Tales From The Influencer Marketing Trenches

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 12 founders and executives: What’s your experience been like working with influencers?

Galit Strugano-Wigdor Founder, Girlactik

Social media two years ago was very different from today. The majority of YouTube videos from back then were much more genuine than they are now. I used to have a ton of people talking about my brand, but, once the whole paying of influencers started, being a smaller brand, I couldn’t afford it. Paying lump sums can make a smaller brand go bankrupt. Once I got quotes from the managers of influencers – for example, a sponsored video could go for $40,000 to $60,000, and a sponsored Instagram post from $10,000 to $16,000 – I knew I couldn’t afford it, so I pretty much stopped reaching out to influencers. I can’t afford them, so most likely they aren’t going to talk about the brand. If there are people that want to talk about my product, they will reach out. My brand is growing with micro-influencers and fans who share it with their friends and on their social platforms. It may make my climb the ladder of growth slower, but, at the end of the day, those fans are going to stay with me.

Heidi Dorosin CMO, Madison Reed
We worked on a sponsored giveaway with an influencer of significant following with a specific goal of growing our Instagram followers and increasing brand awareness for Madison Reed. When the giveaway completely flopped, the influencer stopped responding to us and we suddenly noticed she proceeded to buy @madisonreedllb Instagram followers to make it look like the partnership had, in fact, succeeded. We saw the fake followers come in within 30 minutes and immediately knew what had occurred as she was attempting to give the illusion that the partnership had been successful. Influencers buying fake followers threaten the authenticity of the brands with whom they partner. Given the ongoing issue with third-party abuse on Instagram and Facebook, we've proceeded to shift our strategy for working with influencers as follows: We do not work with influencers if we can detect any fraud, and it's in our partnership agreements that the partnership is void if anything of the sort happens once the partnership is underway. We are very clear with our influencers about our goals from the partnership and are transparent about the results and ROI. We share sales and clicks, and any other information we can with the influencer to let them know how the partnership performed.
Danuta Dudek Founder, Cotarde

We tried three different campaigns. The first one was right at the beginning, and the purpose of it was to introduce the brand and products to micro-bloggers (up to 50,000 followers). The next one was focused on big influencers and raising brand awareness among this group (above 100,000 followers). Then, the last one was targeting everyone in between to seal the gap (50,000 to 100,000 followers). We never really experienced enormous ROI on of these activities, and some of the influencers didn’t perform as well as others. But we got a very good traction from some of them. Ever since we started working with them, they’ve been very friendly, and we created a good working environment. It’s a tricky area of business as it’s very much based on personality type and the strength of the connection you, as a business owner, have with particular influencers. It also requires a thorough analyzing of the group you’re targeting. It’s something most of the agencies won’t tell you. We learned that number of followers is not a good enough factor in decision-making process of whether to go for it or not.

Murphy Bishop II CEO and Co-Founder, The Better Skin Co.

We worked with a micro-influencer agency and hired 100 micro-influencers to push business to a web partner. It was a huge success. We sold out of the items being pushed multiple times during the campaign. We then worked with another agency and hired 500 micro-influencers to push people in store to a brick-and-mortar partner. We hired micro-influencers within a close range to the locations with the hope that their local fan base could push people into store. From this effort, we did not see any significant lifts in store from our typical weeks. Based on this learning, going forward, we will only use micro-influencers to push to dot-com partners. On the positive, we recently launched an influencer collaboration with an Instagram star. The influencer received our core product two years ago in a gift bag and had been requesting it since. The collaboration was easy to develop, and the product has been successful. We also work closely with celebrity makeup artist. These collaborations prove to be more successful for us than most other collaborations.

James La Founder, Niucoco

We get collaboration requests every week from some influencer around the world. What we realized is that it doesn't make sense to just get exposure. We think the influencer approach is not a real strategy because the industry itself is still being defined. In this day and age of being able to track all of the digital breadcrumbs out there, an influencer today should provide a better understanding of the service they are offering above and beyond exposure and reviews. [We ask them]: Can you explain to me a little bit more about your engagements? (Unfortunately, most of them stop at this question). Are we, as a brand, exclusive on the post? How many conversions or clickthroughs does a brand traditional get from your posts? How much input can the brand provide in the post (or series of posts)?

Most of them don't have a clue about what these [questions] mean. There's more of an interest to self-promote than to promote a brand. We've changed our approach and kept it simple: If you don't understand these simple things, then we fail to see any value-add or any reason to engage you that influencer. If you do understand, then we would suggest them signing on as an affiliate. If your ratios are high, if you have true influencing power, why not get a commission for every sale that the brand does through a unique link that you've been provided? Most of them end up shying away because they can't seem to take some ownership of their status as an influencer. This way, we don't waste our time and, secondly, it forces the influencers to step up their game.

Alternatively, if you really want to make an impact with your brand, there is a way to leverage the influencers. It would just require a budget and an event to promote. The louder, more exclusive it is, the more interesting it becomes for the influencers to be part of it and, subsequently, post about it to generate some real buzz. After that, have a strategy of scheduled posts to keep the buzz going.

Ju Rhyu Founder, Hero Cosmetics

At Hero Cosmetics, we don't pay for influencers to post. We have a 100% gifting policy and really try to work with influencers who actually are influential. Size of following doesn't mean much anymore as the space gets crowded and spammy. It's really about engagement, and we're realizing that more and more. We've had influencers with followers in the hundreds of thousands post about us with less direct results than an influencer with a following in the tens of thousands. We're now more focused on influencers who have an authentic following, and genuinely need and love our products.

Mariska Nicholson Founder, Olive + M

When it comes to social media, we want the Olive + M experience reflected in a very real and genuine way and, when it comes to implementing influencer campaigns, it’s not something we run on a monthly basis, but rather something we plan for special promotions and product launches. In our experience, influencers in small quantities have proven to be unsuccessful, but we’ve seen how dedicated campaigns can generate buzz and help to spread brand awareness.

For example, our team recently partnered with Palm to implement an influencer campaign based around the launch of our newest product, Olive + M’s Shimmer + Glow Body Oil. In a time when almost anyone can claim to be an influencer, Palm’s approach to creating a beauty influencer community is unique in that it’s curated and customizable for each brand they partner with. We haven’t seen this with other platforms we’ve explored in the past. Working with Palm helped us quickly sift through some of the noise in the very saturated influencer world.

We chose Palm because they genuinely care about each brand’s success on their platform and have a comprehensive process for matching specific influencers with each brand and campaign. This ensured that each influencer chosen for our campaign accurately represented our brand message and aesthetic. Each month these influencers have the opportunity to choose a campaign out of several, and we love that each of them chose us. This was so important because we were able to send our product to beauty gurus who already had a genuine interest in our brand and products. Programs like Palm are a good opportunity for smaller brands to establish brand awareness without a huge commitment or price tag.

Emi Kamiya Founder, Icons Marketing + Media

The least effective formula for influencer marketing that I’ve learned over the years, but is now more true than ever, is when the influencer does not have a deeper interest, desire or personal incentive beyond the fee or affiliate sales to create that content, whether big or micro, paid or unpaid. For example, I’ve had an influencer campaign where the messaging was harder for the influencers to connect with and, ultimately, they were missing that deeper, personal engagement that makes content feel authentic to the viewer and is gratifying for the influencer to create. There was some budget, so we were able to work with a handful of micro-influencers as well as a bigger name or two, all with cross-platform sharing agreements to ensure that the content would have the most reach as possible. However, it just didn’t strike home, and none really lasted in terms of customer conversion or continued engagement. And, in these case, it is not the influencers’ fault at all.

In terms of impressions and views, all did decently well, which is good for building brand awareness for a startup, but, unfortunately, it just doesn’t drive brand engagement for the company nor sales unless you are able to continuously work with a wide range of influencers in your target group and keep that content flowing. And that takes a lot of time and likely money whether it’s for your PR agency fees or in-house marketing team salaries. Even if you strike home with one of the influencers or partners, it can stop after that first blast if there is misalignment between what the influencer said or showed in their video or post with what your company is doing, saying and presenting. The audience who reacts to influencer posts positively reacts because they trust them and/or want to be like them, to put it bluntly. If the influencer doesn’t feel deeply connected or feel a desire to spread the word on your great product or company, the genuine trust factor is lost. If your company doesn’t have the matching aesthetic or feel or isn’t saying what the influencer promised or shared, then they are not going to come to you to be like the influencer.

Pats Krysiak Founder, Glossy Paradise

I've been lucky to work with a few influencers and have plans to work with more. My experience working with influencers has been positive, but I definitely learned a few lessons along the way. The first one being: An influencer's follower number doesn't really mean anything. I have had the most success with smaller, micro-influencers that are very niche, targeted and on-brand with my product. I found that smaller micro-influencers have a strong community and have a level of trust among their followers that larger influencers don't. I also found it important to partner with new, up-and-coming influencers, those influencers where you get that gut feeling that they will do well. If you develop that relationship early on, they will always support you in the future once their community has grown.

Julianne Robicheau Founder, Robi Luxury Skin Care

I work with smaller influencers who don't have fees. I strictly send product for reviews, so it’s more like PR than advertising. It’s been hit or miss. I’ve definitely made some sales through some of the partnerships, but, even if I didn’t, I saw it as brand awareness. One of the biggest issues now is ensuring influencers have a real following and haven’t purchased their followers/likes. Social Blade is a handy tool I was using for a while to determine if an influencer - or a competitor - had bought their followers, but they’ve made some changes, and I’m not sure it still provides useful data. Over the course of working with influencers, I’ve become a lot more picky about who I send product to. I’ve never paid to work with an influencer, and I don’t plan to in the foreseeable future, but I’ll continue to send product to those who it makes sense to work with.

Jessica Kizovski Founder and Lead Formulator, Veriphy

The exposure that influencers have provided has led to conversations with buyers and other retailers. It has also dramatically increased our social media following, which has ultimately lead to more sales. For new brands starting out, I would suggest starting by contacting local influencers as they are willing to help indie brands out for no cost aside from a product set. Don’t focus on influencers who charge per post unless it is an opportunity you cannot turn down. Those influencers can come later in your brand development as you have more marketing money to spend.

Jules Founder, Deco Miami

The influencer market has completely changed the idea of word-of-mouth marketing, and my 2018 social media goal has been to find that effect again. I respect the influencer hustle, but I’m not at place where I can pay for exposure without any promise of an ROI. Thus, the key for me isn’t to focus on influencers, but to make my existing customers and social media followers love my brand so much that they want to share it with others. It’s a great investment to me to make my customers my influencers. Dive into the Glossier Instagram communities if you want to see this strategy at work.

If you have a question you’d like Beauty Independent to ask beauty entrepreneurs, please send it to editor@beautyindependent.com.