Can small brands leverage influencers?

What’s really happening at influencer marketing events

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Okay let’s Boomerang this one

I was recently hired to cover a blogger / influencer meet up in the fashion and beauty market. More and more often I find myself working these kinds of try-vertising, experiential marketing influencer party gigs where a brand (or their ad or public relations firm) sets up some kind of lively cocktail or after work drinks / dinner event for a curated list of local bloggers, Instagrammers and YouTubers who have a large enough following in both the target city and target audience for the product to hopefully generate some online love.

Influencer marketing 101

Consumer products by and large dominate these kinds of influencer marketing events. I’ve covered lots of events for credit card companies targeting lifestyle & foodie bloggers; various alcoholic beverages; health and wellness; and fashion and beauty. With the immediacy and simplicity of images, Instagram and bloggers still tend to dominate the invitation list.

These categories all tend to have influencers who skew younger (under 30), the vast majority of whom are good looking women showcasing products either by wearing them, applying them or illustrating their use in simple how-to tutorial videos.

Often, but not always, the events are scheduled on or around bigger event weekends in Montreal, like Osheaga (in this case) or Grand Prix. The idea being that the posts, Instagram photos/stories and Snapchats bubble up into streams coalescing with the main event theme, garnering greater lift and impact on a wider audience for an instant in time, in these ephemeral social media. The invitees tend to have followings between 5000-10,000+ and are what would be qualified as micro influencers, or niche players, in line with the nature of these targeted, localized events.

In addition to events, brands increasingly crowdsource images through aggregator sites like Flashstock or Social Native, offering usually no more than $50/post for imagery that either shows the brand in some creative context, or captures a feeling, vibe or look a brand is going for with posts marked up with the designated tags and keywords provided by the brand.

As marketers, the challenge is to leverage these influencers and induce them to effectively tout their brands and products, either in exchange for paid sponsorship deals (rare unless you have a large and engaged following of 100k or more), or simply for a chance to meet other bloggers and influencers, quaff some free booze and sushi and get their ego stroke for being considered important and influential enough to be chosen and invited to one of these events.

A look behind the curtain…

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Smile for the cameras

As a documenter of these events, I’m paid to provide the behind-the-scenes look at what’s happening. Increasingly (and somewhat depressingly) my shot list includes taking pictures of people taking pictures of food, products, each other or themselves. My photos are also pumped into the hashtag cloud as I send out batches to my clients mid-way through events, and often to attendees who turn them around in no time and put them out on their streams.

A typical scene in one if these events would be a brief and lively staged moment – posing in front of a banner, for example, or using / applying the product in some way, which will be fully documented by everyone else in the room with their phones and me with my somewhat larger and bulkier pro-gear. These “insta-moments” are then immediately followed by everyone tucking their heads down, staring into their phones, tapping madly away.  The entire event is punctuated by these “real life” interactions, followed by immediate dissection, dissemination and distribution through the myriad personal channels of the influencers in the room. It gets even more exciting as they post and repost each other’s work, with the brand itself kicking in and reposting each other’s work. For anyone watching what’s happening online it looks like a wild and crazy party with good looking (mostly women) having the time of their lives. From inside those rooms, however, it’s usually just a lot of stage-managed scenes, photo set ups and heads down staring at phones.

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 12.27.43 PMDespite the obvious artificiality of most of the content published as a result of these events, no body seems to mind at all. It seems that most influencers are ready and willing to use a brand’s designated hashtags and effectively create mini-ads for brands and marketers in exchange for what I can only assume is the hope that the brand will in turn push out their posts and create a kind of mutually reinforcing network. The followers of these influencers presumably don’t know or don’t care that the posts are being generated to effectively feed pseudo ads into their feeds bypassing their ad-blockers, and the content tsunami continues.

Does it pay off for Influencers?

Having a rather dismal following on my own Instagram account (@ursomebody) I asked a few invitees to a recent event for a colourful hair chalk aptly named ColorPop, about their experiences on Instagram.

Instagrammer and Spanish and art teacher, Carolina Castillo (@carolina.arts), creates collagist images on Instagram setting herself (often her feet!) up against colourful backdrops – usually painted walls and murals. The effect is often cleverly artistic and sumptuously colourful.

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“I started with a blog in Spanish called: Arteando con Carolina, www.arteandoconcarolina.com , then a latin website, Hispano Montreal, contacted me to repost my articles. Since then I have been writing and taking photos around the city. Instagram and Facebook came later and I love posting  though these media channels.”

Colourful images are part of my identity. You will always find an explosion of colours in my feed. My obsession is walls. I hunt all the walls and murals possible. I also notice that people respond more actively when I am in my photos than when I post an image without me.”

Another Instagrammer, Jacqui Pogue, a makeup artist (@jacquibeauty) leverages Instagram stories (which is a blatant grab at Snapchat’s user base) to reach her audience, sharing snippets of her day at work and play, thematically linked to makeup and beauty. She also populates her account with images of herself at events, interspersed with beauty shots of her in vacation like settings.

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Both Carolina and Jacqui said that Instagram helps them find clients, or rather, that clients find them through Instagram and then connect directly with them or access their blogs via the links in their profiles.

While it may not be possible (for most) to earn a full time living being – or trying to become – an influencer, it is certainly a good way to explore and develop one’s passion in a public-facing way that can tie you into communities of like-minded people, and bring you into contact with companies and brands producing products that you and your growing cohort of followers might like. And if you get big and influential enough, you at least get invited to a lot of parties, get wined and dine, and usually go home with a bag full of swag.

Think small, think local but dream big

It is especially hard for smaller brands and upstart creators to get their products and stories told to a wide enough audience to make an impact.  Leveraging local influencers that you find online by some simple Googling, and conducting Instagram searches around relevant keywords and hashtags to your business can be a way for smaller brands or start ups (or big companies launching new smaller brands) to find and reach an audience somewhat organically. A few hours in a rented room on Breather, a handful of influencers, some sushi and a few bottles of bubbly (+ a professional photographer of course=) are all it takes to get something started.