The Blog

November 23, 2018


Influencer Marketing – The Big Questions

Earlier this week ZINE had the pleasure of hosting some of the biggest brands and agencies to discuss the ever-changing landscape in influencer marketing at Soho House.

The registration for the event was full within an hour of going live, and shortly before the main agenda was due to start the room was packed. The popularity of both this event and our previous ones goes to show how much of a hunger there is for hearing what others are up to – and of course a good breakfast!

A quick show of hands showed the audience was split almost equally – brands vs. agencies from the likes of Liberty London, Edelman, Matalan, Tesco, Vita Coco and more.

The panel were chosen to represent almost the entire influencer marketing space – Tereza Vincalek Agency Engagement Lead at Group M, Emily McDonnell – former influencer manager at Google, Emily Valentine Parr – Lifestyle blogger at The Style Lobster, and our very own Caroline Duong at ZINE.

tereza Emily McDonnell Emily Valentine Parr Caroline
Tereza Vincalek
Group M
Emily McDonnell
Former Google
Emily Valentine Parr
The Style Lobster
Caroline Duong

Each of the panellists’ work with influencers in very different ways. Tereza explained that her team services all influencer requirements across Group M’s agencies from high end products like Tiffany’s, to FMCG brands like McVitie’s while at Google Emily MD’s who was working on long-term influencer partnerships mostly across Google’s hardware products. The other Emily – who I’ll refer to as The Style Lobster, works with up to 15 brands per month ranging from makeup brands to fashion, to travel destinations. Finally, ZINE which is primarily an influencer platform, works with clients to help them improve efficiencies and output of campaigns.

Here is a brief summary of the some of the topics covered:


On How To Select The Right Influencer

Caroline: First we look at the category the influencer identifies as, then we aim for a certain reach. We then start to filter by their statistical attributes, like whether their audience is in the right location. An example of this is where their following is predominantly based – UK, Italy etc. then finally if the content is in line with the brand’s voice.

Teresa: I think it varies with each brand and what their KPIs are. Some may not really care where the influencer is from as long as they produce great content for them. And other times it’s about hitting the nitty gritty information about the influencers, diving deep into their audience making sure that x percentage is in the UK, or London based and that you really have people that are reflective of the brand and speak to the brand values. It really does depend on the campaign. Just when you think you know your clients and their demands, somebody goes “We want a percentage of influencers to speak about a launch that is happening in a different country”. So that’s where having a network like ZINE really helps. You can have a long list of hundreds of influencers, but only 10 of them work for that specific campaign. It shows you that the market is still growing and developing and there still a demand for new influencers that fit the brands specific needs.

Emily McDonnell: I think also relevance over reach is key. I’ve seen a huge shift in that you no longer just look at reach or number of followers and engagement which are extremely important, but you also need to look at your target audience and who you’re speaking to. The category [of the influencer] needs to fit with the brand, and they have to have the right audience so you target the right people. Also authenticity, do they fit with the brand DNA? Which brands have they worked with before? I think is important for the brand to filter through the influencers platforms to make sure that they are aligned with the companies that you also want to be associated with. Because we live in a world now where influencers are poached by so many brands a day. I think the influencer’s voice now is also key. The influencers can’t just take nice photos, they need to have something more to bring to the table, especially now that there’s all these articles about how social media is affecting people with depression and anxiety, and people are comparing themselves. I know a few people who have deleted their Instagram because they can’t deal with it any more. They’re spending too much time and it’s not giving them anything positive

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On The Biggest Challenges

Tereza: I think it just constant education, you get a brief that’s so novel and you go “Well OK what do you want, is it one Instagram post, a photo, should it have a URL link…” You know it has to be relevant, it also has to be quick. You can only fit so much information into one photo unless you do a bigger campaign, so I think it’s just keeping the campaigns focused. When I first started, it was very simple, it was just “take a flat lay” and now it’s gone the other way, where campaigns can involve sending influencers somewhere, they want influencers to live, breathe, eat the brand. But they have to dial it down a little bit, make it a little realistic, there are limitations to what you can communicate in a photo, pick and choose what you want.

Caroline: I think that touches on the point of heavily branded content, another challenge that brands have is telling influencers to take a picture, of that bottle, at that angle, to use exactly those words in the caption, and they end up getting 20 posts from influencers that look exactly the same and that’s not the point of influencer marketing.

The Style Lobster: Influencer marketing is not traditional advertising at all. When I get a brand bible sent to me with like logos and text, and tone of voice, I feel like saying “give me some credit!”. I’m partnering with you because I like your brand, and I’m hoping you’re partnering with me because you like my brand and tone of voice, and it has to be holistic. If someone’s going to dictate to me what exactly I’m going to say then it’s not going to work.

Tereza: Exactly. I assume that you want to put something on your Instagram that you personally like, and you wouldn’t put something up if you thought it was a bad image. You sent an image over to the client because you think that it’ll perform well, you know your audience will like it and so on…

Emily McDonnell: What I’ve seen, and what I do with all my work [at Google, as a consultant, and as an influencer] is treat it like a two-way communication between the influencer and the brand. You can tell influencers exactly what you want, but you need to allow them creativity, you need to make sure it fits with your brand, you want to incorporate a product into their lifestyle. I think one of the greatest campaigns I did was with Google Home last year. We gave influencers the brief, the first paid campaign we’d ever done and we didn’t give them too much direction, because we already loved what they did, but we wanted to see their spin on it and they came up with their own ideas and the results were amazing. We worked with You-tubers a lot and they loved the collaboration, audiences didn’t know it was branded at all because it looked natural to what they do.

Caroline: And if the influencer says that they don’t really want to do it, don’t just go back and offer them more money. They already declined, most likely not because of the fee but because they genuinely feel that they don’t like it. So offering more money won’t get you a better result.

Emily McDonnell: It’s that classic example of Scott Disick when he posted that protein along with a piece of that caption included what was sent by the brand. I think a brand should never dictate what the caption should be, it should come from the influencer’s point of view and how they like the product.

ZINE Influencer Marketing Blog - The Big Questions The Style Lobster


On The Issue Of Fake Followers

Caroline: Fake followers and fake engagement is a thing we need to crack down and make sure we get the right influencers and we know what is the right level of engagement. It’s very hard to say “anyone with fake followers or bots is a bad influencer”, because you can’t stop bots from following your account. They’re bots just following around and everyone can have a few bots following them and driving down your engagement. A lot of reports are coming through now around follower health, and we have compared a few and we actually get different results. It’s very important to take a look at whether they are looking at all the followers. Some reports only look at engaged followers, or only look at those who like or comment and then validates whether they are real or not. Obviously they’re more likely to be real and then that gives you a fake score. So I think there needs to be more education in the market about how we can effectively track that. And thankfully Instagram is on it, so we’ll be doing a little bit more work on that which is going to be helpful.

Tereza: I think it’s good for the influencers to be aware that brands now are looking at the analytics and the back end, and it’s not just if you’re a pretty girl, or if you have so many followers. It’s like, OK let’s really look into if our investment is worthwhile here, you know if we put in money into this campaign, we will see kind of return? Is it going to the right audiences? It’s not just a superficial nice to have, it’s becoming more of a media buy. People want to make sure that there’s some structure behind it. Influencers now have to be more accountable and professional about it, it’s not just an app that you have on your phone, or a game you know “Maybe I’ll just go work with a brand” there’s actually some kind of structure and careers can be made out of the products so I think it’s really healthy to have more scrutiny around it, having that possibility never hurts.

The Style Lobster: I don’t think brands should be looking at followers anymore anyway. It’s about engagement, as now you can buy engagement, so that for me is the bigger issue. I feel like I have quite a modest following compared to some, but in terms of engagement mines always been very steady and grows, there’s people who are playing the Instagram game as bloggers and you know like, follow-unfollow… which technically isn’t buying engagement, it’s just growing your platform, as in they’ll do that in the hope that they’ll follow back. They spend hours on their phones technically spamming the gram and they get a growth out of it which is great, because it is technically an authentic growth. But as a result their engagement suffers as people are just automatically following without thinking about it, going on their feed and thinking “this person is someone I can engage with and like their content”. So it’s a shame that engagement is bought as well, which never equates to the value of the content.

Emily McDonnell: No I agree it’s good because, it also needs to be more refined now. I remember, when we used to find people based on their following, but now there’s a lot more behind the scenes going on. Again, finding the right influencers is key, that the influencers align well with the brand. It’s just making sure that their following is genuine. We saw a New York Times article about the bots, specifically on Twitter, where we saw politicians buy like thousands of fake followers and brands would pay them, meaning the content was basically going out to fake followers. This is something that definitely needs to be looked at.


On The Next Big Social Media Channel

Caroline: I think Pinterest is pushing very hard now. I think it’s a great platform for influencer marketing, it’s just been a little bit overlooked in the past. They’ve made changes to the platform to monitor their efforts a little more. It’s a great discovery tool, so I think in 2019 it will become a lot more prominent and popular among brands.

Emily McDonnell: I feel like video content is becoming a lot bigger, people want to see the personality of the influencer, they want to get an insight of their daily lives – we’ve seen this a lot already with stories.

Caroline: And Instagram TV?

Emily McDonnell: To be honest, I don’t know whether that’s taking off or where that’s going.

The Style Lobster: I’ve dabbled, but people are still using stories. Stories and YouTube, I’m using YouTube at the moment where I’m upping the lifestyle content and not doing just makeup tutorials but more videos where people can look into my life and just real stuff. It’s great for brands because I’m getting people interested, with integrated campaigns, product mentions in these lifestyle videos, with the more natural everyday stuff. People Love it, it’s how the younger generation is just watching television, following the YouTubers life.

Tereza: It’s hard to make concrete predictions, when two years ago there wasn’t even Instagram stories. So, I think we need to evolve on how these platforms evolve, how audiences react to it. Sometimes you know platforms are a little more on-trend/ En vogue and other times it can die down. So I think it’s one of the exciting parts of this industry, is that it just changes so quickly that when it happens you just don’t know what to expect

The Style Lobster: I’m getting to do more and more story collaborations. There’s also a lot of talk around rate cards and the price of an Instagram Grid post VS the rate of a batch of 3 stories, it tends to be maybe half. But there is a lot of talk to make those exactly the same, because the value of stories is just crazy. Traditionally everyone loves a grid post, because it stays on the grid for forever, whereas with stories they expire after 24 hours but, the engagement on stories is much higher.

Tereza: And it’s closing that gap between the photo and the sale. It’s making that e-commerce cycle closer, with the swipe up, then you can track the traffic and engagements after the swipe up.

Emily McDonnell: And you have highlights as well now, so it can be forever.

Caroline: As a brand I would be worried, because obviously on the feed you see how many posts an influencer does per day. Whereas a story, is unlimited. You can post a story every half an hour, but what is a healthy balance of how many stories you can have?

The Style Lobster: True but things expire. Technically the ad may be in the middle of the story at one part of the day and then suddenly at 9pm prime time, it’s at the front and everyone’s seeing it.

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On Approaches To Measurement

Emily McDonnell: Firstly you look at the reach, and also the sentiment of the analysis, look at the comments, reactions. But we’re also more into driving awareness rather than direct sales.

Tereza: For us it’s engagements, likes, comments views, more of a tangible metric than reach. Because again, if someone has 60,000 followers you don’t know how many of those are actually engaged. So for now it’s engagements.

Caroline: We actually have a blog post which shows you average engagement rate for a follower bucket. Then you can break it down by vertical.


On 2019 Predictions

Emily McDonnell: I think influencers will become more like entrepreneurs, not just creating content but creating businesses, their having their own merchandising, and becoming more contributing, writing articles for media outlets, podcasts. We see a lot of influencers using Instagram, YouTube but also having a podcast. The whole education, information channel.

Tereza: I think definitely the influencer, then the product, rather than the product then the influencer. Brands will have to compete with influencer creative brands, it’s just how do the clients stay relevant in that space, and making sure there are still high levels of authenticity and transparency, for brands to understand where their money is going.

Caroline: I think really, it’s just a continuous educational programme for both sides, so brands understand when it makes sense to use influencers and what sort of guidelines to give. And influencers as well, where the definition of an influencer will be clearer. The bigger ones will become powerhouses, and building their own brand value. Becoming an influencer is becoming an actual career choice, you have influencer courses popping up.

The Style Lobster: I think they’ll be a bigger divide between the type of influencers where on the one hand you have the creatives, and on the other the people who sell. The creatives who have more of  voice and more personality based influencer, whereas the others whose aim is to sell and the’ll promote products in the same ways, same locations.

Caroline: But it’s like magazines right? Sometimes you have the ones with the interviews and are more informative and you have the others which are just product after product. Which is sometimes all you want, it’s not necessarily a bad thing but it’s more of what works for them.

 — End Of Panel Session —