Socialbakers CEO: Successful Influencer Strategy Starts With Your Audience

"What is the digital version of word of mouth?"

Brands know that people make decisions based on the advice of their friends, and now those friends include the influencers that people follow on social media. Finding the right influencer to partner with for your audience is crucial to getting the right message that will make an impact for your brand.

Socialbakers CEO Yuval Ben-Itzhak recently appeared on the MarTech Podcast, hosted by Ben Shapiro, to discuss insights into influencer marketing and how brands can put together a successful influencer campaign. The following is an edited transcript from their two-episode Q&A:


Ben Shapiro: Let's start off by talking a little bit about you and your company; give us the 10,000-foot view of who you are and what your company does.

Yuval Ben-Itzhak: Sure, so I'm the CEO of Socialbakers. We started our journey about 10 years ago when social media was still small, Facebook was a private company with “just” 50 million users, but we pretty early identified the need for marketers to engage with audiences across social networks, and over the years we built our platform to today serve over 3,000 brands around the world and help them understand their audience, create compelling content, and measure how these campaigns are performing.

So I imagine the social media landscape has changed a lot over the 10 years that you've been working in the space. I know that it's gone from being primarily focused on organic growth, paid media, and now there's this trend of marketers leaning on influencers to try to get their message out there. Talk to me about how and why some of those changes have happened and what has led us to the focus of influencer marketing.


What we've seen over the years is that consumers are starting to respond less to advertisements. They're getting ads everywhere, they’re getting distracted, and their engagement with ads is decreasing.

They’re actually responding better to what we’ve known for many years, and that is word of mouth. When you ask your friend which mobile phone should I buy or which laptop should I have or women may ask their colleague what's the best eyeliner or cream that they have; you trust a friend. So with the younger generation that’s more digital and is spending more time on social, what is the digital version of word of mouth?

And it's turned out that influencers, those people that you follow and you trust what they’re saying, are actually performing very well and very nicely across different regions. And that's the opportunity for brands to leverage this channel to reach their audience and have meaningful conversations as another evolution of advertising.

"To have a successful influencer campaign, the first thing is to learn about your audience."

So as consumers are becoming more saturated with advertising they're becoming less responsive to it and also social media marketing costs have gone up a fair amount as there's more competition across the major platforms, I want to talk a little about the rise of influencers and really how to think about which influencers are right for your brand. What advice do you have for marketers as they're thinking about launching influencer marketing strategies to put their strategy together and reach and engage with people that are potentially gonna be influential for their brand?

It's a great question. A lot of marketers that I've spoken with have said, ‘Yeah we heard influencer marketing is a big thing, we should try it,’ and then they open let’s say YouTube or Instagram, and they don't know what to search for. They don't know who is actually an influencer and there are hundreds of millions of profiles; where should I start?

In many cases they’re just doing guesswork and they start to have some bad experiences, either in that their hopes didn't actually turn to reality or they were subject to some fraud that is also happening in this market today. That gets them frustrated because there are stories of success they hear in the press, but their reality looks very, very different. And the challenge is what did they get wrong? What should they do, as you asked, that will get them to that success?

I can share a story that we had with one of the largest sports brands in the world that has wanted to try influencers. They reached out to an agency in one region and it took them six months to select an agency and have the agency recommend them which influencer to work with. They give this sports product to five influencers, they took a picture, they posted it on Instagram and they get some results. So, yes, a week after there were some young people in front of their shop buying that product. But it took them six months, over $300,000 to invest into this process, and they were not really sure if that was gonna be successful.

So they came to me and asked, ‘So how can I scale it, update it faster, smarter, and definitely cheaper?’ And one of the ways to have a successful influencer campaign, the first thing is to learn about your audience, learn who are those people that engage with your brand. What do they actually like? What interests other than your brand do they have? What affinities with other brands do they have, what are they engaging with, who are they following?
This helps a lot to look at the hundreds of millions of profiles on social media and trying to select the ones that actually resonate with your audience; these are the people they follow, these are the people they trust. And with our brands, we provide them, using our technology, a list of five influencers that match the interests of their audience in the region they want to run their campaign and influencers that have a very solid and healthy history of performance. They’re also matching the brand guidelines, because you don't want people to post kind of funky content that your brand guidelines do not allow.

And then we ask the brand, ‘Run this campaign head-to-head with the agency and let's see which one performs better,’ and that's exactly what they did. It was in Mexico City, actually. And they found out that in the first week the recommended influencer we provided performed 150% better and then in the third week it’s almost 300% better. That completely turned their experience and perception about how influencer marketing should actually work.

It has a lot to do with the data that you have and how you process the data and how you identify who to work with and who is the trusted one and which one your audience actually follows and trusts. That's where your message will come across better. You’ll see better performance for every dollar that you spend and your business is going to grow with new customers, and that's exactly what marketing is focused on.


So there's a couple different components here that we need to consider. First off, who are the influencers that are relevant to your brand, what is the creative or copy or marketing message that they're trying to get across, and how much do you have to pay for it? Walk me through, first off, how do you source the right influencers? There are platforms like Upfluence and AspireIQ and HYPR, there's a ton of these, Advowire is another one, where you can find influencers. Should you be going through a platform like that, should you be sourcing them yourself; what's the right way to find your influencers?

So influencers live on and have their profile on the social media networks, so right now the most popular networks you will find them on are Instagram if you are more into fashion, beauty, or anything that is more visual, or YouTube where there is the music industry, the sports industry, ecommerce; those verticals are more popular on YouTube. This is where they live, this is where an influencer is basically a content creator. They know how to create good content to get an audience to constantly engage have those conversations on the topic they create.

Now you as a marketer should better leverage the platform that processes this data and make it searchable to make it available for you. We at Socialbakers provide some of it, but there's of course additional options in the market that you can choose which one is better for your means. But you can start by just going to use Instagram and do your search. It's not going to be that productive because you definitely need to know what to search for, you definitely need to know historically how that profile performs in terms of how many posts do they have, what do the posts look like, and how many engagements did they actually manage to create?

And some of these profiles are actually private and the data is not available for you. You need to engage with that individual to ask for permission to get that information, so it's really day-to-day work and you need to manage a funnel to start with what you want to search for, what type of influencer that you're looking at, which is, I would say, a project by itself, and then go and search either directly on the networks or using a tool and then start to manage a funnel of those that look interesting.

Then you go one step further, you evaluate the content to make sure it's within your guidance. Then you want to evaluate the performance over time, you want to make sure they're not working with your competitors or they're not recommending every product every second day because that doesn't feel trustworthy, right? You want to work with influencers that, I don't know, they are in baking or they are in fashion and they are consistent with these type of topics.
I think at the end of the day you can run an influencer marketing program and you can do this on your own on a relatively slim budget, at least you can build your list. You can figure out what the right platforms are for you. You mentioned if you're a visual platform, go to Instagram, right, if you're a training and technical platform there's a lot of that content on YouTube, if you're selling an ecommerce product targeted towards women, Pinterest is probably a great place for you. Finding the actual influencers is less about really a complex task and it's really understanding what are the keywords that you're targeting and seeing who comes up, who has influence, who's regularly posting and then building and cultivating those relationships. Is it true that most of the value that is being driven from the influencer marketing agencies are the fact that they have data on some of the performance of previous campaigns or are they just really doing the blocking and tackling and legwork that you would be doing, it's basically just outsourcing the work?

I've seen different variances. Some of them are just having their internal list of those influencers they have worked with in the past and performed well, and then they're recommending it to their new brands that ask for some recommendations. That's one way to do it.

I've seen some success in that, but a lot of failures. And the reason for that is the fact that an influencer was successful for one brand and that brand was interested in a particular interest or topic that this influencer promotes, doesn't guarantee that if you were a brand and talking about different topics that influencer will be helpful for you.

So I wouldn't go after a profile that is a celebrity or successful; it doesn't automatically mean it will be relevant for the audience of your brand or the topic that you want to promote. So the more data-driven approach is the one that I would recommend, and some agencies are leveraging platforms that are processing the profiles, identifying what are the interests and topics that the influencers are promoting constantly or over a period of time, and those influencers have a higher potential to be relevant. That's a better approach than just getting the recommended list out of nowhere.

"The sweet spot is between the medium size to micro influencer, meaning that those with 10,000 followers up to 200,000 followers, depending on the brand’s size, that usually shows much better results."

So you want to take a data-driven approach and you want to try to understand are there brands that have used this influencer before that are similar, right, and you can get a sense of what is going to drive traffic, but you don't just want to take a previous list of hey we always work with this influencer so we're gonna work with them for your brand. You want to make sure that it's tailored specifically to your brand. There are thousands, if not millions, of influencers out there. Talk to me about how you decide should you be focused on working with big influencers, you know just a few, or lots of little influencers; what's the breakdown between macro, micro, and nano influencers?

Right, we actually look at our data to try to understand what is the value of an influencer compared to a brand. And we look at it in terms of the number of followers of an influencer compared to the size of the brand by the number of followers to the brand's profiles. And we found something pretty interesting.

If you are a large brand or if you are medium-sized brand – a medium-sized brand can have between 100,000 to 500,000 followers and a bigger brand may have 1 million-plus followers – the micro influencers will not help you to amplify your message much more than what the organic content of the brand would do. You will need to work with a lot of micro influencers in order to reach a similar reach that your own posts can achieve. But in most cases, what the data shows us is working with celebrities that usually charge you much higher, it's not economical either because the amount they will charge you doesn't necessarily result with the same scale or reach with that extra charge.

So the sweet spot is between the medium size to micro influencer, meaning that those with 10,000 followers up to 200,000 followers, depending on the brand’s size, that usually shows much better results vs. working with the very small ones or the very big ones where either you’re gonna overpay or you’re gonna work very hard and see very little returns. So trying to align to the size of your brand and understanding the reach of your own content and finding profiles that have a similar reach in audiences that you do not access or that in order to access them will cost you a lot of money, that's where you can see the ROI of your investments.


So help me gauge the general range of cost when you're talking about macro influencers, you know the large relationships, the medium-sized ones, and the small ones. How much should you be paying for an influencer post, what are the ranges for the three categories or sizes of influencer relationships?

So of course the price varies, but I can give some averages. For the micro influencers, you're talking about tens or low hundred dollars per post that you approve. Some of them you make a deal that they will post across multiple channels or multiple posts on a single channel.

If you look at medium-size influencers, it might be from a few thousand dollars to maybe up to $10,000. I haven't seen many deals above that range. If you look at a mega influencer with millions of followers, here the variance is very big and it's really up to the negotiation, but it could be tens of thousands of dollars. The celebrity, you’re gonna start from $100,000 to $1 million, it's gonna go crazy and that's why the ROI is not necessarily gonna be positive in that case.


Really? I thought the Kim Kardashian rate was $30,000 a post, but maybe I'm off by a zero.

I've seen bigger numbers. And actually I’ve also seen some of her campaigns that were not that successful, but they were very costly to the brand. That means that she wasn't the right influencer for this particular brand. I've seen sunglasses, I won't name the company, but she was promoting sunglasses and it probably didn't work well. Why? Probably a million reasons but it just indicated that selecting the influencer, whether it's a top celebrity or a small one, the fact that they are popular in the region or sector doesn't mean that it's aligned with what your audience expects or what they’re talking about with you as a brand.

That’s why the research is first on your audience and then it’s finding those interests within social media. That’s the first step. Don't start with searching for influencers, first start with who is my audience? What language do they speak in terms of topics and interests? Then, once you understand that and understand the creative that actually works for them, then go and find the person out there that will help you to deliver a similar message and has an audience that already engages with its profile on those similar topics for the last, at least, six to 10 months so you know there's a relationship over there. That's where you're gonna see the performance.


I think that's great advice in terms of starting to build your influencer marketing campaigns. The goal here is to start by thinking about what you're trying to accomplish, thinking about who you're trying to reach, and then going and finding influencers that fit that model as opposed to finding influencers that are generally related to your category or area of expertise and working backwards with what the campaign should be.


We talked a lot about how to find the right fit between influencers and your marketing efforts. My big takeaway from our conversation yesterday was you don't find the influencers and then build the marketing campaign. You have to think about what you're trying to accomplish, who you're trying to reach, and then go find influencers that fit that target, and that helps you avoid finding influencers that are not gonna be relevant. And you're also gonna work with those influencers, whether you're gonna do it yourself or through an agency, to understand what are some of the campaigns that they've run and what's some of the data that they have to make sure that the influencer campaigns are driving results.

Today I want to talk about the actual dynamics of negotiating the campaigns, getting the creative produced, getting it launched, and evaluating what's successful. Walk me through your strategy for building out an influencer marketing campaign and getting it off the ground.

Sure, so once you learn about the audience that you want to reach and the topics that you want to have a conversation on, create your first group of influencers, the ones that once you search and look on their content they’re matching those interests of your audience. Try to build a funnel.

Usually what we're seeing with brands, they’re still starting with about 50 or 80 profiles in their funnel and then they’re starting to track the performance of these influencers over a period of time. They’re also trying to look at what other brands they worked with recently to make sure there's no conflicts and to make sure that the performance is consistent, to make sure that the content being created is in line with the brand guidelines for content. Once you complete that phase, usually you will end up with about 10 to 20 profiles in your funnel.

Now's the time to start to reach out to some of those influencers and ask them for some of their performance and insight information from their social profile. Many of the profiles on social media today are turning private because of all the privacy topics and GDPR. People are turning their profiles to private so you'll need to get permission to have access to the inside information. That will tell you more about the influencer or more about the previous campaigns, and without that permission you will not be able to see that. If the influencers are credible, they will share with you that information. Otherwise, why would they hide it?

That will help you to get a little bit more insight, more learning to identify for your analysis and how that matches to the actual performance of these profiles. So you’re probably gonna end up here with something between three to five profiles that you want to run your campaign with, and this is when you start the business negotiations.


"You need to make sure that this is right, because it's your brand reputation at stake here."

So walk me through what that process looks like. Once you've evaluated your target list, you have to negotiate. Are you doing this directly? Do you come to the influencer with a program already laid out? What's the right process for starting those conversations?

We've seen multiple ways when we’re working with brands that are running influencer campaigns. Believe it or not actually for brands, it's much easier after they did all the research to hand the list to an agency to do the reachout to these influencers and do the contracts, all these business terms. Because for the brands to start to work with their internal legal and finance team and draw up a contract for a few thousand dollars for five influences, it's a lot of headache and they prefer to work with an agency and pay one invoice and let the agency deal with all those negotiations. That was very interesting to see.

Others either have the internal resources to do that or they may leverage some platforms, where these platforms are taking a responsibility for all the commercial conversations and contracts, so again for the brand that means you work with one provider, you get one invoice, and you get the services that you need.


So it sounds like there's a lot of logistics that goes into actually negotiating and signing the agreements, the easiest thing to do is just reach out to a brand. But your advice was a little different when it came to sourcing the list. Why is it easier to work with an agency to do the negotiation but not have them help with the development of the actual list?

The reason an agency will do better on negotiating the terms is if you are a brand and for you to now draft five or six contracts going through your procurement and legal to approve everything, it just from a time perspective and resources, it will be more economical for you to hand it over to an agency and just draw one contract up and have one invoice for the agency. That makes your life easier. If you're a small business you may want to do it yourself and this way you just work directly with influencers themselves.

About the list, I believe that, and what we've seen in the market, if you have a marketing team, the platforms available today in the market, including the one from Socialbakers, make it so simple to learn about your audience, to identify those influencers, and let the algorithms recommend who are the influencers that match your audience automatically. It saves you tons of time in your research so you can just do a review of a very short list of influencers and then you have all the information and the trust; you're not going to see a surprise once you run your campaign.

Because if you hand over everything into your agency – and agencies are important, they’re helping many brands around the world, there's nothing wrong about that – but you don't really know how the process is running and you don't really know what technology is being used and how they manage to identify those influencers. You need to make sure that this is right, because it's your brand reputation at stake here.

If they will choose the wrong one, and there was a famous case in the U.S. with Snapchat that used an agency and probably something went wrong there, and this case went to court, that's how we learned about it. You don't want to be in that scenario, you want to be in a place where you choose the right people that align with your brand, align with your messages, and that's why we recommend a brand to leverage data platforms and do this analysis of the final management internally.


So it sounds like you want to have an active participation in your list development because that helps you mitigate the risk but when it comes to actually doing the negotiation with the brand this is purely just time-saving, easier to cut one check to an agency and let them deal with the logistics. Once you have the deals signed, talk to me about the content production process. How involved is the brand with the influencer to help craft the message?

So I spoke with many influencers big and small, and the common feedback, and we also have seen by the data, is that when the brand dictates to the influencer what content to create, this is not the right thing to do and this is when you're not going to see the performance that this influencer can deliver. Provide a general idea to the influencer – what message you want to get across and what you want to deliver or what's the goal of the campaign – but give the influencer, who again it’s a content creator, it's a person that knows how to create great content and to engage with audiences, give them the freedom to operate. Maybe review the content again just to make sure it's within the guidelines of the content that your brand needs, but give them the freedom and they will deliver you the performance that you've seen on their profile.

The more you’re involved and the more you guide them and the more you want to do the review, you should expect to see less, not more, from the engagement side. The freedom for the influencer is the way that they work, this is how they build their trust, this how they build their engagement with their audience, and we've seen many influencer campaigns that were successful once you let the influencer create the content that they know to do best.


I work on this with my podcast sponsors where a lot of times they'll hand me a script of what they want me to read for some of our host-read integrated ads, and I have to work with them to say look I need to put this in my voice to have it feel authentic for the show and I can't read your marketing pitch and I can't go into too much detail about how your product works or people are gonna get bored and they're gonna feel like it's not me actually doing the talking. And the reason why you're working with me as a sponsor is not only because my audience is targeted and relevant and a collection of wonderful, intelligent people, but because they have a relationship with me so I need to be the one communicating the point so it has to be in my words. And I do think that that's very important for working with an influencer. Obviously you want to understand how they're framing your business, but let them take the first stab, right? Tell them what you're trying to accomplish, have them create the content, and then just have approval rights. To me I think that that's the right balance in terms of working with influencers, in terms of developing your content. Once you've actually had the content created, approved, you figure out what your publishing schedule is, talk to me about how you evaluate the success of an influencer campaign.

In order to evaluate the success you first need to set the goals. So what do you want to achieve from this influencer campaign? Is it just awareness for your brand, awareness for your product, or do you want to actually drive business to a brand? Once you set the goal and you also provide it in the brief for the influencer, that will align everyone on the same page and you'll be able to measure if every dollar you spend and the time that you spend on this campaign actually translates to what the goal is. That's the way to deal with ROI.

Many brands sometimes forget to define these goals and then when everyone asks, “So was it a success or not?” Well it depends what you want to measure, right. But if you set the goal and you know what you’re going after and you can measure it, then you can decide should I continue the campaign, should I do another one, or should I stop, maybe I made the wrong decisions. So defining success with influencers highly depends on the goal that you set at the beginning.

We’ve seen different combinations. There's a lot of brand awareness, there’s a lot of product awareness, there is now starting to be more ecommerce-driven campaigns. Now that Instagram enabled ecommerce within the creator profile on Instagram, that's a great step forward for social commerce and it's also good for the influencers because they can benefit from selling the products. It’s also good for the brands because they can see an impact on revenue, so it's a win-win scenario, but you need to define that that's the goal and an influencer needs to drive towards that goal.
Are there any benchmarks in terms of impressions, click-through rates, or conversions? If I'm running an email marketing campaign, if it's coming from a brand, I can say that the open rate should be roughly 30% and the click-through rate should be, you know, a couple of percent less than 10. Are there any benchmarks that you can think of in terms of performance that are just broad metrics people should look at to evaluate their influencer campaigns?

The ad performance or email marketing performance metrics, you can apply it to influencer campaigns but because each campaign varies so much, it will be challenging to say OK the benchmark of promoting product X in this country should be this way or that way. I mean the variance is very, very wide so the average will not necessarily tell you the story.

I think you need to look at something that's more relevant to this medium of influencer and people talking with people, you want to see if it's a story, you want to see the number of views, or if there's a call to action there you want to measure that part. So it's not necessarily a CTR or ad that drives to any landing page like on the web, you want to measure engagements. It's hard to tell what the engagement rate should be on a campaign, it's really varied between the influencers and their level of conversation with their audience.

However, if you have the data of the influencers, the platforms can show you this particular influencer on the topic of X, so let's say on the topic of lipstick, they managed to get 100 likes and X amount of comments, so you can get a statistic pair for the influencer. You will not be able to get something reliable across all influencers because the variance is very big.


"Thanks to technology and thanks to the algorithms, a lot of this heavy lifting can be done for you by the tools."

It makes me think of evaluating influencer marketing campaigns more from a brand perspective than a direct response, but I know that there are lots of people that are doing influencer campaigns that are direct response campaigns that are evaluated on sales. If you're evaluating the channel from a volume of likes and comments, you know which is the equivalent of here are the number of impressions, how do you think about actually driving direct response results? Are there any secrets to thinking about not just building awareness and making people aware of your brand but actually driving people to convert?

Yeah, there are influencer campaigns that are driving traffic to web pages for registration. There are ones that drive directly to social commerce, so you can actually purchase that product, and this type of campaign you want to benchmark it against your ad spend. What's the alternative cost to get those registrations once you run your ad campaign?

But remember the influencer will give you access to audiences that you may not be able to reach even with your paid or would be very expensive for you to reach with your paid, because there is a trend, as we mentioned on the first episode, that people are engaging less with ads as they used to be because they are distracted with so many ads around them. But they are more engaged with those people they trust, and these are the influencers. So you may receive a better engagement with those audiences, which otherwise would cost you a lot of money just with ads.


Last question I have for you today. In terms of resources for running influencer campaigns, if you're getting started doing this for the first time and you want support, what are some of the tools or services that you recommend people that are new to influencer marketing checkout?

Sure, they can use tools like the one from Socialbakers and others to help you automatically identify your own audience – what's driving engagement with them, what are they interested in? And then they help you and save you the time to identify influencers that match these profiles of people and then help you to reach out to these people and start the commercial conversation with them.

But they're not very expensive tools, actually some of them have some free options to get you to experience a little bit what volume you can get from these platforms so it shouldn’t take you too long to learn about that and start to have your funnel and evaluate a small list of influencers and then decide which one you want to actually work with.

So it may look like a new thing, it's a big project, a lot of resources, but thanks to technology and thanks to the algorithms, a lot of this heavy lifting can be done for you by the tools. You should not do that manually by yourself.


Great advice talking about influencer marketing. For those of you who are new to influencer marketing campaigns, first place to start is Socialbakers so you can understand who your audience is and the type of influencers that you want to reach.


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