Influencer marketing is having a (very big) moment.
According to a survey conducted by eMarketer, some 70% of US marketers plan on increasing their spend on influencer programs this year and 89% believe this form of marketing can positively impact how people feel about a brand.
However, along with this spike in interest has come added scrutiny: brands are increasingly worried about influencer fraud and cracking down on programs that engage in unsavory practices such as buying fake followers.
This is where established publishers can bring their credibility and vetting capabilities to monetize influencers and their distribution channels. Digital media publishers already have complex publisher analytics, they know their audience demographics as well as interests and they are experienced at creating content that works!
Given that they sit at the nexus of advertising, content creation, and audience engagement, online publishers are perfectly positioned to be the trusted enablers and gatekeepers of influencer marketing programs.
The challenge is determining the right approach. As a recent whitepaper from the Interactive Advertising Bureau notes, influencer marketing and publishers can be paired dizzying number of different ways, from expanded promotion to enhanced content offerings and the development of entirely new revenue channels.
What are the pros and cons of each of these paths? What do they look like when fully developed?
Luckily, organizations don't have to start from scratch when tackling these questions. While influencer marketing is still rapidly evolving, a number of publishers now have successful, relatively mature programs that can provide valuable real-world inspiration.
Specifically, publishers looking to start or expand their engagement in influencer marketing should take a close look at the very different approaches taken by these five top publishers:
The most tried-and-true method of teaming up with influencers is for a publisher to develop a content/advertising campaign that pairs its production team and owned distribution channels with an advertiser and a topic area expert.
While this may sound relatively straightforward, it is not easy to execute well: Integrating the influencer and the brand in a way that feels organic takes quite a bit of skill.
One organization that consistently succeeds in this approach is GQ. As this example featuring fashion influencer Angel Ramos and alcohol brand Remy Martin shows, the publisher excels in developing pieces that feel both compelling and natural.
Many publishers have developed a network of external subject-matter experts to help create and distribute content. As influencer marketing grows, how can they leverage these relationships?
One path forward is what Disney has done with its DDN (Disney Digital Network).
DDN, which was born from Maker Studios, is Disney's own multi-channel network: It pairs content expertise with a roster of social media stars to create a library of short-form digital videos.
The key appeal of DDN to advertisers is its targeting: the network is explicitly aimed at Gen Z and Millennials. For brands looking to reach these groups, working with a roster of social influencers paired with a publisher (Disney) that is well-versed in the needs of these audiences is extremely appealing.
Here's the Disney Digital Network - Reimagine video
The New York Times
While The New York Times is often thought of as quite a traditional organization, it is one of the most forward-thinking publishers out there when it comes to influencer marketing.
Rather than build out its own network, the Times went out and purchased HelloSociety, a firm that specializes in influencer marketing and analytics.
This move enabled the publisher to two do things:
First, the Times integrated HelloSociety into its T Brand Studio, quickly ramping up the influencer capabilities that it can offer to its own advertisers.
Second, because HelloSociety has continued to operate somewhat independently the Times has been to benefit from influencer programs not directly related to its own platforms. These have included social campaigns for a wide-range of major advertisers, including Armani, Buick, and FedEx.
What if it was possible to get people to pay you to become influencers on your own platform?
That's exactly what Forbes has managed to pull off.
The publisher's BrandVoice program allows brands to reach a massive audience with their own content via Fobes.com and Forbes' social channels — all for a fee, of course. Essentially, the company enables content marketers to become influencers themselves, rather than needing amplification from others.
The key to the program's success is its structure: marketers are vetted, required to create a certain number of pieces a month, and their content is paired with promotion. This combination of support and guaranteed impressions ensures that campaigns are successful for all sides.
Finally, it's important for publishers to remember that they often have a wealth of talent in-house.
One organization that fully gets this is Refinery29. As Digiday reported earlier this year:
"To stand out in a crowded field of women-focused publishers, Refinery29 has shown advertisers an increased willingness to offer up access to its editorial staffers. Last summer, it began selling advertisers the opportunity to set up shop inside its offices. More recently, it has begun selling influencer campaigns that includes sponsored posts created by [its team]."
In action this can look like Under Armour's seven-month campaign in 2017, which paired the brand with Lucie Fink, a staffer at Refinery29 with a large social media following.
While this blurring of lines between editorial and advertising can feel jarring, it also makes sense in many situations. After all, the people who work for publishers are often passionate about a topic area and have the ability to successfully engage audiences. In other words, they're influencers.