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The Right Way to use Social Influencers for Startup Marketing

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Over the past ten years, the pull of bloggers and online influencers has skyrocketed. The sheer reach many influencers now have online and the “captive” qualities of their audiences mean that it’s no secret that brands can benefit hugely from forging partnerships here.

Key takeaways

  • Don’t jump into influencer marketing without fully researching the space and each target influencer that you’re considering working with
  • Put a process in place from the start to the end of the journey covering everything from influencer selection and deal negotiation to publishing and payment arrangements
  • Allow influencers the freedom to lead with genuine content – don’t let your brand or creative dominate too heavily to ensure genuine content

Introduction

The burgeoning ecosystem of bloggers, vloggers and online superstars can represent a fantastic opportunity to speak directly to your core consumer in a truly authentic way and in their everyday lives. This is a particularly important plus in an age when more and more consumers look to their friends and online connections for recommendations, advice and affirmations, rather than to traditional media.

However, as with any marketing channel, influencer engagement can actually be damaging to your business or brand, if not undertaken with full awareness of the landscape and the pitfalls to avoid. Here are some tips I’ve picked up from working with influencers over the years that will guide you through this ever evolving landscape and help you to ensure your campaigns speak to consumers successfully.

1. Research

Before kicking off any influencer engagement activity, it’s important to research and define what qualities you want your core influencers to possess. Know which influencers your target consumer follows on social media and which voices resonate the most strongly.

Once you have decided on the core group of influencers that you’re keen to target, ensure that you then research every aspect of their online activity and the history of their posts. It’s also worth evaluating their followers and not taking follower numbers at face value; are their followers all “real” or does it appear that there may be “fake” or bought followers in the mix? This is usually easy to spot – lots of “egg” profile pics on twitter profiles or jumbled names on instagram is often an indicator.

Other things to look out for here are whether the influencer has promoted any of your competitors in the past. If they have posted recently regarding the benefits of a competitor product, then any post that you work with them on may appear insincere to their followers and therefore have much lower impact.

As well as core channels, investigate all of an influencers social real estate – whilst they may be a perfect candidate to work with on instagram, their behaviour on Twitter could be completely off brand. The last thing you want is to work with someone who may end up gaining attention for all the wrong reasons.

2. Don’t run before you can walk

Don’t try and work with the number one Youtube star from the offset – it’s much more sensible to test out your strategy and execution with micro-influencers first. Test your content and the effect it has on traffic and then start scaling up once you’re happy that everything is working as it should.

No matter who you’re working with, micro-influencer or Zoella – treat them with respect and as you would any brand spokesperson, celebrity endorsee or member of the press. I find the most fruitful relationships with influencers are created when they feel part of your team, they have lots of information about your business and how the campaign fits into the wider business vision and have the freedom to do their best work.

3. Let influencers be authentic

The idea at the very heart of influencer engagement is that these individuals have been successful in engaging a certain audience online through great content. Therefore, it’s key to allow the influencer to guide you in terms of what content their followers will respond to.

Time and time again I’ve worked with clients or brands who are prescriptive in terms of the creative or campaign copy that they want influencers to post. 90% of the time this results in content which looks awkward on an influencers social feed, sounds inauthentic and therefore doesn’t have the desired effect amongst the end consumer. It also makes for a bad working relationship with the influencer in question and frustration on all sides. It’s best avoided.

4. Mix and match

To gain the traction and reach that you’re after, consider mixing and matching a group of influencers, rather than simply ploughing your budget into one online “A-lister”. Go for a blend of influential individuals who all compliment your brand and campaign message – e.g if you’re a fashion brand speaking to a creative, style led audience consider influencers from a range of worlds who resonate with this group e.g music, fashion, art etc.

A rich mix of influencers who all speak to your brand’s core message and core consumer individually as well as collectively can be powerful in creating a really meaningful message.

5. Process & KPIs

A robust process across the entire influencer relationship from engagement to payment will enable you to scale more efficiently and effectively.

Be clear from the outset on  the number of posts you expect, rough content/ message of posts and the cadence of posting. Although it’s important to allow influencers creative freedom, it’s also important that they understand expectations and can align messaging to your brand sentiment.

Final word

Influencer engagement can be a hugely impactful, cost effective and genuine way of communicating your brand’s core values to target consumers. It’s a tool that will only become more prevalent with the rise of social media platforms globally – best to start experimenting with it now and grow along with it.

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About the Author

This article was written by Nic Forster of the Path Forward. The Path Forward was developed by Forward Partners, a VC platform that invests in the best ideas and brilliant people. Forward Partners devised The Path Forward to help their founders validate their ideas, build a product, achieve traction, hire a team and raise follow on funding all in the space of 12 months. The Path Forward is a fantastic startup framework for you to utilise as an early stage founder or operator. The framework clearly defines startup creation as being comprised of three steps. The first step of this framework involves understanding customer’s needs.Nic is Head of PR & communications at Forward Partners. Over the course of a 10 year career in communications, he has working with global brands including Orange, Warner Bros., BBC, and amazon.co.uk.

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Startups

The Most Important Tech Job that Doesn’t Exist

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Yesterday I asked a prominent VC a question:

“Why is it that, despite the fact that so many successful startup ideas come from academic research, on the investment side there doesn’t seem to be anyone vetting companies on the basis of whether or not what they’re doing is consistent with the relevant research and best practices from academia?”

His response was that, unlike with startups in other sectors (e.g. biotech, cleantech, etc.), most tech startups don’t come out of academia, but rather are created to fill an unmet need in the marketplace. And that neither he nor many of his colleagues spent much time talking with academics for this reason.

This seems to be the standard thinking across the industry right now. But despite having nothing but respect for this investor, I think the party line here is unequivocally wrong.

Let’s start with the notion that most tech startups don’t come out of academia. While this may be true if you consider only the one-sentence pitch, once you look at the actual design and implementation choices these startups are making there is typically quite a lot to work with.

For example, there is a startup I recently looked at that works to match mentors with mentees. Though one might not be aware of it, there is actually a wealth of research into best practices:

  • What factors should be used when matching mentors with mentees?
  • How should the relationship between the mentor and mentee be structured?
  • What kind of training, if any, should be given to the participants?

That’s not to say that a startup that’s doing something outside the research, or even contraindicated by the research, is in any way suspect. But it does raise some questions: Does the startup have a good reason for what they’re doing? Are they aware of the relevant research? Is there something they know that we don’t?

If the entrepreneurs have good answers to these questions then it’s all the more reason to take them seriously. But if they don’t then this should raise a few red flags. And it’s not only niche startups in wonky areas where this is an issue.

For example, I rarely post to Facebook anymore, but people who follow me can still get a good idea of what I’m up to. Why? Because Facebook leverages the idea of behavioral residue to figure out what I’m doing (and let my friends know) without me having to explicitly post updates. It does this by using both interior behavioral residue, e.g. what I’m reading and clicking on within the site, and exterior behavioral residue, e.g. photos of me taken outside of Facebook.

To understand why leveraging behavioral residue is so important for social networks, consider that of people who visit the typical website only about 10% will make an account. Of those about 10% will make at least one content contribution, and of those about 10% will become core contributors. So if you consider your typical user with a couple hundred friends, this translates into seeing content from only a tiny handful of other people on a regular basis.

In contrast with Facebook, one of the reason why FourSquare has yet to succeed is due to significant problems with their initial design decisions:

  • The only content on the site comes from users who manually check into locations and post updates. This means that of my 150 or so friends, I’m only seeing what one or two of them are actually doing, so what’s the value?
  • The heavy use of extrinsic motivation (e.g. badges) has been shown time and again that extrinsic motivation undermines intrinsic motivation.

The latter especially is a good example of why investing on traction alone is problematic: many startups that leverage extrinsic rewards are able to get a good amount of initial traction, but almost none of them are able to retain users or cross the chasm into the mainstream. Why isn’t it anyone’s job to know this, even though the research is readily available for any who wants to read it? And why is it so hard to go to any major startup event without seeing VCs showering money on these sorts of startups that are so contraindicated by the research that they have almost no realistic chance of succeeding?

This same critique of investors applies equally to the startups themselves. You probably wouldn’t hire an attorney who wasn’t willing to familiarize himself with the relevant case law before going to court. So why is it that the vast majority of people hired as community managers and growth marketers have never read Robert Kraut? And the vast majority of people hired to create mobile apps have never heard of Mizuko Ito?

A lot of people associate the word design with fonts, colors, and graphics, but what the word actually means is fate — in the most existential sense of the word. That is, good design literally makes it inevitable that the user will take certain actions and have certain subjective experiences. While good UX and graphic design are essential, they’re only valuable to the extent that the person doing them knows how to create an authentic connection with the users and elicit specific emotional and social outcomes. So why are we hiring designers mainly on their Photoshop skills and maybe knowing a few tricks for optimizing conversions on landing pages? What a waste.

Of all the social sciences, the following seem to be disproportionately valuable in terms of creating and evaluating startups:

  • Psychology / Social Psychology
  • Internet Psychology / Computer Mediated Communication
  • Cognitive Development / Early Childhood Education
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Sociology
  • Education Research
  • Behavioral Economics

And yet not only is no one hiring for this, but having expertise in these areas likely won’t even get you so much as a nominal bonus. I realize that traction and team will always be the two biggest factors in determining which startups get funded, but have we really become so myopic as to place zero value on knowing whether or not a startup is congruent or contraindicated by the last 80+ years of research?

So should you invest in (or work for) the startup that sends text messages to people reminding them to take their medicine? How about the one that lets you hire temp laborers using cell phones? Or the app for club owners that purports to increase the amount of money spent on drinks? In each of these cases there is a wealth of relevant literature that can be used to help figure out whether or not the founders have done their homework and how likely they are to succeed. And it seems like if you don’t have someone whose willing to invest a few hours to read the literature then you’re playing with a significant handicap.

Investors often wait months before investing in order to let a little more information surface, during which time the valuation can (and often does) increase by literally millions. Given that the cost of doing the extra research for each deal would be nominal in the grand scheme of things, and given the fact that this research can benefit not only the investors but also the portfolio companies themselves, does it really make sense to be so confident that there’s nothing of value here?

What makes the web special is that it’s not just a technology or a place, but a set of values. That’s what we were all originally so excited about. But as startups become more and more prosaic, these values are largely becoming lost. As Howard Rheingold once said, “The ‘killer app’ of tomorrow won’t be software or hardware devices, but the social practices they make possible.” You can’t step in the same river twice, but I think there’s something to be said for startups that make possible truly novel and valuable social practices, and for creating a larger ecosystem that enables them.

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About the Author

This article was written by Alex Krupp. see more.

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Strategy

3 Trends that Define Content Marketing in 2018

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These are the questions every digital business is desperately trying to find answers to today. But as anyone who works in content marketing knows, it’s never that simple. There are no quick tricks or insider shortcuts; to achieve sustained traffic through organic search, you simply need to be in it for the long haul.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to get ahead. Providing you already follow the bible of content marketing — regularly publishing high-quality, valuable content for your readers — then there are more opportunities than ever to break free from the crowd and get noticed.

Successful content marketers keep one eye on the present and one eye on the future. They know there’s never one ‘right’ strategy that will always lead to triumph; just a set of continually changing principles and methods that need to be tested, used, and thrown out, tested again, used again, and thrown out again.

Here are three of the big emerging trends that are already making waves in content marketing and will help place you one step ahead going into 2018.

#1 The Rise of Machine learning

Machine learning, a subset of AI in which algorithms continually learn from inputted data and information, is changing the way we work, and at the same time, putting many folks out of business.

From automatically generating email content to curating content for social media, there’s little machine learning can’t do. And come a few years, when the full potential of the technology is realised and made more affordable, there’s little it won’t be doing.

In fact, by as soon as 2018, it’s predicted 20 percent of all business contentwill be authored by machines. Content like quarterly reports, profit/loss summaries, and real-time stock insights that follow set patterns and structures.

It’ll be a while yet before machines are producing creative content like opinion pieces and niche ebooks, though. In 2018, machine learning will begin its gradual takeover by securing its place as a content marketer’s best friend: helping them to create the right content, for the right audience, at the right time. This is data-driven marketing, and it’s arguably the biggest differentiator between an expert content marketing push and your bog standard everyday strategy.

#2 Co-creating the content world

The days of creating and promoting content as an independent marketer and being successful are dying. To make an impact today, it’s all but essential to forge partnerships and collaborate with others who can offer you and your audience something you don’t have.

More often than not, brands who execute winning content strategies today are working with influencers or bloggers or some person or another outside of their network. It may be to harness expertise and create content that can’t be found anywhere else, to expand reach to a broader segment of their audience, or simply build valuable relationships that strengthen their brand.

Everyone always has something someone else needs, so opportunities for co-creating or co-promoting content are huge. And with double the benefits from half the effort, so are the potential results.

#3 Personalisation is the new quality

Big brands are investing heavily in original content. Google is purchasing original content from media companies to fill gaps in their search algorithms. It’s clearly what the people want; but what exactly does it mean to make something original today?

It’s no longer enough to just put words together in an order they haven’t been before. Original content is content that resonates with a particular audience and is delivered from a place of authority. It offers new insights, preferably based on primary data, is trustworthy, i.e. thoroughly researched and referenced, and above all, is highly personalised for its readers.

Personalisation is becoming most important of all as today, 74 percent of online consumers get frustrated when content appears to have nothing to do with their interests. Expectations are higher than ever, and with many brands embracing dynamic content, if readers don’t get a customised experience from you, they’ll go get it elsewhere.

With advancing technology and growing demand for superior experiences, content marketing is getting smarter by the day. This makes it even more crucial for businesses to keep on top of the latest trends and be the ones to make the first moves. In 2018, it will be the brands that are bold enough to jump first and make the biggest splash who get the greatest results from their content efforts.

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About the Author

This article was produced by Connected, U.K.’s first specialist WordPress development company. see more.

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