What Brands should consider when selecting an influencer

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loot-crate

With the rapid growth in social media and content marketing, there is greater interest than ever among brands to embark on “influencer” campaigns. Recently, I participated in a panel discussion at Content 360 in Singapore where this topic was discussed.

Here are a few things for brands to consider before working with influencers:

  1. Look beyond the numbers

Very often influencers are shortlisted by brands purely because of their follower numbers. But the value of an influencer isn’t strictly a numbers game. Take a look at who I follow on Instagram: There’s @PatLaw, a personal friend and founder of social media agency Goodstuph, by many measures a prominent figure in the Singapore media & marketing scene. She has over 7,000 followers. And then there’s @dreamerthepeskywestie with nearly 15,000 followers. Dreamer is a dog.

Brands should look into the demographic makeup of an influencer’s audience as well as their geographic origins. A Singapore-based brand might find an influencer with over 20,000 followers exciting, without realizing that half of her followers might be from other countries. Unfortunately, platforms like Instagram don’t always natively offer such analytics capabilities. Consider using an analytics tool such as that offered by a company like Popular Chips.*

  1. Influencers are also brands

One way to evaluate an influencer is to think of them as a brand in their own right. In which case, the influencer is evaluated in the same way a brand manager considers a partnership with another brand. Does your brand benefit from being associated with that brand? Does that brand’s reputation bring benefits or risks to your brand? Does that brand have sway over an audience that you consider valuable yet currently has  no interest in your brand?

GujiThe strongest brand partnerships are when two brands bring distinct audiences together. For example, when LEGO partnered with Star Wars, this bridged generations of both parents and children. Now parents (who were probably kids themselves when Star Wars first opened in 1977) can relive their childhood with their children, forming a stronger bond than ever through LEGO. That’s the kind of value an influencer should be able to lend your brand.

That’s not to say you need to spend millions of dollars in a partnership of the LEGO-Star Wars scale. Recently Caltex partnered with Mediacorp’s Channel 8 by simply having their mascot Caltex Boy appear next to Channel 8’s family-friendly mascot Guji-Guji in a Facebook post.

  1. Define the influencer’s role in the marketing funnel

Wowed by numbers, many marketers simply look at influencers as a way to get cheap reach. This kind of thinking is naïve and just plain sloppy. A good marketer knows his budget needs to cover the whole marketing funnel, from awareness to consideration to conversion, and knows the role each channel plays within.

Is your influencer marketing really just about expanding your reach into new markets? The value could also come from giving your brand more credibility within an audience that would not have thought of you otherwise. (In other words, impacting the consideration part of the funnel.) Example: by partnering with Youtube influencers like Pewdiepie and Mr Sunday Movies, “comic-con in a box” geek swag company Loot Crate built instant credibility with the video game / scifi / fantasy / comic book crowd.

Knowing which part of the funnel your influencer plays will be crucial in measuring results. For example, tracking clicks from an influencer’s post may not give you a dramatic increase in transactions (especially in comparison to other channels like paid search). But with the right tracking you could discover that a follower of your influencer is 20% more likely to convert because of this new brand association.

Watch comedian Hossan Leong take over Singtel’s Twitter account in 2013 influencer campaign 

  1. Values matter

Lastly, if values matter to brands then your choice of influencer should also be about values. Your brand should stand for something…how does that sit with what the influencer stands for? Do the influencer’s values complement or reinforce your own brand’s values? Or does she contradict them?

Arguably the most high-profile example of an influencer campaign gone wrong is Pepsi’s brief but damaging romp with reality TV star Kendall Jenner. Pepsi was clearly trying to align itself with the new, emerging political awareness in the US among young people. Instead, they came across as simply capitalizing on the movement to sell more soda pop. While one could argue that Pepsi got many things wrong with the execution of this campaign, its choice of influencer in this case could have made a big difference. What values does Kendall Jenner represent? Does her reputation include speaking out on political issues? How would it have helped Pepsi’s credibility if they had instead selected an influencer who was a known political activist?

This is also why I’m not a fan of buying “influence” through influencer networks. While a brand partnership requires meticulous research and evaluation, an influencer network acts on your brand’s behalf with the precision of a grenade thrown into a crowded market on a Sunday. How do you know that every single “influencer” in this network offers the right amount of synergy with your brand? Critically, how many of them have the potential to damage your brand by sheer association?

Working with influencers should be treated with the respect and gravity of any other brand alliance. The exercise can be very tricky but also vastly rewarding. Marketers should consider the risk as an opportunity to stretch your brand beyond its current constraints, potentially delivering value well beyond what a regular paid media campaign can deliver.

*Full disclosure: Popular Chips is a Singapore-based startup and part of Mediacorp’s Mediapreneur incubator programme.

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Why I’m giving up Facebook and going back to newspapers

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If you were blindsided by the results of the US elections, it’s probably because you relied on your social media news feed for your news. 

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I woke up this morning fully expecting to watch the election returns from the United States show a strong mandate for Hillary Clinton. But if you were like me, by midday (Asia time / +8 GMT) you had the biggest shock of your life as you realized that Donald Trump was pulling away to victory.

This election was a hard reminder that we all live in our respective social media echo chambers. I never seriously considered the possibility that Trump might actually win because of what I had seen and read daily in my Facebook news feed in the months leading up to the election. I read with glee the news coverage and polls describing Clinton’s gains. I relished the anti-Trump discourse of my friends in the US. I laughed at the nightly endless stream of comedians making jokes as if Trump had already lost. But the truth was, just like for so many of us who were incredulous at the prospect of a Trump win, the widespread support that Trump enjoyed was mostly invisible to me.

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This was me accepting the bitter truth of a Trump victory

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to demonize Facebook nor blame them for my own myopia. Facebook algorithms are simply doing what they were designed to do: display content on your news feed you like or are inclined to interact with while hiding the stuff you are less likely to enjoy. Facebook tells me I have over a thousand “friends” but when I look closely, my news feed is populated by the same two dozen or so people.

The truth is, I’ve been lazy. Facebook has replaced the role that the front page of the daily newspaper or the evening news program used to play. I’ve relied on my daily Facebook habit to keep me informed to the point where my news feed has been my — apparently extremely narrow — window to the world. I realize that mistake and here’s what I’m doing about it:

First, I’m going to start purging news sites from my Facebook feed. (Click on that downward arrow on the upper right of a post and “Hide all from [news source].”) Facebook’s algorithm will no longer curate the news for me.

Second, I’m going back to reading newspapers. (Or, more precisely, news websites.) I’m bookmarking several news sites that I aim to check daily. The selection is designed to offer as broad a view as possible, including sources whose political views I don’t agree with: not only CNN but also Fox News, not only the New York Times but also the Drudge Report.

Finally, I’m actually stepping away from Facebook for a while. I’ve removed its app from my smartphone. I’m going to stop making it my the first stop. Facebook is still the best way of keeping track of my friends and relatives from all over the world so I won’t be abandoning it completely but I will be drastically reducing the amount of time I spend with it.

That might be disappointing for my friends who tell me they enjoy the media and opinions I regularly share (and to paraphrase the President-elect of the United States of America, I don’t mean this in a braggadocious way) but if you want to know what’s on my mind…you’ll just have to find out in person.

Social Media Tech and Philippine Politics

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What to expect when you frequently criticize President Duterte’s government on Twitter

If you follow politics in the Philippines today, you will find a country deeply divided along political lines. Much of the conflict centers on how you feel about the extremely popular but controversial President Rodrigo Duterte. Regardless of where you stand in the political spectrum, one side accuses the other of manipulating social media using avatars, bots or “influencers” bought and paid for by funds furthering political agendas.

Now people who follow this blog know that I never write about politics (though my political views are no secret). I write this not to make a political statement but rather to share an observation from a digital media professional on the role that social media and technology play in modern politics.

I use Twitter to share media and, on occasion, air my sentiments towards developments in the Philippines, the country of my birth. Recently I tweeted the following:

Shortly thereafter, I noticed that my Twitter handle was added to a number of lists labeled “Duterte” by suspicious Twitter handles…

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Why should I consider them suspicious? After all, wouldn’t Duterte interest many people in the Philippines and all over the world? But what caught my attention was the similarity between these accounts…

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Now perhaps the Philippines political news followers’ proclivity for big cats is coincidental. Let’s assume for a moment the correlation between Duterte followers and CS Lewis fans is perfectly innocent…

I did notice that another similarity with these accounts: each had an unusually high number of tweets. For example, “rick” or @rickrick888 has tweeted over 415,000 times since his account was created in March 2009.

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How unusual is that? In order to accomplish this feat, @rickrick888 would have to tweet 153.4 times a day. That’s well over the average. (There are about 500 million tweets a day made by 300 million active twitter accounts, or an average of only about 1.6 tweets per day.) That either means @rickrick888 has been tweeting 8.5 times every waking hour (assuming a human needs to sleep at least six hours a day) for the past seven and a half years…or that “rick” isn’t human at all.

The final clue is the tweets made by these accounts themselves. Let’s take a look at some of “Bobbit” or @bobbit2266’s tweets…

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Notice how his tweets have been truncated? That indicates these tweets were not typed into Twitter but rather generated by another source, such as a Facebook page or other third party application using Twitter’s APIs. This is common in digital marketing and is often used by brands to automate social content distribution. (They were truncated because the original content exceeded Twitter’s 140-character cap.) That means either @bobbit2266 is really sloppy and doesn’t care about aesthetics…or that these tweets were not entered by a human but by software.

Of course the real question is: what is the motivation behind these accounts and their recent move to monitor my Twitter activity? Have I been put on some kind of “watch” list? Should I brace myself for a troll storm or cyber attack? Or maybe whoever is behind these accounts are simply interested in my dog, whose photos I frequently post.

Either way, this proves to me that there is some truth to the suspicion that social media machinations are actively at work in the Philippine political scene. For what end, who can really say?

Celebrate your Champions

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When driving digital transformation within your organization, it’s important to recognize your top internal advocates

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Driving a shift in company culture is no small task, especially in companies with long established ways of working.

This year, Mediacorp began working with Avado and Google to bring employees into Squared Online, an over 20-week online course in digital marketing. This month, the first 22 students from Mediacorp graduated so we decided to throw this first batch of digital advocates a small graduation ceremony, including a small breakfast spread with wine & cheese.

When driving digital transformation in your organization, your early converts are among your best advocates. These are the first employees who have stepped forward to embrace the challenge and blaze a trail. They will be your first internal champions, the ones who will win over others and infect them with their enthusiasm. They are the ones who now speak a common language and will incorporate what they’ve learned in day-to-day business operations.

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Mediacorp’s first batch of “Squares”: early adapters of digital transformation

Events like this, although relatively modest, help to foster a sense of community among these early adaptors. Recognizing their accomplishments and applauding their contributions, not just among their peers but with the senior leadership team, is essential.

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Mediacorp’s first batch of “Squares” not only finished the course but helped drive the March cohort (the programme’s first in APAC) well over of completion and performance averages set in the UK. By the end of the year, over 50 Mediacorp staff from manager- to senior leadership-level from across 13 business units will have gone through Squared Online training. This signifies a significant investment for the company and is yet still one of the first steps towards full digital transformation.

 

 

When Obama and the PM appear on your UGC social media campaign

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4 small victories people working in Social Media Marketing will appreciate

Working in Social Media can be thankless, especially when you work for brands that sometimes attract negativism or trolls. But every now and then, the digital marketing gods throw you a bone or two, making everything worthwhile.

160804 #ThisIsUs screen grabMediacorp is currently running a campaign to celebrate Singapore’s National Day. Instead of attempting to interpret national identity, as many brands do at this time of the year, Mediacorp decided to let ordinary Singaporeans define what makes up their Singapore, using user-generated-content (UGC) and the hashtag #ThisIsUs. The campaign is running across the network’s television, radio and online properties, with the participation of on-air personalities and artistes. UGC content is posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and then aggregated on the campaign page thisisus.sg.

It’s been quite a challenge for the team. Much time has been spent either on location shooting video content (workdays and weekends), huddled around conference calls with the agency or in the campaign “command center” surrounded by monitors displaying dashboards from campaign management and listening tools.

But there have been some rewards as well. And for anyone who puts together campaigns like this for a living, here’s a list of familiar triumphs that keep social media marketers motivated.

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Channel NewsAsia presenter Steve Chia shares family moments for #ThisIsUs

  1. When your colleagues get on board. In large organizations, people can easily operate in silos, oblivious to what other departments are doing. It also sometimes feels like your own colleagues are the most jaded and reluctant to embrace your campaign. So when you start to see contributions coming from within the company, it feels like a pat on the back.  It’s especially gratifying when that participation includes a willingness to share photos of their own families.
  2. When senior management gets behind you. Mid-campaign, the team got a shock — I mean, pleasant surprise — when Mediacorp CEO Shaun Seow dropped into the command center at lunch time to ask how things were going. Later, highlights of the campaign-in-progress as well as photos of the command center  were shared with the staff during a town hall session. A simple gesture but it can mean a lot to a team when they know their work matters and that senior leadership has taken a genuine interest in their activities.160804 #ThisIsUs screen grab2
  3. When you see real diversity in the contributions from users. Playing with UGC is a roll of the dice. Even the most innocuous campaigns unexpectedly incur the public’s ire. And on the flip-side, a campaign that is met by indifference can be equally devastating to a marketing team. But when you get a great mix of content in photos, videos or even animated gifs, when you see such a rich variety of images of kids, elderly people, families, social gatherings, beloved pets, everyday street scenes, landmarks, etc that’s when it starts to feel like magic.
  4. When really famous people show up in the content. No, not those celebrities. Mediacorp is, after all, a media & entertainment network and so some of the country’s most well known
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    Hanging with the PM

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    The POTUS photobomb

    faces are in the company’s employ. The victory is when people you wouldn’t even dream of appear in your UGC stream. In this case, a Singaporean in the US posted photos from Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s state visit on Instagram using the #ThisIsUs hashtag. Imagine our surprise when not only did the PM appear in a photo but so did US President Barack Obama!

If you’re working in social media, hopefully you’ve experienced all four in the course of your career. Are there any other victories that I’ve I missed?

 

Purple Reign

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Playing

Like many people, I was saddened to hear the sudden, unexpected news that music legend Prince had passed away weeks ago. And like many, I tried to assuage this grief by listening to his music, only to be reminded that very few of his work is available on streaming services like Spotify. His crusade for artists’ rights and stand against streaming services where (he felt) artists didn’t get the revenues they deserved is, well, legendary.  Even on Youtube, you were lucky to find the rare Prince live performance.

And so I turned to my modest vinyl collection only to realize that all I had of Prince was an old copy of his “Purple Rain” album that I had purchased from some second-hand record store. (It sounded terrible.)

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Well, thankfully, there’s eBay. I decided that I would do what (probably) Prince would have wanted: if you wanted to listen to his music, you had to go and buy his goddamn record. And that’s what I did.

Two weeks later and what I scored has finally arrived: the 12″ maxi single version of “Purple Rain” from 1984. And it’s purple. And it’s in pristine condition. And it’s beautiful.

Thank you for several lifetimes’ worth of fantastic music, Prince. Long live your Purple Reign.

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Promote the Most Important Brand Of All: Your Own

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For my parents’ generation, career advice was relatively straightforward: get a high-paying job with a large, stable company and you’re pretty much set up for life. Even today, this is still considered conventional wisdom, especially in Asia where large conglomerates dominate several industries. I once had one of those “stable” jobs, a marketing management position with a multinational company called Nokia, at the height of its dominance as the world’s largest mobile handset manufacturer. We all know what’s happened to Nokia since then.

The truth is, there is no such thing as a stable job anymore. Last year the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported the average employee tenure for technology companies is three years, or less than two years in advanced markets like the UK. (The same report quoted that the average employee tenure at tech giant Google was only 1.1 years.) Whatever we once believed as the covenant between employee-employer is now a thing of the past. There is every likelihood that a marketer, either by choice or by circumstance, will be moving from one employer to another every few years. Yet the average marketer still neglects to look after the most important brand of all: his own personal brand.

Author Reid Hoffman goes one step further, arguing that one should manage his career as if it were a start-up (The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, available on Amazon). A simpler way to start is to ask yourself: What can we learn about how the world’s biggest brands are managed and how can they be applied to your career as a marketer?

Great brands are unique

What is your personal brand’s unique selling proposition? Identify what it is in your field that you specialize in. It’s not enough on your CV or LinkedIn profile to say that you manage ad agencies and are responsible for CRM. Instead specify how you specialize in transforming traditional marketing organizations into digital marketing organizations. Talk about how you have a track record for gleaning new marketing strategies from analyzing available data. Share how you have taken many US brands and made them relevant across multiple Asian cultures.

Recount your past successes and, in all likelihood, recurring themes will emerge. Stick with those themes and elaborate on them through blog posts, drawing on examples from your career or from your observations in the industry. Volunteer to speak on these topics at conferences or media interviews. A powerful brand’s uniqueness echoes across all forms of media. Your personal brand should be no different.

Great brands are authentic

The world’s most powerful brands are true to themselves, credible, consistent and never claim to be more than they are. A major Singapore company was recently caught paying bloggers to praise its services and malign the competitors’. Whenever a brand stoops to such inauthentic behavior, being found out is inevitable.

In a competitive job market, many fall to the temptation to overstate one’s qualifications or claim understanding of topics on which one actually has limited experience. This is unnecessary. Your own career offers a wealth of lessons and experiences to draw from. Authors are constantly advised, “Write what you know.” The same consideration must be taken in defining your own personal brand.

Great brands stand for something

Power brands have values and are not afraid to express them, even if it means alienating existing customers. Much has been written about Starbucks’ stance on diversity and marriage equality, which caused some conservative Americans to call for a boycott of the brand. CEO Howard Schultz admits publicly, “Not every decision is an economic decision.” The move may have been unpopular in some sectors but it also forged stronger bonds with a core set of loyal brand advocates.

Brand loyalty is built when a customer decides that a brand shares similar values. Similarly, as a brand, you should never shy away from having an opinion on something you feel strongly about. Too many Marketing blogs and social media posts are full of politically correct, often-repeated, safe content. They are also dull and indistinguishable. If you want your personal brand to stand out, take a stand on issues and passionately defend them.

Great brands form alliances

Apple Pay x MasterCard, Spotify x Uber, Adidas x Yohji Yamamoto, LEGO x Star Wars…great brands aren’t afraid to collaborate with other brands. Such associations can bridge a brand towards a different audience, others can nudge the brand away from its roots towards new areas.

In building your own personal brand, make sure to form relationships with others with similar domain expertise. If there is someone whose career you admire, reach out and meet over coffee. If you are in similar fields there should be no shortage of things to talk about. There’s no limit to what opportunities may result. This is where social networks liked LinkedIn can also be a powerful tool.

Now more than ever, your career needs to stand for much more than simply which company you currently work for. Identify your career’s strengths and start putting together a strategy for how to grow your own personal brand.

A version of this article was published in Marketing magazine’s January-February 2016 issue.

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