Kristy Sammis is the founder and chief innovation officer of the award-winning influencer marketing agency, CLEVER, which is based in California. She’s been a social media marketing trail blazer throughout her career, including being the first person to create sponsorships between influencers and brands.
She speaks to Felicity Carter about how to use Instagram and influencer marketing effectively.
Influencer marketing as I understand it is identifying people who have built their own social media following, particularly on Instagram, and getting them to tap into their community on your behalf. How did you get into it?
The company I run turns ten this year, so we’ve been doing influencer marketing for quite some time. Some folks think it’s a new concept, but it’s not. We started before Instagram was around. Prior to starting this company I was with an organisation called BlogHer—I was their first employee. We put together a conference for women who blog and were the first people putting together sponsored opportunities for women in social media. We didn’t call them influencers—they were just bloggers. The Twitter came into existence, and Facebook, and now you can be an influencer.
What changes have you seen in social media usage over that time? Have people fundamentally altered the way they communicate, or are they just communicating the same way but using different channels?
I’ve seen hugely different changes. It’s a completely different beast than it was when we started out. The type of content that people gravitate towards, whether we like it or not has evolved from longer form to the briefest of brief format. When we all started out and influencer marketing was new, we were just bloggers. It was really hard just to get an image on your blog post—you had to take it from your camera to the computer to the blog. There was no phone imagery. Everything was long form and the people who were the best writers were the most successful at building audiences and sponsorships. Over time, blogs became more visual. It became easier to take good images and get them online faster. Microblogging became a thing, then Facebook, and then Instagram changed everything. Now it’s visual first and text second and that’s where we are.
There’s a lot of discussion about Instagram. Is it really something wineries need to be doing?The very first question I would ask is: “Who are you trying to reach?” I live in California and am familiar—mostly through osmosis—with the challenges that American wineries are facing. I assume it’s the same for European wineries. They’re all trying to find a replacement for the aging boomers. Who’s going to be that replacement? There has been much hoopla around the Millennials—some refer to them as ‘elder Millennials’ now, who are buying their own homes and trading up. If that’s who you’re trying to reach, then being on Instagram is imperative. If you’re still targeting folks over 45, it’s not as critical. You don’t have to be on all platforms. You don’t have to be everywhere, but you want to focus on who it is you’re trying to reach and do your homework in terms of who it is you’re trying to appeal to. Is it your current mailing list—the people already buying your wine? Or are you trying to acquire new customers?
Say you are trying to acquire new customers. How should you use it?
I think that there are different approaches. It depends on where your other marketing tactics fall; social media in general is a tactic. How will it complement other things? It’s best for brand engagement. Engagement matters in that it’s a way of tracking how well you’re doing, and also building awareness and keeping your brand top of mind. 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 push them over the edge. It’s wonderful to have people who are fans, but it’s most effective for acquisition.
When it comes to using Instagram, should you take shots that are always in alignment with your brand image? By this I mean, should you be using relevant colours and images all the time, or should you think more about conveying life behind the winery.
Most marketing people will say to have an aesthetic and this is somewhat important, but what we are seeing—most of our programs and influencers are on the younger side—is that the more extemporaneous you are, the more engagement there is. We’re all so media savvy. We crave authenticity and people talking to us like we’re real people. The more off the cuff, the more behind-the-scenes you are, the likelier you are to build engagement and excitement.
The trend seems to be that your still images can be of the same aesthetic, but you’re really going to get traction with your Instagram Stories. The silly dumb stories that aren’t planned and scripted. “Here we are stomping on grapes. Here is someone eating at their desk.”
What do people need to know about using influencers?
The challenge is that influencers are real people, not advertising units, so they don’t do what you want them to do. They live in the space between hired people and public relations relationships, the ones where you simply send the wine and you hope they’re going to do something with it. With an influencer, you want to enter into a professional relationship and the most important thing is to understand what it is you are trying to do. Who are you trying to reach? If you have done your research and know who your target audience is, you want influencers who look like that. For example, it won’t matter that they have a million followers if they are too young for alcohol, or if their audience isn’t in a place where your wine is available. Influencers are getting savvier about telling brands what their audience looks like.
Assuming you don’t have a budget to use an influencer agency, where would you find an influencer?
There are tools and things you can buy, but the easiest way is go to Instagram and do searches on locales and/or very specific hash tags. You can go in and see your family 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 hash tags. Also see who’s posting similar content. The top posters will come up. You can also go to Google and start with lifestyle bloggers and influencers.
The reality is that the agencies are expensive. Here is what I say to smaller wineries: influencer marketing is either going to cost you a lot of time or a lot of money. It can’t be cheap and easy. You might have to write to 20 to get one to respond.
What do you need to offer them? Can you dictate what they post?
You're not paying them to be a copywriter or to say only positive things; you're paying for their work, for their time, and for access to their audience. 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. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for negotiation. It’s not “hey wanna come?” 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. “We are willing to pay your airfare and lodging and here is what we want from you—how many posts.” You don’t want to tell them what to do, but you can delineate the deliverables. They need to do what they say they’re going to do.
The other option is to make an Instagrammable space so your visitors can do all the Instagram work for you. In this case, what makes a great Instagrammable space?
Obviously people like colour and people like being silly. I have never seen a space that has provided people with silly hats and boas and props that people won’t use. I want to go back to this idea because this is where we all stumble. I’ve been in this space for a long time and have a traditional corporate background, but what is hardest for brands to understand is that while you do need a website and a logo and it all has to be well thought out and well presented, that’s where it ends. This idea that you can be fluid and fun and off-the-cuff, and that the content that’s most real and least polished does better is scary for anyone with a traditional marketing background.
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. You don’t want images that are so posed they’re perfect. I know wineries that spend thousands of dollars to get the right still shot, or the right video—and some of thatis OK—but you’re going to get a lot more traction from your winemaker turning on his phone and snapping a 30-second-long video of what he’s doing that day.
There’s no backlash if you don’t do it well. Just experiment and have fun.
Interview by Felicity Carter
There will be a major feature on Instagram marketing in Issue 1, 2019 of Meininger's Wine Business International. Subscribe now so you don't miss it.