Tapping into influencers

Some people have become so popular on Instagram that people pay to work with them. Felicity Carter explores the world of influencers.

Kristy Sammis
Kristy Sammis, founder and chief innovation officer of California-based influencer agency CLEVER.

Instagram, the photo and video sharing network, has created a gold rush for content creators. The influencers who have built a sizeable audience have become celebrities, and are sought after by brands seeking to tap into their communities. Forbes reports that 2019 influencer marketing spend on Instagram is expected to rocket to $2.38 billion, up from $1.6bn in 2018. 

But what sets Instagram apart from other platforms? Kristy Sammis, the founder and chief innovation officer of California-based influencer agency CLEVER, suggests it’s the visual element. “Far too many people still choose wines based on the label. If there’s anything they can relate to –  I saw this brand on Instagram!’ – then it’s going to put them over the edge.” In other words, while platforms like Facebook can help build a community, Instagram is good for customer acquisition. For American wineries looking to Millennials to replace ageing Baby Boomers, “being on Instagram is imperative”.

But Instagram can be gamed by would-be influencers trying to attract lucrative deals. They respond to each other’s posts to make it look as if there is more engagement than there really is. Or they simply buy followers to boost their rankings. So how can a company find relevant influencers – and then tell if they’re genuinely influential?

Sammis says the easiest way is to go to Instagram and do searches by locale and hashtag. “You can go in and see your winery is not far from a restaurant that might have had an influencer there and you look at the restaurant and you see who’s posted what hashtags. Also see who’s posting similar content.” This should bring the top influencers up. Also look to see whether the people responding to their posts are making relevant comments, or just posting generic reactions like “great shot!”

Finding an influencer is only the start, however. Convincing them to visit is not easy because such people get a lot of offers. “You might have to write to 20 to get one to respond,” says Sammis.

As Sammis says, it also has to be understood that influencers are independent agents, not advertising professionals, and companies can’t dictate what they write or post. “It is imperative that anyone who enters into an influencer arrangement knows what it is you want and what it is you’re going to offer,” she says. “It’s easier to say, ‘Here’s what we’re willing to offer you and here is what we’d like, and does this work?’. Then have a contract in place.”

One way to make the whole thing easier is simply to use an influencer agency. Sammis warns, however, that this can be expensive. She says that influencer marketing is “either going to cost a lot of time or a lot of money. It can’t be cheap and easy.”

The importance of frequency

Another issue in running an Instagram account is how often to post. According to influencer Whitney Haldeman, who has worked with clients such as British Airways, Instagram rewards more frequent posters. “When I go for a few days without posting, my engagement drops and my reach drops,” she says. “In a perfect world, you would post at least once a day.” She notes, however, that quality is better than volume and that anybody who wants to engage seriously with Instagram needs to create a posting schedule.

The other option is to bypass influencers altogether and give winery visitors an Instagrammable space where they can take and upload their own pictures, as many restaurants have done. Haldeman notes that having a great view won’t necessarily help if the pictures that result have nothing in them to identify the winery. She advises looking for opportunities for “social sharing moments. What’s a point in the winery that’s a stop on the tour, a location where we can put our logo?”

Sammis says the Instagram point doesn’t have to be heavily designed. “I have never seen a space that has provided people with silly hats and boas and props that people won’t use,” she says, adding that fun, and off-the-cuff, posts generally outperform very polished corporate-style ones. “The wine industry is so caught up in wanting everything to be perfect and beautiful, but we’re in a time when social media doesn’t want that.” The best approach is to “just experiment and have fun”. 

Felicity Carter

UPDATE: If you do use an influencer, insist that they declare that their Instagram post is advertising. Use a hash tag like #sponsored, #ad, #spon, #ad, #paid or #parternship, or risk negative publicity like this.

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