Influencer marketing is a multi-billion-dollar industry that continues to grow and shows no signs of slowing down. It’s a direct line to your customer base to grow your brand and gain insight about your products. Today’s guest is Jamie Lieberman, owner and founder of Hashtag Legal. Jamie describes specific do’s and don’ts of influencer marketing to avoid conflict with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Stay ethical and legal!
Ben: Influencer marketing is a rapidly growing industry worth billions of dollars. That growth is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down in the near future. If you’ve been considering jumping on the trend or even if you’ve been in the game for a while, there are some do’s and don’ts that you might not be aware of. Including some that could get you into trouble with the FTC if you're aren’t careful, and that’s not something anyone wants for their company.What you do want, though, is a direct line to your customer base that helps you grow your brand while offering you direct insight into what people really think about your products. To find out how to achieve those kinds of benefits from influencer marketing while staying within sound ethical practice and the law, I spoke with Jamie Lieberman from Hashtag Legal who does a fantastic job explaining key do’s and don’ts about the practice, shared some really good tips on how to get started, and even how to take your influencer marketing to the next level once you’ve gotten yourself comfortable and your feet wet with it.As a founder/partner in the Influencer Marketing Association and the business owner at Hashtag Legal, she brings a ton of really unique insight into this topic, both from a strategic perspective, as well as a legal one. Stick around to hear what she has to say.Welcome to the show, Jamie, how's it going?Jamie: Great, how are you?Ben: I'm fantastic. I hear it's a little bit dreary out there in the greater New York City area today.Jamie: It is. It’s really overcast but we're trying to keep it happy anyway.Ben: Good, keeping it happy is good advice for all of us.Jamie: Yeah, sometimes you just got to smile through it.Ben: Absolutely. Well, I'm smiling because I'm really excited to talk about influencer marketing, do’s and don’ts, things that need to be put to rest, and things we should be doing instead. I'm particularly excited about this, just because it's such a hot topic right now and it's also something I don't really know a ton about. I'm thinking this is going to be educational for myself as much for our audience, so I really appreciate your time.The first thing that I would like to ask, maybe is a good starting point, what have been some of the biggest shifts in influencer marketing you've seen in the past few years?Jamie: I've actually been in the space for longer than the term influencer existed. It's been really interesting to watch it change. I was a blogger many, many years ago and then I started working for a company that did conferences for bloggers. I was working for more than six or seven years ago. At that time, sponsored content looked very different. There wasn't much budget behind it. It was a lot of we’d send 100 press releases out to a bunch of bloggers and hope some of them would post. Sometimes a gift card would be involved; that would be a bonus, and there’d be a lot of offers of gift certificates or free products. But there just wasn't a lot of the real true business plan behind it because people didn't know.Then, you fast-forward to now and it's a massive industry. I just read it's going to grow to 22 billion by 2022, Business Insider said, so it's just changed. It's crazy and it's just changed so much. Now, I feel like all parties to these transactions, which can be anything from an influencer of all varying sizes (and people call them macro, micro, nano, all of the above), but in all the different types of influencers, agencies that either focus on influencer marketing or have a group of people who focus on it within larger agencies. Brands are now really approaching it in a much more business way and in a much more thoughtful way. There's a lot more vetting. There's way more relationship building than there ever had been before between the brands and influencers.Ben: Got you. What are some of the biggest misconceptions about the practice that you hear?Jamie: One is that an influencer will take any sponsored content that comes their way, that's just not true. Most influencers are really curating those offers that they're receiving to make sure they're a really good fit and that the other is that there's a misperception of what the return on investment is going to be.Traditionally, a lot of people want to see returns on campaigns of sales and I don't think that that's necessarily a realistic approach to influencer marketing. It's about some larger goals than just sales per se. Now, people in the space, particularly the brands, are approaching influencers and influencers who are working with the brands, are really looking at it as the end result, like what are our keep performance indicators, and making sure that we're hitting accurate metrics and that the brand is getting what the brand needs or wants from that relationship. Sales is often not a good indicator of that. Moving away from really looking for a certain number of products to move.Ben: And that leads into the next question I have for you. Are there any specific tactics that were once effective that marketers should now stop using? To add to that as well, are there any goals that maybe were considered best practice at one time to follow that are maybe not the best things to try to achieve of influencer marketing?Jamie: There used to be quantity over quality and now it's very much quality. There's a lot more vetting involved. There are a lot more conversations to make sure that the audience that the influencer has is the best fit for the brand. There's a lot more conversation about metrics and knowing your analytics. It's really important that the blogger or the influencer has a really good understanding of their metrics of who their audiences are, what their audiences are interested in, and understanding what content their audience engages with the most. That really is how you can back out and find the best relationships between the brands and the influencer because then you are set up for that success.Sponsored content is typically engaged with less. It’s just the fact and you have to know that and that's okay. It's not a bad thing, but when it's something that makes sense and coming through it, it doesn't feel like it's out of the left field, then it's really effective. It really is. It can absolutely drive engagement and it can also drive just eyeballs and knowing about a product that maybe the audience didn’t know about before.Ben: Absolutely. Something you've touched on a couple of times here is metrics. For influencer marketing, what would be some strong metrics that marketers should consider following or using to actually track the success of their influencer campaigns?Jamie: The engagement is the number one place people look most to, but it's not just the numbers, but the quality of engagement. That really requires looking deep at how people are engaging with that content, what they're saying, who's saying it, where it's coming from. That often can be on the influencer to create that report, so I'm seeing a lot more requirements for brands are saying, “We want you to gather a lot of this data,” because the influencer is the one who has the best access to that.I think it's a really great way for influencers to continue relationships, is to create reports at the end just to show what they're content did, what the comments were, what that most liked comment, most engaged with comment, what people are saying. It's a true pulse in how people are interested in what the brand is putting out there. They're pretty honest about their needs.Ben: Yes, they are.Jamie: They're going to tell you if they like it or they don’t. I think that there's so much valuable data there and that can be collected, but you have to take the time to look at it, and you have to take time to collect it. I think that it allows many of the influencers to negotiate for more when they're able to provide those metrics. It's like market data that you can't always get. It’s all good and it’s all quality that I'm now seeing it in the contracts where their brands are saying, “We really want these case studies. We want to see the analytics. We want to see what's working best.”Ben: I always love to hear that marketers are thinking about measurements; that's encouraging. Are there any tactics also that you would say have been overused, even though they never actually worked to begin with? Things that are floating around out there that people think they need to be doing, but they should stop, and probably never should have been doing in the first place?Jamie: Actually, I think a lot of it revolves around disclosures like the FTC disclosures. I think a lot of people were just trying to hide the ball for so long that content was sponsored. You buried the hashtag, like a string of hashtags and all of this. People saw through it and when they saw that that just defeated the whole purpose of trying to create that trust relationship.I think more transparency is really the way to go. The fact is, influencers are creating so much content for free, and it's okay that they get paid. There shouldn't be an apology for them getting paid for content because they put so much out there and work so hard to do that.A lot of brands, for some time, were actively encouraging the hiding and a lot of times, influencers were doing it as well, but the FTC is not liking that lately, and has definitely made some waves. I think that finding ways to disclose and make it very clear that this is sponsored content shouldn't be like a bad word. It's okay. Advertisements have been around as long as us. It's marketing and there's nothing wrong with it. Taking that tactic away would be pretty beneficial.Ben: Yeah, I can agree with that. If I'm a marketer, I'm listening to this show, and I've never really done any influencer marketing before, but I'm sold on the idea that it could be a good opportunity for my brand, what would be the three things I should start doing first?Jamie: I research. Research is key. Talking to other professionals who have worked in the space, what's worked for them, what hasn't worked for them. An opening dialogue with influencers; looking at the influencers that maybe are already using the products that you create.Influencers talk about products all the time in a non-sponsored way. If you find those influencers who are already engaging with your content—they’ll tag you, they’ll engage in your social channels—go talk to those influencers and see what kind of arrangement can be struck if it makes sense because they're already talking about you. It will feel very natural.I think that it's not just research, but it's also that level of, don't just try to throw a bunch of stuff and hope it sticks. Now it's really about forming relationships with the right people. Also, the third thing I'd say is knowing what you want to get from it. Why are you doing it and what are you looking to drive? When you know those goals and what those KPIs are, that will help you back up into how you approach it because there's going to be different things you may do depending on what your goals are.Ben: To take on that first point of doing research and finding influencers, maybe just getting your finger on the pulse of who those people are in their space, and what kinds of things they're saying, what kinds of products they seem to like. Do you have any advice on tools, or tactics, or methods for getting started with that research?Jamie: There are certainly a million databases out there. I won't say or have a favorite that it shifts so frequently. If you do choose to use one of those databases, have a really good understanding of how they're gathering that information, what influencers, how they're signing up for it, things like that.Another way that people will often do it is there are really great agencies out there that do this for a living, and are really smart, and have been doing it for a long time. If the budget is there for you to do that, it may be worth an engagement with an agency that can at least help you start that program. Maybe you'll take it in-house eventually. Some brands do, some brands decide that's not the best fit.I see it in both ways, but there's a lot of really great resources. There's also just a lot of resources out there, but looking at what those resources are, so making sure that those resources are good, the quality of who's talking about it is knowledgeable and has been doing it. There are a lot of people who call themselves influencers or call themselves influencer marketers, and when you just scratch the surface, you're like, “Yeah, this is not actually what this is,” so having maybe a discerning eye for where you're getting information from.I'm actually on the board of directors of an organization called the Influencer Marketing Association, it’s a nonprofit. They are actually dedicated to putting forth more ethics in influencer marketing. They have some amazing resources on their website. They're a really great resource to look at, so places like that or organizations like that. If you honestly have no information at all, there are also some really great digital marketing resources out there that talk about it, and they'd be a great place to start, too. Those would be some great resources.Ben: Awesome. Once a marketer gets beyond those, maybe we can call them entry-level tactics, for lack of a better term, as they get past the starting points, what would be the next steps you would recommend they take to really bring their influencer marketing to the next level?Jamie: The first thing I would say is to make sure you have a set program that you've put together in place. You know what you're willing and able to offer to the influencers that you want to work with, you're contracting with them properly, that you have agreements in place, you have an understanding of what you want to do with that content. Whether it's going to live on the influencer’s website or social channels, or you want the ability to repurpose it, and how you want to repurpose it. I'm now seeing a lot of companies want to repurpose it to run branded ads.Influencers will create an Instagram post and then the brand will want to have a year's worth of being able to utilize that beautiful photo as an ad. Knowing what you also want to do with it down the road is an important thing to do. I really truly believe it's all about relationship building. It's getting on calls which I know sounds crazy, but if you're negotiating deals, there's a lot of money. It's important to get to know the person that you want to be working with to really understand their brand and who they are, what their values are, and make sure they align with the values of your brand. It's really hard to do that by just a cursory glance of someone’s (say) Instagram channel.I think you need to spend a little bit more time talking to the person. Instead of saying, “We want 30 influencers,” maybe you choose one or two that are a really great fit, and you invest in working with them over the course of (say) a year because that's when I think you start to see a lot more traction.Ben: That does it for all the other questions I had prepared, but before I let you go, is there anything else about influencer marketing, the tactics, strategy, and measurement around it that you feel really strongly about, that you didn't get an opportunity to speak to yet. Just in terms of what should marketers be doing or not doing?Jamie: I think when it's approached as a true partnership and people are really spending time, I just really believe it's all about the relationship building and the time to do that. I think those are the most effective. So making sure you have that time because we’re busy.It's very hard to do that, but carving out that time to form those relationships and investing a little bit more to get the content you want created, because it takes a lot of time on the part of the influencers to shoot those videos, to take those photos. They invest a lot in their equipment as well. It's just when you form that relationship and you have that trust, you can really take it to the next level. Really, the most effective relationships I've witnessed are like that.Ben: Fantastic stuff. This is a great conversation. Thanks for your time in this dreary afternoon to chat with us about influencer marketing. I think our listeners are really going to get some value out of this.Jamie: Great. Thank you.
Ben was the Inbound Marketing Director at CoSchedule. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.