Launched in 2013, Collectively Inc. cofounders Ryan Stern and Alexa Tonner leveraged their experience in content strategy at Federated Media and Glam to connect consumer product, fashion and style influencers with brands via an agency model.

The company said since its inception, it has completed over 200 influencer marketing initiatives. Some of the notable brands the company works with includes Gap Inc.’s Old Navy, HP, Jawbone, BareMinerals and GMC, among others.

The company is based in San Francisco, and has offices in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Here, Tonner discusses luxury’s social media presence, how influencers are paid and the ingredients of a successful campaign, among other topics.

WWD: Firstly, what is it about the beauty industry that makes it so unique in the influencer world?

Alexa Tonner: The beauty industry has long understood the importance of word of mouth and “influencing the influencers,” so beauty brands today are simply using digital and social platforms to do what they’ve always done: get product out, educate consumers, tell their brand story and build community. Beauty influencers have also proved to be some of the most-watched and most-followed creators on YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat — making it possible to reach a tremendous amount of fans at once.

WWD: Why do you think the luxury segment is so prominent on social media?

A.T.: Many luxury brands were actually slow to develop their digital and social presence. But as traditional celebrity influencers adopted Instagram and Snapchat, luxury brands saw an opportunity to reach their customer. When an influencer is sharing a picture of her outfit and wants to tag your bag you need an Instagram account for her to tag. Burberry was one of the first luxury brands really making the most of Instagram, and now you’ve got most of the major luxury labels on the platform and using it creatively. The best luxury brands are also phenomenal visual storytellers with access to some of the best talent in the world, so visual mediums like Instagram and YouTube are just helping them reach more people.

WWD: How often are influencers paid for posts in the luxury and beauty world?

A.T.: It depends. There’s a significant amount of unpaid sampling — similar to a traditional public relations mailing, a lot of influencers are sent courtesy samples when new products launch. But paying influencers has a place too — when you’re inviting an influencer to be part of a campaign and expecting specific assets or content, you need to pay that person for their work and their time. You wouldn’t expect a stylist to work for free, why would you expect someone who is styling, shooting and distributing content to work for free?

WWD: What is the benefit of paying influencers in these industries?

A.T.: There’s the moral reason — it’s responsible of a brand to not expect someone to work for free, especially if that person is also distributed that content to thousands or millions of followers. There’s also the practical reason: if someone is getting paid, you can be very clear about what your expectations are for the content — what it will look like, when it’s due, how it will be shared. Paying gives you the right to those expectations, whereas just sending product doesn’t give you a say in the ultimate outcome.

WWD: Which social media outlets are the most popular in these industries?

A.T.: Definitely the more visual platforms: Instagram and YouTube. Snapchat is a close third and some brands have done a brilliant job leveraging it. Facebook Live is also proving rewarding for some brands since Facebook has really privileged video content in the news feed.

WWD: Who is the target audience? Consumers? Aspirational consumers?

A.T.: Both. Today’s beauty or luxury social media account definitely have followers from both camps. Reaching both takes a variety of content approaches – what works for one group might not work for another. With the brands we work with, we often talk about finding “proxy influencers,” those influencers that truly represent the target consumer in terms of their demographic and psychographics.

WWD: What would you say makes a successful partnership between a brand and an influencer?

A.T.: True collaboration. Brands should be willing to listen to influencers and allow their point of view to be reflected in the content. Brands should also be strategic about who they parter with and why. Everyone knows the five to 10 biggest names in the industry and the rush to work with them is driving up costs and probably delivering diminishing returns. Brands should seek a deeper knowledge of the space and be thoughtful in which influencers they work with — ideally it can be a long-term partnership that evolves organically over time.

WWD: What are some of the common pitfalls?

A.T.: Choosing the wrong influencer, being overly prescriptive when it comes to content, not respecting the influencer during the process. It’s important for brands to realize that the experience of collaborating will leave an impression — being rude or difficult to work with will leave a bad taste in their mouth and prohibit future collaborations or organic content creation.

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