When it comes to having an effect over what products and services people purchase, the power of word of mouth, or WOM (thanks, marketing acronyms) is unmatched, even in the B2B space. But while it’s simple to understand that human nature compels us to trust those we are aligned with to help inform our opinions, harnessing the power of influencer marketing requires more finesse.
Although influencer marketing is growing faster than digital ads, (according to Forbes), it doesn’t mean that influencer marketing is easy to ‘get right.’ You need to locate the right influencer, with the right following, at the right price – and then manage that relationship properly, in order to reap the benefits of your campaign.
Learn about Influencer Marketing from a Social Media Influencer’s Perspective
Ally Pintucci is a content creator, storyteller and social connector who has worked with several high-profile brands on influencer campaigns via her social channels, with a special focus on Instagram.
She’s also featured on Ep. 25 of Sound Stories – Contributing to a Brand’s Story: The Role of Social Media Influencers.
In this Q&A, Ally shares insight into how companies can find the best influencer to align with their objectives, and how to manage the working relationship with those they have hired to help spread word of their offerings.
Note: You can also listen in on an interview with Ally on the Sound Stories Podcast – perfect for getting tips and advice when you’re on your daily commute.
Q. Tell us about your personal brand and how your role as an influencer came to be?
A. My background started in sales and operations before growing into marketing and creative. I was working for a travel company out in Toronto, Ontario (Canada), and with that my love for travel just took off. It became my number one priority and passion.
After quitting my job of 6 years, I went on a 6-month trip and decided to bring a “proper” camera to see what I could capture. After posting a few photos, I had someone reach out and say that they would love to buy a print, and thought, obviously I need a website! So I made a website and then no one bought anything [laughs]. That was the moment that created a shift; something that sparked curiosity inside of me. Over the last couple of years my brand grew, as I began sharing a portfolio of adventures paired with a lot of self-discovery.
I then created a mission on my social channels, which was, essentially, to challenge the concept of social media always appearing as a highlight reel. On the public side, there were a lot of comments from people saying that they loved my life and wished they could do something similar, but internally for me there was a lot of confusion, and even depression
I wanted to have meaningful conversations, and through vulnerability, and posting honestly, my social channel really took off. I gathered 20,000 followers in my first year, brands began reaching out to me, and I started taking a stand for my personal brand.
Q. When you say you want to ‘take a stand for your brand,’ how does that translate into what people see on your social media posts?
A. I didn’t want to just be an influencer, I actually hate that word. I wanted to keep integrity on my feed. My social media is first and foremost storytelling and content creation. Collaborating with brands that actually align with my lifestyle is secondary and a bonus.
I don’t want to be categorized as an ‘influencer,’ because I think there’s a bit of a stigma around it – for instance, the belief that you buy followers, or that you’re a “instagram model,” or you’re just trying to accumulate numbers. While that may be some people’s mission, that viewpoint is superficial and isn’t based on what I’m representing.
Who I’m trying to build myself out to be is [someone] aligned with quality content.
I put the effort into planning something out and thinking of creative and innovative ways to help myself or brands [I represent] to get their message across.
Q. On the topic of numbers – what metrics would you say are important for you to report on as an influencer?
A. Marketing has changed so much. Before, you relied on newspaper and billboards and print ads, but with that old form of advertising, there was no way of measuring its effectiveness. You’d put all this money into advertising and have no idea how many people were looking or what the ROI was on it – but with digital there’s a big shift.
It can get tricky going into social media, but a big, and important, metric is engagement via conversation, versus ‘likes.’
Q. With engagement and conversation in mind, how can brands ensure that this metric is met?
A. I think Instagram has changed so much – it’s not the same platform as when it originally launched. It’s not instant, it’s not chronological. Plus, some users are switching to business accounts, and you’re now finding if you’re not paying to play, you’re not getting the same organic follower growth, exposure or reach any longer. This is why it’s so important to build a brand, stick to being authentic, create quality content, and know what your why is. This helps create conversation and ways for people to engage.
It’s not just about posting a photo and saying, “Hey, here’s my promo code.” [As an influencer], I won’t even entertain that idea. If someone wants to buy something they’ll go do it. They don’t need a code. They want a connection to the message and/or the image.
Essentially, brands need to create quality content, emotional connection and quality in their visual storytelling.
Q. How do you know when you’ve found the right partnership with a brand who wants to hire you?
A. My process involves understanding what the campaign actually entails and seeing the creative brief. For a great alignment and fit, it involves a reflection on my everyday life and asking whether it authentically aligns with my vision, mission, values and mantra.
I think it comes down to the branding and creating authentic content. A solid partnership is really about tailoring something specific to that brand and how you can work together
As an example, if a brand reached out to me about a tooth whitening product, even though I do use those products – my own brand is actually about outdoors and travel, not beauty or oral health, in that sense. I’ve developed a visual aesthetic, and it has to align with that aesthetic, so that brand partnership might not be the right fit. So a teeth whitening pic on top of a mountain wouldn’t be an authentic alignment.
But take a company like Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), which stands for values like leaving no trace. They encourage you to go outside and explore, but also leave places better than when you found them.
As someone who also encourages people to get outside, I fall into that outdoor influencer market – and therefore, that offers an awesome way for MEC and I to align. I can place their gear in what I’m doing, and I can authentically sell a story, instead of selling a product. The focus is the story and the product is something that authentically fits in there, and it’s an integral piece of the puzzle.
Q. How does the business relationship work between influencers and brands? Are they reaching out to you – or are you reaching out to them?
A. It’s both.
I do a lot of outreach with my media kit and landing pages via my website showing brands what I’m about. It’s as simple as a message saying, I love what you’re about, and if we align and there’s an opportunity to collaborate, then I’d love to have a conversation and start building a relationship with you.”
However, I also have brands reach out to me either directly, or via an agency.
Q. How does the posting process work – for example, how do you decide what image to post, when to post it, and how the storyline or brand will fit in?
A. I’m always thinking of both the aesthetic as well as the story behind what’s in front of me.
First I look at the image I’m posting, confirming that it’s a good fit and committing to posting it.
Second, is strategically thinking through the story behind it. Sometimes I have no story about the image itself, but the visual could spark an emotion or insight, making me reflect on something that happened recently. I’m always jotting down notes and I’m always aware of what’s around me when I’m traveling, wandering, and looking at writing on the wall in a bathroom stalls. I’m always seeking inspiration from everything around me.
For any brand I take on, there’s a storyboarding process for what the post is and why I’m going to share it. This is all pre-planned. How and when it rolls out depends on the deadline.
My background as a Social Media Manager has made me adept at the process of planning out content months in advance – but even then, it doesn’t have to be that structured in order to work a brand in.
Q. What advice do you have for brands and agencies looking to find the right influencer?
A. When a brand finds a person with a following, they should also be looking at how people are engaging with them. Audiences can see what’s authentic, and what’s bought – and brands need to make sure that the influencer hasn’t purchased their following, too. For instance, are people engaging with their posts? If so, what are they saying? Is it quality conversation and engagement?
In short: Focus on the person, what their engagement is like, how their audience speaks, other brands they’ve worked with and the quality of content they’re creating. That will give you a great sense of whether or not there’s an alignment.
Q. Are there any emerging trends in influencer marketing?
A. I think the shift is going away from individuals with 100K followers and focusing instead on micro-influencers, who have a smaller following but a higher engagement rate.
For instance, my personal Facebook is just under 5,000 friends and if I get a few 100 likes on my photos, then it’s actually a strong channel, with very intimate connections, and as such, a great way to facilitate world of mouth.
What’s better? Huge following with a 1% engagement, or a smaller following with 7 or 10%?
Q. Advice for those who want to become influencers on Instagram – whether that’s an individual or a brand?
A. You need to create a brand bible for yourself or your company. Know what your voice is, who you are speaking to and what your aesthetic is.
When you open up someone’s first 9 squares on their Instagram page, you should know what they’re about – so this is where planning your posting schedule becomes really effective. You can look at a one-off photo and each individually is beautiful, but when you look at that first page of your Instagram feed, it needs to communicate your aesthetic overall. It’s so important to put time into selecting each photo. It’s your art and you should be confident in each one.
Also, as my brand is more persona, I’ve learned that my following appreciates, accepts and encourages vulnerability. I started off sharing a very personal experience – including how I was feeling and what I was struggling with. The ‘why’ for me was to bridge that gap of Instagram always being a highlight reel. One of the first vulnerable posts I’d ever created revolved around a crushing experience, and someone commented how happy they were to see that, despite the ‘perfect’ looking photos, there was still someone behind them living a real life, with all the ups and downs.
That’s so vivid in my brain because I’m happy to facilitate this conversation and encourage people to feel welcome. I wanted to create a community of people who feel safe to speak. That’s also my brand and not everyone will have the same goal – however, in general, people can appreciate the realness, the rawness and the vulnerability.
Q. When it comes to Instagram, what’s the right amount of text to include on your post?
A. It really depends on your brand and how your audience responds.
There are opportunities to pull in content from other properties of yours as well – for instance, If I put out a blog, I’ll be looking for a catching quote, asking ‘What’s the main point?’ and ‘What’s going to get people thinking?’
After you try a few things and test them out, you’ll know what people like the most and what they dislike.
No matter the length of the copy, it should fall in line with why you exist and what you’re trying to facilitate.
Why else are you here if you’re not causing people to think?
Learn More About Ally Pintucci
Content Creator. Story Teller. Social Connector.
Ally is a passion fueled adventure seeker whose goal is to creatively tell stories about what motivates her to continue to seek new adventures and live a full life. She dives in to work with brands to develop creative and innovative strategies that authentically pushes their vision and ideas out to the world through incredible content.
Through her personal work on her social channels, Ally’s goal is to get people outside their comfort zone by inspiring curiosity and showing empathy via storytelling and photography.