This article originally appeared in ADWEEK in March 2015
Few PR practices are changing more rapidly than influencer marketing. As social networks proliferate and individual users grow more powerful, firms and clients are changing the way they approach influencer-driven campaigns (just ask Clever Girls, the “Batkid” agency which recently launched a sports-centered influencer network).
We spoke to Matthew Myers, founder of New York firm Tidal Labs, for his take on trends in the influencer space as his company launches a new product called Tidal Marketplace designed to allow these “creators” to directly pitch brands and agencies.
1. What’s the most important recent development in the influencer space?
We’ve entered a new era in the evolution of “native” advertising and influencer (I prefer the word “creator”) opportunities. Maker Studios, FullScreen, YouTube and others have paved the way to give creators a chance at much larger campaigns, not just free samples or small pay-per-post executions.
This is happening because brands and agencies are starting to become comfortable with ceding creative control to the most influential creators in exchange for access to their audiences. Creative agencies used to rely exclusively on internal teams to shoot photos and videos. Now they increasingly rely on influencers with large social graphs to create their own authentic, branded content.
And creators — even those outside of New York and LA — are getting more opportunities each year as advertising dollars flow to them. So, what we’re seeing is not just a shift in power from brands and agencies to creators, but also a geographic diversification, in terms of what it means to be an influencer.
2. What’s wrong with the current model for agency/brand/influencer relations?
Scale, no question. The current methods of brands interacting with creators directly or via agencies is just hard to scale. It’s quite difficult to manage more than a few outside creators since the process of strategy, management, communication and negotiation is done almost entirely manually.
Plus, the current model of interaction often results in campaigns that don’t necessarily resonate with the influencers’ social graph. Creators’ audiences (especially Millennials) are sensitive to authenticity and want to see content that fits in the context of who they know and trust. One of the things we’re always examining at Tidal is how we can make it easy to flip the creative brief process around to give creators the chance to lead the conversation with brands and agencies about what content they believe will work best for their audience.
Brands and agencies continue to be focused on one-off campaign collaborations with just one or two creators when they should be adopting a “portfolio approach.” By investing across a variety of creative projects, they can choose projects that are on brand, timely and topical. To take the portfolio analogy further, they can then look at the projects that are gaining momentum and add additional media spend to create a much larger campaign.
3. Why did you decide to launch the new product now?
The last five years have been marked by significant change in who is responsible for creating content, how it’s distributed, and what’s capturing people’s attention. I don’t think anyone will argue with the fact that that advertising has struggled to keep up with this trend.
Consumers, especially Millennials, aren’t watching TV, reading magazines, or really paying attention to ads at all. But consumers are paying attention to their trusted peers, whether it’s someone they know directly or feel a connection to online. The problem we’ve always attacked at Tidal is: what’s holding brands and agencies back from embracing this trend, and how can technology help?
Tidal Marketplace is our foray into the new age of consumer-to-consumer marketing, giving our network of more than 48,000 creators a chance at the big time by letting them pitch their projects directly to brands and agencies for purchase. It was built both in response to our creators’ increasing sophistication about what makes a great, brand-ready project, and our brand and agency clients’ growing awareness that by giving up some control, they have a lot to gain in terms of results.
4. Stefania Pomponi of Clever Girls told us that “individual numbers aren’t as important as the aggregate” in influencer campaigns. What’s your take?
I totally agree. The Batkid campaign was a great example of the kind of carefully orchestrated campaign that would never originate from a single online celebrity. To the point I made earlier about creating that diverse “portfolio” of influencer projects, we’ve found that campaigns with a few (or many) up-and-coming creators often create more interaction than those with a single established, well-known creator.
5. What’s the key to finding the right “creators” for a given campaign?
This may not be a popular answer, but it’s definitely a combination of technology and hands-on curation. There is no magic bullet. Analyzing sphere of influence, past performance, and editorial fit should be critical pieces of identifying and choosing the right creators.
But I would also encourage brands to push their comfort zone when it comes to editorial fit. I’m seeing a ton of editorial crossover between segments. We’re working on campaigns to help fashion companies enlist street artists, tech companies enlist fashionistas…when brands and their partners step outside of the norm, that’s when some of the most interesting campaigns are brought to life.