Journalists used to be one of the few conduits through which brands could gain market exposure. Today, thanks to the proliferation of social networks, brands have more options than ever, with influencer marketing among the most powerful.
John Pacini, Managing Director of Everyday Health Group‘s Mom Media division and co-creator of the Mom 2.0 Summit, recently spoke with Zoetica Media founder Kami Huyse about how to effectively work with paid online influencers. His experience with iconic parenting media brands and major corporations like Kia Motors and Best Buy serves as the background for knowing the ins and outs of the powerful influencer marketing world.
Mom Bloggers Were the Early Influencers
When social media still primarily consisted of early message boards and a handful of personal blogs, and social networks hadn’t yet become ubiquitous, “Mommy Bloggers” became a powerful force. The authenticity and humor with which they shared the highs and lows of parenting drew readers in. As their readership grew, they caught the attention of companies as well.
John explains that, “what started to bubble to the surface was a group of just a handful of women and a few men – but mostly women – who had developed these blogs that had achieved commercial-level audiences that were larger than commercial media was getting, larger than, you know, most brands were getting with their best possible work.”
Realizing a shift in traditional marketing, John and a handful of others noted, “there's an opportunity here…. [and said], let's host a conversation, a moms, marketers, and media conversation, get everybody together and figure this out together.” That was the beginning of the Mom 2.0 Summit, which was co-founded by Laura Mays and John’s wife Carrie Pacini, with John serving as principal since its inception.
“From there, the M 2.0 community launched, and a few years later we launched Dad 2.0…. [today this community is] the longest running, farthest reaching, and largest parent influencer community in North America,” with an audience of over 300 million unique individuals. (Today, Mom Media is part of the Everyday Health Group, which acquired it in 2023.)
“Money magazine wrote an article that credited the Mom 2.0 community with having really, pun intended, birthed the modern influencer, now a $21 billion a year influencer industry,” he says proudly.
For Success to Happen, Influencers, Brands, and the Media Have to Know How to Work Together
Launching an influencer program isn’t something you can just throw together, John argues. Everyone needs to know the role they play and respect the role of others. “They all have to exist together because it's all part of the same amplification ecosystem,” he says.
“So you have to have brands who understand how to work with creators in an authentic way and are guided in that process, you have to also find creators who understand how to operate professionally as a business, if they're holding themselves out as a business, how to professionally run their platform, and you need the understanding and engagement of media who doesn't see it as competitive, and sees it as really something that they can benefit from in their own goals of having to put content out 24/7.”
Small Brands Have One Advantage over Large Brands When Working with Influencers
While big brands have a bigger market presence and thus usually greater visibility, by smaller default brands have an advantage over the bigger players, according to John. They know how to connect on a more personal level.
“If you're a large brand and you want to be able to have a real valuable long-term asset in your influencer relationships, you have to come down to a human level. And that's what we've really encouraged over the years with our live events – and the virtual events that we do as well, we try to keep as intimate as possible so they they don't feel impersonal – but the in-person events, like the people in the room here and the people getting together at various meetups and at our annual conferences and whatnot, that's where you build as humans… that's how you build those relationships.”
An Influencer is a Partner, Not a Means to an End
The smartest brands recognize influencers as true partners and don’t regard them as mere tools. Notes John, “the transactional nature of influencer or creator relationships is something that is of the past or really is becoming part of the past.”
If instead you want a mutually beneficial, long-lasting relationship that's built on respect, then you need to approach things differently than having a transactional “what can you do for me?” mindset, he argues. “[If] you go through an influencer broker… it's a direct transactional relationship. If you hire [influencers this way] you will at best get what you paid for, that's the best case scenario…beyond that you're not going to get much. It’s ‘thank you,’ work performed, invoice attached.”
Instead, he says that what has worked for him and his partners is building “equity in the relationship, and it's something that you can really call upon throughout the year.”
Let the Influencer Retain Their Voice
John recommends finding the right balance between ensuring a brand’s key marketing message points are hit and allowing the influencer to retain their voice. After all, their voice is what likely attracted the brand in the first place.
“One of our common things that we say is if you buy the voice, don't change the voice. And we see over and over again how there are so many…known agencies [and] brands, whatever, who will come in and – even sometimes of no fault of their own – will just edit it down to where it strips the heart out of it, and we lose the part that they were originally hiring.”
The Best Influencers Will Often Be Those Already Talking about Your Brand or Industry Category
To find the right influencers for your brand, identify people who are already talking about you or the industry you are in, John advises.
Especially for local brands and influencers, “start a conversation with them, be a human being, you know, engage with them if they're going to be at a public event.” Consider reaching out to them ahead of time as well. For example, “maybe if you're hosting a Farmers Market booth or something like that, make sure they know that you're going to be there, make sure that they know that you'd love to welcome them.”
Personal recognition goes far. “They want to be recognized, particularly on the local level if you're dealing with local creators, local influencers, local is their currency… that's something that is different from your larger, national creator [where] there's just a different [type] of currency in play,” he says.
Be Mindful of FTC Regulations
When working with influencers and creators, you also need to be mindful of regulations set out by the Federal Trade Commission.
“Any time an ‘expert’ or influential people are helping folks part with their money, the government wants to have a say in protecting that,” John says. “Industry regulations are always keeping up with that and trying to get rid of the bad apples.”
Within the new disclosure regulations that the FTC came out with this summer, John says one thing stood out for him in particular. “‘Clear’ and ‘conspicuous’ are repeated over and over again in terms of the disclosure, because a lot of the…hashtag and hashtag-sponsored sort of integration is being hidden, it's been put in the description or the comments [of a post].
“That is not Kosher anymore.” Instead, the fact that the content is sponsored “has to be visible, it has to be conspicuous,” he says.
See FTC's Endorsement Guides: What People Are Asking and 16 CFR Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising for detailed information on what is permissible and impermissible under FTC rules.
Weaving AI Into Your Influencer Relationships
John recognizes that “AI is here, we understand, it's not going anywhere, we know that.” In addition, “it's of value to certain creators and writers, to actually a broad swath of creators and writers across a lot of different industries.”
If used selectively and intelligently, he doesn't see a problem with that. “Think of it in terms of like a sous-chef for your content, if it's being used in a capacity to help people organize their thoughts or to organize their content into different sections things like that, [it’s ok].”
However, he explains that “from a very base level our policy is that we want original narratives, original stories told in an original and authentic way. That needs to be the output, and we are checking that against AI. If it's an AI written article, then we won't accept it and that could violate the terms of the agreement [with us].” In fact, “we'd probably never work with that person again.”
To hear John and Kami’s entire discussion, watch the full livestream.