User generated content for consumer "influencers" identified by Zyper.

Influencers are not only the incredibly well-dressed and, in many cases, incredibly Facetuned, content creators commanding $20,000 fees for a single, sponsored Instagram post.

According to Amber Atherton, founder of social advertising network Zyper, they’re also regular people with 350 Instagram followers who just happen to wield influence among their immediate family, friends and colleagues.

Twenty-seven-year-old Atherton realized the value of the customer “influencer” while running My Flash Trash, an online jewelry marketplace she founded at 16. She dropped out of school and raised angel investments in 2007 to start what she called the “product of my coding childhood.”

“We used to use a lot of influencers to drive acquisition. Kate Middleton was a big customer, so was Cara Delevingne,” Atherton said, adding that it wasn’t until a member of One Direction bought a piece of jewelry that she saw the explosion of the online fangirl community. “It was the longest traffic uplifts that we had ever seen and it seemed to be the most effective customer acquisition tool on a cost basis. That sparked this idea that we could build this incredible audience on social. We had some supercool customers who weren’t influencers or traditional celebrities, but they had extremely high engagement and influence in their immediate peer group.”

In 2016, a Hong Kong-based manufacturing group acquired the marketplace for a reported $5 million and Atherton got to work on building software that can identify the top 1 percent of any brand’s customer base. Today, Zyper’s technology is able to scan millions of images and text content across social networks to pull together data to help identify this group of customers.

Instead of looking at reach as a primary indicator of the way influencers are identified in the traditional sense, her software targets peer-to-peer, community-powered influence by looking at metrics such as how often the majority of one’s followers engage with their content; at least 2 percent engagement; a posting cadence of two to three times per week; an aesthetic that matches the brand; a good follower to follower ratio, and if they’re followed by anyone verified. Once identified, brands can market to these specific individuals knowing they have more influence over their friends and family than the average person.

Her goal is to create a scenario where the customer becomes the influencer and fashion and beauty companies parlay this individual’s brand loyalty into sales.

And she’s off to a pretty good start.

In just nine months, the monthly subscription service counts Walgreens and brands from Unilever, the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Coty Inc. as clients. Zyper also works with venture-backed start-ups Papier and Bloom and Wild and Y Combinator companies like Vinebox and Proven Beauty. Atherton raised a seed round of $1.2 million and struck a strategic partnership with MEC, the WPP-owned ad agency.

“Brands [need] to reassess this idea of building their own social networks and communities, and these can be on top of social platforms. We’re de-centralizing advertising. We’re bypassing intermediaries and providing more cost-effective advertising,” she said.

It’s also a good way to subsidize traditional influencer spend, especially in today’s digital landscape where fake followers and engagement could dramatically reduce return on investments in the space.

Benefit Cosmetics, which just executed a reported $10 million influencer program to support its Badgal Bang Volumizing Mascara rollout, recently partnered with Zyper to amplify the launch.

“We do a lot of work with more traditional influencers, but were keen for this launch to engage our community in a new way. So many of them can produce such beautiful content, while also achieving really positive engagement rates,” said Michelle Stoodley, head of digital marketing at Benefit Cosmetics, of using user-generated content, or UGC, to leverage brand awareness, while rewarding this community.

Atherton outlined how the program works: a brand grants Zyper access to its audience lists and social media followings to help the software determine the most “influential” followers. This data lives on a dashboard that’s accessible to the brand so they can set up campaigns and “rewards” specific for the 1 percent. Once the campaign is set up, Zyper contacts each follower — via e-mail, direct message, Facebook, etc. — to get them into a “community” where they’re incentivized to create UGC with rewards or experiences. Advocates are not paid.

“It’s about them having exclusivity and driving referral sales through their social links and UGC,” she said of what’s deemed a “hybrid loyalty program” by the Advertising Standards Authority. “Everything is about influence being democratized. The customer is the influencer now.”

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