Ms. InterPReted Episode 6: The State of Influencer Marketing

October 23, 2019

Mark Weaver started his marketing career as a blogger, photographer and social media influencer in the motorcycle industry.  He moved to Knoxville, TN, from Louisville, KY, where he created digital marketing content for GE Appliances. He has a BA from Purdue University in Communications with Minors in Computer Technology and Organizational Leadership & Supervision. 

Now as content marketing manager for Radio Systems Corporation in Knoxville, TN (home of the Invisible Fence®, PetSafe® and SportDOG® brands), Mark has dreamed of living in Knoxville to be in a city full of personality and surrounded by so many opportunities for outdoor adventures and activities.

Mark loves exploring nature with his wife and two kids. He loves to travel and experience new cultures, snowboarding, mountain biking, and of course dogs! Fun fact: Mark won the Showcase Showdown on the nationally televised game show “The Price is Right” and sold the two cars he won to live in Uganda, Africa to help out orphanages.

  • In this episode, Kelly Fletcher and Mary Beth West explore Mark Weaver’s insights about why influencer marketing “isn’t just the future; it’s the NOW.”
  • Mark explains:
    • What “influencer marketing” is by definition
    • How he started on his pathway as an influencer himself for the motorcycle industry
    • How influencers tap into the trust factor that impacts the buyer’s journey
    • How Mark is managing the influencer strategy and selection process at Radio Systems (which includes the PetSafe®, Invisible Fence®, and SportDOG® brands) with specific tools that all strategic communicators might consider for their technology toolbox
    • Why Instagram commands a lead role
    • Why huge budgets may not be required to achieve significant results
  • Kelly also discusses the Julius / Lippe Taylor “State of Influencers Report 2019” Report; the role of macro-, micro- and nano-influencers; and the ethics / Federal Trade Commission legalities of influencer marketing transparency.


    Speaker 1:  Welcome to Ms. InterPReted her podcast of public relations and strategic communications, demystified by Kelly Fletcher and Fletcher marketing PR.

    Kelly:  Welcome listeners to the Ms. InterPReted podcast. I’m Kelly Fletcher, CEO of Fletcher Marketing PR and I’m here with my lovely colleague-

    Mary Beth:  Hello?

    Kelly:  Fletcher’s senior strategists, Mary Beth West. And our topic today is credibility and cost, the real state of influencer marketing. Today we’re welcoming our special guest to our podcast um from Knoxville, Tennessee based radio systems corporation, content marketing manager, Mark Weaver. Mark joined radio systems just in recent months, but brings senior digital marketing experience with companies such as GE Appliances and brands based in Texas and California. Mark, welcome to Ms. InterPReted.

    Mark:  Hello.

    Kelly:  Hello. We know you know a bit of firsthand about being an influencer. Tell us about how you got started into this realm on your own personal journey as an influencer.

    Mark:  Absolutely. So I was actually I studied communications and advertising at Purdue, but in a little bit different field. I moved out to California after college and I was actually leading youth programs, but um we had a company camera and I started to get into photography and that’s custom motorcycle scene at the same time. And I started taking pictures of all these really cool custom motorcycle builds. Well that was right about the time that Instagram was just getting started and gaining popularity. At first when I even started Instagram, I thought it was just a platform to edit photos and then all of a sudden people I didn’t know started liking photos and I realized, “Oh, this is another social network.” So that’s how new it was. I was just learning what Instagram was when I started posting some motorcycle photos just because I thought it was a cool photo editing tool.

    Mark:  Well, I started covering the scene and a lot more people started noticing my photography and before I knew it I had an about 50,000 followers of people interested in seeing my motorcycle photography. So I was really early into this niche and then I became aware of some of the really cool motorcycle companies that created parts and gear for the industry and I started tagging some of my favorite ones and I was part of this online community around custom motorcycles. And so then some of these brands that I was tagging, they noticed they were getting a lot of attention and new followers every time I tagged them in photos and so they asked they started DM’ing me and asking if they could send me products for free to tag their products in more of my photos. And at the time I was so excited just to get some free stuff and spend hours and hours working, creating these cool images.

    Mark:  And then I started networking in this community of other influencers and photographers and custom motorcycle builders and I realized like, “Wow, this is really cool. We’re creating this amazing community and we’re all growing in this community with the businesses creating these products that we love in this interest we love.” And that actually led to my career in content marketing. One of the motorcycle companies in Dallas invited me to come and manage their social media for them and they wanted to take advantage of the relationships I had built and continue getting our product in these influencers hands. So I’m really passionate about this topic.

    Kelly:  Wow! So I guess you didn’t have any idea at the time that you were actually going to make a career out of this?

    Mark:  Not at all. Influencer marketing it’s now you know a billion dollar industry, but at the time it had not even been established yet. I became an influencer before they even were calling it influencer.

    Mary Beth:  Right. I was going to say this, it sounds like it was a very organic process. I mean, you didn’t set out, it was really just sort of happened on its own and everything-

    Mark:  It was all a hobby and it turned into a really fun career.

    Kelly:  Well, let’s start the conversation by a little bit of 101 on influencer marketing in general and what it is, how companies are engaging in it and what the end games are. So Mark, you’re managing social media for a very large pet products brand. Um influencer marketing falls under the purview of social media. Your company radio systems has several brands under its umbrella, including Invisible Fence, PetSafe, SportDOG and Premier® Pet if you’re not familiar, go check them out. So Mark, why do you believe in the influence that influencer marketing can have on potential consumers?

    Mark:  It’s such an effective strategy. It’s not just the future, it’s the now and word of mouth has always been one of the most powerful decision making factors for people in their buyer journey. People don’t necessarily trust regular advertising. And so if their friends love a product or a brand, that’s really a powerful motivator.

    Mary Beth:  Absolutely.

    Mark:  And so, right. So now we live in a really exciting and new and interesting time where a lot of our social community and interaction is online. We communicate with family and friends online, but we also are following our interests, all our niche interests on social media. So just like any community, there’s thought leaders and trendsetters who are the cool kids that influence your decision making. And so we’re social beings. We look up to people who are leading the conversation and these interests we’re in. And so that’s why influencer marketing is such a powerful tool because they actually earn the trust of their followers. So when they endorse a product that’s just really powerful, it’s like a large scale word of mouth marketing.

    Mary Beth:  Right. And Kelly has followed this study by Julius and Lippe Taylor. Um it’s called The State of Influencers Report 2019 we thought we’d pull this reports, insights here into the conversation a little bit. Kelly, tell us what you’ve gathered from this report and you know how you’re integrating those insights as well as others into the work your team is doing. I’d love for Mark to chime in on where he’s seen some of these ideas evolve as well in his work. But Kelly, tell us a little bit more about that.

    Kelly:  Well, sure. I’ve followed Lippe Taylor for years. They’re one of my favorite New York City agencies. Um Julius is a platform for influencer marketing campaigns. And to be fair, I’m not very familiar with them, but I did sign up for a demo on their platform, so I may have to report back on that. But anyway, this is the second year that they’ve released this state of influencers report and a few insights that I gleaned by the way, they surveyed 300 influencers, mostly gen Z millennials. But I did note that 30% of those interviewed were gen X and baby boomers. So to that point, influencer marketing is not just for the young ones there.

    Mary Beth:  Right.

    Kelly:  So before we dive into that study though, maybe we should just back up and explain what influencer marketing really is for our listeners who may be unfamiliar. Mark, what’s your definition of influencer marketing?

    Mark:  Well, I would define it Influences our conversation leaders within different niche or interest groups. And so influencer marketing is when brands build relationships with these thought leaders that when the brands want to take advantage of their following, and the trust that they’ve built with their followers. So, you know influencer marketing, it’s the fastest growing form of digital marketing where we take advantage of these and build these relationships with social media leaders that have followers usually centered around specific interests with and they share information, their opinions on products and services that it really just drives awareness for the brand.

    Mary Beth:  So who are the influencers and what are their profiles? I mean, I’d love for both of you to weigh in on that.

    Kelly:  Well, according to the report, 75% of influencers are women. So which plays right into what we do at Fletcher.

    Mary Beth:  Exactly.

    Kelly:  So also one other thing that I wanted to point out is that 40% are in their 30s so I think that’s pretty predictive that we would say, you know millennials go up to I think about age 35, 36 so it’s a lot of millennial women. Um only 8% are over the age of 50 which left me thinking maybe I should quit my job and become an influencer. Because I’m 51. One really interesting insight from that report is that the number of male influencers is on the rise. Mark, have you experienced that directly with influencer marketing that you’re involved with?

    Mark:  I have. And you know it’s interesting to learn that statistic actually because from the beginning I’ve been surrounded by both male and female influencers. So to see that it was so dominant by women in the beginning was a little bit surprising. But I think it kind of makes sense when you look at the different verticals of segments where influencers are popular and that’s kind of the Mars Venus thing. Women are very stereotypically social beings who are better at fashion and design and things like that. So those things that are so popular on social media for them to have that presence it really makes sense. And I know some areas stereotypically where men are catching up and is in the gaming community and technology and things like that, but obviously there’s a lot of crossover and um so its I think being an influencer is for anyone and everyone who has an interest, and wants to invest their time into to their passion and create content around it.

    Kelly:  Right. You know I remember I spoke at the marketing to women conference in New York city a few years ago. It’s called MTW. It’s a great conference by the way, check it out. I talked at that time a few years ago about how micro-influencers were on the rise and a micro influencer is defined as someone who has an audience of between 2000 followers and up until about 50,000 followers on a particular social media channel. Um usually someone who’s focused on a passion or a topic or a niche um and in the state of influencer marketing report we’ve been referencing 62% identifies micro-influencers. Mark how does that align with how your company is tapping into micro influencers and how important do you think micro influencers are in the bigger part of the strategy?

    Mark:  I think there’s a really huge opportunity working with micro influencers. When I came on board at radio systems, they were pretty much only working with macro influencers and they were investing a lot of our advertising budget, getting content from these macro influencers. Most of my experience before coming here though was with micro influencers and I’m very passionate about working with micro influencers. It’s exciting to build relationships with micro influencers once they’re still kind of in the early stages of their journey. They’re very hungry, they’re excited, they’re passionate, they’re willing to do a lot for very little. A lot of times just for the cost of product, you can get really great content from them. And one thing that I’ve noticed, it’s very consistent with micro influencers is that they get a lot of really good engagement because their contents very authentic and it doesn’t come across too salesy.

    Mark:  And so they really earn a lot of trust. So you can get a lot of really great engagement even when they have a small following and build that relationship and that loyalty with them, and you can grow with them. You grow as their following grows and it’s really a great relationship because a lot of times they’re just really excited to deliver great content for very little costs, way less than you had spent in any other form of advertising, and you can take really tap into their loyalty of their following and get great engagement.

    Mary Beth:  Well, yeah, and based on that, I would love to just jump in and ask the question since you’re talking about the micro influencers and how they work and how they think and what motivates them. I’d love a peak under the tent, a little bit about how your company taps into them. What are the outreach strategies, and you know you’ve already said that this is a very important segment for us to be looking at across the strategic communications spectrum. But I mean what is your outreach to them? How does that relationship building get initiated and how is it sustained?

    Mark:  So I’m implementing that strategy now. That’s part of my initiative on onboarding with this company because when I got here, they were working with macro influencers, on a smaller scale and managing it organically through written contracts and spreadsheets. But there’s a lot of really great tools out there. So we just onboarded this week a new platform called AspireIQ. That’s a great one. There’s lots of good ones out there. That’s a tool for searching and managing relationships with influencers and they have really sophisticated software now. So we’re bringing on this technology. We’re going to start working with a lot more micro-influencers in addition to maintaining the relationships with our macro influencers.

    Mark:  But some of the tools in this technology is so cool. You can search by interests by different segments, but you can also just upload an image of the kind of look and feel you want to an image and it’s going to search through millions of Instagram influencer profiles looking for influencers who create those similar type of images. So it’s really powerful technology. It does a lot of the analytics for you and helps you manage those relationships on a much larger scale.

    Kelly:  So you know when I spoke at the MTW conference, I don’t even think nano influencers were a thing yet, but the study says that 14% self-identifies nano influencer and that someone who has an even smaller following and it’s specific to Instagram and to be a nano influencer, you need between 1,000 and 10,000 followers on Instagram. So Mark, why do you think the Instagram platform is pretty much taking over the world of influencer marketing?

    Mark:  Well, Instagram is such a powerful tool because really it’s the most visual social media tool and it’s just like a giant place to display your art and get immediate feedback on the art that you’re creating, and so being an artist driven platform that’s highly visual, it’s become the cool channel. It’s become really popular for artists to really dive in to their creative side and and build communities around it.

    Mary Beth:  You know, here in the South we have a term, it’s called bonafide and when we talk about what makes a valid influencer or a bonafide influencer in the market and one that would be sought out as an influencer. Mark, I’ve always been curious what you know, what makes a personality a valid influencer in your view?

    Mark:  That’s an important question because when any industry is booming, it opens up an opportunity for non-trustworthy and non-credible participants. And so one of the issues with influencer marketing now that it’s becoming a big dollar industry is that not all influencers are credible just because they have a following. Sometimes it’s not actually authentic. And so there are tools actually in the software that we’re using AspireIQ that can really help you determine the authenticity of their following. But I think when we’re looking at which followers which influencers are right for our brand, it might look different from one campaign to the other.

    Mark:  We have a really great niche of pets. That’s all… That’s really gold for social media. Everybody loves pets, but we are looking for specifically what influencers that have pets as part of their brand, but also fall into other categories that are really popular influencer categories such as travel and adventure, fashion and beauty and sports and outdoors, health and fitness. And so if we can find the right influencer that loves sharing great content with their pets but also has a following and in other fields of influencer marketing, then you’re tapping in to a much broader audience.

    Kelly:  So this may be a loaded question, but can you give us a general idea of what um what it costs to start and sustain an influencer campaign?

    Mark:  You don’t have to have as a brand to start. There’s no reason not to start influencer marketing today. You can start very small and start building relationships with influencers who are on the micro level who are happy to create content for you just for the cost of products for free product. I mean when I was doing motorcycle influencing, I waited I spent hours and hours on photo shoots just for a free tee shirt and loved just being… That’s what’s so great about influencer marketing. People are passionate, this is their topic, this is their life, this is their lifestyle and their hobbies.

    Mark:  And so you can start very small, but just like anything else, you’re going to see a lot higher return on what you can afford to invest into. And so since we’re trying to work with some of the larger scale macro influencers, a lot of them are doing it as a career now and do it and expect compensation on top of free product.

    Kelly:  I think we’ve been doing influencer marketing in PR before it was called influencer marketing um you know in the realm of product placements and getting product mentions. And it used to be in print magazines or on television and the radio and that’s still important. But it’s just interesting how much of it has really shifted to social media.

    Mary Beth:  Yeah. Well and looking at it through the lens of the client expectation, this is a Kelly a question for you. What should client expectations be when launching an influencer marketing program from your stand point?

    Kelly:  Yeah, I echo everything that Mark said. Um it really is about finding the right influencers, building long term relationships. It’s not all about the money. If you find the right ones, you can work out agreements with them so you’re not paying through the nose, you’re able to exchange product and then finding influencers who really want to grow their brand right along with your brand and view it as a true partnership.

    Kelly:  You know I’ve got influencers that we’ve worked with for years now who’ve become my personal friends

    Mary Beth:  Yeah.

    Kelly:  Just because we’ve worked together on so many things and I can call up Nick Shay in Atlanta and say, “Hey, we’ve got we’re working on this. Do you think it’s a good fit for your audience?” And so I think when you get to that level of really knowing who you’re working with and advocating for your clients for the right relationships in the right thing, the right influencers, that’s where you can have some amazing results. Speaking of measuring Mark, are you using AspireIQ to measure the effectiveness of your campaigns?

    Mark:  Yeah, they give you a lot of analytics built into the platform. But the great thing about digital marketing compared to the traditional, traditional marketing you put up a billboard and it’s hard to really measure the ROI on that. But with digital you can give your influencers unique coupon codes to give to their followers. And so it’s very easy to measure how many people actually use their unique coupon code and actually converted into sales to demonstrate the ROI. There’s so many great tools to measure that.

    Kelly:  Yeah. I’ve known um you know there’re campaigns and there’re platforms that manage all that within the influencer space. You know like Nordstrom may have a jean sale campaign and all of their influencers will get $25 for every pair of jeans that comes from their coupon code and they can make a lot of money to pushing jeans for Nordstrom. Um so the credibility factor. So one thing that we get asked over and over is now that there is a requirement for FTC disclosure, so you now have to, the influencer has to disclose that they’re working with the brand in exchange for product or money. And I’m not exactly sure what the legal language is. I don’t have it memorized. But that has been a new development. One of the questions that we get asked a lot is has it impacted influencer marketing? Has it um tainted influencer marketing in the mind of consumers? And my answer to that is no. I mean we haven’t seen it slowing down at all.

    Mary Beth:  Yeah, that’s good because I mean, ethics lady over here, I mean I just really think the disclosure aspect is a good thing and I’m glad that that’s not negatively impacting you know how effectively these efforts can work. But I do think that from a trust building standpoint, it’s good for that disclosure to be there. I guess part of the question is how can clients be sure they’re hitching their star to the right wagon? And um I think the disclosure aspect too is a good way to be sure that there’s that trust aspect with the audience and for them then to know what is involved and how you’ve engaged them as an influencer.

    Kelly:  Right, and um if you’re doing it right, there should always be a contractual agreement with the influencer.

    Mary Beth:  Right.

    Kelly:  Um so that’s one of the aspects of managing an influencer marketing campaign. It’s really, there’s a lot more that goes into it than I think meets the eye. Would you agree with that Mark?

    Mark:  Yeah, absolutely. And part of the building relationship process is just have really cute, or clear communication about the expectations and those guidelines that you communicate with them. I think that it works out really well that usually the most successful influencers are the ones that won’t compromise their ethics and value because they are really passionate about their interests in the industry and so most of them in my experience will not endorse a product that they don’t really like. They don’t love using it because they care so much and value the loyalty and the trust of their audience.

    Mark:  And so we’ve had great results of our influencers really believing in our products. So we haven’t run into that. But I mean even with my kid’s YouTube channel, one of their favorite toy reviewers that had, and I’m not going to name his name, but he’s one of the biggest, he’s made millions off it, toy reviews. He just got slapped with a big fine from the FTC for not mentioning that they were sponsoring a product and so that risk is out there. That’s one of the risks of influencer marketing and that’s why it’s really important to have clear guidelines set out when you’re doing it.

    Kelly:  Yeah, you’ve got to know what the law is. I mean that is kind of a non-negotiable aspect of this.

    Mary Beth:  And somebody has to be constantly monitoring what the influencer is doing. So if you are managing the campaign, you’ve got to be watching and making sure that they are complying. Mark, do you have any final advice besides hiring Fletcher? Just kidding.

    Kelly:  Shameless put disclosure fully disclosed.

    Mary Beth:  For a brand considering utilizing influencer marketing?

    Mark:  Absolutely. The most important thing for a brand, when they’re sharing their story, they’re building a community around their brand and it is to build trust. People are way more likely to build from a brand that they trust and people don’t always trust advertiser but they do trust influencers. So that’s why it’s such a powerful tool. The most important thing a brand can do is just to be part of the conversation. To be part of the community. To invest in building relationships with the people who are the thought leaders within this community and be involved and influencer marketing is a great way to be a part of that and build those relationships and build the trust.

    Kelly:  Yeah, it is the essence of public relations after all.

    Mary Beth:  It is. Thanks so much for joining us, Mark. This has been a great conversation and to our listeners, be sure to follow Mark’s company PetSafe on Twitter.

    Kelly:  And please follow also Fletcher marketing PR as well at Twitter handle FletcherPR. We will respond to your questions and comments, so please post them using the hashtag Ms. InterPReted and that’s #MsInterPReted and for visibility sake, don’t forget to capitalize the PR. Everyone, thanks for joining us. See you next time.

    Speaker 1:  Thanks for joining us on Ms. InterPReted public relations demystified. You can keep up with the latest on the podcast at and on iTunes, Spotify, Google play or wherever you listen to podcasts. We’ll see you next time.