This interview was conducted via video with Lindsay Borow, former influencer marketer at GoPuff and current freelance consultant. Her responses have been transcribed and edited for written clarity.
Tell me about your background with influencer marketing.
My first job out of college was at Gopuff which was an early-stage, fast growing startup in the last-mile delivery space. At the time, they only had about 60 employees and I was brought in to help with all things marketing. Immediately, I saw an opportunity for us to use brand ambassadors in key geographies to help boost customer acquisition. I started building out our brand ambassador strategy from the ground up, using locally-relevant, smaller influencers (1-5K followers). We eventually grew to 2,500+ ambassadors that would continuously post on social media about Gopuff. I didn’t have any training prior to this, but I got my start just by manually finding and reaching out to potential influencers on Instagram. This was back in 2018, so influencer marketing was very different than it is today (there was a huge shift in influencer marketing post-2020 due to TikTok). I just learned on the job and eventually pivoted into full-time influencer marketing consulting as well as becoming a content creator myself. I love working with startups and smaller brands now; that’s really my area of expertise.
Can you walk me through what influencer marketing encompasses and how brands use it?
I don’t think influencer marketing has to be limited to just social media or even individual influencers— it’s really anyone or anything that has influence that can help sell a product or service. You see brands working with other brands through partnerships because a brand has influence in a particular space (and vice versa). Obviously, influencer marketing is most associated with its social media aspect, but that’s certainly not all-encompassing.
Brands can utilize influencers in all different shapes and forms. One way is through brand ambassador programs, like I executed at GoPuff. Most influencer marketing should be thought of as a journey, like lifecycle marketing. Similar to the lifecycle of a customer, there’s also the lifecycle of an influencer. You have to show the product over and over to build trust with an audience since now more than ever, people are starting to become skeptical with traditional influencer posts. It’s important that when brands are working with influencers, they build trust over time with their audiences.
The way I’ve seen brands work with influencers most often is through a single pay-for-post play. They’ll source influencers that meet their brand’s criteria, negotiate a rate for a single post, and track performance based on last-click attribution. What are the flaws you see in that strategy and how can working with an influencer over an extended period of time be more advantageous to a brand?
It’s interesting when brands only look at last-click attribution and direct sales with influencer marketing. I know a lot of brands want complete tracking on a per-channel basis, but I think brands should look at influencer marketing as more of a top-of-funnel channel. It needs to be more than just direct response acquisition. To say influencer marketing doesn’t work because you don’t see direct attribution would be insane to me. You’re likely hurting your business if you’re just looking at it through that lens. Consumers aren’t always clicking links the first time they see them. Personally, I start to become interested in a product after I see it in multiple places, not just the first time, and I think most consumers act that way as well. Even then, I’m not clicking on influencer links. I’m going to buy the product on my own time.
If last-click attribution isn’t the best way to look at influencer marketing, how do you measure return on marketing spend? What metrics should brands be looking at?
There’s a group of metrics brands can look at. The first is effective CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions). You want to make sure your CPMs are in line with other channels. Another is engagement rates— did you get engagement on the influencer’s post. Do people seem interested in the product? Finally, what’s the sentiment of comments? Is it positive, negative, or neutral?
Keep track of these metrics after the post and each week for the following month. You never know when a post is actually going to take off, especially on TikTok.
Another way is to look at sales lift through a pre-post analysis. As long as other marketing channels are somewhat consistent, you can look at sales through all channels before and after a post went live. A lot of times, the impact of influencer posts will show up in increased performance in other channels like organic and brand search.
Of course, the impact across other channels will be more visible for larger influencer posts. For smaller influencers, brands can benchmark viewership and engagement against other posts from that influencer to see how it performed relative to their expectations coming into the engagement.
If a brand wanted to explore influencer marketing as a way to expand customer acquisition, how would you recommend they start?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach— it depends on the goal of the campaign and industry, but you really can’t get any information unless you start to execute. I’d just start engaging with influencers and see what happens. Test by working with some nano or micro influencers; you don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars off the bat. After a period of time, you can look back, see how you did, and pivot accordingly.
Of course, working with someone who already knows influencer marketing can be really helpful so they can get negotiated pricing, source the right influencers, and overall help you avoid rookie mistakes. If you’ve never worked with influencers before, you might end up overpaying.
How should brands source influencers?
I like to call myself a master stalker– I’m always following and finding new influencers by spending time on social media. I’ve also used tools like Grin & Aspire in the past, but you don’t have to. You can just search keywords on social platforms and see who’s posting about it.
There are a few things brands should look out for prior to engaging with an influencer:
- Engagement rates
- % of posts that are sponsored
- Frequency and recency of posting
Red flags across these would include low engagement, high % of sponsored posts, and infrequent posting. If none of those come up, the influencer is going to be a good candidate to work with.
How much should brands be paying influencers?
There really is no standard for pricing influencers; I typically start by asking for their rate for a certain set of deliverables. Pre-pandemic, it was a little more structured, but now rates have been skyrocketing. Huge brands entered the influencer space and overpaid significantly, so now influencers think that’s the norm.
To see if their rate is fair, I’d take an influencer’s last 10-15 posts and look at the median number of impressions. It’s important you look at the median and not the average, because an average can be swayed by a single post that happened to go viral. Find the median and calculate a CPM that’s comparable to other channels. TV can be $25-$30, for example, and I think that influencer could be a bit higher than that, although I’d definitely keep it under $100. Influencer marketing justifies a higher rate because they’re also creating the content for you. Also, the inherent trust they’ve built with their audience makes the message resonate a bit better. Of course, this is all assuming the other boxes — like engagement rates and frequency of posting — have been checked.
It’s much more effective to use logic-driven reasoning to explain a counter offer than to just spit out a lower number. Most of the time, influencers are really receptive to that.
A lot of brands are trying to gift products to influencers in exchange for posts and content. Have you seen this strategy actually work? Why or why not?
I feel really strongly about this because when I became a creator, brands would reach out all the time with specific deliverable and creative asks, but only offer a product in return (something that likely costs them $100 at most). I didn’t ask for their product, and this is a job for me.
A lot of people don’t think of content creation as a real job because it seems glamorous and fun, but for a lot of people, it is. And they need to be fairly compensated for it. Why should we not be paid for the work?
If brands want to pursue a gifting strategy, they should send products with no strings attached or expectations. Personally, I feel so much better about this, and 9 times out of 10 I’ll still post the product if I like it. It’s a much better way to approach creators vs. asking them to do their job for free.
What are some of the most common mistakes brands make when executing influencer campaigns?
The biggest mistake I see brands make is trying to make the content too stylized, almost like an infomercial. The point of using influencers is to not make it look like an ad. When brands provide too much direction and reduce an influencer’s creative freedom, it won’t work. Influencers build a following by creating content that resonates with their audience, and if you limit their ability to do that then it’s not going to work.
Another mistake I see brands make is they bank on a single post to drive results. You need to think and account for how many touch points it’ll take for a consumer to build trust and consideration for your product. An influencer should post about a product or brand a few times before you evaluate results. You can’t cut it off early.
Do you have any hot takes / predictions for how influencer marketing will evolve over the next 3-5 years?
Influencers are becoming less and less relatable, which isn’t good for the channel. Before, they had full time jobs and were content creators on the side, and that made them very relatable. More influencers are quitting their jobs to do this full time now. It’s going to be more and more important for influencers to figure out ways to continue to be relatable to their audience over the coming years.
The Wrap Up
- A single paid post doesn’t do enough to build trust with an influencer’s audience; brands should work with influencers for an extended period of time to realize full value
- Prior to engaging with an influencer, check for engagement rate, % of posts that are sponsored, and frequency & recency of posting to rule out any red flags
- When working with influencers, don’t make content briefs too restrictive; content will end up looking too much like a sales pitch and not authentic
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