{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Influencer Marketing

In this episode of In-Ear Insights, join cofounders Katie Robbert and Christopher Penn as they wade through the murky waters of influencer marketing. What responsibilities does an influencer have? What responsibilities does a company have? What’s working today in modern influencer marketing? Tune in as we cover employee advocacy, how much influencers are being paid, how to become an influencer, and so much more.

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Machine-Generated Transcript

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Christopher Penn
This is In-Ear Insights the trust insights podcast

in this week’s episode of a In-Ear Insights we’re talking influencer marketing it is the hottest part of social media marketing today is

a topic that is near and dear to many communicators and marketers hearts It is also reviled by those same folks because well frankly there is something of an influencer marketing bubble in the sense of people are getting paid obscene amounts of money and not necessarily coming up with results so let’s kick off this week Katie with your thoughts about is is there a bubble given that people are getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single YouTube measure and if so why why are we at this place why we’re at a point where people are getting paid an awful lot of money for without being able to connect it to demonstrable results

Katie Robbert
Oh influencers I am I’m definitely in the category of


Enjoying the whole influencer marketing movement? I think it’s personally I think it’s a lot of money for very little return. I agree. I think there’s a bubble the bubble is going to burst probably pretty soon especially as budgets get cut.

companies want to engage with influencers generally to increase their brand awareness they want to you know take the Kardashians for example you know we always use them because they are a really great example of what influencer marketing looks like. So if you go on Instagram you can see a variety of posts from them where it’s like I’m promoting this tea or I’m promoting this fitness thing and whether or not they use it is sort of irrelevant. I remember there was actually at 1.1 of the Kardashian clan accidentally post copied and pasted the exact messaging that came from their publicist including the specific notes around

Okay so you’re going to do this at this time and then you’re going to say this so instead of cleaning it up, they literally copied and pasted it and did that this is the man behind the curtain kind of thing. Whereas people had this illusion that it was all their own words and their own thoughts of like the way that they thought about this so a little bit of a digression but you know companies want that

big name that face that thing that people can identify with well I follow a Kardashian therefore if she’s using that I must be able to use it too because you know she says it’s a good thing so I believe her um I personally I think influencers are widely misused I think they’re overpaid. Um,

so yeah, I do think that there’s a bubble and I think it’s going to burst and I think that companies need to rethink the influencer programs because to your point

It’s not well managed, it’s not measurable, they’re not getting those measurable results and it’s sort of the same thing with a press release a press release is not done to generate conversions to generate sales it’s brand awareness and it’s the same thing with influencer marketing. It’s typically done to generate brand awareness not to drive conversions. But then people get upset when those conversions don’t come. Yeah.

Christopher Penn
So how would you I mean conceptually How would you mad measure influencers? I mean, so we know that emotion is part of the intuitive decision making process. People have people have an emotional Ze Frank calls a brand, the emotional aftertaste of a series of experiences you had, right so which is why he says in his in his seminal talk, that’s why people buy grandma’s cookies, but they don’t buy old people’s cookies, right? There’s a very different

If you think about it, those are two very different brands, they have it clear emotions and at listening to this, your mind immediately can’t with two very different perceptions of of those two brands. Right? And that’s emotional in nature. It is completely intuitive you could not help but react support the second one, right? So there’s there is a real thing there. But how do how do we as marketers and as data professionals measure that more effectively?

Katie Robbert
It all it always starts at the top with what is your goal? What are you trying to accomplish? And if you’re hiring influencers to

drive brand awareness, then that’s relatively easy because then you can measure it in terms of new followers or engagement, those types of things. But if your goal is that you want this influencer to drive conversions, you have to rethink

How you’re using them what they’re saying when they’re posting what they’re posting and make sure that you have the proper tracking in place and that I think that’s the piece that

companies tend to ignore is why am I even hiring this influencer beyond brand awareness beyond,

you know, having them have that megaphone. So I guess I want to turn it back over to you because you are an influencer. You’re an IBM influencer. And so I’d like to hear more about your experience and what your thoughts are. But I also know that you know, you’ve talked quite a bit about the different types of influencers.

Christopher Penn
It’s interesting, my work with IBM has been a lot around helping create awareness for their products and services within a very specific audience and drive at least trial adoption. Like for example, Watson studio I happen to think that Watson studio for someone who can’t ride

write code but knows enough about concepts of data science is probably the best thing since sliced bread. Because you can implement things that you read about, like you pick up an article in today, like towards data science and drag and drop the pieces together. Now, it may not necessarily come out, you know, can they still come out of salad, but at least you’re further along than looking at a an empty our script going well, now, what do I do? Right.

But one of the interesting challenges that the IBM program has had both on the social VIP side which is one of the programs the champion side which is the the technical user program is how do you measure this stuff and I’ve been creating my own reporting for them for years now, which is just slide deck of of the activities and the outcome some things and

it’s interesting in talking with one of the people in the program while the managers the phone with like, yeah, you’re pretty much the only person who sends this along because we don’t know how to ask this of other people if you take someone

Like, you know, System z or power nine, or any of the, the major mainframe programs that they have,

there isn’t a ton of awareness needed outside of a very specific audience. And so it’s difficult to measure through things like social media, right? No one cares if you tweet about a power nine system. What they do care is, is power nine on the shortlist of mainframes that you would evaluate to us. And so some of these influences have a very different kind of influence.

And the really are those three categories like you were mentioning earlier of of influencers, there are the broadcaster’s with the Kardashians, like okay, by my thing, there are what we call connectors, which are people who, they just have the Rolodex. And when there’s a specific ask like hey, I need to talk to the CMO of Walgreens, this person can make that connection for you and get you that get that big deal moving which means that you know they’re out that as an influencer type is better suited for a high value transaction rather than

Then, uh, it was like a pack of gum.

And then there are there’s what we call the, the authority influencer, which is the person that everybody looks to like, that’s the person who’s blog you read really good example of that would be someone like a Seth Godin or Tom Webster or any of these folks were,

you know that whatever they publish is going to be worth your time and so getting your product placed into one of those places, they might have a huge reach but they have a huge network that amplifies their stuff

and and they the expression I’ve heard uses, they punch far above their weight and it’s identifying which kind of influencer you need based on what kind of business challenging you’re solving which is again goes back to what you said which is what is your strategy Do you need brand awareness or do you need purchase consideration or do you need to actually broker a deal

now one thing I thought was interesting that would be good to get your take on is our one of our advisors Ginny Dietrich posted

blog post recently saying that companies are it certainly the b2c side are saying I’m sick of paying you know $140,000 to someone soda to market our car and they’re starting to look at their most valuable asset which I always get a kick out of because publicly traded companies those your stockholders


which is your employees and turning your employees into influencers for your brand because there’s more of a vested interest there based on what you’ve seen you know obviously interesting insights we have influencers

two of the three of us have a podcast actually three of three of us have a podcast just different podcasts

but even at our old company and and previous experiences you know I was the influencer for a lot of those things and there’s definitely a different value proposition than bringing someone from the outside what do you what is your take on building influences from the inside

Katie Robbert
well what you’re really talking about is a well run employer

advocacy program. And

those are tough because

you need to give your employees a reason to want to

promote the company that they work for. You would think, inherently Okay, they work there, they love what they do. They want to tell everybody about it. But and I know from my own personal experience, I don’t necessarily want to be blending that personal and that professional like those boundaries. So I think that, you know, finding ways to encourage employees to share that information on their own personal social media accounts is really the barrier to entry in that sort of thing, but I think it can work so you’re really great example of that where

you can share all of those things on all of your social media accounts because yours is a really nice blend of your personal and your business whereas for me

My Facebook account is strictly personal. My Instagram is strictly personal, but my Twitter and my LinkedIn are all business all the time. So I’m happy to share on those channels. So my focus is then growing my audience on those two channels versus the personal stuff where people aren’t going to see things about my company necessarily, um,

you know, and it’s, it’s like any other activity, it needs to be planned out. It needs to be coordinated, it needs to be measured, it needs to be consistently followed up on to see what people are doing. And the people who are running the program need to make it as easy as possible for the employees to be able to share that information and not make it a big lift for them. What are your thoughts? Well, I actually want to go back to some of this because I think it’s important when we were trying out this employee advocacy program at a previous company. We worked out together we ran into a lot of resistance, particularly from you know, more junior junior staff members who were saying like, I don’t want to be sharing business stuff you

Christopher Penn
Know to my friends, my friends are not the buyers of our products and services and things and I think there is a valid argument to that. But even an even bigger question is what is the value to both parties? You know, in my case I’m sort of an anomaly it’s pretty clear I have a you know, a almost 100,000 followers on Twitter and the people who follow me that aren’t robots

are legitimately our core audience, the people kind of people we would like to reach as, as potential customers. When you take a someone who’s more junior, I can think of it you know, any number of list of names of folks we’ve worked with in the past,

what is the value to them? What is the value to the company?

Katie Robbert
Well, to your point about those influencers? Who What is it they punch above their weight? I forget what that exact phrase was, but it’s an opportunity for someone who’s more junior to start to grow that audience because you get the benefit of the people who might follow the company or the

Christopher Penn
If a company let’s say you’re an agency and you’re helping a junior staffer build up their personal branding, I’ll get thousands of followers and stuff like that.

Who does that audience belong to? Does that always belong to the staff person, even though the company is helping to grow it? Or does that artists belong to the company? And then if that staff person leaves, this was something that Microsoft ran into in the early days when Robert Scoble was sort of the front man for SDN and stuff and he was the one you’re blogging for Microsoft and put really for the first time put a very human face on Microsoft that wasn’t an executive and when he left he had a massive audience and that audience kind of went with him and Microsoft’s like well you know, we gave you free rein to to promote stuff and share and and give you the insight and give people the inside edge.

And now you’re going to a competitor.

We think we should still own your audience.

Katie Robbert
I don’t think it’s a matter of

Well, let me step back.

So I, I’ve seen that situation play out before. And I think that what the company needs to do set up front is when they have an influencer, who is part of their internal team there needs to be some checks and balances in that situation. So you know, let’s say I was the person who was super influential, you know, at a previous company and then I left to start my own thing technically I am taking my own personal audience with me but the company should have thought I had to say you know what, anything that you post on behalf of the company

you need to be posting on the company’s properties or the company can retain a copy of it and repost it as they want to when it’s in context of this is about the company if a company is not thinking ahead

because you know people move jobs all the time.

If they’re not thinking ahead to this person might not be with us after a certain date, what do we do with that information, then that’s sort of bad on them, you know? So that’s short sighted thinking that this person will be a lifelong employee because you never know what’s going to happen. So it’s really that contingency plan for the company. It is partially the responsibility of the influencer to bring that up in conversation. Make sure that the company is aware of the risks of if I ever leave, I take this with me. So then that’s the opportunity for the company to say, Okay, I hear what you’re saying about the risks, let’s come up with a plan so that to minimize the risk where we have a lot of that content on our own assets. It doesn’t just solely live on your properties. Yeah, I would agree with that. Certainly, if you are, you know, the marketing manager at a company you definitely want to be writing things down and if

Christopher Penn
You’re the employee you want to have you may need to pay some money out of pocket to retain a lawyer to help you with an intellectual property agreement to say, Hey, this is what’s yours is what’s mine and and never the twain shall mix or your the conditions under which it can. The other thing I would say for companies is, if you are not already engaging and practices like you know general retargeting, social retargeting, Link retargeting all these things you are have an extra added vulnerability. If you have a really solid retargeting program then yeah, whatever and influence any influence your does, you should be able to get that audience back. He may have to spend some dollars to do it. But you should be able to get that audience back without having to re engage that influencer over and over again.

Katie Robbert
I agree. And I think that again, it’s sort of it starts at the top with that planning. What’s your goal if you have an influence or on staff there should be a plan around what that person does. And to your point, you know, what are those guidelines of what that person can do personally what they

are responsible for as an employee to do on behalf of the company who owns those assets so

it we always have the same conversation it always comes back to What’s your goal what’s your plan and I can’t emphasize enough that no matter how big or small the effort is you need to have a plan for it

Christopher Penn
is an interesting thought if influences principally about building awareness and emotional favor ability should the influence of be asking for the sale or should that be the provenance further down the customer journey of things like retargeting so the influencer creates the the initial awareness in the favorite favorable brand impression and then retargeting is the one that makes the ask so the influencer is not being seen as like the the shill if you will

Katie Robbert
I think

again sort of going back to it depends but in the in the instance where you’re hiring an influencer purely for awareness. That’s exactly how it should work. If you are trying to get an

influencer to your point about how you work with IBM to get on a shortlist then that’s a different scenario but the majority This is a broad stroke but the majority of social media influencers are hired to do that awareness and that you know that should be where it starts and stops, they broadcast it. They get the message out they get that retargeting audience and then the company takes it from there.

Christopher Penn
Yeah, because you can’t

has evidenced by the Kardashian copy and paste. You can’t even necessary rely on the employees to get the messaging right on the awareness part.

Katie Robbert
No, you can’t. And wrangling influencers is for a lot of the people that I’ve talked to. It’s their least favorite thing to do. Because it is a pain because you’re dealing with this person who is you know, and again, this is this is a broad stroke, you’re dealing with people who are unknown to your company. They’re not, you know, woven into the culture of the everyday workflow. So they’re this anomaly that you have to try to wrangle and how

Hope for the best. So I remember an instance

a few years back where I was on a team working with influencers they paid the team paid top dollar for this

person who I think was like a model something who knows and she didn’t meet the obligations of what she was being asked to do. So

I think she’d been asked to post like four different times about a variety of things and she didn’t do it and the way that the contract was structured, there were no penalties and so they paid a lot of money and she didn’t do anything and the team just sat there saying to the client oops We’re sorry like it’s it’s not a fun thing to do so I think that to your point trying to build that influencer,

corral of people within within your own company is a lot less risky and you have a lot more control over the situation. Yeah.

Christopher Penn
for a future episode we should look at your influencers starter kits. How do you get to how do you get somebody to become an influencer? Because it is a long haul. That’s the other thing. That’s I think a challenge for companies who have been told you need to build your own influencers is it’s not an overnight thing. I mean, I’ve been working on my stuff since 2007.

Katie Robbert
Mm hmm. So what made you decide to become an influencer? Or was it something that you decided you wanted to do? Or was it because of series of situations where you’re like, this makes sense for me.

Christopher Penn
I never set out to be an influencer. I just wanted to place to publish stuff that at the time was totally irrelevant to what my company my day job was doing. My day job was in financial services. And so I was creating content for the company about you know, these different types of loans and how do you evaluate this type of credit card offer and stuff

and I start getting more and more questions not about the company’s products and services but about

Like, well, how are you creating this stuff, how you make this, how you doing the marketing of this stuff, and I needed a place to put it. So I started my own blog and started putting stuff on my own social channels like, Hey, here’s how I’m making the sausage as it were.

And that was a far more interest to people than the actual financial services. And what happened over time was, as that became more popular, that actually

triggered a career switch for me, and going into email marketing, and then to social and then to to PR world and now to what we do trust insights.

It was never the plan to be like, okay, let’s monetize. We’re gonna have this many number audience members at this date and time and this is the offers a guy just kind of happened.

There’s a very defined process of how that works is mostly built around SEO,

but at the same time was not the goal. And now it’s interesting because as a company, we’re using my audience very heavily to make the company as successful as it can be.

property, who owns what content? Um, any other thoughts on that? Follow? Follow the, the, the tried and true stem practice. What’s your strategy while doing it? Well, your tactics, what are you going to do execution? How are you going to do it? And then measure it? How are you going to measure it? And if you don’t have those four things written down, you probably shouldn’t do it just yet.

Amen to that exactly. As always, please subscribe to the YouTube channel into the newsletter and if you aren’t subscribed to the podcast, and you just kind of tuning in for the first time, please visit trust You’ll find the subscription link at the bottom of every blog post. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next time.

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