Influencer marketing is on the rise, with brands quickly learning that in the age of algorithms, platforms expertize is key to generating optimum campaign reach and resonance. But finding and working with the right influencers is not necessarily simple, and with the rise in the practice, more organizations are also turning to third-party groups to help them get the most out of their influencer campaigns.
To get some insight into the growth of influencer marketing, and the use of intermediary groups to facilitate such connection, We recently sat down with Pamela Kaupinen, the Senior Vice President of Strategy at HelloSociety.
Established in 2011, HelloSociety has been a leader in the influencer marketing space, and now offers a vetted portfolio of hundreds of digital influencers which brands can choose to work with on their campaigns. The company's success lead to it being purchased by The New York Times in 2016 - in fact, Hellosociety's data shows that its campaigns drive 54% higher engagement than the industry average, and that its influencers, specifically, deliver a 24% higher engagement rate versus traditional brand content on social.
Kaupinen has been in the box seat to see the influencer shift in effect, and has some amazing insights to share.
Social Media Today: How (and when) did you start working in social media?
Pamela Kaupinen: In 2012, while working at GQ, I founded the brand’s in-house global Influencer agency, "GQ Insider". At that time, the term "Influencer Marketing" was yet to be coined, but GQ’s advertising partners were hungry for something new and additive to print and digital campaigns. GQ Insider offered our partners credible and influential voices to tell their stories across platforms, with social amplification to new audiences. It was hugely successful, and attracted the attention of brands like Netflix, Jaguar, Tiffany & Co., Ralph Lauren, Destination Canada, Prada and The Glenlivet, while also creating a whole new revenue stream for GQ.
SMT: What are the key elements, in your opinion, which can help brands find and connect with the right social media influencers to grow their business?
PK: HelloSociety starts by identifying a brand’s key objectives and the problems they're trying to solve. If Influencers are the answer, we stand with a rigorous vetting process developed in partnership with our parent company, The New York Times.
Quantitative: In addition to standard measures like follower count and engagement rates, Influencers are vetted through proprietary and third-party partners, such as HypeAuditor or Social Blade, to monitor things like follower demographics and audience health. Not only can these tools help spot fraudulent activity, they also ensure that a partnership will reach the right in-demo target.
Qualitative: We also add a human touch to Influencer sourcing with a dedicated in-house talent team that hand selects Influencers for brands. We work closely with our partners to understand their mission, vision, and values in a way that goes beyond data. The process of identifying Influencers best suited for the brand involves in-person interviews, manual reviews of their content quality, engagement and audience analysis, and more.
SMT: How do you expect influencer marketing to evolve in 2019 and beyond?
PK: The number one mistake brands are making with Influencers is not partnering long-term, and instead focusing on one-off activations. This was a key learning from HelloSociety’s research, and our proprietary data supports this as well, proving that brand partners who work with Influencers on 3+ posts, or on 2+ campaigns, see a significant increase in engagement and sentiment. More and more brands are realizing the value of activating Influencers for longer-term strategies, and this will continue to grow in popularity this year and beyond.
The face and voice of influence will continue to evolve as well. The most influential voices are not always 'celebrities' or those with the largest followings, but are individuals who turned to social because they didn't see their stories reflected in mainstream media. When done authentically, these voices are instrumental in creating unique and powerful stories for brands.
And, keep an eye on the rise of the Nano-Influencer.
SMT: What are your thoughts on how Instagram’s new ad transparency tools are going to affect influencer marketing?
PK: Transparency has long been a hot topic in the Influencer marketing space. Partnerships aren't always properly disclosed, which can be misleading to audiences and compromising to brands. HelloSociety upholds rigorous standards when it comes to disclosures, abiding by all FTC guidelines to ensure sponsored posts include '#ad'. The additional visibility of the branded content tool, clearly identifying 'Paid partnership with X brand,' takes ad transparency one step further, guaranteeing that consumers can easily recognize sponsored posts. This is advantageous for both Influencers and brands, as it builds trust between the Influencer and their audience.
Social media users follow Influencers because they value their opinions and enjoy their content, whether or not it is sponsored. In fact, HelloSociety is currently fielding a custom research study among Influencer followers with preliminary data supporting that sponsored and non-sponsored content are equally engaging and actionable. If Influencer Marketing is done right, ad transparency shouldn’t be an issue. Rather, it should strengthen the communication between brand, Influencer, and social audiences.
Lastly, there are also significant added benefits of the branded content tool when it comes to metrics. Ad transparency via the tool allows brands to directly track organic impressions and engagements when an Influencer tags them in the partnership. This should become the industry standard for measuring metrics.
SMT: What role has social media played in your career?
PK: Having a presence across social media channels has enabled me to advance my career in many different ways. Instagram is where I foster relationships and keep in touch with my muses, mentors and colleagues in an inviting and entertaining environment. Relationship building is effective on this platform, because Instagram is truly at the intersection of personal and professional interests. LinkedIn is incredibly effective as well, and has a more direct business benefit. Adding new contacts on Instagram and/or LinkedIn has become the new business card.
Social media has also enabled me to share key career moments broadly, i.e. my first keynote speaking experience in Austria, departing GQ to join HelloSociety, etc. This has helped me establish credibility in the media and marketing world, as well as build a 'personal brand
SMT: What’s your favorite social media platform today and how do you expect that platform to evolve in the coming years?
PK: Instagram for the win. The platform is universal and has become so much more than a visual experience between friends. With the introduction of Instagram Stories, it became a one-stop content shop, making Snapchat obsolete for many social media users. It has evolved into an effective communication platform through the rise of 'sliding into the DMs' which has become much more than a modern flirting tactic. In-app shopping is the latest innovation and one that positions it as a leader in mobile purchasing. What can’t Instagram do? Whatever it is, I have a hunch they’re working on it.
SMT: What do you believe is the most challenging part of working in social media?
PK: I’ll start with the least challenging part - proving the value of social media. Social media is at the center of every conversation, cultural moment, and human connection.
That brings me to the most challenging part - standing out in the crowd, differentiating yourself, and continually evolving to get ahead of 'what’s next.' But that’s what makes working in the industry so exciting.
SMT: What’s the best advice you would share with someone new to the field?
PK: It’s simple - be bold.