By: Morteza Maleki
Having worked in brand strategy for some of the leading brands and consultancies in the world, I’ve seen my fair-share of tactics and outcomes when using social media and influencer marketing as a growth tool. It was these experiences, which highlighted some fundamental challenges and opportunities we set out to address with the launch of House Of Influence; a full-circle social media marketing ecosystem and media-tech platform.
Social Media and influencer marketing is undoubtedly [and increasingly] becoming a leading tool for consumer engagement. With the worldwide social media marketing spend doubling to £85 billion from 2019-2020, we can see a clear reflection of confidence in the value this brings to marketers. However, despite the plethora of technology tools and platforms, Influencer Marketing is still evolving and is far from its peak; there are still lessons to be learnt and opportunities to leverage.
To understand these opportunities better, I like to contextualise Influencer Marketing within 2 worlds that we are probably more familiar with: a) the world of magazine publishing and b) the world of recruitment. These two segments present strong comparables; they allow for a slightly different perspective on Influencer Marketing, and all the associated decisions.
Media fragmentation gave way to a huge spectrum of magazine categories, each specialising in a highly targeted audience, specific topics and all with clearly defined circulation-reach numbers. This allowed brands to be far more efficient in their customer engagement through placing adverts within editorial titles that spoke directly to their target audience. In many ways influencers are an evolution of magazines; each with a content specialism and audience insights, selling promotional advertising space within their content feed.
Influencer ‘insights’ are the key drivers of decisions around influencer marketing budgets. On the other hand, as a brand looking to advertise within magazine titles, it isn’t just audience insights we look for. We make cost comparisons of the advertising real-estate to other similar titles, we look at the quality of the content, the design, the layout, the tone of voice of the editor, we ask of article lists to review, the various advertising space option we could have, we even look into the other brand advertisers within the magazine. Only then do we commit to the purchase of an ad within the title… not before bartering for a cheeky discount off the rate-card too. For some strange reason, when it comes to placing promotions with Influencers, we forget all these hugely valuable questions.
My other recommended comparable [Recruitment] also highlights processes, which can further help brands make better influencer marketing decisions. As a brand, when we look to recruit a new client-facing member of the team, there are numerous criteria we put in place as a filtering mechanism, to ensure everything from the team dynamics and our brands positioning is positively impacted by the new recruit. We leverage processes such as psychoanalytical test, interviews and even presentations. After all, anyone who acts on behalf of the brand is perceived as an extension of the brand, and so it’s only right for there to be a clear alignment.
And once again when we make this comparison to Influencer Marketing, and ‘lending’ our brands to an individual to publicly associate to and represent, we take far less precautions, and are far more laissez-faire about our selection.
With this all in-mind, I believe there are 3. ‘Value-gaps’ that present huge opportunities for brands to leverage Influencer Marketing for growth, outside of influencer insights: 1. Selection 2. Social Impact 3. Support; all of which are based around establishing a long-term partnership, rather than one off promotions.
The above parallels should have demonstrated how currently there is minimal emphasis on the selection processes we go through in creating these strategic alliances with social media leaders. With either basic reach and engagement numbers defining our decisions, or the somewhat bias sell of a representative agent; we need to delve far deeper in understanding strategic fit and “brand alignment” in order to see growth.
There are three simple steps you can take in ensuring your selection process is optimised: 1. Create a shortlist of 4-8 candidates, with the intention to committing to 1-2. Most brands commit to 1-2 influencers, with little comparison between other prospective collaborators 2. Develop a list of short open-ended questions around your brand values and positioning, for the influencers to provide their thoughts on. This will help gather a better understanding of their characteristic traits, and how these will reflect on your brand. 3. Arrange a virtual meeting/video call to run through both the long-term objectives of the collaboration and to learn more about the content direction of the influencer. This filters any fake accounts not ran by the person posing as the account holder. This also creates an open communications-line, which will be used for idea sharing, problem-solutions, guide, and additional content opportunities.
At House Of Influence, we have worked with psychologists and behaviourists to developed a proprietary set of psychoanalytical tests and questionnaires for both brands and influencers to use in creating synergistic partnerships, which present commercial value. Similar to advanced dating platform analytics, the process looks to pair you with the most viable brand/influencer partner, that would add value to the goals you are hoping to achieve on social media.
- SOCIAL IMPACT:
As we watch the proliferation of influencers, we also see the clear divisions of their content narratives. At House of Influence we divide content creators into 3 main categories: 1: Trend setters & reflectors: Those who are always on top of the latest social trends and topics. 2: Content specialists: Those who focus on a specific genre of content. 3. GI Creators: Those who use their content to create ‘Good Influence’ and positive social impact; acting as ‘social media agents of change.’ We have found that GI Creators, have the highest engagement rates and are the most ‘influential’ due to the level of invested trust they have from their followers, and their recognised authenticity of content. This category of influencers, present the biggest collaborative opportunities for brands to harness for growth.
Advertising and paid promotion has always been a tough nut to crack, when it comes to staying authentic and avoiding a ‘hard-sell’. Audiences are far more aware of these paid-for-messages from influencers, which rarely feel genuine. They often sway the influencer from their [genuine] narrative, to cover a message, which intrinsically feels at times, forced. And do you blame the influencers..? Just like the rest of us, they need to pay the bills.
Our philosophy at House Of Influence, (and recommended approach) to paid promotions via influencers, is to “Support their narrative, not lead it”. In other words, allow them the space to create and maintain the narrative and messaging they believe in, and support them in delivering that message to their audience. This method is not only authentic and resonating to the audience, but also hugely impacts the positive development of brands equity.
In summary we can see that influencer engagement data, is not enough to make commercial partnership decisions with influencers; additional layers are required to paint a better picture of the prospective collaboration. By first looking at influencers through a ‘recruitment-lens’ and establishing a more holistic selection process, you create a stronger foundation for the collaboration. In that process, identify the ‘Gi Creators’ who are championing positive social impact; a voice sought-after and proactively supported by the audience. Once you have committed to that partnership, support the content creator’s message, the same way their audience do. At that point, you’re brands will begin to experience the full potential of Influencer Marketing.
Morteza Maleki spent 18 years as a brand strategist for world leading agencies, working on major international campaigns for some of the most renowned brands. Having seen the shifts in emphasis from traditional marketing into influencer driven campaigns, he saw an opportunity in the market for an influencer-centric platform, which would provide social media leader with the same media, and commercial opportunities as traditional celebrities; and thus was born House of Influence.
Having started with a team of 3 in December 2019, and launching the site in October 2020, the business has grown to a team of 20 during lockdown, with continues growth in the site users and signups. With many offers of funding on the table and phase 2 of the business launching in July, brands and influencers globally are jumping on board with HOI and the company’s vision to find, share and create ‘Good Influence’.