If you are looking for a guru in the field of influencer marketing, you'd be hard pressed to find a better choice than Shane Barker.
Over his 20 years of experience working as a digital marketer he's helped everyone from celebrities to Fortune 500 companies grow their revenue by millions of dollars. One of the ways he's done this is by cracking the code on the best way to choose and work with influencers.
He's been published by publications like Entrepreneur, Forbes, Inc, and Search Engine Journal. He's been named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Influencer Marketing, literally an influencer's influencer. And his schedule is jam-packed with speaking engagements. So I was quite pleased when he agreed to sit down and chat with me.
Here's what he had to say. Transcript of our old school phone conversation, lightly edited for readability.
Carmen: You've created a massive online presence via content marketing and influencer marketing. How did you get started in digital marketing and decide on these two strategies to build your business?
Shane: It's kind of funny.
So, I started doing digital marketing. I was always in denial, for the longest time. I think it was 12 years. My wife walked by one day and I was doing an interview and she said, "You know it's been more like twenty years?"
I'm in a little denial about how old I am or I guess I don't want to get older or something. I'll take the experience, but I don't want to age. I don't want to be in my 40s.
I've been doing digital marketing for 20+ years and it's evolved from doing SEO-type stuff. I've had my own businesses. That's really what it kind of was. I didn't have tons of money so I was like, "How am I going to get people to know about my product or service? And how am I going to get it out there?"
I'd always kind of liked marketing and I was always kind of intrigued by it, so I went to school and graduated and all that fun stuff. But really it was grinding it out and learning how to do stuff. At that time I was using GetAFreelancer.com to really grow myself as an individual and also work with good people.
That was, like I said, twenty years ago. Sticking with influencer marketing and content marketing those things both (content marketing is something we invested in—I say "we" because I have a team now—about 7 years ago I started writing for my blog, and at that time). I actually still have the original blog post I wrote which was really terrible, and I always keep that. I show clients. I teach at UCLA, so I show my students. "Hey, listen, everyone has to start somewhere."
They'd say, "I want to do video but I'm nervous about this, or I don't want to do this, and I don't want to mess up."
And I'd say, "Let me show you my first blog post."
And they'd say, "God, that's terrible."
And I'd say, "Exactly."
That's the whole point. You have to start somewhere.
So, content marketing, we did an early investment in that, and it's paid off now. I mean, now my site indexes for about 500 keywords that are at number one, some crazy amount, I don't know. It took a lot of time and a lot of investment. I know when I was originally doing that my wife would say, "You seem to be spending a lot of money on your website, all this writing, and hiring people, what do you think that's going to...?"
And I said, "Well, it's an interesting thing down the road. How are people going to find me?"
Nobody's going to come knocking on my door if I don't have some content out there so they know what I'm working on.
Nobody's going to say, "I just felt like knocking on your door and wanted to hire you, do you do marketing?"
You know, that just never happens to anybody. So what I was looking at was, "How can I get the word out," and really it was through education, through my blog, saying, "Hey, this is how you do this, this is how you do that."
That was kind of it. We just did an early investment in that.
And then influencer marketing, kind of hit me over the head. I had a client come to me who said, "Hey, we're looking for some marketing." She was selling a fitness ebook. When she got to me she was making $400,000 a year. We got her up to 1.6 million. I just couldn't believe it. She was on Instagram and she was crushing it selling these ebooks.
So, influencer marketing came to me as like a client, it wasn't a client, she just needed some help with what she thought was social media marketing and then I looked at it and she just had a crazy following on Instagram. It was like at the heyday, in the beginning stages where you could pretty much put up anything and everybody was buying. It was hot and heavy. It was interesting! That's what got me to where I am today.
Carmen: Gotcha! You've just talked about the hot and heavy period, but talk about the evolution a little bit in influencer marketing as a strategy, and what's changed since then.
Shane: Yeah, I think a lot of things have changed. I think like anything else. You know, when I was doing SEO a long long time ago and it wasn't SEO, it seemed to be easier.
There's two things: there's the ease of doing it because there's not a lot of people doing it, but you also have the other side of it where now there's more people in the influencer space, and obviously in the SEO space, but there's software as well.
Back in the day I didn't have software.
I'd have to go look at somebody's profile and evaluate and take notes and have my team go and kind of dig deeper on people.
There wasn't anything software-wise to go take a look at. Now software streamlines your process of going and finding those right influencers. It is a little more difficult because you have to be a little more creative with your content.
There's authenticity, some other things. There's been some negative PR, well, and there's been some great PR, but also negative PR about influencer marketing.
So it definitely has evolved. Originally it was word-of-mouth marketing. People would use celebrities. Now, today, anybody can be an influencer.
You don't have to have a million followers to be an influencer. You can have 1,000 of the right followers and that can be favorable. That means you have influence over your community, and that means you could potentially vouch and be an ambassador for a product or service.
So that's kind of the cool part. It's kind of leveled the playing fields.
Carmen: It seems like the micro-influencers are starting to become more profitable than the celebrities. Is that correct?
Shane: This is what we've found, the information, the stuff we've done, the cases we've done, the campaigns.
Here's the thing: with influencer marketing, when you go to the big influencers, they're more seasoned and they're going to ask for more money, because they've been doing this longer.
What happens is, they want more money so you're going to have to spend more money there right? But the problem is you have a lower engagement rate.
The analogy I always use is: let's say if you go to a restaurant, and I open up a restaurant, and I have 100 people come through in 4 hours. I should be able to go introduce myself to everyone right? And shake hands. So I'll shake hands, and kiss babies. Now my engagement is very high. It's at 100%, because I only had 100 people come in 4 hours, but I could go thank everybody for coming to my restaurant.
Now those people coming in, let's think of them as comments. Let's say I got 50 comments in an hour's time, right. You have that high engagement rate. Now let's say I have a restaurant open from 5-9 with 10,000 people coming through. I'm not going to be able to shake hands and kiss babies. I'm not going to be able to tell everybody thank you.
I'm able to do it to 20% of them. Well, 80% of them are going to leave and go,
"Well, Shane never even came and said hi to me."
So it's the same thing. If I get 10,000 comments on an influencer that has a million followers the engagement's always going to be less because the influencer doesn't have time to write 1,000 comments, right? They're not going to spend that time. The engagement rates are less.
So you have someone like a Kim K. or someone like that, someone with these big huge followings and big huge numbers, if you're just looking for eyeballs, you're a Pepsi or a Coke or someone and you've got these big budgets, you're just looking for overall, you already have the billboards, you're already in the stores and you just need those impressions, then that makes sense.
I'm not saying smaller brands shouldn't work with big influencers, because you can, just know that when it comes down to engagement...what I would do is instead of putting all my eggs in one influencer basket what I do is put in five or ten or fifteen or twenty, and kind of see what goes.
The common misconception with influencer marketing is brands are going to look at people that have the largest following, and that they automatically assume that's going to equal the most amount of money, or the most of conversions. Or the most whatever it is. It doesn't. So that's where you get that disconnect, the bad PR, "Oh, influencer marketing doesn't work, because I went and hired Joe Blow Influencer and we did one campaign, and I gave him $10,000 and I only sold $80 worth of product."
That's because you were going after the numbers.
Usually, a lot of the time, the campaigns are set up incorrectly too. There's a lot of potential pitfalls. Once again, the influencer you pick is going to be a big part of that.
It's a little like SEO.
If you pick the wrong keywords, then who cares if you're doing SEO? Or if you're doing PPC and you have the wrong target audience, it's just not going to sell. It's the same thing with influencers.
Carmen: Because the industry's still maturing, how would you say agencies should get started offering it as a service to their clients? And would you say it works for small, local businesses?
Shane: Yeah, so if you're an agency looking to get into influencer marketing the biggest thing, what we're really pushing for 2019, my agency?
What we're doing is we're doing a course with influencers to show them how to work with brands. The class I teach at UCLA is personal branding and how to be an influencer. The other part of the course is how to work with influencers.
So there's two sides to this.
The interesting part is, when we help influencers, we're saying, listen, you have influence over your community, but not all influencers are marketers, so they don't really know how to run a business a lot of the time.
So we say if you want to do this full-time, if you want to turn this into a business, let me show you how to do that. Let me show you how to build this into a business, your own personal brand to build you into an influencer.
On the other side, we have these brands that say, "Listen, I can find these influencers, but I don't know what to negotiate, I don't know what to look for, I don't know what to say, I don't know what questions to ask."
So we have one course that's going to be online that's strictly for influencers. They can go, and they'll have a Slack group, and they can go and ask questions. "Hey I have this brand, this is what I'm thinking."
Then we have another course we're doing, actually one we're starting in San Francisco on March 21st, where we're actually going to have agencies come in, and we're going to train them on how to work with influencers, how to find the influencers, how to use the software.
It's a full one-day course, because that's where people are saying influencer marketing really works.
Now, I'm not saying every campaign works. I'm not saying 100% of the time, but the thing is there's pitfalls and there's things that you can learn so you're not blowing your $10,000 or twenty or fifty or $100,000 on a campaign that doesn't go well because there was certain things you didn't know.
What we're trying to do, is get that education going so people can go, and say,
"Now I've read some articles and I've taken Shane's course. Now I feel like I can start talking to some influencers, because I have the the contracts. I know what to include in my brief. I know what to negotiate. I know how to negotiate, and those kinds of things."
Carmen: When you're doing local influencer marketing, what does that look like?
Shane: When you do local stuff it's no different from the other stuff, except the influencers are local.
So, if you're a smaller company (and everybody has their own definition of what's large or small), but if you're a local company, the cool thing about working with local influencers is that you can meet with them, right?
You can kind of have that conversation. With my influencers, I always meet with them, whether it's Zoom or some kind of interview or something like that.
Because I want to know where they're at. You're really potentially starting a relationship with them, right?
The idea is you really want to get to know these people.
So if it's a local influencer for a local company I always want to meet with these people locally, because then there's no better way to judge someone's character, see where they're at, see what their goals are.
You've got to make it a win-win.
If I'm a brand working with an influencer, how do we make it seem like this person doesn't even feel like they're working, because I'm also making their brand grow. It needs to be that kind of reciprocation. You just don't see that a lot. A lot of brands go, "Hey, here's a free shirt, will you post five times about it?"
They get pitched so much, you're kind of losing that human feel of let's talk this out and come up with a campaign or strategy around each influencer you're working with. Because each one could be potentially different.
Carmen: So could you expand a bit on the difference between, "send you a shirt, post five times," and actually designing a campaign with these influencers?
Shane: That comes down to when you're pitching an influencer.
The first thing that happens is I think brands will send out a templated email to like 500 influencers, because they have a certain keyword they use or something. That's not always the best way.
The problem is, the analogy I always use is—and I've been happily married for almost 13 years, but let's say I'm on a profile and I say, "I just want to date blondes. That's all I want, just blonde women. That's it."
And I send out 500 emails that say, "Hey, I have money," or whatever I put. All of a sudden, I get like 100 girls that say, "I'm a blonde, I'd love to get together."
That's not really what I want—I need to look a little more.
Hey, do you want to have kids? Where do you live? There needs to be more parameters than that, right?
So it's the same thing with influencers.
You don't just want to say we're looking for XYZ influencers, because the idea is to look at your list. Let's say you want to find ten great influencers, and you find 50 or 100 and you go and look at them. Look at their profiles, find some information about other sponsorships they've done. You want them to know there's a reason you're picking them. You want them to know they're not just a blonde on a website.
You've dug a little bit. You've done a little research. "Let me tell you why this would be a good fit between my company does XYZ, and your brand, or your profile, blah blah blah."
So that's not just the blanket pitching of, "let's see if someone will take it," it's building kind of a deeper relationship with the influencer, really talking to them, letting them realize you're different from someone who is just trying to pitch them.
The idea is we're looking for some sort of partnership down the road, and be honest about what that is. I think there's where a lot of the times companies just send on these templated emails, and they move on to the next one.
Carmen: So what's the value of an influencer review to a business, and how can influencers and businesses really walk that fine line between a review, which is paid for, still presents a level of authenticity that potential customers don't dismiss?
Shane: Authenticity is a big subject with influencer marketing.
It really comes down to the brand and who they're going to be partnered with.
And what I mean by that is, if you have an influencer that gives honest reviews, and you're looking for an honest review, then that's who you want to hire. Because their audience is going to say,
"Listen, I've followed John for ten years, I know he's represented probably 200 products, and 80 of them he loved, 125 he didn't love and 90 of them he hated."
So you have to be ready for that. What are you hiring this influencer to do? If you're paying for them to review your product, do you have a great product? You have to be ready for that.
There's some companies, some people that have certain influencers that are always going to give it a favorable review, but it all depends on how you do that. You don't have to slam it and say, "Oh my god, this is the worst product ever." You can say, "You know, for me this product just didn't work, I do this, this, and this, it doesn't make sense for me but I can see how it makes sense for other people in these types of situations."
You're being honest, it just doesn't work for you. You have to be that way. This is the problem.
If I go, "Oh my god, this coffee mug I just got, this is the best coffee mug I've ever had,"
Then the next day, "Oh my god, these earphones I got, oh, they're the best ever, and oh my god this microphone is so cool, I love this microphone."
Then you're like, "Shane, you love everything! I'm starting to get confused on what you're just endorsing and getting paid for or whether you really believe in and enjoy these products."
You get into this thing where if you're true to yourself with your reviews and the way you do things, you're never going to get into a situation like...they just had this thing from Payless.
They put up a fake store and they had a bunch of influencers go in there. They all started promoting these shoes that were supposed to be high-end shoes. Well, they weren't high-end shoes.
The unfortunate part is, if you look at a shoe and you like the shoe, you can say you like the shoe. But if you're staying stuff you don't believe is true because you're in a high-end place, then you lose some of that authenticity.
You have to be honest with yourself and be honest with your audience.
You will start to lose your audience at a very fast pace if people start to feel like, "I just feel like Shane's always promoting stuff. He's gimmicky. He's always trying to sell stuff."
Be authentic in the sense that, hey, you're going to give a review, and it's important to disclose ahead of time, "Hey, I was compensated for this," or "Hey, I received some sort of free product for this."
Or you know, same thing with affiliate marketing. If I have affiliate stuff on my website, I'll put on there, "hey, just so you know, this is an affiliate review, I do receive some type of compensation for it but it doesn't change the pricing on your guys' side. They just give me a commission for being a part of it."
That's kind of what we do on our site, just disclose it, make sure everybody knows.
Carmen: So, are there any established standards for pricing an influencer campaign or sponsorship opportunity?
Shane: That's always the question of the day, like how much do I pay them, where do I find this out?
With influencer marketing, it's interesting because everybody's different. What I mean by that is, every influencer has their own business. They don't know what to do, pricing-wise. Maybe they do that all the time.
But what I would do is with influencers say,
"Hey, this is our product, this is our service, how would you see this working? Is this a product where you'd be interested in getting free product, would you want to do pay-for-post, would you want to do an affiliate-type relationship? What do you think would work with your audience?"
You have to be able to look at that as a brand or service and go, "Okay, that makes sense to me. I'd like to do an affiliate thing, and maybe a little pay-up-front, because I know they have a content team and a little bit of content, that's going to cost some money," and then they get 10%, 20%, on the back end of whatever they sell.
Everything's negotiable and everything can be talked out.
There's no, "You should pay every influencer with 10,000 followers $286." There's nothing like that. It comes down to: don't make an assumption every influencer will work for free, but also don't make an assumption that they won't, right?
You don't want to pigeon hole yourself.
Somebody might say, "Hey, I've heard of your product, I love your product, and I would absolutely do this for free." This could be someone with a huge following. And you're like, "Wow, I wouldn't have even thought of that. I would have thought they had too big of a following, so I went in and told them I was going to give them $1000 a post, and here they are saying they just want the free product which really only costs wholesale, $100."
That's a win!
I would go in with an open mind. "Hey, what are you thinking here?"
We're willing to look at these things, but everything is negotiable, everybody has their own business and the way they run things.
Carmen: You also help businesses with their sales funnels. What's the biggest sales funnel problem you typically see when you first start working with a new client?
Shane: Yeah, I think when it comes to sales funnels, I mean, sales funnels are tricky.
It's like anything else. Once you get a good one, obviously it's great. You can pour as much money as you need into it, and it just starts pumping out cash.
But with sales funnels in general, the hardest part is putting that whole process together.
When someone gets into your sales; getting their attention; how you pull them into your sales funnel.
A lot of things people underutilize is video. So somebody signs up for something on my website and I send them a video that says, "Hey, you guys, I just wanted to thank you so much for downloading my ebook or downloading my course, here's what you can expect in the next several days."
And it's like, "Wow, that's really awesome that Shane jumped on and kind of talked to me a little bit."
We have further personalization that we do. We work with a company called Bonjoro and what they do is, it's a CRM system. When you get a message, if someone signs up for my course, let's say it's $500 or something. I can actually create a video on my phone and say, "Hey John, I just wanted to thank you for signing up for my course. Just so you know, this is going to be what happens next, I'm in Sacramento right now, I see you're in LA, maybe sometime we should go get coffee or something."
You can give them a personalized message right after they sign up, and they're like, "You've got to be kidding me. Shane just sent me a personal message thanking me for signing up."
So the personalization stuff, when it comes to sales funnels, is extremely important. It's really time-consuming, but it's like anything else.
If you spend some time with your customers or tell them how appreciative you are, or give them a little more attention, you can see big dividends from that.
Carmen: That's some long-term relationship building, and a lot of effort and time. Is there anything an agency can do to provide their clients with some quick wins while they're working on these longer strategies?
Shane: Yeah, I mean, really for a quick win the easiest way to go about that, it depends on the brand, the service, and the company, but look up your hashtag.
So let's say you're a Mom and Pop sneaker place. Go look up that hashtag. You never know. You might have some people who are already fans of your store, product, or service who are already writing about your stuff, who are already saying good things about it.
Why would I not want to bring on someone who is already an evangelist?
Say, "Hey, I'm willing to give you 20% of any business you bring in, you're already talking about me, I appreciate that, let's see if I can sweeten the deal for you a little bit."
Now they're naturally talking about you even more, because now they have an incentive to do so. We've done with that with a lot of our clients.
Go find the low-hanging fruit, right?
It's one thing to go convince an influencer to work with you and all this kind of stuff, but it's a lot easier if you already have someone that loves your product, loves your service, those are some easy wins. It doesn't take a lot of work.
Carmen: So where do online reviews come into play with the sales funnel? Do you think businesses should focus on that? How can they use them to augment and help their sales funnel?
Shane: When it comes to reviews, reviews or any kind of social proof are like, you just can't get enough of it.
My client Zoe, who we did influencer marketing for, before and after, it was all after pictures on Instagram. A girl would see a picture here, and then she'd see a picture of where Zoe's at today, and like oh my god, this is me today, and this is where I want to be.
It's any kind of social proof.
We used to put that on the home page, we'd have all the girls who bought the program, and they'd go on Facebook and say, "Oh I just bought the product, this is awesome."
So reviews you can't get enough of them, right?
If you've got great reviews awesome, if you've got bad reviews it's really bad, right? And then you're not going to get any sales. So the idea is you always want to be in control of your reviews, because reviews can be used on your homepage. If anyone goes and Googles my name, I want to make sure my reviews are solid there. If they're not good, then I have to go in and review that.
Make an assessment. "Okay, do I have a problem in my product or my business? What do we have going on here?"
I think a lot of people say, "We'll just play a blind eye to it and see what happens."
If you get bad reviews, you're up a certain creek without a paddle. If you have good reviews and you have control over them, now, if you get a bad review, it doesn't taint your reviews.
Carmen: Do you have any other recommendations for businesses in terms of review management strategies?
Shane: It's funny, I just partnered with SEMRush on one that we did a live workshop here in Sacramento. Really it comes down to Google your name. Google your name, or the owner of the company.
Go and take a look and set up alerts. You can do Google Alerts. There's all kinds of good ones out there.
You just set up an alert, and that way, if someone is talking about your company, good or bad, and you're writing reviews, then you can go, take a look at that, assess the situation, and either try to make it right, or go on to past customers and give them an incentive to write a review for your product or service.
Carmen: And finally, how would agencies work with you personally if they wanted to grow their business, and what services do you offer to other digital marketing agencies?
Shane: What we do is we do a few things. The main thing where we spend our time is influencer marketing. I do consulting on influencer marketing, and then obviously the education side of things.
Then we're really big on online PR.
People are looking for mentions on these big websites, I write for Inc and Forbes and all the fun websites. So if you're looking to get like a SaaS product or whatever, and get the word out about your product or service, we help with that.
We do a lot of graphic design stuff and sharing it on other websites for backlinks and stuff like that.
The thing for us is really driving that traffic, then helping to convert that traffic into sales and leads.
Carmen: Fantastic! Thank you very much for your time today.
Shane: Absolutely, I appreciate you having me on.