Spheres of In­flu­ence

The Monthly (Australia) - - NEWS - by He­len Sul­li­van

In 1886, the newly founded Cal­i­for­nia Per­fume Com­pany re­cruited Per­sis Fos­ter Eames Al­bee, a widow who had been run­ning a small store from her home in Cheshire County, New Hamp­shire, as a sales­woman. Dressed el­e­gantly, Al­bee started go­ing door to door, ped­dling per­fume sets and, later, creams, balms and tooth­paste to her fel­low women. “Per­sis was a wel­come sight,” writes the His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety of Cheshire County. “She was not con­sid­ered a nui­sance, but as a ‘friendly neigh­bor come to call’.” The Cal­i­for­nia Per­fume Com­pany would later be­come Avon, and Al­bee was the first ever “Avon lady”, the term de­scrib­ing the women who, still to­day, sell Avon prod­ucts in­clud­ing make-up and per­fume di­rectly to their peers.

To­day’s peer-to-peer pioneers are so­cial-me­dia in­flu­encers. Aus­tralia’s own mod­ern-day Al­bee is Re­becca Gawthorne, a Syd­ney di­eti­cian with 145,000 In­sta­gram fol­low­ers, who is paid by com­pa­nies to post photos and cap­tions pro­mot­ing their prod­ucts. And what Avon was to Al­bee, Aus­tralian tech start-up TRIBE, which this year re­ceived a $5.3 mil­lion in­vest­ment via ven­ture cap­i­tal firm Exto Part­ners, is to Gawthorne. TRIBE acts as a mid­dle­man be­tween brands and mi­cro-in­flu­encers, which the com­pany de­fines as users with more than 3000 fol­low­ers on Face­book, In­sta­gram or Twit­ter. The way it works is com­pa­nies pub­lish briefs through TRIBE, in­flu­encers sub­mit ideas for posts, and the com­pa­nies pay for those posts that are ap­proved, which are then pub­lished by the in­flu­encers on their own ac­counts. Posts are paid be­tween $75 and $1200, de­pend­ing on an in­flu­encer’s num­ber of fol­low­ers.

To­day, TRIBE CEO An­thony Svirskis is at – where else? – a con­fer­ence de­voted to mar­ket­ing to mil­len­ni­als, ev­ery­one’s favourite gen­er­a­tion to fret about, where he is speak­ing on a panel about in­flu­encer mar­ket­ing. So­cial me­dia is prime mil­len­nial ter­ri­tory. On In­sta­gram alone, more than 90% of users glob­ally are younger than 35; in the au­di­to­rium, the mostly 20-some­thing au­di­ence mem­bers clicked their pens dis­tract­edly, heads cocked. Speak­ers seemed ner­vous. “Look,” Svirskis tells me, “I don’t con­sider my­self a mil­len­nial.” At 35, he tech­ni­cally is one, but Svirskis feels like he strad­dles two worlds: he re­mem­bers us­ing a com­puter, the in­ter­net and a mo­bile phone for the first time. He’s not a heavy so­cial-me­dia user. In a way, it’s per­fect: like TRIBE, Svirskis sits be­tween dig­i­tal master com­mu­ni­ca­tors and brands learn­ing to adapt. TRIBE is the brain­child of Jules Lund, the TV and ra­dio pre­sen­ter. A few years ago, he started tin­ker­ing with, then ob­sess­ing over, his ra­dio show’s Face­book page. Lund built its fol­low­ing to 350,000, ef­fec­tively cre­at­ing a sec­ond au­di­ence – and one that the show’s mar­ket­ing team jumped on. But the process of get­ting ads for the page was time-con­sum­ing: be­tween art­work and ap­proval, a sin­gle post could take months. So Lund left the show to start TRIBE, which aims to stream­line the process of cre­at­ing and ap­prov­ing con­tent for in­flu­encer ads. A re­cent cam­paign for the New Zealand Ki­wifruit Prod­uct Group in­cluded posts from var­i­ous in­flu­encers show­cas­ing ki­wifruit ice-cream, ki­wifruit with goji berries, ki­wifruit slices on a child’s eyes and a ki­wifruit wreath bor­dered with heart-shaped slices of ki­wifruit. “It’s not about who [the in­flu­encer is]. It’s about how good the con­tent is that you cre­ate,” Lund says. “Ev­ery­one is equal un­til you pro­duce con­tent re­spond­ing to a brief.” It’s not hard to imag­ine a food blog­ger get­ting car­ried away telling their fol­low­ers about their love for a furry fruit. The re­la­tion­ship is built on the idea that an in­flu­encer is some­one who rec­om­mends things they gen­uinely use or like. (“If you speak to in­flu­encers, they tend to see their whole post his­tory as al­most a pro­gres­sion of art,” says Svirskis.) As with den­tists in tooth­paste ads, in­flu­encer mar­ket­ing blurs the line be­tween an ex­pert mak­ing a rec­om­men­da­tion and a com­pany sell­ing you things. And com­pa­nies are flock­ing to the for­mat. Among the brands that have used TRIBE are Unilever, IKEA, Domino’s, Spo­tify, UNIQLO, Dan Mur­phy’s, Ne­spresso, Toy­ota and Mercedes. The Aus­tralian govern­ment re­cently used TRIBE to run a cam­paign de­signed to en­cour­age women to ex­er­cise, called Girls Make Your Move. TRIBE has up­wards of 21,000 in­flu­encers on its books, says Svirskis, and at least 2000 brands. Gawthorne, TRIBE’s high­est-earn­ing in­flu­encer, has made more than $110,000 through the app. Though TRIBE got its start through tra­di­tional me­dia, it and com­pa­nies like it have the po­ten­tial to de­liver a fur­ther blow to tra­di­tional me­dia’s al­ready shaky ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue, as ad­ver­tis­ers pay for in­flu­encer posts rather than ban­ner ads and pop-ups. (Some tra­di­tional me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions are jump­ing on­board: last year, the New York Times bought Hel­loSo­ci­ety, an­other agency that con­nects brands with in­flu­encers.) Do so­cial-me­dia users know when they’re look­ing at ad­ver­tis­ing? While it’s more clearly in­di­cated than prod­uct place­ment in a film, it’s not ex­actly as ob­vi­ous as a bill­board. In­sta­gram, Face­book and Twit­ter use hash­tags as a way of in­dex­ing posts, and TRIBE strongly rec­om­mends the use of #ad to in­di­cate that posts have been paid for. While the two-let­ter word tends to get lost in a sea of other hash­tags, this process com­plies with both Aus­tralian and United King­dom ad­ver­tis­ing reg­u­la­tions (TRIBE launched in the UK this year). Svirskis ex­plains that the #ad hash­tag is hard-coded into ev­ery cam­paign. In­flu­encers can re­move it, but he says it doesn’t hap­pen. “The fact is, an agency is not go­ing to risk their brand get­ting caught out by the [Aus­tralian Com­pe­ti­tion and Con­sumer Com­mis­sion] or [Aus­tralian As­so­ci­a­tion of Na­tional Ad­ver­tis­ers]. There re­ally isn’t any fric­tion there.” Who is li­able should fric­tion arise? Breach­ing Aus­tralian con­sumer law could lead to fines of up to $220,000 for the in­flu­encer, and $1.1 mil­lion for a brand, but so far, ac­cord­ing to ABC ra­dio’s Triple J, “there have been no le­gal cases against so­cial-me­dia in­flu­encers”. That doesn’t mean un­de­clared spon­sored posts don’t hap­pen. In Septem­ber, ABC TV’s Me­dia Watch ex­am­ined a spike in en­dorse­ments for Kmart prod­ucts by Channel 7 and the Ma­mamia web­site. “All the Kmart sto­ries trace

As with den­tists in tooth­paste ads, in­flu­encer mar­ket­ing blurs the line be­tween an ex­pert mak­ing a rec­om­men­da­tion and a com­pany sell­ing you things.

back to Face­book and In­sta­gram and groups of moth­ers,” host Paul Barry told view­ers. Kmart gave blog­gers prod­uct vouch­ers and told them what to plug. The spon­sor­ships weren’t de­clared. In­flu­encers who work with TRIBE have to use their own money to buy – or must al­ready own – the prod­ucts they en­dorse. Ei­ther way, in­flu­encer mar­ket­ing trades on the per­cep­tion of so­cial me­dia be­ing an “au­then­tic” (surely 2017’s most ironic mar­ket­ing buzz­word) pub­lic space, as many a celebrity en­dorser knows. Mar­ket­ing via so­cial me­dia may be a lit­tle gauche, a tri­fle icky, but at least the gen­der split favours women in the in­flu­encer world. Take In­sta­gram: about 60% of In­sta­gram users are fe­male, and of the world’s ten most­fol­lowed in­flu­encers – celebri­ties like singer Selena Gomez (128 mil­lion fol­low­ers) and re­al­ity star/model Kylie Jenner (98.5 mil­lion) – seven are women. More than a cen­tury ago, be­ing in­flu­en­tial suited Per­sis Al­bee pretty well, ac­cord­ing to those Cheshire County his­to­ri­ans: “The Cal­i­for­nia Per­fume Com­pany of­fered pleas­ant cir­cum­stances, no set hours, the op­por­tu­nity for pro­mo­tion, and a re­spectable rep­u­ta­tion.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.