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I’m not famous. I have no talent. And I’m not creating the kind of social media content you’re probably used to seeing.
Back in the early days of Twitter and Instagram, I created accounts with names like @Travel, @Automotive and @Fashion. I owned those accounts because I claimed them first.
But I didn’t sell them—I brought them to life. I posted a steady diet of the most enticing news and opinions on each topic. I lived up to the account names, and the accounts grew. They ultimately expanded to a total of more than 30 million followers.
And I was going, “All right, look. How do I make money off this?”
Sell the idea
It might seem bold, but I went to Marriott. I said, “I have the @Travel name on Twitter and I have a million followers near your hotels. Now, let’s do a deal together.” It worked and I started posting sponsored messages from Marriott on @Travel.
That’s when everything accelerated around me. I found sponsors for my entire network of accounts. Then, some friends’ accounts. I realized that I was doing these six-figure deals, but I really had almost no tech at the time. There was no validation of how to pick the best people to post a brand’s message. At the time, it’s only because I earned @Travel that I could say I had “travel” followers.
We needed validation, so we needed data, so we needed investors.
Our initial investors were the guys from Skype—they’ve been tremendous. Now, we have many investors and we’ve raised more than $14 million. It’s all been one lily pad to the next.
We founded Influential, a social media influencer company. Influential connects brands with the biggest opinion leaders on social media.
For instance, we might connect a cosmetics company with a Twitter personality who matches their brand image and has an army of followers reading and retweeting her posts. The company gives her a suggested post, like “Loving my new lipstick.” She posts it, maybe with a picture of herself in the lipstick (and a tag such as #ad), then they pay her. She stays true to her theme, and the company connects with a lot of new people.
Show the numbers
We can show the demographics of people who connect with a sponsored post. That’s what makes us really different—and valuable: Our focus on the numbers. We are data driven and we can show a campaign’s impact in key numbers like demographics and engagement.
Engagement is a measure of how many retweets, likes and comments you get versus your total follower count. I’ve seen other companies pay celebrities to do sponsored posts. But the Kim Kardashians of the world have very low engagement. The true digital stars were born and bred creating content, and made their notoriety from scratch by being relatable and having tremendous engagement. We formed an invitation-only network of more than 15,000 influencers, with a total of 5 billion followers, and we only invite people in the top one percent of engagement.
Redefine the market
Within our network, we look at numbers again to match influencers to brands. We use IBM Watson personality analysis to score people and brands on the “Big Five” personality traits. So, it’s about finding the right actual person that looks, feels and says the things the brand cares about, so sponsored posts feel natural and get great engagement. In fact, after using IBM Watson Personality Insights, we’ve seen sponsored posts outperform the influencer’s organic day-to-day content—that’s like watching TV and fast-forwarding to the commercials.
Almost every Fortune 500 company is now saying, “I can no longer accept the ‘celebrity talent’ model, where someone has a million followers and I don’t know whether they have engagement, if they have the right audience, or if they’re a fit for my brand.” We’ve changed the market so that now our competitors—even talent agencies—are either trying to buy us or trying to figure out their own technology. It’s because we came out of nowhere, and changed what was a freewheeling market into a data-first market. Now it’s about the numbers.
For more, watch the IBM interview with Ryan Detert below.