Mobile Influencer Marketing's Jerry Maguire Moment

Posted on March 6, 2017 by Eric

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Influencer marketing has been a hot topic on mobile for at least the last two years, but a few recent events have called into question whether it's a viable source of installs for most developers. Of course, some developers are using influencer marketing to great effect, and it can't be denied that, when crafted correctly with an eye toward some objective success metric and within the framework of measurable ROI, influencer marketing campaigns can be massively lucrative.

To kick off the new Mobile Dev Memo podcast, I recently spoke with Adam Hadi, a well-known and highly respected mobile marketing consultant and an expert on influencer marketing, about influencer campaign measurement and the best platforms for running influencer campaigns.

But that's not all: AMA with Adam Hadi! This interview comes in two installments: after listening to (or reading) the interview, you can actually ask questions from Adam yourself on Wednesday, March 8th at 12pm EST (9am PST / 5pm GMT) in an Ask Me Anything session on the Mobile Dev Memo Slack Team. If you're not a member already, sign up and join the #AMA channel to participate this coming Wednesday.

The text below is edited for clarity and brevity. To get the full interview, listen to the SoundCloud clip above.

Eric Seufert: So to kick off the conversation: you had asked me to add one specific question to the beginning of the podcast, which is: what makes an app a good fit for influencer marketing.

Adam Hadi: It's dependent on a lot of different things. With influencer marketing as a whole -- I think it's one of those areas where you hear some marketers talk about how it's this Holy Grail and it's amazing and it's been the backbone of our growth and all that. And then you have other marketers who kind of think it's all hype and there's no real substance there.

And the truth is it just really depends on the app and your audience of your questions. A few questions to ask yourself would be: are you on both platforms? Basic targeting that we're used to on Facebook or really any ad network is just not possible through influencer marketing. If you're only on iOS, you can't just target iOS users on on influencer marketing. So your effective marketing is going to be half as effective or 30 percent as effective by not being on both platforms.

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If you have pretty strict geo restrictions -- if you're, let's say, US only. While there are influencers who only have an audience you know where the majority of their audience in the U.S., it certainly helps if you don't have that restriction in place. Same goes for age. If your app is only 18 plus, let's say, well then you're going to run into some issues. And then beyond those just strictly demographic issues that, again -- that type of targeting is super easy on other platforms. Then you need to start thinking about if you have a potential audience on influencer platforms.

One big red flag is usually age groups. I mean all the influencer platforms skew young. And if you have an audience that skews older -- and when I say older, I mean over 30-35 -- then you're going to have a tougher time reaching them on an influencer platform than if you have a younger audience.

Is your app actually compelling and entertaining enough to be on an influencer platform? If you have a utility app, that's a lot less engaging of a pitch than a gaming app.

So those are things to think about right off the bat in terms of what makes influencer marketing a good or bad fit for your app.

ES: Have you seen the case that an app is just a much better fit for influencer versus standard Facebook video or mobile video ads?

AH: Yeah, absolutely.

I have seen the case where influencer marketing as a channel is the biggest-scale, lowest-cost in terms of CPI and highest LTV users or LTV rates among any user cohort. But I've also seen the opposite. I've seen it where it can't scale, it's not cost effective, and the quality of users is very low. And again, it's dependent on your app and your audience.

So I've seen both extremes.

ES: It seems that qualitative judgment process is probably the most important part of conceiving and executing an influencer campaign. Because like you said, a lot of people have basically just been priced out and pushed out of the direct response advertising space because of lack of expertise and a lack of ability to build out infrastructure to track campaigns.

So they kind of look to influencer as like a shortcut to reaching an audience, not realizing that you still have to bring the same kind of rigor and discipline to doing influencer campaign as you do to any other type of campaign. How do you, as a consultant or just someone who's familiar with the space, how do you convince them that they they need to take a kind of systematic structured approach to evaluating the fit there?

AH: That's a really good point. The honest truth is: depending on how good of a fit you are, you can afford to be a little bit sloppy. If all the stars align, but you mess up on how you pitch the app or what you're paying the influencers, it may still back out if it's that great of a fit. But if it's not, then you really need to have all your ducks in a row and really optimize everything through that funnel to make it an effective channel. And so, again, it's one of those cases where it really depends on how good of a fit you have.

I would say you need to be very analytical, and you need to treat it not that differently then you would treat your traditional DR (direct response) outlets. I mean when it comes to optimizing for conversion, seeing what works, testing, pitching -- all the same metrics that we're used to in terms of click-through rates, in terms of CPM. All those really still apply to influencer marketing. It's just not quite as clean as we might expect from a traditional DR channel.

ES: Do you see people being more rigorous and more analytical about this now than let's say a year ago?

AH: Well what's funny about that is that, in terms of measurement and being analytical, I find that it's a lot more difficult with influencer marketing. When I compare my influencer campaigns to my traditional campaigns, I have to put a lot more effort into measurement because so much of what you get through influencer campaigns is not fully attributable. You're talking about organic uplift.

Not not to say that traditional DR channels are super straightforward. How do I handle YouTube? How do I handle multi-touch attribution? Certainly there are complications in conventional marketing but in influencer marketing, those are just amplified.

Unfortunately there aren't too many tools out there right now that are really built to effectively measure influencer marketing the way that we have built tools to measure traditional DR marketing on Facebook or through ad networks, etc. And the same doesn't just apply to influencers, the same applies to, let's say, podcasts or to TV. There are some tools out there but they really haven't quite matured the same way that conventional tools have.

ES: I know you're pretty plugged in with all of the major tools providers: do you know if any of them, without naming names, are pursuing tools that can be used to measure the impact of influencer marketing?

AH: That is happening. I can that it's happening but I don't know if I can really elaborate much more than that.

ES: I wouldn't want you to get in trouble with any of them. But I can corroborate that I've definitely had conversations with people that are working on these tools.

Because the thing is, putting TV or radio or other out-of-home aside, which is happening outside of the mobile form factor, that's happening off the phone. All the other stuff that's not direct response is still happening on the phone.

And it's still pretty easy to to track a lot of metadata around when ads run and who saw them, and then tie that to install metadata that, even though it'll never be direct, it would still be much easier conceptually to build a model and to build tools that help track influencer campaign installs versus anything that happens off the phone. Anything that happens off the phone is almost impossible to have some sort of meaningful measurement around.

But everything that happens on the phone, even though it's not direct, it's still going to be easier to measure than like TV.

AH: Exactly. And in the case of influencer marketing, you usually have a signal -- what's what you can base it off. You have some form to track, let's say, a clickable link that the majority of users don't click. You still have that signal that you can base on it and extrapolate from there.

ES: So what's the most successful influencer campaign you've run?

AH: You know as a campaign as a whole I probably have to point to my days with Topps promoting Topps Kick. Topps Kick is an app for collecting and trading soccer cards, and that's really where I got my start with influencer marketing and that was promoting through FIFA YouTubers.

And so FIFA YouTubers are YouTubers who play FIFA but more than that, really, the core of their videos tend to be, there's this pack opening process in FIFA Ultimate Team where you open certain packs of cards and there's this reaction to the players you're getting, and that's really what's made a lot of these FIFA YouTubers famous. It's not so much their FIFA skills -- some of them are not even that good at FIFA. They are entertainers, and it's more about their reactions to getting a Messi or getting a Ronadlo. And that could not be a more perfect fit for what we were doing with Topps Kick, which was about opening packs of soccer cards.

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This was a while back so the entire market was, from the demand side, a lot cheaper and a lot less crowded. But really what made that work was the match of content. It couldn't have been better. It's hard to beat that in terms of a match.

And I should say why that worked well, beyond just being a great match, was that FIFA is a huge genre on YouTube. It's one of the biggest verticals. And so not only was there a great fit in terms of conversion rate from use to install, but there was this massive supply of potential views that we bought into. It's hard to beat that.

ES: So you mentioned the fact that this was earlier on in the existence of this kind of more structured idea of influencer marketing on mobile. And so there was little bit of maybe first mover advantage and just the lack of people knowing what this was worth, so a lack of price discovery and so you got a cheaper price.

I was actually at a conference this week called Online Marketing Rockstars and I saw Gary Vaynerchuk speaking, and he said that he thinks of Instagram influencer marketing and Facebook influencer marketing and YouTube influencer marketing as being in a similar position to where Google AdWords marketing was about 12 years ago, meaning that as the market is sort of incipient and still not fully formed, and so there's this lack of price discovery in terms of what the arbitrage is worth as well as a possibility of reaching massive scale with that kind of click arbitrage. And so this is the time really to be leveraging that and pouring money into it to scale a user base.

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What do you think? Do you think it's there because if you think in terms of timelines that long -- decades long -- this is really early in influencer marketing, in terms of that structured idea, because it's not a totally new phenomenon. Is it at that point or is it a little more evolved than that?

AH: It is probably about at that point. I think that's a fair comparison. And it's evolved a lot in the last couple of years. And in some cases for the better in some cases for the worse. I mean I just saw a report with YouTube claiming -- I think it was a billion hours a day of YouTube videos being watched, something along those lines.

But the point is that from a supply standpoint, the supply is increasing very, very, very fast. You know at one point it used to be a really big deal if you got a million subscribers on YouTube. The supply has has increased. Now, have influencers realized their value more than they had, say, two years ago? Absolutely. But that's not something I'm upset with. I have to pay higher rates on CPM, that's not the worst problem to have.

From a management perspective, that is something that has matured a lot. Speaking to influencers who, a couple of years ago maybe just would have been representing themselves, now they have agents and now they have managers. That for the most part is actually a good thing, in my opinion. I mean there's a reason why these are jobs that exist -- it's because they're adding value.

Now are there agents and managers who don't, and slow down the system and just kind of tack on unnecessary cost? Yeah, that exists, but for the most part I've been happy with those that I've dealt with. They make my job easier even if I'm paying a bit of a premium for it.

ES: That's interesting that you say that because most of the stuff I hear about agents and agencies is negative. I mean it's people bemoaning the fact that they can't go direct. It sounds like you're saying you actually appreciate the fact that they exist because it's kind of a sign that a) the market is really viable, but b) they actually do streamline things and make it easier to get stuff done.

Can you elaborate a little bit more on that? How does having an agent involved make make things run more smoothly?

AH: Well I should say there is a big difference between having an agent or manager involved and having a giant agency involved. There are a lot of companies out there who want to put themselves in between the advertiser and the influencer. And there really shouldn't be more than maybe 0, 1, or 2 steps there.

But you know if you're a middle, middle man you're not adding value, and that's where the frustration comes from. When an agency would claim to represent 3,000 different YouTubers, when really all they're doing is reaching out to them cold. There's a lot of there's a lot of false claims out there and certainly a bit of dirty business and in some ways. That's part of it still being an immature market.

But there are agents and managers who manage a small pool of YouTubers and manage them well. And again they make my job easier. Maybe rather than communicating with somebody one on one, I can communicate one message and he communicates it to his, you know, three or four or six best YouTubers who are the best fit.

I usually find that actually, and it's a bit ironic, but it's easier to work with managers who really are representing the influencers' best interests rather than trying to pretend that they're representing my best interests and taking from both sides. It's a lot easier when it is straightforward: Ok, I'm representing my advertisers' best interests and you're representing your influencers' best interests interest, and we work together that way rather than trying to pretend that they're looking out for both of us. So that's a bit of a ramble. It's a mixed bag but overall some of the best people I work with are the managers themselves.

ES: I think that makes sense. Rather than trying to do business with someone in the middle of nowhere with, you know, a rope tied around his waist as a belt, you get to deal with a business person who understands how to operate a business.

But it was funny that you mentioned that some agents will mislead you into thinking that they actually represent someone, and they'll just take your business and then try to go find someone to fulfill it. It's sort sort of like re-brokering in the direct response space. Did I understand that that happens? They'll say hey we've got all these great influencers, I'll get you ten that have minimum 50,000 followers. You say great, and then they go and try to find 10 and they say, hey I have this great advertiser and they need someone -- that's what happens?

AH: Yeah. And I've seen egregious examples of it.

I mean there have been cases where I have long term direct relationships with an influencer or their manager and yet an agency will represent itself as the exclusive agency of YouTuber X or Influencer X. There's very little accountability for that right now. I imagine that will change as it matures.

But certainly that's something to be wary of.

ES: How do you avoid that?

AH: There are a few red flags. One is if you actually see an influencer marketed by several different agencies as their own. There's a certain pool of influencer that kind of falls in that category.

Generally speaking, the more influencers an agency claims they cover, the more likely that it's going to be the case that they're not exactly being honest about it. And I think we're trending towards smaller management groups rather than bigger. I think what you just saw recently with with Maker Studios shuttering down a lot. I think they were going from I don't know how many thousands of YouTubers that were under their wing and now they're focusing in on 300 -- which is already huge. I mean 300 is a really, really big number relative to other players.

This isn't something that's easy to do on a grand scale in terms of management. So generally speaking, the smaller the promise, the more likely it is that it's going going to be true.

ES: So the industry is having its Jerry Maguire moment?

AH: There we go.

ES: So when you're dealing with these agents or you're dealing directly with the influencer, how much direction do you give them around the video?

AH: I make sure that they understand the app and they understand the important features and the important selling point. But I don't tell them necessarily how to sell it. These guys have built up their own audience themselves. They know how to reach their audience literally better than anyone else on the planet. They're experts in that, above anything else. And so for me to tell them, do this or tell them this -- more often than not, the best ideas are going to come from them.

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And so I put a lot of faith in influencers and they tend to like it more that way and it comes off more organically. It tends to be a win for all. That's not to say that there aren't flops here and there where it's like, oh they totally missed this point, totally missed that point. And there's certainly some face-palming happening, but for the most part, I'm rewarded when I put my faith in the influencers themselves to create the best content.

ES: So a lot of these people -- I mean, you heard about this with the snapchat IPO, that there's concern that not only are regular users shifting to Instagram because of Instagram stories but a lot of the big influencers on Snapchat were moving over, which could have kind of a disproportionate effect on user base growth. If some random user shifts, it's not such a big deal, but if someone who's got a big, big following shifts it could potentially have a much more substantial effect.

So one thing that I would like to get your take on is, a) what are the best platforms for influencer videos as a means of advertising and b) is it a real phenomenon that some influencer might have a big audience on YouTube but not so much on Instagram, or they won't do Instagram at all or they won't do Snapchat at all. They'll have their specific platform that they're very tied into for whatever structural reason?

AH: I'll start with the second question, actually.

That's certainly true. If you are in the gaming realm, gaming is really, really big on YouTube. And Twitch. Those are really big channels for gaming.

But you're not going to find much gaming on Instagram, for example, or Snapchat.

But in terms of, let's say lifestyle or fitness, that is big on Instagram, and it's also very big on YouTube. When it comes to comedy, let's say the comedy vertical as a whole, that's huge on Snapchat because it lends itself well to it. But depending on what vertical you're looking at, it kind of shifts in terms of where those influences are living.

In terms of platform as a whole, I'm a bit biased here but I prefer YouTube. Really the most scalable and the best fit for direct response.

In the context of internet activities, especially on social, committing to watch a YouTube video is huge -- you're sitting back, you're dedicating yourself to engaging with a video when you click on a YouTube link, versus scrolling through Instagram where you just a finger flick away from seeing the next content.

So when you're asking people to, Ok, stop what you're doing, go download this app -- that's a much easier sell on a platform like YouTube than it is Instagram or especially Snapchat.

But even just from a practical standpoint, the scale on YouTube is massive. That's not to say that you can't run profitable campaigns on other platforms -- you certainly can, and I've seen that. But if you're going to focus your efforts on one platform, it will be YouTube, in my opinion.

ES: Actually at that same conference, Casey Neistat was there and he was doing an interview and he made the same point; he said that YouTube is by far the number one platform for this kind of marketing. And he made the point that -- actually, I don't remember if it was him, it may have been Gary Vaynerchuk who made the point. But you'll see people who get some insane percentage of their view rate on you know 40 minute videos; like above 50 percent. Say there are people that have these super massive loyal, fanatical followings where they'll post a 40 minute video and you'll get more than 50 percent of the people that watch it, watching more than 50 percent of it. Watching more than 20 minutes.

That seems almost insane -- that's basically sitting down and watching a TV show every week. That's the kind of level of cadence and dedication that people have. I think that obviously lends itself really well to advertising.

AH: Yes. I'd say overall, I think a lot of people you know who are my age or older -- I'm 30 years old -- interact with YouTube in a way where they come across a YouTube link, somebody sends it to them, they see it in an article, whatever it may be -- they click it, they watch it, they leave. And that's kind of how we interact with YouTube which is very, very different from how, let's say, somebody who is 25 or younger interacts with YouTube. They go to YouTube; it's a definition. The same way that we may have at some point gone channel surfing, they go to YouTube for content and it's a daily feed of content. There are very different consumption patterns, especially based on age.

But once you wrap your head around that, it makes sense how some YouTube video might get 70 percent of its views over the course of a month on day one. That's the type of engagement that they have with their users, which is super, super, super strong.

ES: So I'll end the podcast with the million dollar question here, which is: how do you measure the impact of influencer campaigns?

AH: Well, it depends on the platform. And this is, I'd say, one of the biggest challenges. But it's also very, very doable now.

I mentioned that YouTube is my favorite, so I'll start with that. In YouTube you can have clickable links in the description. And so when you put a link at the top of the description, you're going to capture some percentage of attribution accurately. And that may be anywhere between, let's say, 15 to 40 percent of the actual results from that campaign.

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So that's the net and that will differ a lot on individual campaigns. For example, if I'm a YouTuber and my call the action is, Click the link in the description to download the app and add me as a friend, and I say that three times. And there's some advantage there to clicking the link -- you'll automatically at me as a friend, let's say it's a deferred deeplink or something along those lines. That's going to track a relatively high level of attribution over the true amount versus if there's just a link in the description and there's no call to action to it, you're just talking about the app and the link is there. That's going to track a much lower percentage.

On the individual campaign level, you'll see a pretty large variance of what is accurately being attributed. And if you look early in the campaign, that's the easiest time to see that uplift. And so if you have an organic baseline that you can expect, you measured the organic uplift relative to the signal that you're getting.

Sorry if this is a bit of a long and tedious explanation, but the short version of it is, yeah, you get a signal and you can extrapolate off of that. The important part is that you are in a position where you can accurately measure an organic uplift. So if you're an app that has a lot of organic noise, you're doing a lot of different things, and you run a small influencer, it may be tough to actually see that organic uplift versus if your organic organic activity is relatively predictable and you run a larger influencer campaign.

And so what I tell clients is that you need to run a campaign that's big enough for you to notice. And so if you are going to notice 100 organic installs in an hour that normally wouldn't be there, then that's a big enough campaign. If you're going to notice a thousand, then and that's a big enough campaign. You need to run to contain that's big enough so that you can measure that.

Now moving off of YouTube, Instagram is an interesting option because there's two general ways you can measure Instagram. One is by sending users to your Instagram page and the other is by sending users to a unique link in that influencer's bio.

I prefer the former. I think if you build your Instagram page to be a good onboarding platform, that's a much better funnel to send users through than to try and get them to click a random link in an influencer's bio. But that also make measurement more difficult.

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Now Snapchat is interesting because there is no clickable link, but you get everything within a 24 hour window. And so that makes measurement a little bit easier because it either happened or it didn't. And you know, actually, the same applies to Instagram stories and whatnot. And actually live streaming, both on Twitch and Facebook Live, etc.

So measurements vary a lot by platform -- some are easier than others. But ultimately they are all measurable, and well, if they're not measurable then they're not worth doing, in my opinion.

ES: Great. I agree and I think that's a good place to wrap this up. Thank you very much, Adam, that was very interesting and very informative.

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About Adam Hadi 

Adam Hadi is a NYC-based mobile marketing consultant. Prior to consulting, Adam was the head of marketing at Draft, the fantasy sports trading app, and worked in mobile user acquisition at Topps, the sports card company. Prior to working in mobile, Adam was an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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