Q&A: Promise Phelon, TapInfluence CEO

Influencer marketing is an enticing prospect. One person can get a message out to a relatively large and dedicated following, generating engagement and penetration on a level that general marketing can’t. But it can also be tricky. Working with an influencer means having to give up a measure of control over your content. It means reaching an audience that might be smaller than you’re used to and it means letting someone else inside your marketing world. Promise Phelon, CEO of influencer marketing company TapInfluence, speaks with Search Insider about the intersection of influencers and search. 

How do search marketing and influencer marketing intersect?
Think about influencer marketing as the content engine, so you’ve got these self-governing, self-managing creators that are creating content on behalf of brands. What we see today is that a lot of organizations are leveraging influencer marketing to drive SEO and keywords for their search efforts. Where we think this is going is that today search- engine marketing is a lead-in to various different questions consumers have about brands and products and services. A lot of things we see our best influencers doing is to get whatever search information they can get their hands on to drive the content and placement strategy. 



As a marketer how do you get influencers to work with your search programs?
Influencers do a tremendous amount of research prior to creating a piece of content. Sometimes they’ll ask a brand if there's something their consumers are searching for that will help the process. Really what we find is brands do a good job presenting on their Web site how their product works in a limited number of scenarios. What influencers do is put that in context for their specific audiences. 

What do you need to bring to them, then, to help them maximize those efforts?
We encourage brands to work with influencers in bringing them information and guidance and not directives. In our experience, the better influencer marketing companies try to tie data and insights that they glean from existing customers or consumers and bring that into the influencer generation process. The better influencer marketers go into it with a brief and the context around it. It’s less directive and more collaborative. 

Yet marketers want to control their message, which is where some of the disconnect could happen. How can you give up control and keep control of your message at the same time?
It comes down to authenticity. We find that brands that have a heavy hand working with influencers have worse performance with that content. Influencers really know their audience. The more control that brands put over that content, the less viral it is, the less engagement it has, and the less authentic that content is.

Marketers also know their audiences. How do you manage those two things together?
If you look in the day of a life of an influencer, they have built their audience based on people that they know. If you pick a brand audience, like people who drink Vitamin Water, that’s a big audience. It has demographic elements; it has behavior elements. But if you look at an influencer's audience, that tends to be a portion of that brand audience. It might be 2% of the total brand audience. As an influencer I’m going to be more intimate with those people, [and] I’m creating content that they’re responding to. Brands should engage influencers because of their knowledge of that micro-audience.

As a search marketer, what do you need to know before getting involved with an influencer? What homework do you need to have done?
Search marketing is really about finding content. It’s about a quest to find something that’s meaningful for your audience and the people you want to convert down the funnel. From our perspective, if you think about that buyer’s journey, it’s a complex one. They’ve got to think about their Web site, search, their marketing and all of the ways consumers are engaging with content. I have to think first and foremost, “Where is my audience engaged most?” You’ve got to be clear about that buyer journey and where that content is performing best, and give that as a resource to your influencer. I would say, know your audience, understand the journey and know what’s working for the influencer to work with and innovate.

What sort of metrics should you be using to measure influencer marketing?
For search-engine marketing, you have different things, PPL, click-through rates. But what you want to understand is how to those leads convert to revenue. If I were to line up the core metrics for influencer marketing, [they] are social engagement, reach and views. The next level up is cost of content. What does it cost to produce a piece of content? The third bridges the gap between basic and more advanced. Our performance measure is engagement and cost-per-engagement, a click, a view, a share. It’s looking at that content for a certain period of time and engaging with it. That’s the bridge between the higher order of brand-lift and total media value. And on top of that is actually driving sales.

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