Wellspring Digital Chats: Neal Schaffer, Author, The Age of Influence, Influencer Marketing Speaker & Consultant

We’re excited to share Neal Schaffer with you. He is the author of The Age of Influence and one of the foremost experts on influencer marketing.

In this interview we talk about:

  1. Your Employees as Influencers
  2. Micro and Nano-Influencers
  3. Content Sourcing
  4. How to Treat Influencers
  5. Brands as Influencers

Influencer marketing is nothing new and there’s tons of bad advice and misinformation out there. We brought in Neal to help clear some of this up for you.

We hope you find this as helpful as we did…

Digital Transcription – Edited for Readability

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Welcome to the Wellspring Digital Chat, where we interview marketing experts bringing their brains directly to you. Today, we’re super fortunate to have Neal Schaffer with us. Neal, please take a moment if you would, and introduce yourself to these fine folks.

Neal Schaffer: Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me to your show, Jon. It’s a pleasure and honor. So my name is Neal Schaffer. I have been in primarily the field of social media and digital marketing for the last decade or so. I’ve written a few books, my most recent book called The Age of Influence, which I just published in the middle of this pandemic, in mid-March. Not the best timing, but it is what it is.

I’ve written a few books and speak at major conferences. I obviously work with a lot of businesses, both big and small, consulting coaches and training. I teach digital marketing at a few universities, Rutgers Business School here in the US  and then the Irish Management Institute in Dublin, where I enjoy flying out to every year and having a few pints of Guinness. I consider myself half educator, half entrepreneur and I really just love uncovering insight to help businesses grow their marketing.

Bailey: And I’ve been reading your stuff for years. And I am almost done with your book, I’m so close. I was hoping to finish it by the time of this interview, but I’m this close to finishing The Age of Influence. But I have to say there’s a lot in there that I really wasn’t expecting, a lot of really good stuff that I’m like, “Oh, so I’m highlighting” all the time.

Schaffer: I tried to make it more than just, I mean, without understanding marketing today, you can’t understand the value of influencer marketing. So yeah, it is almost like a marketing book. Yeah, that goes well above and beyond that scope. But thank you for appreciating that.

Employees as Influencers

Bailey: Absolutely. And that’s really what I want to talk about today. Let’s really dive more into what influencer marketing really is, and how, you know, even small businesses can use it to build their business. So I’ll start off. There’s a quote in your book from, I think it’s Nathan Egan, that I absolutely love is “your employees are the long tail of your organization.” That just stood out to me and I thought that was brilliant. Yeah. You talk a lot about how your employees can be your influencers. Can you talk a bit more about ways that small businesses can work with their employees to build their brand’s reach?

Schaffer: Sure. So let’s take a step back. Who is an influencer? And you know, when people think about influencer marketing, they think about that YouTuber, that Instagrammer, and more and more these days, that Tik Toker, who have a lot of followers and they seem to attract a young audience, and they’re very focused on a lot of consumer-type brands. So immediately, the natural reaction from every company is, well, influencer marketing is just about that right.

So I look at this two different ways. I look at it that you know the influencer marketing industry itself has been saying that they define influence in terms of the number of followers on Instagram because that’s what pays the bills for most tools and agencies out there, the number of followers. But over the last few years, we’ve seen this drop from “you need to be a celebrity to be an influencer.”

Do you need to be a micro-influencer, which has 10,000 followers? You need to be a nano influencer. Now. We’re just talking about 1000 followers and with, you know, everybody’s employees if we look at, you know, who is in our workforce today? The majority are millennials right. So millennials are obviously digital natives. So they are much heavier users of social media than older generations are. So you get to a point where “Wow if nano influence was only 1000 followers, there’s a lot of interest Influence all around us.”

1000 connections on LinkedIn, 1000 followers on Twitter, or what have you. And my daughter already has like 500 followers and Instagram and it gets crazy engagement, right? And she’s still a freshman, she’s going to be even better. So when you think about it that way, influence has been democratized. And here’s the second part of that. So if there are a lot more people that I’ve influenced, including your employees, the framework that I use is don’t pick influencers to work with to collaborate with based on their number of followers, right? Go with brand affinity.

So case study, I’m going to get back to the employee’s case study in my own book, right? I want to promote my book, and the KPI that I am using that my publisher said is the best thing I can do to ensure success in my book is to get reviews on Amazon. Am I going to reach out to a Tik Toker with a million followers, and pay that person a lot of money to hold up a picture of my book and music video? Irrelevant, right?

So who am I going to reach out to? I’m going to reach out to people that reviewed my previous books, my customers, right? I’m going to reach out to people that have endorsed me, speak to other authors, those are partners. If I had a lot of employees, I would probably reach out to them as well. So we know because so many people have digital influence. And in this case, not everybody writes an Amazon review, but I can actually do a search in Amazon for people that have reviewed similar books and reach out to them as well, because they’re the top 1% of the 90/9/1, right. 90% lurkers 9%, engagers, 1%, content creator.

So you put all this together and the new model that I bring forth in the Age of Influence. Let’s start with people that have the most brand affinity for you. We start with employees. To answer your question, sir, and employees, we’ve had the concept of employee advocacy for six, seven years. That quote that I got is from a company that used to be called People Links. We wrote an E-book together, literally five or six years ago, when employee advocacy was hot and employee offices failed at many companies. Because employees were never treated as influencers, they were never treated as collaborators. They were treated as people that would, you know, authorize their social media profiles in our tool and automatically put out whatever self-promotional content we wanted to put out.

If you treat employees as influencers of the influence they have, you know, and it’s not just about amplification, it’s also about collaboration. It’s also about maybe there are some really good photographers, really good videographers that already work for you, how can you bring them into what you do as a company for your marketing.

So when we begin to look at the employees, we begin with those that like and trust us, and we begin with an open-minded conversation. You know, we really understand the value of the fact that “you have built your community, your network, how can we work together so that we can help you and you can help us?” And that’s really what it comes down to. And for B2B organizations that are listening, these people are your salespeople, the top 10% of your sales team that’s actually using LinkedIn. They even have a Sales Navigator subscription that they use.

People that are used to publishing content probably have 500 to 1000 connections, and they have an active audience that’s very, very relevant for your company. And this is where you know, social selling employee advocacy, once we treat those programs as influencers, and we have individual conversations with them in terms of how we can help them, “Oh, you want a free subscription to Canva pro to make it easy for you to create design? Done.” And that’s who knows what it is.

But these are the things that I’m talking about in the book. And it’s you know, marketers love, you know, tools and automation. These are one to one relationships, which you can’t automate, right? But if you’re able to do this, I think your company is going to be really, really successful because yes, employees are your long-tail. As a brand you share something but if you have 10 other people in your company or 100 other people sharing that, you can imagine the additional amplification your content gets. A long-winded answer, but it brought up some concepts I wanted to jump into.

Micro and Nano-Influencers

Bailey: Sure and, I mean, it’s exponential. There’s so much gain you can get there. I wonder if maybe you can expand on the whole idea of micro and nano influencers as opposed to the whole Tick Tok, Famous Instagrammer or whatever, that sort of thing because I really want to outline that because I don’t think people understand the value of that and what opportunities they have in front of them that they might just be going right by?

Schaffer: Absolutely. So, you know, first of all, when we go with that brand affinity model, we look at our employees, we look at our partners, we look at our customers, then we look at our social media followers, and you just never know who has a few thousand followers that might have influence over community because you’re only looking for people that have over a million followers.

If they’re following your company, and you’re not very well known, they’re probably a bot. But here’s the thing, influencer marketing works off of the traditional celebrity endorsement. So before the internet, it was just movie stars and we had, you know, Air Jordan and, and what have you.

What’s happened with the democratization of content consumption and publication of media influences. Now you have YouTubers Instagrammers, bloggers that now have more and more influence. And at some point though, when I talk about influencer marketing I’m talking about social media influencers.

Charlie on TikTok is a really, really good example. I think she just had her 16th birthday. She is someone that was talked about as being the most influential TikTok influencer. But when you appear on a Superbowl ad, you know, at halftime, and you’re talking to Disney about creating a TV show, right? You’re a celebrity now, right?

So at some point, social media influencers might translate or graduate into becoming a celebrity. I’m not talking about those people. I’m talking about people that have yielded influence purely from social media. Now, you might have someone that’s yielded influence that has hundreds of thousands of followers.

But the problem is, the bigger your community becomes, the more spread out they are. As a content creator, in order to get that big size of of a community, you might be publishing content about a few different things right? It might be fitness, but it might be a lot of general fitness tips.

What we’re finding is those that are the micro, the nano that have smaller communities…

Number one, they probably haven’t bought fake followers, and there’s a lot of that going around on Instagram especially. So because they’re small, they probably are not buying fake engagement here because they’re small, and their community is a lot more niche, right? It’s not as spread out.

And the data shows that smaller communities on average, get higher engagement, the larger your community gets, the smaller your engagement because you’re competing with a lot of other people out there. So that’s why the value of working with people that are smaller, they’re also more authentic. When you think about it, and they’re probably not working with as many brands as you know, the big celebrities are so they’re going to be more easily convertible as an influencer.

And they’re probably going to appreciate the fact that you’re reaching out to them. So ideally, you know, in an ideal world when I talk to brands, you would

  1. Want to build an influencer program talking about all these things that I discussed the employees, the partners, customers, followers.
  2. If you reach out to people that don’t have a brand affinity for you, you’ll want to convert them into becoming advocates, right?
  3. You want to create this long, you know, term project where you help, these nano micro-influencers become celebrities.

And they thank you for that. And they talk about you without you’re even having to ask them. That is the ultimate, right? That I think I see a lot more brands, it’s called brand ambassadorship, obviously, but a lot of brands now are actually investing in their influencers:

  1. Training them
  2. Bringing in photographers to help them learn how to take better photographs
  3. How to write better copy
  4. Bring in a videographer

It’s the same with employee advocacy, those employee advocacy programs that have been successful over the companies have invested in the training.

Treating Influencers like People and Building Trust

Bailey: It sounds like they’re extending their employee advocacy to extend out to the nano and micro-influencers by investing in them and giving them the tools to succeed. Interesting. Well, you mentioned engagement and your interactions with the influencers. And it’s funny because last week we interviewed David Meerman Scott and he talked about Fanocracy.

Schaffer: Great book.

Bailey: Yeah. Phenomenal book. And he talked about how people are just pitching him all the time. And they’re trying to get him to promote their book or their product or you know, whatever. And you talk in your book about the importance of treating influencers like people. Treat them like the human beings that they are. I wanted to see if you could talk a little bit more about the importance of building trust with an influencer?

Schaffer: There are lots of tools out there, like blogger outreach tools. Blogger outreach is a type of influencer marketing. You’re trying to reach out to a blogger in hopes of getting a link. It’s still very popular today. So there are tools that let you automate the process.

Bailey: You mentioned a lot of those in your book too.

Schaffer: Yeah. But if you don’t personalize the message, and if they’ve never heard of you before, how do you think they’re going to respond? And you know, my background before all this is actually B2B sales. So I consider influencer marketing very close to a sale, in that it requires relationship building relationship development.

So before you reach out to someone, if you’ve already engaged with them online, then you’ve already started to build a little bit of rapport, a little bit trust so that when you reach out to them, they already know you. You know, the other thing is that you need to always remember WIIFM. And this also comes from my sales days. What’s in it for me?

The smartest salespeople are not selling, they’re providing solutions. They’re actually responding to questions without jumping into their presentation. Every pitch that I get, and I’m with David on this one, every pitch is like “we assume that you would love to receive a $25 Amazon gift card,” or “we know that you would love to put a link back to our blog in your website so that we can promote you to our 5000 Twitter followers” when I have 220,000 followers, right?

So there has to be some equality in what you want to do. And the best way to find that equality, because everybody is human, everyone is different, is to have that open-ended conversation. You engage with their content, you follow them, and here’s the thing, not everybody is going to convert. So if you follow them, if you engage with them, if you comment, and they don’t respond to your comment, probably if you reach out to them, they’re not going to respond either.

Or if they do respond, they look at you as if the Brinks Armored Car came into town. Here’s the money. So that’s why you know, it’s a pipeline. There are 100 influencers you want to reach out to, you’re going to try to build rapport online, digitally, socially with 100 of them. And guess what, only 50 are ever going to show you the time of day and that’s fine.

Of those 50 you reach out to maybe only 25 are going to respond. That’s why you want to build rapport and then personalize, you know, as much as you can and say, “Hey, we’d love to have an open-ended conversation. We’re building a program here, we’d love for you to be part of it. And we’d love your advice. How do you normally work with brands? How can we help you?” And that’s really the key.

The key thing here and most pitches, like the ones David Meerman Scott talks about, 99% of them. It’s the company doing the pitching, dictating the terms. Here’s the other thing, let’s say you, you dictate the terms. On the other end, we are almost too generous. Like, you know, we know the 5000 Instagram followers, we’re going to offer $1,000, where the market price for that Instagrammer may only be $100, right?

So when you dictate terms, you sometimes you leave cash on the table, and sometimes you absolutely ruin your chances of converting. I will leave a bad taste in their mouth, they’re never going to forget that negative experience and sometimes they’re even going to talk about that never negative experience to their friends as I do about a certain car rental company. I don’t know if I mentioned in the book, but I mentioned often in my presentations.

Content Sourcing, Working Smarter

Bailey: Well, that’s kind of an interesting segue to my next question, because, you know, I interviewed David Meerman Scott, I’ve interviewed some other people, and I’m interviewing you right now.

In your book, you’re talking about something called “Content Sourcing” which, if I understand it correctly, I’m clearly a fan of because I’m starting to do these sorts of things. And I wonder if you can kind of talk a little bit more about what content sourcing is and how businesses might be able to use this.

Schaffer: Yeah. You know, since the book was published, I think we’ve seen this huge trend in companies realizing that there’s obvious value in influencers, amplifying your content because they have big or they have niche communities that are relevant to you. But the other side of it is that any influencer is a content creator, right? They’re that top 1% and they become influential because of their ability to create content, which sometimes is better than agencies that companies might be hiring or in house teams.

So instead of thinking of influencers as amplifiers, why don’t we begin a relationship by actually hiring them to create content for us? And you know, in the B2B world, we’ve always had this concept of content curation, right? It’s the same thing. You’re not asking them to create content for you, because they already have tons of content that you can easily share without having to ask for their permission.

You’re obviously going to be sending people to their website. So in the B2B world, this is already very common in the B2C world, though, especially when we talk about visual platforms, you’d love to be able to present that content as your own. And Instagram does not have a retweet functionality like Twitter does.

So when you think about it that way, and the other side of the equation is that if people are not talking about you, you need to incite word of mouth. Word of mouth at the end of the day is what sells and marketing, what sells and social. So the only way to do that is to get people talking about you. If it’s visually, you need to give people a product, right? So that they start posting photos of it.

So, you know, either you hire influencers to create the content, and when you share it, thank so and so for the photo, you’re being completely transparent that someone created the photo for you. Or you’re doing, you know, a giveaway. You’re having people sample the product, if they like it, please sample and tag us. And then you’re reposting that.

And basically, in the contract that you agreed to with the influencer, you’re saying that we have the right to use this content. And I would say not just in your organic social media channels, but in your social media ads, because they’re gonna convert better even on your webpage. Even in your shopping cart page. You want those sort of authentic, you know, lifestyle photos of your product, you want them everywhere you can put them and that’s this new trend where we don’t have to just use them for amplifying but in creating these relationships.

This is something that businesses can be doing now even during COVID-19. That’s the beautiful thing. In this relationship where you build up this content creation team of influencers, then you begin to test them out for different campaigns, activate them for different campaigns, or for amplification. So it’s actually an easier way to get started, because you’re putting money in their pockets.

You might even be saving money and you might be able to get a better product. Because content creation can cost a lot of money, especially when you get into visual and videos as well. So this is just you know if you don’t want to work with influencers for amplifying, you don’t believe in it, try working with them on content creation, collaboration. Sure. And I think you’re gonna find just a very, very smooth transition.

Bailey: I mean, it’s a win-win all the way around. You know, if you have people that are passionate about your product or can become passionate, they’re going to say and produce very good content that’s probably going to be better than your own in some cases.

Schaffer: Yeah, you know, I’m actually doing a webinar tomorrow with GetResponse, the email marketing software. And we just went through the dark dry run where they have this lead magnet funnel, you know, automatically creates the magnet funnel functionality. So I, I’m actually showing people on the webinar how to do this.

And as I went over it, the product manager said, “you know, there’s nothing like seeing how an actual user does it.” So much more condensable than if we were to do it ourselves. And I think, regardless of industry, right when someone else says it, it’s just immediate social proof, credibility, trust, what have you.

Bailey: I just immediately thought of there. There’s got to be a better way commercials where, where people are struggling to like, open something that’s so incredibly easy to open anyway. And it’s just so ridiculous. Sorry. So that’s how my mind works. All right. Yeah.

content-better-way

Schaffer: I have a story for you on that one. I lived in Japan for 15 years. And sometimes, you know, I remember one restaurant, you know, we were in this tatami room, and I tried to like push the door and then I tried to pull the door there was like no knob on it. And then the sales guy I was working with, he goes Neil and he goes like that (showing sliding a door). It’s like you foreigners trying to use for these doors when it’s very simple.

Brands as Influencers

Bailey: That’s hilarious. So, speaking of businesses, you talk about businesses working with influencers and with people to create content. I think it’s another concept in your book that I think is all too often overlooked. And let me go ahead and quote a line here from your book where you say “the more influence or the more influential you become as a brand, the more it will help your influence or marketing.” And I see businesses that just do not do this. They have so many opportunities to do this. And they just are missing it. And I wonder if you could maybe expand on that and talk a little bit more about that because I think it’s really important.

Schaffer: Oh, absolutely. So the whole concept of influencer marketing is that, you know, it’s a collaboration. But here’s the thing, no two collaborations are alike. And if I’m getting pitched by, you know, a HubSpot versus an email marketing automation startup that I’ve never heard of, I probably want to work with HubSpot.

Number one, I’m assuming that it might be more incentive because they’re a bigger company, right. But number two, I can also tell other brands that I’ve worked with HubSpot. And when I work with HubSpot, it makes me look good from a personal branding perspective.

So here’s the thing if you’re the startup trying to reach out to influencers, and no one’s ever heard of you, they’re either not going to work with you or if they do, they’re going to request a lot of things from you, right? Because they don’t want their personal brand to get hurt. They don’t want to tarnish the reputation they have with their community by introducing a startup that no one’s ever heard of. It’s almost like when I was selling software, I was competing against Microsoft, right? And over and over again, no one gets fired for choosing Microsoft back in the day. People will get fired if they choose the wrong software.

From a company that the senior people have never heard of, it’s the same thing. So the more influence that your company can build, the more you work with influencers, the more you grow your following. You can say, hey, we’ve worked with influencer a or b, or just, there’s more word of mouth about your company, or you built more following, right? And the more you have of that, when you reach out to a company, here’s what I’m going to do. Just like you’re checking them out, they’re going to check you out, right?

They’re gonna go to your website, they’re going to go to only 50 followers on, you know, on Twitter, their LinkedIn company page only has 10 followers, you know, who are these people? Right? Well, that’s the thing and there’s a lot of questionable, you know, entities out there above and beyond just, you know, startups that just started on their journey.

So, yes, the more an influencer you become, the easier it will be to work with influencers, almost like you want to yield that if I was the HubSpot, I would be wanting to work with every single person talking about marketing automation out there so that if a startup came, and they tried to work with someone, I’d already have a monopoly on the relationships with influencers.

I don’t see many companies doing it and going that far. That’s almost the attitude that once you build the influence, you’re wasting that influence, you’re leaving money on the table. If you don’t really exude that influence, it’s like me as an author. It took me seven years between my third book and my fourth book, my third book Maximize Your Social was published in 2013. The Age of Influence comes out in the spring of 2020. I have a readership. I have influence, but they had to wait six or seven years. If I could have come up with three books in that term, and sold more and got more recognition. So it’s the same concept.

Bailey: There you go. There you go. Well, I think I think you could also parlay that into a hiring benefit in the sense that if you are building your influence as a brand, you’re gonna have your pick of the litter when it comes to hiring top talent. I mean, right now, it wouldn’t be hard because of all this craziness. As it’s going on, but before this COVID thing happened, it was very difficult to find qualified people and I would think that companies with more influence would have an easier time attracting that talent to their organization.

Schaffer: That’s a really fascinating topic of the relationship between you know, influencer marketing, employer branding, right, especially if you’re trying to target a younger audience, right reactive on social that are they’re the most influenced by influencers. You’re absolutely right.

Bailey: And they’re checking you out. Yeah, they’re looking at you. You’re talking about the follower count and the quality of your presence on those channels. I think it makes a big difference.

Schaffer: Absolutely interesting.

Bailey: That’s all I got for you. I really, really appreciate you doing this. Like I said, I love the book. I’m gonna gush about it on Amazon. And I think everybody should pick it up. Absolutely. It’s called the Age of Influence. So again, thank you, Neal, I really appreciate you doing this and please stay safe out there.

Schaffer: Thank you; stay home everybody.

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Jon-Mikel Bailey is the Chief Development and Marketing Officer for Wellspring Digital, a full-service digital marketing firm specializing in SEO, PPC, Marketing Automation, and Content Marketing. He has been published in MarketingProfs, Business2Community, SpinSucks, {Grow}, Social Media Today, and more. He has spoken at the Digital Summit Series, MarketingProfs, ITE, Grant Thornton, and others.

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