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Influencers, content and content promotion with Michael Brenner

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Andy Crestodina: Welcome everybody. You are here joining us for the SEMrush Influencer Marketing Webinar. My name is Andy Crestodina, and I'm here with a very special guest, Michael Brenner.

Michael Brenner: Good morning.

How Influencer Marketing Goes Beyond Social Media

Andy Crestodina: Before we jump in, I have some slides to suggest how to get greater value and search value from an influencer marketing effort. The search versus social side.

I often do like a mini five-minute presentation here at the beginning. I'm going to show an example of how influencer marketing goes beyond just social media. A lot of what people do in influencer marketing is sometimes called sort of “ego bait”. You collaborate with someone famous hoping that they share. When they share, then everything goes viral, right? No, not so much.

So here's a couple of slides to suggest how to get greater value and search value from an influencer marketing effort. The search versus social side. What is the greatest value from an influencer marketing collaboration?

I have this hypothesis that the social media metrics or the content marketing metrics that are easiest to find are the least valuable, and the content marketing metrics that are the hardest to find are the most valuable. There’s an inverse correlation between the visibility of a metric and its value.

So although we tend to prioritize and overvalue these super visible metrics like followers, and shares, and likes and comments, those actually aren't the best outcomes from social media. Because of a cognitive bias called the heuristic availability, we tend to overvalue things that we can see. So a lot of people work with influencers hoping for shares even though these things further down, right: traffic, and conversion, and link building, and authority; actually have greater, more important value.

Here's an example of how I'd created a piece of content and it got shared by a famous account. Look, Mom, Google shared me. Google Analytics has like a million followers, and they occasionally share some things that I wrote. And here you can see is an actual screenshot of a tweet that they shared, and it has hundreds of interactions or clicks, 32 retweets, 79 likes.

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So this was a great day for my marketing, right? The actual outcome from that is something like 160 visits. That's the real world measurable impact of that marketing action, and activity, and outcome.

So I asked myself, "Are we just overvaluing the things that we can easily see?" And then maybe, "What is an influencer marketing campaign that would have the highest value?"

I work with a dairy brand called Cabot. They do influencer marketing, and I wondered what would be maybe an influencer campaign that would be more effective for them. So, of course, I go to SEMrush, and I put them in, and I look for things that they're ranking for, or rather things that they're almost ranking for.

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They do recipes, so sauce related recipes where they're ranking not number one or number two. I sort them by the volume or demand or search volume for that phrase, and I find that there's actually a cheese sauce. They're ranking number three for cheese sauce, almost at the very top, right?

Could I improve that ranking? Knowing that search position and click-through rates are an exponential curve and that a little bit higher ranking could lead to a lot more traffic, how could we rank higher for cheese sauce recipes? Tens of thousands of people per month search for that, right? There'd be a lot more upside than just a few hundred clicks from social media.

I'm going to use a different tool here. This is Moz, which shows me that they have some page authority according to the Moz bar, but very few links. No websites have ever linked to this URL, zero linking root demands, but it's an awesome piece of content.

Creating Durable SEO Benefits Through Influencer Marketing

So if I were to find influencers, and here's a list from BuzzSumo of people who relevant for cooking and people who are bloggers, in other words, they create content. I could get that durable search benefit by working with them to have them actually create a piece of content with us together. So although they might have lots of followers, I think it's the SEO benefit that would have a greater impact.

So when I think about that, how could I incentivize these people to create content together with me? I get ideas such as a cheese sauce cook-off. I'm going to get five bloggers to create cheese sauce recipes with me. We're all going to post these things together. We're all going to link back to each other. We're all going to see who can make the best cheese sauce.

It's a creative idea that would lead to more durable value. They say a share is temporary, a link is forever, not exactly, but ... influencer marketing can be more about than just about sharing. Let's not overvalue likes and comments. Let's collaborate in ways that build things that refer to each other and lead to more durable value. You can imagine how even a few links to that URL could lead to higher rankings, and how that could lead to tens of thousands of visits instead of just 150 or so from a share.

Are we overvaluing the things we can see?

Michael Brenner: So I love this topic. And actually, I think you're absolutely right. I don't know that it's necessarily that we overvalue. I think it was inferred in your data, but it's easy to get so we latch onto the stuff that's easy to get.

It's easy for a content marketer maybe to say, "Hey look, I got 200 shares." It's harder to ask maybe your analytics team at a large enterprise what the Google analytics are on that piece of content. So, I think that's why we often tend to over analyze it or overweight the importance of it. I also think that it's just we all have egos. Like you told your mom about Google Analytics sharing-

Andy Crestodina: Oh, I cried. I printed it and put it on my refrigerator.

Michael Brenner: Exactly. I don't say we have egos in a bad way. It's human nature, and I think it's important that we understand it. It's also interesting, and I could talk for hours just on the topic of the lack of correlation, which you showed, but I think it's true overall, just the lack of correlation between social shares and search traffic.

And I actually say that social shares really have no value from (both) traffic and a business perspective. However, I do think... there are tools like BuzzSumo that can tell us what is engaging with our audience, and there's a quality score that we can infer. It's kind of like a proxy for quality.

So yeah, I think you positioned it exactly the right way. Success shouldn't be social shares. I think it certainly should be organic search traffic because that's earning something that we can actually value in a business.

Andy Crestodina: Well, social shares ... I like how you put that. It correlates, it's an indicator; it correlates with quality. One thing that it does for you is it tells you what headlines are performing, which is useful if you're promoting headlines anywhere, email marketing, or title tags in search, or anywhere. But yeah, you can't take shares to the bank.

So in influencer marketing, what do we take away from that? Is it foolish? Much of influencer marketing is like paid influencers on Instagram, which is all about just shares and engagement. I guess if you're a B2C brand, that gives you some visibility and brand visibility is one of your goals. So I think maybe are we cautioning marketers from doing expensive investment in paid influencer marketing when the only measurable impact is likes?

Michael Brenner: Absolutely. I mean I'm not going to tell L'Oreal that they shouldn't have the Kardashians talking about their products on Instagram. I'm sure that there's an equivalent media value to that relative to buying an ad on the Super Bowl or some sporting event around the world. But aside from equivalent media value, what is the value of Kim Kardashian talking about L'Oreal?

There's a spectrum, right? A lot of I think consumer brands are looking for a big name celebrity to share their product on Instagram, questionable business value. I think there's a lot of brands in the B2B and B2C space that are asking influencers to create content for them, which I think with your cheese sauce example maybe they're going to create great content that doesn't get any links.

I have never been asked by, in an influencer marketing program to create content on my own platform to link back to a brand's piece of content, outside of maybe some research.

So yeah, I do think there's a gap in influencer marketing programs asking their influencers to actually create on their own existing platforms with inbound links, absolutely.

Andy Crestodina: Right. Yeah.

I mean you're violating Google's spam policies by buying a link, but organic influencer marketing is not buying anything. It's a collaboration. I don't want to be spammy or sketchy about this at all, but the main point is that there are creative opportunities to collaborate in ways that incentivize co-creation of content that can lead to a more durable value because the social share really is just such a blip. It's just so short.

To take a quote from an influencer that mentioned you, even on social media, and use that on the homepage of your website or on a sales pitch for the product with like a celebrity endorsement. That's durable value because many people will see that whenever they visit that page.

Influencer Reach Versus Engagement

Andy Crestodina: I've got a bunch of questions for Michael, but let's take one here. Amanda Smith is asking, "Should we be looking for influencers that have paying customers and not just followers that might share?" What do you think?

Michael Brenner: Amanda, thanks for the question. I think it's really tough to answer that without the consumer versus B2B filter on it. I definitely think that if you're talking about a celebrity and it's a handbag or like I said, L'Oreal Maybelline eyeliner, for sure the people that follow Kim Kardashian are going to be buying eyeliner.

If you're in the B2B space, I think it's even more important because the buyers, they spend more. The average selling price of software is I think $80,000.

I do think you should look at the influencer's influence on the buying population as a factor. More so in the B2B space because of the average sale price of a purchase, but also on the consumer side as well.

Andy Crestodina: Yeah, I like that. Actually, that reminds me of influencer reach versus the influencer's trust and persuasion power. Someone who has a huge reach might be really good for B2C. We keep talking about Kim Kardashian. I actually don't even really know who she is.

I kind of know there is such a person, but I couldn't picture the face. In B2B it's really about, "Is this a Gartner or Forrester analyst?" Almost no one knows them, but their voice is so powerful among the actual decision-makers, so it's kind of a reach versus engagement in some way. There's some dynamic there.

We talked about contributions. Lee Odden was a guest on this show, and he mentioned you. He dropped your name, many people do. He said that you're a professional influencer, which is another way to put the work you do.

And that working with professional influencers is actually easier than working with people who rarely collaborate or contribute because you're so fast and responsive on the request. Are you prioritizing the contributions you're doing with friends and partners and brands? Do you budget time to collaborate with others?

Michael Brenner: First, I think you have to consider the source. Lee is a friend of ours and someone whose work I really respect. Even if he was a jerk, which he's the opposite of that. But even if he was, they do great work. He works with LinkedIn. He works with Marketo.

He works with some of the most influential brands in my, certainly in our industry. So when he calls me up, I'm honored to participate and add a quote to a piece of LinkedIn content, or Marketo, or whoever he's working with.

But to get to your question, I don't put blocks of time aside for PR necessarily. I get probably 10 requests a week for contributing in some fashion, and most of the ones that I get ... I try to respond to all of them.

What Makes For A Successful B2B Influencer Marketing Campaign?

Andy Crestodina: I think that we've got a question over here. Can you think of some good successful B2B influencer marketing campaigns?

Michael Brenner: One of the first thing we did when I was SAP. And for those of you who don't know, I built a content marketing platform at SAP, despite pretty tremendous amounts of cultural and corporate headwind. This is going back about six years, but it’s called the Digitalist Magazine, and it still exists.

One of the things we did early on was...big data was a topic that was just emerging at the time. SAP has a really big product in that space called SAP HANA.

So we were trying to figure out, "How do we get in to and start to gain traction with the influencers on the big data conversation? So we did a pretty common and maybe now overused sort of mechanism. We created a list, the top 50 people to follow on Twitter for #BigData.

What we found, pretty interestingly, was that they all shared it. It was one of the most popular traffic based articles. So again, this is 2012. I think there was more correlation to social shares to traffic than there is today. And in fact, BuzzSumo will show you that most brands are seeing a decline in social engagements.

But at the time, there weren't a lot of people doing lists. I think those influencers in an emerging space hadn't been given a lot of ego boost, and so we gave them that ego boost, and almost all of them shared it. And then we actually heard from a couple of them who said, "You know what? I'd actually love to contribute."

And so we actually reached out. We did an email outreach to all of them. What we found was the folks at the bottom of the list, like 40 to 50, they all wanted to contribute, and they wanted to do it without getting paid because they wanted to reach the top of the list. The folks at the top of the list all wanted to get paid, and that's why the ones at the bottom wanted to contribute.

So at the time when I started the site, we had 12 internal contributors. SAP now has 10,000 contributors on the platform. I think a lot of it has to do with following the model of recognizing experts, asking them to collaborate, asking if they want to contribute, not for money, but for free, and generating a content marketing platform really based on a volunteer army of contributors.

How to Incentivize Influencers to Collaborate

Andy Crestodina: I've got like 11 more questions for you, but people are starting to chime in. Maxim says, "Very interesting conversation. Any ideas on how to make influencers interested in cooperation?"

That's actually one thing I wanted to ask you about, other than paid. You just gave an example of an incentive based on kind of post with a list and a ranking system. What incentivized you, or how would you incentivize others to contribute and collaborate?

Michael Brenner: One of my pet peeves with requests for doing influencer projects is just when they're not strategic. And so one of the ways I think you can be more strategic in the influencers you choose to work with as a brand is to find influencers/experts that really have an affinity for your audience. So they need to be, not only influential but also you want to find I think influencers where you have a common goal.

So I'm a content marketing consultant. I work with the Content Marketing Institute, a publisher in our space in content marketing. I work with Marketo because they provide software that doesn't compete with what I do. Because once somebody has marketing automation software, they need to figure out how to create a strategy to get content created.

So finding brands that have an affinity, finding experts and influencers that have an affinity, that want to achieve the same goal that you do, I think that's being strategic. And I think a lot of brands think of influencer marketing as a tactic. I wouldn't recommend that. So, find those influencers who want to achieve the same thing you do, who want to reach the audience you have, and the rising tide can lift both of your boats, so-to-speak.

Andy Crestodina: That's a huge issue... that's one of the things we hear over and over on this show is just choosing the right influencers. Who does your audience actually care about and is likely to listen to? It's not just the people with the biggest followings.

One way that I'll answer Maxim's question is, "How do you incentivize people to do it?" Well, the decision to do anything in life is an ROI calculation. You can try to increase the R through incentives, or you can just reduce the I. Don't make it a better return, but make it into a smaller investment. So when you ask someone to contribute to something, tell them how many words, and where it will appear, and what day you need it by and make it a no-work proposition as much as you can.

People who ask kind of like long rambling questions on long emails, and they tell me that I can change the question if I want to, and they're trying to be flexible, but it's very difficult, and the request is very vague, it's much harder to help them. So, be concise, be brief, be specific. "Can you please send me 100 words on why influencer marketing should emphasize search more than social?"

So, let's say we collaborate on something, and you're an influencer. Is it just etiquette, is it courtesy, is it expected that you share or promote? What are the proper expectations for influencer collaborations?

Michael Brenner: Yeah, I think the same ROI calculations... I love that. I'm going to use that line that, "Every decision in life is an ROI calculation."

If you send me… a suggested text that says, "Copy paste this (text) over to your Hootsuite and hit send," my chances of doing that are very, very high. So I don't know what the expectations for brands should be for their influencers.

I don't think you can force it. But I do think you can subtly make the point that you're hoping they do by helping them to do it. "Here's some suggested Facebook text. Here's some suggested LinkedIn text. Here's a suggested Tweet.

Why SEO Benefits Trump Social Media Benefits in Influencer Marketing

Andy Crestodina: We're going to keep going. "Could you please expand on the difference between creating content for keyword ranking on Google versus paid social media campaigns. Is social media just to build soft brand power?"

Influencer marketing like any marketing activity is hard work. We're looking for the maximum benefit from it. If you want to create a durable benefit, an SEO benefit is going to give you more long-term benefit than a social post.

Therefore, if you look for creative collaborative ideas where people are creating content on each other's platforms, to Michael's point, then you might end up with something that can drive higher rankings and much more durable visibility than just a social post, which is kind of gone within a day or so. It's about the creative idea that incentivizes influencers to create content on their platforms, not just to share.

Michael, what do you think?

Michael Brenner: I'm trying to make a chart to show you.

So here's the point. When you create something for search, right; if it's an evergreen article, say it's, "What is big data? And why is big data important to technology professionals?" That article is probably going to be relevant forever, and so the search traffic you get, and hopefully, the conversions from that traffic that come to your website could go on, in theory, forever.

If I spend money with an influencer to share something on Instagram about big data, the second I stop spending that money with that influencer, the result goes to zero, and that's true for any ad. It's true for really any social post.

The shelf life of a social post on Twitter is eight seconds. I think on Facebook it's a little longer. On Instagram, it's shorter. So the visibility you're getting from a single post is pretty small.

For me, if you only gave me a dollar to market something, I would spend that dollar on content published on my website or your website that generates organic search traffic over time because that's an asset that your company will have forever.

What to Offer and What Not to Offer B2B Influencers

Andy Crestodina: “What is the best deal to propose to an influencer in B2B?” We can't propose them any of our products.

Michael Brenner: So number one, pay them. Offer to pay them, it shows that you value their time. Aside from payments, I do think a lot of brands overestimate the importance of (things like), "We're going to invite you to our annual customer event and give you a free ticket and VIP access."  That may or may not resonate in the B2B space.

What can you do for the influencer? Can you write about them? Can you have them speak at your event? Can you... again, influencers, we all value the influence we have, so how can you help grow and increase the size of our influence I think would be something that would be valuable.

Andy Crestodina: Yeah. Just to be brutally upfront about it, what you're offering them is exposure value. They're offering you reach and quality content as a contribution, or a guest post, or whatever the mention is, and you're offering them exposure value.

To make that more appealing to the influencer, you can highlight that exposure value, and I see this all the time. "We will promote this to ... Our reach is this, followers, email size." They're promising exposure, so it's an exchange of value just like any other collaboration anywhere in the world or any time in life.

I mean the free product thing, maybe that works. It has a bad reputation in B2C with mommy bloggers. Like this is a little bit overdone, right? People just get free products all the time. I don't know how well that works for people, and I have very little experience with it.

So on the other side of it, you reach out to people occasionally and invite them to contribute to your content. Can you give us an example of a program or a piece of content that's worked well for you?

Michael Brenner: Yeah, and you know about it because you participated in it. And I don't do it often. As a paid speaker at marketing conferences having interacted with you on a number of them, I reached out to folks like you and the other folks that I know that I really respect as speakers with an attempt to try to teach event managers how to run better events. I think it was five or six questions I sent to all of you.

So I sent it to about 20 of my favorite speakers like you and asked five questions, and each of you answered. And then I turned that into five separate pieces of content. So again I tried to make it really low effort on your part. Instead of five different emails, I tried to make it one. I left it pretty open, did all the things I think you said.

Andy Crestodina: Oh no, that was perfect, right? You made a series of content. You didn't just publish one article.

Are Influencer Roundup Articles Overdone?

We're coming down to time, but I want to ask. Is the roundup, in marketing at least, is it overdone?

Michael Brenner: I think it has become a little bit overdone. I get so many requests to do them now, and I often wonder, "Should I tell these people that they're the third person to ask me the same question this week?"

I do think it's always going to be important for like predictions, trends. It's basically like doing a mini research project.

Andy Crestodina: I agree. Good point.

Yeah. The ones I like best are when they apply their analysis, or there's commentary at the top, or there's a summary. Are they grouped like answers together? The copy paste jobs, it's just too… lazy. It's just lazy marketing.

We're going to take one final question. "How do you… go further with relationships with influencers?

Michael Brenner: I'll give you Marketo as an example. I do a series of what they call closing lunches, and so I talk about storytelling to audiences, prospects they're trying to reach. They pay me to do that, and I'm honored that they do. But beyond that, I voluntarily write occasionally for blogs. They've asked me to participate in product roadmap conversations, which I love, and I don't get paid to do that.

So I almost feel like a strategic advisor to them, more than a paid influencer. Because again, their audience and mine are aligned. Our objectives are aligned. We have a little bit of a tactical program where they pay me, but the relationship, I think it goes both ways, and it extends well beyond that paid relationship. My piece of advice is to bring them into strategic advisory kind of conversations that they may be interested in.

Andy Crestodina: That is a fantastic answer. I mean who wouldn't love to get that call, right? "We'd like your input on our product." That's beyond marketing, and I can see why that's something that you value. I can absolutely relate to that sentiment; strategic partner, strategic advisor.

Let's leave it there. These people are more than just the size of their following. These people are more than just a blog mention or a social post. If you really want to build a relationship with someone, include them on the questions and issues that are really important and they require more trust. A strategic relationship.

Michael, thank you for that insight.

Michael Brenner: Thanks for having me. It's been fun.

Andy Crestodina: Okay everybody. The next conversation we're having is going to be in February. February 26th at noon Eastern here in the States. That is a conversation with Marcus Sheridan himself, a mutual friend.

I just want to say once more. Thank you, Michael Brenner, for your time today, for your insights. This was so valuable.

Michael Brenner: See you later. Bye.

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