campaigns, challenges, industry, influencer marketing, social media

Making Influencer Marketing Credible Again

Is influencer marketing as influential as it used to be?

This post is probably going to rake up some controversy, but I’m going to write it anyway.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been watching social media closely. I’ve been hearing whispers from agency folk and brand managers. And everything points to one irrefutable fact.

Influencer marketing just isn’t as credible as it used to be.

I’ll go out on a limb, one step further.

Influencer marketing just isn’t credible any more.

And here’s why.

One. Brands aren’t being discerning enough. Anyone with enough followers or readership qualifies to be an influencer. No matter how tenuous the connection between the influencer and the brand promise.

Two. Influencers aren’t being discerning enough. Most influencers today seem to be happy to work with any brand that is willing to work with them (read: pay them well). Rather than the brands they really love. The faked enthusiasm shows in every overexcited tweet, in every hard-selling blog post.

Three, following on from my previous statement. People today are becoming more and more aware that people who randomly start promoting a brand are being paid to do so.

Having been one of the earliest exponents – and practitioners – of social influence marketing in India, I can’t help but wonder – whatever happened to the influencer marketing we used to know and love?

For those who came in late, here’s how it’s supposed to work.

  1. Brand identifies potential influencers. These are usually people who are perceived experts in a particular field (related to the brand’s sphere of operation), or die-hard brand fans.
  2. Brand contacts influencer. Influencer agrees that the brand is a great fit for them.
  3. Brand and influencer work together to co-create content.
  4. It’s a win for both, the brand and the influencer. In the truest form of influencer marketing, there is no money exchanged. The brand gains credibility. The influencer gains readership/following/indirect revenue through their association with the brand and wider exposure. And/or merchandise and/or products and/or an exclusive experience.

So here are a few thoughts on how to make it better again. Very simply, going back to the basics.

Brand Managers, be picky about the influencers you work with. Frankly, there’s a limited pool. And every social media agency has pretty much the same list. Look for a few really good and relevant influencers, rather than a wide pool of irrelevant (to your category) influencers. Or work even harder, and discover someone who could become an influencer through your campaign. Your campaign will look and feel more authentic. And you’ll save a few bucks too.

Brand Managers, avoid your instinct to hard-sell. The more sell-y the content you co-create, the more people will avoid it. Don’t be lazy. Find a way to subtly weave your brand promise into your influencer’s natural content. It’s a brand-building exercise, not a sales one.

Influencers, stay true to yourselves. If music is your passion (and the reason people follow you), you have no business working on a food brand. And if you love rock music, don’t pick up a campaign related to Bollywood pop. If you’re an iPhone fan, don’t work with an Android OEM. If you’re a jeans-and-tees person, avoid the business/formal clothing brands.

Influencers, don’t do every campaign you get. I’ve seen people tweet for OLX one day and Quikr the next. The agreement you sign with a client may not be exclusive. But being loyal to the brands you actually respect or use will win you more credibility with your audience. It’ll also keep your client loyal to you. Money is always tempting. But eventually, you’ll end up diluting your brand equity. And your follower count.

Influencers, be transparent about your engagement with the brand. There’s no need to pretend that you wrote a post out of sheer love. Talk about how you’re engaging with the brand. It’s also ok to tell the world that they paid for your trip, or paid you to write the post, and leave it to your followers to judge for bias. It’ll just help you build further credibility.

As usual, I’d love to know what you think. Do leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments.

Footnote: I want to touch upon the issue of brands paying an influencer. I personally believe that paying an influencer to engage is antithetical to the concept of influencer marketing. It’s no different from hiring a celeb to endorse your brand. I do also believe that influencers work hard to create content and build a deeply engaged following, and deserve to be rewarded for the work they do. It’s a grey area; so in the end, you should just do what seems ethical to you.

influencer marketing, insight, reputation, social media, trend

#TomatoGate: How Twitter Got A Restaurant To Change Their Business Practices

The Story
It all began on Saturday, 5th May, when my wife, a friend and I decided to drop in at Burgs, a gourmet burger restaurant in Bandra. 

In a nutshell, they refused to remove the tomato slice from my burger, stating that it was against their company policy. 

Feeling rather angry, I wrote a blog post about my experience on Sunday, 6th May, and put it up here for all the world to see. I urge you to read that story before continuing to read this post.

How It Spread
I was so angry that I didn’t want to just vent through a blog post. I wanted to make sure that everybody who googled up Burgs saw my review of the place. I spent an hour posting my review to websites like MumbaiBoss, Zomato and Burrp, as well as foodie blogs like The Big Bhookad.

Around the same time, I picked up on Burgs’ Twitter account, and reached out to them as well. My wife, sitting next to me, started scrolling through @BurgsIndia – and was shocked to see that their attitude existed on their Twitter account as well. Here’s a selection of their tweets.

That’s about when some folks on Twitter picked up on my story, and started tweeting back. Here’s how it unfolded.

A glance at their Twitter profiles will tell you that these guys are popular, influential on (and off) Twitter, and have possibly been rubbed the wrong way by Burgs. The reply from Burgs was the last straw.

Within the hour, most of Twitter had started chucking virtual tomatoes at Burgs. They flayed Burgs alive for not customising my burger and for their couldn’t-give-a-fuck attitude. And  also started cracking tomato jokes all around. The Tomato Tweeters included stand-up comics like Tanmay Bhat and Rohan Joshi, journos like Ashish Shakya, foodies like Adarsh Munjal, Sahil K and Aneesh Bhasin, fashionistas like Latha Sunadh, and the ones who’d started it all off – Nik, Rahul Chawra, Mithun K, Roopak Saluja, Roycin D’Souza, RanjitOne Black Coffee, et al.

Soon enough, ‘tomato’ was trending on Trendsmap Mumbai. And if Satyameva Jayate hadn’t hogged the Trending Topics pane on Twitter, ‘tomato’ would’ve been up there for sure. It got better. Somebody went and created the official Twitter account of the tomato in the burger. Finally, Burgs India responded. Announced that tomatoes were now  optional. Put it up on their Twitter bio even.

But even then, the attitude persisted. And the Tomato Tweeple picked up on it.

Finally, around evening, the story died down. And Burgs could breathe a sigh of relief.

Why #TomatoGate Went Viral
Two reasons, in my opinion.

One: Who hasn’t been at the receiving end of poor service from restaurants (and other service businesses)? We hear stories from friends and acquaintances about their experiences every day. My story was no different – but it was completely relatable. It became all about sticking it to ‘the Man’.

Two: Burgs India shot themselves in the proverbial foot. They were rude to guys like Adarsh and Roycin. And too proud and insensitive on Twitter overall. Their reply to me was the icing on the cake. And they still haven’t apologised to me. Nobody trolls someone who’s made one mistake and shows that they want to rectify it. But if you’re going to persist in being a smartass…be prepared to have your ass handed to you.

Lessons learnt, I hope.

blog, how to, influencer marketing

How To Influence The Influencer: Blogger Outreach

There’s no question among digital marketers that influencer marketing is a fantastic way to get your brand buzzing online.

The very nature of the social web points to this. It’s a theory that Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and every other social network out there relies on.

Simply put, you’re more likely to buy something if someone you trust – friends, family, peers, experts – recommend them to you.

Influencer marketing could take various forms. But the most basic form of involves reaching out to the blogging community to endorse your brand. What marketers hope to achieve through this can be broken down into three basic benefits:

  1. Extend your audience by engaging with the community of loyal followers bloggers have.
  2. Generate and share content around your brand – therefore generating SEO, traffic, social mentions and consumer conversation.
  3. Build a network of bloggers around your category who you can reach out to over and over again.

I’ve had the opportunity to be part of two blogger outreach programmes recently, and conducted one myself. Here are some things I’ve learnt from all three.

The Standard Chartered Breeze Blogger Event
I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from the folks over at BlogAdda, inviting bloggers to participate in an event by Standard Chartered Bank (SCB). I was one of the folks selected, and was then told that the event was being held to promote the bank’s new mobile banking app – Breeze.

The luncheon was held at Escobar in Bandra, Mumbai. A swanky, pricey joint. Clearly the clients were leaving no stone unturned. There were screens all around when I walked in, with TweetDeck and Twitter open for all the attendees to see. I soon realised that the event was limited to 30 tech and digital bloggers – an influencer audience if I ever saw one.

It was great to see the clients walking around and spending plenty of time with each blogger. Not selling the product, mind you, but just getting to know them. As were the BlogAdda team. Both organisers were clearly working hard to engage the bloggers at a personal level.

When the presentation began, we were invited to tweet our thoughts during the presentation to the Standard Chartered Breeze account. These tweets were being tracked and projected on the screens in front of us all through the event. To encourage us to tweet, the SCB team were giving away an iPad 2 (for the most creative tweet describing the product) and a BlackBerry Bold (for the most tweets). Great incentive – a cherry on the top of what was already feeling like a slick, international-quality event experience. At the end of the day, all bloggers who attended were also given Sennheiser noise-reduction headphones as they left the event.

After the event, the BlogAdda team sent out emailers with the SCB Breeze press kit attached, and asked us to email them any post we may have written around the event.

My post on the app is here. And below is a screenshot of the analytics for that post, which has influenced about 1000 people since I posted it. (Keep in mind that this is a very niche blog with a limited following, and that most of the other attendees would probably have a higher reach.)

BlogAdda and SCB did everything right. They found the right bloggers. They engaged successfully (and very classily) with them. And, judging from the response on Twitter, enthused them to broadcast Breeze to their own audiences.

The BlogAdda Book Reviews Programme
I started engaging more with BlogAdda after the SCB meet. And discovered their Book Reviews Programme. Being the speed-reading bookworm that I am, I promptly filled up a form and waited for their reply.

It wasn’t long in coming. An email arrived, informing me that I’d been picked to review a book called Love On The Rocks, by Ismita Tandon Dhankher. My book was on the way, and I was asked to post my review within 7 days of the book reaching me.

The first thing I noticed about the book was that the author (who writes a poetry blog) had handwritten a poem on the first page. A small personal touch that made me feel more connected to her, and more eager to start reading.

The book had some pages missing, and I’ve since written to BlogAdda requesting a new copy (I’m yet to get it, though). But I wanted to highlight two points here.

  1. The personalised touch that the author – the brand owner – added that made this so much more appealing.
  2. The very idea of a first-time author turning to social media and influencers to promote her book. Not just relying on professional critics in the press and online, but getting an opinion from the only people who matter – the ones who will buy (and get others to buy) the book. Understanding, and willing to risk, a negative backlash.
I love the way the Internet has changed the face of marketing communication!
The Yahoo! Real Beauty Blogger Contest, Powered By Dove
Nearly a year ago, Yahoo launched a fantastic property called Real Beauty, sponsored by Dove. Yahoo Real Beauty is a reflection of the Dove brand philosophy, and brings the conversation around beauty online. I began working on this property shortly after I joined Yahoo.
In May, in partnership with Indiblogger, we launched a blogger contest for Yahoo Real Beauty. We invited bloggers to answer the question, “What does Real Beauty mean to you?” The incentives? Cash prizes worth Rs. 3.5 lakh, and the promise that winning posts would be featured on Real Beauty.
The results were staggering. The Yahoo Real Beauty contest became India’s biggest blogger contest till date, with about 360 entries. The quality of content was top-notch – we had poets, authors, bloggers, journalists, writers and just about everybody entering. Even a great-grandmother! I cannot share the numbers for reasons of confidentiality, but the reach and influence figures are absolutely unbelievable. 
Here’s what I feel set us apart from the crowd.
  1. We didn’t just look at taking the traffic and content that the bloggers gave us. We offered to give the bloggers the exposure, credibility and traffic that only India’s leading online content destination can provide.
  2. We promised to read all 360 posts to determine winners. Not just the ones that had the most Likes. Content, not canvassing, was the determining factor.
  3. And, of course, the prize money was a huge draw.
There isn’t a formula for influencer marketing through bloggers. Neither are these examples going to change the world. But if you’re taking your first steps in the field of influencer marketing, then you might want to read this post all over again.