclosures included in the posts made on their behalf.

Two recent examples:

Lord & Taylor’s now-famous blogger campaign that featured 50 women endorsing one dress without disclosure of their sponsored relationship. The campaign was outrageously successful, with the dress quickly selling out.

This success may have caught the attention of the FTC, which led a complaint against the brand. The FTC will be babysitting Lord & Taylor’s marketing efforts from here on out to make sure that they don’t violate the rules again.

Warner Bros paid people to promote a new video game without properly disclosing their affiliation with the brand. The brand directed influencers to “place sponsorship information in the text of the description box – that’s the collapsed box just below a YouTube video – not in the video itself.”

Understanding FTC guidelines for influencer marketing

The FTC caught wind of this and the brand was reprimanded. The settlement included steps to ensure that the brand is “educating influencers regarding sponsorship disclosures, monitoring sponsored influencer videos for compliance, and, under certain circumstances, terminating or withholding payment from influencers or ad agencies for non-compliance.”

These brands will have the FTC looking over their shoulder at every turn for future violations. But what could happen to the individual content creator involved with a deceptive program?

In the case of the Warner Bros settlement, it is clear that the FTC could require that a brand or agency withhold your payment. Queen of the internet, Kim Kardashian, was reprimanded by the FTC for a post she made to promote a morning-sickness pill during her pregnancy.

Kardashian stated in her caption that she was “excited and happy to partner” with the brand. The FTC did not deem this a clear enough statement about her financial relationship with the brand.

Advertising Attorney Linda Goldstein, with the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, speculates that the FTC could pursue legal action against Kardashian for misrepresenting the drug in an ad.

As of the writing date, we are not aware of any legal action taken against individual influencers. The FTC has an ad nauseum list of actions it can take in legal response to rule breakers, including adjudication and litigation.

Influencer marketing is still pretty new and some brands are just trying it for the first time. You may find yourself in the position to help your clients understand the FTC guidelines.

This is a great example of taking a partnership role with a brand to a more valuable level. Arm yourself with knowledge to protect yourself and your clients.

Get yourself educated so you can educate your influencers

Educating your influencers comes from having an understanding of these dos and don’ts yourself. The FTC has published a plethora of resources to help you understand the in’s and out’s of their rules and regulations (listed below). But all of this information can be fairly cumbersome to digest.

To simplify the information you need to know, there are some comprehensive guidelines available for brands that outline what you can and can’t do with your influencer marketing.

We recommend these handy guides for your campaign planning:

Influencer marketing is a smart way to create authentic engagement with your community. But only when it’s done right and in accordance with the law. With this information at your disposal, you’ll be able to safely activate influencers for your next marketing program.

Brian Zuercher is the CEO & Founder of SEEN and a contributor to SEW.