Every now and then in the world of publishing and media, a business strategy arises that has everyone asking: "What is it?" "How do I use it to extend my brand and make some money?" That’s why tons of publishers, marketers, and others in the industry packed into an NYUSPS conference room to hear a sold-out panel discussion last week on Unlocking the Power of Influencers.
Co-hosted by the NYUSPS Center for Publishing and Publishers Weekly as part of PubTechConnect, a series of conferences and panel discussions on the intersection of publishing and innovation, the panel discussion clearly grabbed the attention of the industry. In a rapidly evolving world, publishers are evolving the way they approach marketing to drive sales and promote discoverability for their titles. The assembled panel of influencers, marketers, and digital solutions experts discussed possible ways forward.
"Influencers don’t even have to read or talk about my book," said Brittany Hennessy, co-founder of Carbon, a technology solutions company for influencers, and author of Influencer: Building Your Personal Brand in the Age of Social Media. "Just having the cover appear in their feed can be enough. [All the influencers] I follow have Kinfolk in their stories," she said, referring to the design-forward lifestyle magazine. "They don’t read Kinfolk." Hennessy gave the audience a unique and candid insight into how influencers drive the market. These are people with over 10,000 followers on social platforms such as Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter, who consumers look to for recommendations on fashion, diet, entertainment, and more. Content created by influencers consistently outperforms brand-created content, and it gets seen by younger audiences who don’t watch TV or read magazines.
A fairly new entry into the influencer realm is the high profile book club. Panelist Karah Preiss co-founded the online book club Belletrist with the actress Emma Roberts. As an influencer herself, Preiss says her best asset is brand affinity, the positive view her fans have of her platform and opinions. Belletrist works because the fans trust Preiss and Roberts to be authentic about their tastes. It’s all about trust.
As we all know, it's also about discovery in an era of digital clutter. Panelist Suzanne Skyvara, the VP of communications for Goodreads, is an expert on this subject. "Discovering a book is a journey," she told the audience. Goodreads has over 80 million users, making it the world's largest website for readers, a community for book-lovers to share their opinions. This also makes it a data goldmine for publishers to figure out what readers like, to find out who are the real audiences for their titles, and to identify the best channels to reach consumers. "Test the messaging," Skyvara urged publishers who are prone to spend thousands to millions on campaigns that don’t deliver, "and use it to inform the advertising."
As influencer marketing grows in influence, the big publishing companies are taking a hard look at the patterns of consumer use and at available data. The Random House Publishing Group recently conducted an influencer marketing "audit," which was shared by panelist Leslie Prives, Senior Director of Consumer Engagement and Analytics for the Random House Publishing Group at PRH. “Always start with your goals," she explained. "What do you want to accomplish?"
Prives provided the panel with case studies of her team’s experience with influencer marketing. The big takeaways involved maximizing reach with minimal spending and putting a strong emphasis upon engagement. Her team uses three types of influencers: paid influencers, who charge to post; organic (unpaid) influencers; and Bookstagrammers who partner with the publisher to read and review titles. Obviously, the latter two are presumably the most authentic because they’re free and because they love the product.
The final panelist and presenter was Adam Small, co-founder of Southern Made, a digital solutions lab that partners with brands like Penguin Random House and Harper Collins to create multimedia marketing campaigns. "Influencer marketing can live outside of social," he asserted, presenting innovative campaigns for everyone from rapper Wiz Khalifa to Amy Schumer. He gave two pieces of advice to publishers: try to do a lot with a little ("there is no minimum budget"), and try to make multi-purpose products and spaces that can be utilized for different projects and for many years to come.
The discussion was superbly moderated by Kristin Fassler, VP and Director of Integrated Marketing for the Atria Publishing Group at Simon & Schuster, Inc. Her three considerations for utilizing influencers were "effort, volume, and surprise and delight." First, she explained, while some influencers are willing to promote a product for free, there is a considerable time investment into researching and cultivating a trusting relationship with those influencers. Then, your consumers have to see the product ten times before they will be motivated to buy; you need several influencers posting about the product. Finally, influencers offer something to the experience that regular advertising can’t, and that’s the feeling consumers get when they discover a title.
PubTechConnect is where publishing and innovation intersect. As digital continues to disrupt the industry, learning to adapt and pivot is crucial to publishers. And integrating influencers into their marketing is key.