Influencer marketing holds tremendous potential for brands that want to have an impact on Instagram, but influencer fraud has become a major issue on the platform.
This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, Oliver Yonchev of social-first agency Social Chain USA talks about Instagram influencer campaigns and the steps brands can take to avoid influencer fraud.
In addition, Oliver shares concrete examples of brands doing Instagram influencer marketing well, along with specific advice on how to work with influencers in order to get the best results.
Highlights from my conversation with Oliver include:
Since its founding four years ago, Social Chain has grown to 700 employees with six offices around the globe.
Influencer marketing is expected to capture between $5 and 10 billion in marketing spend in the next year.
Everything on Instagram - including followers, likes and engagement - can be faked. There are even apps built specifically for this purpose.
If someone has a million followers, but they get no comments, and 50 people like them, their audience isn't real.
Engagement is one of the only on-platform metrics on Instagram that gives us an idea of something successful or not, so identifying engagement fraud is critical for brands doing influencer marketing.
Social Chain created a software product called Like-Wise that examines the velocity at which engagement is attained on Instagram and identifies fraudulent engagement.
80% of the time, you see a natural decay in Instagram engagement. Engagement comes within the first hour, very quickly, and you get a natural decay over the course of 24 hours. What you can see is there are a lot of factors that can affect that, being paid promotions, paid social, shout outs from one of their influencers, features within feed, all of those things can affect.
Of the ten thousand influencers that Social Chain originally monitored using Like-Wise, almost 25% of them at some point, had manipulated their engagement.
Oliver believes that 80% of influencer campaigns are poorly executed.
One of the biggest mistakes brands tend to make when working with influencers is to not allow enough time to see results.
Oliver says that the best influencers are your own customers, so if you're considering doing influencer marketing, start there.
Another common mistake that brands make is they get too prescriptive in the content that influencers create for campaigns. Oliver suggests giving influencers a strict list of do's and don'ts, and then allowing them the creative freedom to develop content.
For brands looking to identify influencer fraud, one strategy is to look at someone's follower size, go on a post, and see, proportionately, if less than 2% of their following is engaging with something. If that is the case, it generally means it's not a quality audience.
I'm your host Kathleen Booth, and this week, my guest is Oliver Yonchev, who is the managing director at Social Chain USA. Welcome, Oliver.
Oliver Yonchev (Guest): Hey, amazing to be here, thank you for having me.
Oliver and Kathleen recording this episode together .
Kathleen: I’m really interested to speak with you, because you come from quite a large agency that is doing work with some very large brands, and really interesting work when it comes to influencer marketing, which I'm particularly fascinated by right now, and I think it's kind of been trending in the news because of all of the influencer fraud that's happening.
About Oliver Yonchev and Social Chain
Kathleen: Before we dive into those topics, though, could you maybe tell my audience a little bit about yourself, and Social Chain, and what the company does, and how you would up where you are today?
Oliver: Yeah, of course, so I'll start with my background.
Like a lot of marketeers, I kind of stumbled in the world of marketing, I've always pursued creative endeavors. I was a musician, a past rockstar once upon a time at the ripe old age of 16 and 17. Then I fell into the world of radio, funnily enough. It kind of felt like a natural segue from when musical aspirations didn't quite pan out. I went into the world of radio.
So my base is working for media owners, and I worked for a large media owner in Europe called Bauer Media, and that had one of the largest radio portfolios. And radio was a really great grounding, being it's in the world of podcasting now, and podcasting's got the attention of the marketing world.
So I've long been a fan of the medium of audio, just because of its personal nature, a lot of reasons. And actually, from a point of view of selling quite a linear media, I always felt that you had to be more creative. You really had to think about store arcs. You have short periods of time to keep people's attention.
So a lot of the principles that make you an effective marketeer today, I kind of got my roots in my career, did that really well. As a media owner, they're a large publisher as well, so I started to evolve, sort of stuff, in radio going into publishing, digital ad products, and that kind of segued me into joining a company called Social Chain, which was a startup in Manchester about three years ago. I'd heard a lot about this company, they were making a lot of wage, they were known as "the kids that could make anything trend."
Oliver: So quite an intriguing title, yeah, and I found It really interesting.
Me and Steven connected, funnily enough, not too long after that, so I was aware of Steven. He asked me to join the business. The business was very much in its infancy. I say "infancy", it was probably about 60 people in the business at the time. They were doing really interesting things in the social publishing world, so, you know brands would come to Social Chain and say, "You have a huge following."
So, back three years ago, Social Chain amassed around 400 social media assets. These are communities based on passions, everything from sport, fashion, gaming, you name it, dogs, animals, people are passionate about lots of things. Brands used to come to Social Chain and say, "We've got a message, we want you to tell lots of people."
Social Chain had amassed a following of about 385 million people, actually made it one of the world's biggest publishers, which meant you do some really interesting things creatively.
I joined the business, helped the business build out its commercial entity, you know, this was new media, the world of influencer marketing, the world of social publishing, and I kind of helped navigate those waters for the business in the UK.
Since my joining, the business has accelerated, become a powerhouse agency, you know, from its infancy, what would have been four and a half years ago. Social Chain was two people, it's now 700 people globally, we've got six offices across the world.
The US office is the latest edition, we opened about a year and a half to two years ago. We have a team of about 30 people in the US, growing quickly, and we do everything and anything in the world of social media, starting with instagram strategy, that underpins content marketing and that underpins influencer marketing, and social media management, through to the full filigree of that. We have about 60 videographers, designers, and illustrators in house, that mean we do lots of things quickly.
As a business, if I was to say two things we pride ourselves on being really good at, is fundamentally, we're creative through and through. I think being vanilla in the world of endless scrolling through news feeds is probably not a good thing for a brand or marketeer to be.
And then the other thing, we have a deep appreciation for the rich insight that's available. You know, social media is a reflection of society, as well as we can learn a lot from how people behave, although the data is somewhat skewed, we all an inclination to provide the best version of ourselves to the world. So we just have a deep appreciation for data, and the creative art that is social media.
Kathleen: I find it just fascinating how quickly the agency grew. I mean, I come from an agency background, I've been in the agency world, oh my gosh, for 13 years, and it's not easy. I've been there, it's not easy to grow an agency, and to go from two people to 700 in four years is almost unheard of, so that's pretty impressive. To what do you attribute that growth?
Oliver: You know what it is? It's a couple of things. The agency was founded by people that had never worked in an agency, and I know that sounds a strange truth to underpin success, but Steve and Dom, who started Social Chain, both exceptional entrepreneurs, you know, 26 years old now, each of them. They've been entrepreneurs since they were in diapers, the types of people that were building businesses and selling things. And social media was a vehicle that they used to promote their businesses prior to Social Chain very successfully. They believed in the medium.
What I would say a lot of the success has been looking at things from first principle. So, I think, timing is fortunate. We were very good story-tellers in our early days, we had this air of illusions about us, "the guys that could make anything trend" was the ultimate vanity tick for marketing directors across the world's biggest brands.
I think we were born out of a unique place, being social publishers first. So if you think, we were never an agency, the first thing we did were a group of young people that were rounded up, that knew how to navigate social media, knew how to speak to the mindset of the followers that they've cultivated. And that's kind of one of the two.
And the second thing is, just, I think, this appreciation for creativity, and looking at social media very much as much as it's a scientific art, it's a data art, it's creativity through and through. For me, social media is very unique in the sense that it's one of the only mediums outside of PR where the budget doesn't dictate how many people see the thing I produced, it's actually the creativity, how many people like it, share engage.
So I think we have really good bones as a business, I think the business, like many, we've worked incredibly hard, and the other thing is, we've put a lot of value on personal brand.
You know, Steve is a young entrepreneur, Steve has a master following of over 2 million followers himself, personality. He's an inspiration to a lot of young entrepreneurs, aspiring people. So as his equity has risen, so has the business equity. And that's been a primary driver for us to, you know, accelerate our growth.
And then the third component is, we've not done this alone. We have a german investor called Georg Kofler, who from our early days has been very supportive. Georg Kofler was the founder of a TV network in Germany called ProSieben, which later sold to Sky, to the Murdoch empire, and he saw what we were doing as a form of new media, had a bit of a vision for what the business would be, and been incredibly supportive, so he's accelerated, certainly from a funding point of view. And then we've got a bunch of people that work really hard.
And the last thing I think worth noting is, we do a lot of unique things as a business, so we truly put culture first. And when I say that, we take a lot of inspiration from interesting businesses, but we do things in the sense of, we were the first people in the world to have a happiness manager. Like, their sole responsibility isn't HR, it isn't, we put them front and center there, to improve our culture, to do interesting things, to give people an outlet.
We've just launched a program, whereby we offer a therapist, it's opt out, so everybody has to take a therapy session once per quarter, and they have the opportunity to opt out, looking after our well-being.
We used to do unlimited holidays, which we've always done, and some people, as the business has grown see that as a bit of a... there's a skepticism towards those type of things, like people will work less if they have undefined boundaries. So we scrapped that and said, "Write your own contract."
So everyone in the business has gone on to write their own contract. If you want 40 holiday days, you have 40 holiday days.
We've put a level of trust in our employees that I think is somewhat unheard of, and I think in doing that, people go above and beyond. I've never known a business... and our working spaces are very creative, our office in Manchester has slides, ball pits, jingles, you name it, we have it. And I think those things have... on a bottom line, looking up here now, we spend exorbitant amounts of money on our people. Like, truly ridiculous.
But I think far too many businesses forget that a business is made up of people. And we want this to be sustainable. We want our interns to have the opportunity to create a work environment where they could have a family, you know. We want this to be complimentary to people lives, so that real focus on culture, on setting really solid values of a foundation, as a business, and lots of hard work are probably a lot of the things that have led to their success.
Fighting Instagram influencer fraud
Kathleen: I love that, that's so interesting, and I feel like we could literally have an entire podcast interview just on the culture aspects of the agency, but I want to pick your brain, because, I mean, to be a social first agency...
I mean, it's true of all digital marketing that it's changing incredibly quickly. I think social media is at the forefront of that. It's kind of like, I joke that it's like when you go to the grocery store, and you're in your groove. And you go to get the milk, and they've moved the milk, and it like totally upsets the apple cart and changes your whole routine, only multiply that by a thousand in social media. They move the milk, it seems like, every minutes.
And one of the platforms that you all do a lot of work on is Instagram. I've been really, really interested in Instagram for a while now. And in fact, it's funny, just today before I got on with you, I was reading an article in Wired Magazine about Instagram influencer fraud. And I think this is becoming higher on people's radar screens after things like the Fyre Festival, but it was talking about how it was really almost like an arms race between the people who are trying to game the system, and the technologies and the platforms out there that are helping influencer and brands and agencies identify fraud. So it's this ever-evolving thing.
So I want to talk about influencer fraud, and I also want to talk about how brands can work with influencers to get results, because obviously avoiding the fraudulent part of that is a piece of it.
But maybe we could just start with talking about the fraud, because I think that is so timely, and I'm just curious to hear your take on where things stand right now, what you see happening, and what you think brands need to watch out for.
Oliver: Yeah, for sure. You raised an underlying truth of the world we operate in, the significant amount of change that we go through. I think you made the point of the goal posts changing all the time, an algorithmic factor that's true today is not true tomorrow. And actually, to one of the earlier questions about success, that willingness to change, and not being romantic about how we've always done things is probably another reason why our client work is pretty successful, and kind of encouraging and that.
So on influencer fraud, influencer marketing isn't anything new, per se, the phrasing of it, the industry, the rapid growth, you know. Influencer marketing is expected to grow to spend in excess of between 5 and 10 billion next year.
It's huge, huge business, and I think that fundamentally comes down to one thing, because it's really, really, effective. But in people understanding that there's opportunity, I think many brands or marketeers have gone into the industry bullish, and where there's opportunity and so much opportunity for individuals.
We've got this democratization of audience where you can be in your bedroom, at 16 years old and have a million people at your fingertips, and brands want to access those millions of people. So you've created this environment where social currency is real tangible worth, and as a result of that, humans are imperfect, and there's a lot of fraudulent activity.
I think the fundamental truth about influencer fraud is, everything in the social world can be faked, meaning your followers, your likes - for a couple of dollars, you can go on an app, write your own comments, and fake your engagement. And this is something, as practitioners of the art of social media marketing, this is nothing new, but when we're in a time when so many dollars are being exchanged in this industry, and ultimately, brands are footing the bill, and this isn't a black and white thing.
There isn't one piece of software that can really safeguard you and protect you. There's methodology, there's process, there's software, there are a a lot of factors that can help safeguard you.
So I think one of the things that we did is, we invest a lot in a whole host, we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a variety of software across multiple things to deliver our services. One of the things that was asked of us last year was, "How do you know if someone is manipulating an engagement?"
There's quite a clear methodology to look at if someone has manipulated their follower growth. In its basic principle, if someone has a million followers, but they get no comments, and 50 people like them, their audience isn't real.
So there's some surface things that as a brand, a business you can look at. So these disparities but because engagement, comments, likes, everything else can be manipulated, people do this.
So we were asked some questions of our clients last year, it then became a real talking point at last year's Cannes, where the CMO of Unilever, Keith Weed, kind of put this as a real primary talking point of the summer being that they were no longer going to work with influencers that manipulated their engagements, bought followers, bought likes and such.
So what we did is, because this was happening at the time, we looked at our software, we tried to come up with answers for how do you monitor engagement, and there wasn't any. So what we did is, we're not a tech business, per se, but we worked with our in-house innovation team, and we looked to develop some methodology and a piece of software that allowed us to spot engagement fraud. Simply because engagement's one of the only on-platform metrics that gives us an idea of something successful or not.
You know, I post something, and the feedback I get in the form of a like, a comment, and such, that's the only way that a brand can often know if their thing has been successful. Of course, in commerce environments, you could come up with more complex methodology, but it's a real fundamental part, it's one of the main things the industry looks at, when working with creators and picking talent. We all talk about high engagement being important, which is it.
So we developed a piece of software, we call that Like-Wise, we launched that, and in short, what Like-Wise does, is it looks at the velocity of which engagement is attained.
And what you will see, 80% of the time, you get a natural decay. Engagement comes within the first hour, very quickly, and you get a natural decay over the course of 24 hours. What you can see is there are a lot of factors that can affect that, being paid promotions, paid social, shout outs from one of their influencers, features within feed, all of those things can affect.
But generally you don't get a... there's about a 20% degree of variance. What you see in people who are manipulating their engagement, is you see anomalies in that growth pattern. So, really, really high engagements in very short bursts, and these come from the likes of bot farms.
And many of these engagements are real. There are apps out there that you go on, and for me to go on an app, and comment a thousand times on something, and say a thousand things on my profile, I will get some currency back and I'll get a thousand things back.
So you've created this gamified environment that are actually real people, engaging on real content, but it's all inflation.
So it's an absolute fascinating subject. So when we launched this tool, as far as we're aware it was the first of its kind, and the response was phenomenal. Within three days of telling the world about this thing, we had over a thousand inquiries, from influencers, from brands, from agencies, which really put on spotlight on how significant this was for the industry and what people thought of it.
So that's been something, a service that we've been offering for going on almost a year.
Kathleen: I find this so fascinating, because you described the, let's call it the engagement curve of, you know, temporally, when engagement happens after a post is put up. And I imagine that as soon as you discover that, there's probably going to be a new tool that then figures out how to mimic what is essentially a natural curve, and so, it's kind of, like, almost cyber-security. Like, staying ahead of the malicious actors is like a full time job, I guess.
Oliver: Yeah, for sure. And I think one of the things that we built in... We when we first launched the tool ahead of it coming out, you know, our rudimentary version of that looked at some simple benchmarking.
We're very cognizant that algorithms change and shift, and the way that engagement is delivered naturally changes. So what we did is we looked at developing that further, and we've employed some AI technology that ultimately monitors patterns and behaviors, and looks for anomalies that sit outside of those natural curves.
We got to the point where, ahead of launching, we'd monitored around ten thousand influencers, looking at a real spectrum of posts, everything from sponsored posts, through to paid posts. And we can only access people that have their profile open, so anyone who has a closes profile, we can't. Because we're not plugged into the API or anything like that, it's simply looking at behaviors of engagement.
And we're very aware that the way these apps work, and the way manipulation work changes all the time, hence we've in-built some learning, to allow us to, as best as we can, stay ahead. And we were very aware that us doing this to solve the solution for our clients, was something that we've taken.
You know, it's hard to put a light on it, and I think it's the industry's job, I think it's the platform's job to really take this stuff seriously.
What we did find that was really staggering, and this is probably some of the headlines that the media were really interested in, of the ten thousand influencers that we originally monitored, almost 25% of them at some point, had manipulated their engagement. It was absolutely... we expected a lot, it blew our minds with how frequent.
And this extended, not just influencers, this was celebrities, this was brands themselves. Some of the world's biggest brands were manipulating their engagement, whether that's rogue social media managers, or what.
You know, you've created this environment where a like has an intrinsic worth, and as a result of that... the last thing I'll probably say on that that's really important is, you know when we launched this, the amount of self-policing that went on was so... we'd look at people that stopped manipulating their engagement. When the world knows this thing exists, there was a lot of self-policing that went on.
So I think for the greater good of the industry, I would argue that a lot more software solutions offer something similar like this now. I think it's for the better.
What happens if Facebook and Instagram remove like counts?
Kathleen: Yeah, I would tend to agree. And you know, it's going to be interesting to see how things evolve with Instagram and Facebook, more broadly as an umbrella, talking about removing like counts from posts. I guess that's going to put all the focus on gaming comments.
Oliver: Yeah, what do you think of that, because there's very mixed opinions on it, right?
Kathleen: You know, I wouldn't say that I've formed a complete conclusion yet. My understanding is that you as the poster will still be able to see your own likes, it just won't be public-facing. So I think it's good that that will still be there, because really at the end of the day, if you don't have that, what are you measuring? And especially for influencers, how do you prove to the brands you're working with that you've gotten any kind of results?
You know, it seems a little bit like... My first impression, and this is not a fully-formed idea, is it a little bit reminds me of when you have children, and everybody gets a trophy. It's sort of an attempt to mimic that, like, "We're going to take like counts away so that people who don't get as many don't feel lesser."
I don't know, I sometimes wonder if it's a little bit like a nanny state mentality, but I definitely want to think about it a little bit more.
Oliver: Yeah, I love this debate, and I think there's a couple of consequences. Do I think it will rollout permanently? I'm not convinced, despite the rollout going across multiple countries. I think it'll have an impact, I think it'll have a couple of consequences.
First and foremost, the reason, or the skeptic in me may have a different opinion, but, say their reason is to protect young people. I can't imagine what it's like, growing up, where your worth is predicated on how many likes you get, which is a truth. That puts a lot of pressure on young people, so the platforms have to take some stand.So I kind of get it from a safeguarding point of view.
Then, to hear the perspective of talent and influencers and creators, there were many that came out publicly and cried and were outraged by this, because it's their worth. I think a byproduct of getting rid of the like count means, I think a lot of the talent will go to buying followers again.
You know, from the surface level, so many people will do transactions based on surface figures. And I think a byproduct of that may be some further mispractice. Now there's a clear disparity, and people are a little savvier to different things that go on within the industry, I think that's a byproduct.
I think what'll happen to the general public, I think people will post more. Young people, people of all ages, will not post a picture, because they're waiting for the perfect time at which they will get the most amount of likes. Which is absurd to me, because people worth is, "Oh, it didn't perform as well as the last one."
So I think the posting frequency will increase, when there's not this public facing number, if that's the case. Then I think the last thing that will happen, and probably the relevant thing for marketeers is, if you're working with an influencer agency, as long as the information is accessible in some form, through third-party software, through the platform itself through speaking with the agents and they can provide that information, I don't think it'll affect the industry too much.
But yeah, it's a very interesting debate. I know there's a lot of skeptics, of whether it would work.
I think some of the motives are pure, and are the right step, but for me, Facebook are the master puppeteers. You know, if something going to affect the bottom line, and share price, and it has a bearing, that's the thing that will make their decision, not their efficacy.
Kathleen: Well, and the wild card I think, and not to belabor this, but the wild card is really the influence that the evolution of platforms like WeChat and TikTok is going to have. Because if those platforms preserve those elements, and people start moving over there...
I just want to fascinating talk by Mari Smith, who's like a big Facebook evangelist, and she talked about Mark Zuckerberg's biggest fear isn't the government, it's WeChat. Because it's becoming the one-stop shop for life, basically, not just social media and how that's why he's introducing Libra, the cryptocurrency, and other things like that.
So I do think that... I know they're testing these things right now, and I think what those other platforms do, and how they perform, I have a feeling will probably influence this as well, but all remains to be seen.
Oliver: No, I agree. And I think the Facebook empire, which encompasses the world's biggest speaking platform, or one of them, being WhatsApp, I know it's not as widely used in the US, but it's a huge platform... and when they figure out how to commercialize that, the conspiracy theorist in me says that there's a race here.
If you think of every single social platform, although... everything that started with Pinterest, now to YouTube, allowing shoppable tags within feature. They're trying to create their short of share of environment where people buy things without leaving the platform, and this is universal across, not just certain advertisers.
At which point, then, as a user, when I can use the Libra, the Facebook coin, whatever the cryptocurrency is the save 10% on this thing that I want to buy, that's seamless...
Suddenly, they own the money, they own the environment at which you're buying, they own your attention. And I think that you're right, it's learning from what happened in China, looking at WeChat. And WeChat has similar challenges to Facebook as a primary platforming, being WeChat's not losing so many young people. They no longer use WeChat because it's seen as their parent's thing. And you've got all these micro economies in WeChat.
But yeah, the sleeping giant, of course, is TikTok, and in China, I believe it's called Douyin, the same thing. But that's the real sleeping... I think they're going to have problems commercializing it, and there's so many things wrong with it, from an advertiser's standpoint, but I love the chaos that is TikTok right now because I think it's opportunity. I think you can be creative, I think you can cultivate audiences, I think no one fully knows what they're doing right now, yet.
Oliver: That makes it an interesting place to work in. So yeah, I love that environment.
When should brands consider doing an Instagram influencer campaign?
Kathleen: Well, I could probably go on about this forever, because it's such an interesting conversation.
I want to shift us, though to brands that are interested in starting to experiment with influencer marketing. You guys have done a ton of this. When you sit down with a brand, and they start talking about this, I guess my first question would be, really, what are the best use cases for influencer campaigns?
Because when I think about a social campaign, I think about, usually, your goal is either broad brand awareness, or it's lead gen, or actually it's, you know, sales. So, are there certain use cases that make more sense for influencer campaigns than others, or is it equally applicable to all of those?
Oliver: Yeah, I think 80% of the industry does influencer marketing badly. I think long gone are the days when you can take a picture, post it, and expect anyone to care. Influencers are vying for your attention, you know, as you scroll through news feeds. People are so passive in those things.
I think when we sit down for a brand, there are a couple of things we try and.. if we're looking at an influencer program, the first thing we do is be very clear on what an influencer's role is. An influencer holds influence only over the audience that they've cultivated.
So, for me, it's been very clear on what it is you're buying. When you pay $1000 to an influencer, you're buying... in many cases, you're accessing their audience, and that's the thing that most people focus on.
But it's not the most cost-efficient way to reach ten thousand people, it's certainly not today. It used to be, but today it's not. But what you're also doing is asking them to create something. A lot of influencers have cultivated followings because they're very creative people.
And then the third component is that you're having an endorsement from someone that holds influence over that audience. So when you spend $1000 with someone, they tell your audience about you, who they hold influence over, and they reach those ten thousand people, you know, suddenly you can start to perceive value.
So the biggest mistakes that happen influencer marketing is not giving clear purpose. You mentioned, people kind of test the market, brand awareness. I think you need to be very clear. If your goal is to create really interesting content for your own social feeds, make that a singular purpose. If you want to sell things, come up with a framework, and a measurement framework that allows you to track success.
And there's a lot of testing and learning, like I said, as much as influencer marketing and social media is a data art, there's no amount of data that can tell you when things are going to work, it's very much a creative endeavor.
I think the third bit of that is, when it pertains to creativity, you have to look for depth. Again, people are passive, people are mistrusting, people don't trust influencers, they know it's a paid partnership. You have to look for depth.
A couple of programs that we ran, one that is of significance, that makes a lot of sense, is we work with Brita. And I think it's a really good illustration because it was probably my favorite influence campaign of this year. And what we essentially did is, Brita have an authentic voice to speak about plastic and our use as a society of plastic, because they offer a solution to that.
So, what did we do? We looked at a program whereby we shine a spotlight on the fact that in 50 years, if we continue with our plastic usage, and don't change our behaviors and Brita have the solution to that, our beaches, our holiday destinations are all going to be ruined. So we work with a lot of big creators that have a voice, or that speak to environment issues. We took their holiday pictures, and we photoshopped them and make them look awful, we covered them in plastic. And what we did with that is, the reason was to create aa juxtaposition in people's news feeds. The story was about plastic, but if we just took a Brita bottle and said, "Hey, this is going to help," no one cares, they scroll past.
What we did, is you're scrolling through your news feed, and you see this beautiful image that's powerful, that's covered in plastic, like, "What's this?"
You read the caption, and it's an emotive message that comes from the influencer of what they're doing. The second phase of that, was them to go, "Look, this is how Brita now helps me in my life. I'm not perfect, I'm going to stop using bottled water, I'm going to use my Brita filter."
This is how its done, so it was a really... it was a two-step narrative. The PR coverage around that reached in 50 countries. We had the Daily Mail, through to UNILAD, LADbible, and those things. Because what we did it... and that earned media off the back of that was so significant, and we're yet to see the sales impact of that, but real good example where we've taken a message and we've thought about it with depth. And our purpose was singular purpose of raising an issue, and interpreting that creatively.
Another brand that's probably worth mentioning, and you've said earlier, "What industries do really well in influencer marketing?"
Other than the obvious being beauty, fashion, think of areas that are inherently social. For beauty and fashion, people follow fashion influencers, so fashion's you know, a place that's a natural fit.
One of the brands that we've been working with, one of our longest-standing clients, we've been working with them for over four years, is PrettyLittleThing. They're part of the BooHoo Group. They now do about 30% of the business in the US. And they're a rags-to-riches story. Ten years ago, they were market traders, now they're a company that turns over a billion dollars every years, they're a multi-billion dollar company.
And they've done that by disproportionately tripling down on influencer marketing for years. And one of their successes is they've done it consistently. They work with a lot of girls consistently, for time and time and time and time again. And they've refined their modeling, and they've made changes to how they do things, and they adapt their creative. But one of their key to successes was doing it.
And I think a lot of brands going to influencer marketing test the water, do one post, try and determine if it works or not, and in no other form of media would you do that. You wouldn't put a billboard up of one singular for one day and go, "How's it doing?"
No, you wouldn't. There's not many mediums where you would do that, so I think you have to take basic fundamental marketing principles, and apply them to influencer marketing, and not treat it as a separate art.
But there are a lot of nuances to it. There are a lot of things that you have to be aware of, in terms of what you're looking out for. But a really good starting place for any brand is, your customers will always be your best advocates. If you can figure out a way to harness your customer base, those that have followings, that's the win. That's like the ultimate influencer marketing, because it's the truest form.
Beyond that, there's a million and one things you could sort of explore. But I would say the brands that have invested for long periods of time in influencer marketing are brands that have had meteoric rises in very competitive industries like fashion, like beauty.
But we've worked with everyone in influencer marketing to haulage firms, you know, a lot of people in the business community, the crypto community, you name is, there is a place for influencer marketing. How significant that place is will vary, you know?
Working with influencers to create social content for campaigns
Kathleen: Yeah. You raised something interesting that I'm really about, which is actually how the content gets created. And you mentioned that, in most cases, most influencers are also very creative people, and that's why they become influencers, and I'm really curious, when you work with clients, how do you advise them to work with influencers on the creation of the actual content that they're going to post to their feed?
Because I imagine, there is a real danger to brands being too heave-handed in their control of the content, and kind of like ruining the content, and also dampening the influencer's voice. But there's also, on the other hand, the danger of giving the influencer complete control, and then you could wind up in a situation where you don't get the outcomes you were looking for. So how do you handle that balancing act?
Oliver: Yeah, I think it's one of the industry's biggest challenges, particularly, the larger the business. The ramifications of the world's largest businesses getting their comms wrong can be hugely significant, so I get the resistance to want to give a ton.
But, to me, working with influencers is no riskier than working with just a really bad idea. So, you know, working with an influencer for me gives people a voice. I use the example sometimes, I talk about... Let's go back a few years, something non-offensive... Kendall Jenner Pepsi.
Kathleen: That's the one I was thinking of. It's so funny that you mentioned that.
Oliver: One of the world's biggest influencers, celebrities, whatever you want to call her, entrepreneur. The reason that advert didn't work wasn't because they worked with one of the world's biggest influencers, it was simply just a really bad idea.
That was misguided, and that's the risk that all marketeers take. I think we're in this world now where there's this level of trust that has never been had to be given before in marketing, whether that's a social media manager doing a reactive tweet, and the speed at which they have to do that, all the way through to working with a hundred partners, that have never... and influencers, and creators that might not know every nuance of your brand.
I think what brands have to do is... bad influencer marketing is dictatorial. It's 100%, it's inauthentic, the audience won't like it, it will serve no purpose.
Where you can be a little more dictatorial is if you are not planning on using the content for an influencer's feed. If you're using them purely as a creator, because they're a great photographer, and it's going to sit on yours, then you can be a little more dictatorial.If you are going to place anything on an influencer's feed, allow them to interpret that their own way.
What I would suggest, guidance point of view is, give them the strictest list of don'ts. Don't post competitor brands, don't do X, Y, Z, don't do this. And then from a freedom point of view say, "This is the single thing we want you to get out of this post, this stream, or partnership over the next three months."
And allow them to interpret them and work with them to shape it. You know, good agencies will do that.
Our job as an agency that works with... we work with anywhere between 700 to 1500 influencers a month, real volumes of people, and some of our biggest challenges is convincing brands to give up that freedom. And I think the way to do that is, we want to have a really thorough, robust process in terms of sign off, you know? There's editorial control that allows that-
Kathleen: There's like veto power.
Oliver: Yeah, there's veto power. I think there's other things, if you do your due diligence on who you're working with, you work with the responsible creators that... if you're risk-adverse, there's a lot of creators out there who have no bad history, or nothing of significance.
You know, there are a lot of things. It may mean the person who's doing the identification has to spend longer in waiting to find, and it may slow things down, but that's the right thing to do. Because by the time they get to create something, they're more on brand. If you're working with the right types of creators, not just the big name that you've heard of, because that might not be right for your brand, then that's the way to do it.
And I think it's one of the bigger challenges the industry has had, in coming to terms with giving freedom to someone else, but I think that's a universal challenge across the social media landscape. And I love the fact that...
One of my favorite platforms at the minute is Twitter. I just adore Twitter for marketeers.
Kathleen: Twitter is the most polarizing platform, people either or they hate it, there's not a lot of in-between.
Oliver: I love it for marketeers, because it's one of the only platforms that presents consistent opportunity. If you can get your tone of voice right, and you can speak to a culturally relevant moment, timely, you know, you can have tremendous reach.
Actually, I forgot, our creative director, he was telling me about a business case where, I'll need to get the name because I'm going to really ruin this story, but essentially, there's a brand that's stagnated for... it's a legacy brand, for about 80 years. Never grown, never grown. They changed their entire marketing efforts, and really just invested in working with comedians on their Twitter feed, and they put a significant team and resources around Twitter.
Two years later, their business had grown 165%, sales, they've really cut through, they've become... you know, there's so many business cases where the brands have got it right.
If you look at the fast food industry right now. There, if you look at Burger King-
Oliver: [crosstalk] Wendy's. Amazing stuff, and I love the collaboration between brands, there's so much about it I love, because it really does, for me, feel like you have to be a wicked brand to do that, you have to be a self-aware brand.
You know, when a bank tries to talk about people in a disparaging way or tell people, you know, that's not self-aware brands. A bank should never tell people about what they're doing financially, because...
I'm going to use an example for that to give that more context, but Chase did a thing where they put out a tweet. I think I'm... you know what, Chase are probably going to hate me, because I might be wrong about this. It was a bank, and ultimately put out a funny meme, that, if anyone else would have done that, it would have been fine.
But the level of self-awareness by the fact that a bank was telling people that they were irresponsible, in the light of that banks aren't seen in the most favorable of light.
And that's where I think really thinking about your strategy and really thinking about what you can and can't do. And sometimes for brands, you know, saying nothing is more than just trying to say something.
And there's one thing I will say about social media as a whole I'd love any marketeers to really get away from, is these arbitrary number that have been created in the industry that are around posting three times a day, and doing it at set times, and releasing content for the sake that... all these habits that have been created that are not based on facts, not based on evidence.
Really, we're in the game of... we always talk about volume matter and there's big thought leaders like Gary Vee that speak about volume. I'm very much for quality over quantity right now, and I think it's ever more important that you put your head space and resource in the right things when it comes to social media today.
Tools for fighting Instagram influencer fraud
Kathleen: Yeah, I would agree with that. Now, if somebody is listening to this, and they're not a huge brand like a Chase, or a Burger King, and they're thinking, "I want to get started with influencer marketing, but I'm really concerned about fraud."
Beyond having somebody on their staff and manually cull through a bunch of profiles, are there certain tools out there that are accessible to the smaller brands that would help them get started, and identify the right accounts, and check to make sure they they're not full of fraudulent followers or engagement?
Oliver: Yeah, you know what the simplest thing to do, a real baseline level, is look at disparities between content creatives. So simply look at someone's follower size, go on a post, and see, proportionately, if less that 2% of their following is engaging with something, it means their audience... it doesn't necessarily mean that audience is fraudulent, but it's not a quality audience.
So, you can look on a search level, the second thing you can do, if you have any suspicion that someone's audience may not be real, simply click on their following, click on the likes themselves, and just scroll down. And you'll just see whether people are real or not. They've got dodgy names, you know, you see a lot of that. And the larger account, the more likely they are to have fraudulent followings, not through their own account but there's a lot of bot activity that gravitate toward large accounts.
But on a real surface level, you can do some simple manual checks that aren't very time consuming, that will indicate and protect themselves. And there is another piece of software, that I know is free, that allows you to look at historic follower growth. So you can look at anomalies there. And it has slipped my mind-
Kathleen: But if you message me after, I can put it in the show, now. And then-
Kathleen: People with check those show notes and click through on that link.
Oliver: Amazing. So yeah, there's that piece of software that does that, and that looks at historic data, so you know, if for whatever reason, someone grows in a day, a lot, they've probably bought some followers.
Kathleen: That's good to know. I will also put the link to that Wired article in the show notes, because it also talks about those spikes and how to look through those trends over time and identify those patterns, so it's kind of interesting.
How to connect with Oliver and Social Chain
Kathleen: And if somebody has question for you, or wants to learn more about Social Chain, what's the best way for them to connect and follow you guys online?
Oliver: Yeah, awesome. We're just @thesocialchain. You can follow us on Twitter, you can follow us on Instagram, you can follow us on LinkedIn. We also have a WhatsApp group that you can join if you click on our website, and look on that, What App group essentially sends a push notification every morning, at 10:00 AM UK time, so early hours US. But it sends a push notification that's just five interesting things that are happening in social media.
We have our own podcast, Social Minds, which we work with industry professionals to promote topics and debates. And yeah, we do lots of things.
Kathleen: Awesome. I'll put all those links in the show notes, so you can find that there.
Kathleen's two questions
Kathleen: Now, before we wrap up, there are two questions I always ask all of my guests. The first, I'm curious to get your take on it, we talk a lot about inbound marketing on this podcast... Is there a particular company or individual that you really think is knocking it out of the park when it comes to inbound marketing these days?
Oliver: Yeah, so inbound marketing. So I think brands that have really interesting figureheads tend to do inbound marketing really well. And what I mean by that is I think VaynerMedia are doing incredibly well through Gary Vee, I think they get a huge amass of leads.
I think we do it very well at Social Chain.
In terms of brands themselves, I'll use someone like Gwyneth Paltrow, and her clothing brand Goop, Kylie Jenner, Kylie Cosmetics. Outside of that, I would say brands like Glossier, doing super, super well, doing interesting things, really being an editorial voice for young women.
Oliver: I think SoulCycle, despite recent controversy, I think SoulCycle get a lot right. In the UK, there's a brand that does very little outbound traditional marketing. They're called Nando's, I'm not sure if you have them in the US.
Oliver: Yeah, Nando's PERi-PERi. Those guys do some really interesting marketing.
Kathleen: And they make great chicken.
Oliver: They make great chicken, Portuguese chicken, which is fantastic.
Who else? Tito's Vodka, I quite like, it's like, no fluff, it's like the vodka for the everyman, I think they've done some really interesting things.
So yeah, so many great brands out there. I tend to focus on the ones that really get either their leadership, or they have really interesting thought leaders within their business, and seem to it particularly well.
Kathleen: I like that point, because that has become sort of a theme I've seen emerging from some of my interview with people, is that personal brand is really taking more center stage when it comes to corporate strategy, because every brand is creating content these days. The ones that aren't, forget it, don't even worry about them, but anybody who's a contender is creating content, and so there's so much noise. And it's getting harder and harder to stand out with that noise, and I think a strong personal brand is one way to do that, so love that.
Now, second question. The world of digital marketing is changing so quickly, social media is changing so quickly, we talked about this right back at the beginning, how often they move the milk. How do you personally stay up to date with all of the latest developments?
Oliver: As a business, we are obsessed with change and sharing information. So our internal comms, of course, so I personally pay a lot of attention to the things we post on our own social feeds.
As a business, we put out a lot of content, we invest a lot in our own marketing efforts, because as people that claim to be the world's best social media marketeers, if our social media isn't setting the standard, we're doing something wrong. So I think our channels do a good job of that.
We use Workplace, being our internal comms, which is essentially Facebook for work, owned by Facebook, and we have a group called Everchanging Landscape, so internally, everyone in the business is always just sharing interesting things. So it doesn't have to be things pertaining to social media, we have called creative campaigns work.
And if I scroll down this thing now, within the last hour, there's probably, I don't know, 15 articles being shared by people, people are commenting, so we create a culture that has people sharing. I think there's some great sources, you know, signing up, setting up Google alerts, the usual stuff, The Drum. You know, Adweek, all of those things, that's how you stay up to date.
One of the things how we stay ahead, is actually just doing the lot of it ourselves, and what I mean by that is we have that fortune of owning lots of influential pages.
So we stay ahead algorithmically, by, something happens, we notice a decline in reads, we just start testing things and learning. And I think more brands can learn from their own channels so much. It still baffles me that more brands don't do market research on Instagram Stories. "Hey, customers, do you like this color product, or this color product?"
I don't know why this is not a systemic tool when you have people that have chosen to follow you as a brand. So I personally stay ahead by trying to be a practitioner as much as I can, and believe it or not, I've recently turned 30 and I'm one of the oldest people in the business.
Kathleen: You old man, you.
Oliver: I'm an old man, so I'm a little out of the loop from time to time, so I surround myself with young people that are doing this all the time, that also helps.
Kathleen: Oh, my God, I am like an ancient person, compared to you, then.
You know what to do next...
Kathleen: Well, this has been so much fun, and so interesting, I feel like I could talk to you forever, about so many different things, but we are at the top of our hour.
Before I go, I wanted to say to the audience, if you liked this, if you learned something new, leave a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts, because it makes a big difference, that is how other listener find us. And if you know somebody else who is doing kick-ass inbound marketing work, Tweet me @WorkMommyWork, because I would love to interview them.
Thank you so much, Oliver, this has been a lot of fun.
Oliver: Thank you so much, thanks for having me, I can't believe an hour has passed, so thank you so much.
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