How startups can partner with influencers the right way


Category Archives: Marketing

How startups can partner with influencers the right way

Social media influencers mean big money.

They have thousands of followers, command “fans” around the world and can launch global campaigns with one well-timed photo or push of a button. In layman terms, these new-age “stars” have real power. And, brands have noticed.

More companies are eschewing big-name celebrities in favour of social media stars who have huge followings. In turn, startups have instituted special ways to recognize these individuals (and sometimes even profit off of them). Think Twitter’s checkmarks, Instagram’s badges and Snapchat’s special emojis.

“Influencers [and influencer marketing power] isn’t going away,” explained Jessica Clifton, U.S. managing director for strategic growth and development at Edelman about the rise of these socially savvy millennials.

Now tech startups are hoping to get in on the action. They’re tapping influencers to lead their businesses and manage their social strategies. But, is it a good idea? When done right these socially savvy individuals can generate international buzz. When things go wrong it can alienate existing customers and permanently tarnish a brand.

The rise of the influencer

The relationship between influencers and the tech industry isn’t complicated. In the early years, social startups sought out and helped amplify influencers on their platforms. For instance, Markham-based Lily Singh works with YouTube and special brands across the globe, while fitness guru Kayla Itsines is the poster girl for Instagram.

More recently tech-based startups (and tech enthusiasts) have started working with influencers in greater numbers, although with mixed results.

Blue Apron, a food delivery system based in San Francisco, fired millennial star Jenelle Evans last month after customers threatened to boycott the controversial star. Earlier this week Instagram star Claudia Oshry and her sister Jackie were fired by social media show Oath after old anti-Muslim tweets were unearthed.

These problems embody how wrong influencer partnerships can go: When done right it can be a great business move, but also easily lead to trouble if done wrong.

So what should entrepreneurs do? Make sure you perform an exhaustive search that takes into account an individual’s background and working relationships. “Brands need to do more research into these influencers,” says Delmundo CEO Nick Cicero. “There are more people to keep track of than ever before, and it’s harder to do quality control. So you have to do the research to make sure some YouTube kid won’t put your brand in a bad light.”

Rachel David, a former broadcaster turned YouTube star and now entrepreneur agrees. Her agency works with a slew of influencers across Canada and North America. For small companies or startups that see partnering with an influencer as easy “low-hanging fruit” it comes with unique challenges.

“[Startups and brands] realize that they want to attach themselves to influencers but they need someone like me to do a background check,” she says. “These are things that not every company knows how to do properly.” Her advice? Companies that don’t have extensive resources on hand should work with specialized agencies who understand the changing market.

David isn’t wrong. It doesn’t take much work to find companies (both big and small) that failed to do their due diligence and ended up paying the price. Disney’s brand was hit when its Youtuber influencer PewDiePie made anti semitic remarks while advertisers were up in arms after popular influencer Logan Paul aired a video showing a dead body earlier this year.

Platforms have to be wary too

It’s not just companies that need to be wary. The tech platforms that help promote these users face an uphill battle now-a-days too. Critics have long accused social media sites of not doing enough to stem the negative and sometimes ‘toxic’ content influencers produced.

Earlier this month, Unilever — a consumer goods company that owns Dove, Axe, Ben & Jerry’s– threatened to walk away from digital platforms. They continue to prop sites that promoted harmful content and influencers. The announcement was huge, considering it spends about $9.8 billion every year to promote its products around the globe.

In response YouTube and Google have committed to increasing the number of moderators and strengthened guidelines for its creators. It’s a step in the right direction and puts the onus back on providers. Although, David adds it won’t completely solve the problem.”Every creator is responsible for their actions. Advertisers are spending their money, they can’t control what comes out of a creator’s mouth. What they can control is who they put as “trending,” who they recommended.”

“Tech companies will now need to take on roles they never dreamed of when they started,” says Clifton. “These platforms are growing up and now can’t focus on merely just providing these free services.”

While it’s too early to know for sure what will happen, like any maturing industry, social media platforms are showcasing how crucial it is for companies to change as they grow with their users.

Facebook: Your startup is probably doing it wrong

If you didn’t already know, Facebook is pretty much considered a diamond in the rough of the world that is social media. In Q4 of 2016, Facebook reported an active user base of 1.6B accounts (that’s a lot of memes). So do you start when your company is only a couple of months old with a tiny budget and a ton of social media channels to invest in?
When it comes to social media, most businesses (especially the small ones) think of Facebook. And rightfully so. Yet, most startups struggle to use Facebook to its full advantage. In this post we’ll go over what and how to post on Facebook.

This will be a long one, so buckle in!

Which type of startups can Facebook help?

If you’re a B2C startup where your customers use Facebook as their preferred social network (e.g., e-commerce sites, lifestyle products, etc.), then Facebook is the place for you. If you’re a B2B startup, Facebook isn’t going to be the place you magically rake in those new leads. Simply put, Facebook is casual. The purchase intent would (in most cases) be a lot lower since it’s an important business decision. Does that mean you shouldn’t have a Facebook page? Although some B2B startups may disagree, I would still recommend having a Facebook presence because without it your startup will lose the edge in many instances (searchability on Google, advertising, check-ins… the list goes on).

The major challenges you’ll face on Facebook

First, let’s talk about the Facebook Edgerank Algorithm which drastically affects your posts’ visibility (super serious).

Ever wonder why your Facebook post reach is going down even though you publish top-notch content? Blame the Edgerank algorithm. Facebook only shows customized content to people even when they’ve liked your page.

Users that don’t engage will never see your new status updates

That’s thanks to the millions of Facebook pages also fighting for attention. Think of it like babysitting 1.6B 10 year olds (it’s okay, we’re just pretending.) Mark Zuckerberg knows this and introduced Edgerank to make sure that people only see content they care about ( they also need to make money by encouraging companies to invest in ads and increase reach, but that’s neither here nor there).

So the major challenges your startup might face may include:

  • Declining post reach because of the new algorithm (don’t get surprised if only 5% of followers see your post)
  • Confusion in understanding which type of content/posts work best for you and at what time.

Post reach

This problem can be solved if more people interact with your posts (duh). Here is how to do it.

Show what’s happening inside and hear people out
Promoting transparency and openness always sends a positive message and helps people connect with your company on a deeper level. This also gives people a chance to tell what they think of your company (yay, free user feedback.) Johnny Cupcakes is a great example.

Post at non-peak times
Since everyone is trying to publish at the same time (say 6 p.m.), try posting at a non-peak time. That way you’re competing with fewer accounts for attention. You can check the peak and nonpeak times in your Facebook Insights. I find that 11:43 a.m., 3:24 p.m., and 8:54 p.m. work great for DMZ accounts (this won’t be the same for you.) Overall industry stats show that the best time to post is between 1 and 3 pm and Thursday’s, Friday’s and Sunday’s see the most engagement.

Use more of pictures and videos
Various ‘studies’ have shown that pictures, video and live posts have higher weightage than status updates and links.


Evidence shows that picture, video and live posts perform 43% better than any other posts. The optimum resolution for pictures is 940 px * 2048 px. Topical articles (good or bad) always perform better, so check what’s trending on Facebook (fake news… what fake news?) Also, posts that are optimized with Open Graph perform 64% better (more in the final tips section)

Final tips

Your content is great, your page is on fire and you’re getting leads like it’s Christmas morning. Before you celebrate, here are a few tips on adding that final touch to make sure you don’t look amateur.

Open graph

When you add a link to Facebook, it auto generates a preview at the bottom of your post. When this happens you’re free to delete the link from your post (neat, eh!) From here you can change the article title, description and even add in your own picture. You know your audience best, so take the time to customize each post to better engage and attract them.

Hashtags DON’T always work

I get it, you love hashtags. Your team just scored a large lump sum of funding and you want to let everyone in the world know. Considering what we discussed above (the Facebook Edgerank Algorithm), users aren’t actually going out there and looking for hashtags on Facebook. One hashtag is enough, but treat your business page in this case like your personal one. You’re having a one-on-one conversation with each user. Studies show that posts without hashtags (formatted properly) will do 7% better than ones with. Something is better than nothing.

Calm down, someone’s already beat you to the punch

Facebook isn’t like any other platform. You shouldn’t be posting six times a day (or everyday for that matter). Of course this all depends on your industry, audience and type of content, but Facebook is the most used platform out there. Users will usually have 20 minute sessions on the platform, 6-10 times a day. So if you’re posting too often, you’re spamming. Listen to your audience and track what posts do better on what day and time. Rinse and repeat from then on.

Key terms

Impression: How many times your post was seen.

Reach: How many individual accounts/people your post made it to.

Likes: ‘I agree with what you shared so I’m going to like this post’

Shares: ‘I super agree with what you shared! My friends need to see this’

Comments: ‘Great picture, Sheila!’


Knowing when, how and what to do with Facebook can be tough. But if done properly, the returns are well worth it. Some B2C companies out there understand this and sell more inventory through Facebook than on their website. Listen, learn and adapt. The right content strategy and approach can save you a lot of time, money and worry.

3 tips on making Instagram your most powerful social media platform

In this series, I’ll share some quick tips on how to succeed online and how you can best leverage the internet’s most popular communication platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat) to better connect with your audience, build lasting relationships and create a strong and engaging digital brand.

If you ask anyone with a decent online presence what their most profitable social platform is, chances are they’ll say Instagram. That’s where we’ll start this series.

Your Instagram crash course

Instagram currently has over 600 million users, and each user spends on average three hours each day on the platform (you do the math.) Seriously high engagement rates (4.21%) show that Instagram actually matters to a brand’s audience. In fact, one high quality Instagram post will drive on average 50x the engagement of a Facebook post and about 120x the engagement of a follower on Twitter.

Breaking the fourth wall is totally okay

Rule # 1: Don’t be a robot. Sell your story. Instagram specifically isn’t only about racking up likes or followers, it’s also about promoting the journey of your brand and giving your audience a glimpse into who your startup is and what it’s all about. You want your audience to relate to your business. Rather than feeling the NEED to engage, you want to create an environment that makes them WANT to like, share or comment. So what do you post to be human, relevant and transparent? Here are a few examples:

  • Just hire a new staff member to your awesome team? Post about it.
  • Attending a sweet conference on behalf of your startup? Post about it.
  • Going out for a tasty team lunch? Post about it.
  • Launch a brand new service on top of what you already offer? Post about it.
  • Just publish a quality blog post on how startups should use Instagram? … You get it.

Your content should allow anyone to see what it’s like to be on your team. Lifestyle over any product or service is an easier sell. Just be sure to develop a consistent theme for all of your pictures (from style to colour palette to filter.) It’ll help you create a wholesome experience and will guarantee that your followers are genuine and engaged.

And while you’re at it, be sure to establish your own hashtag (yes, hashtags matter). If anyone wants to see what you’re all about, having a branded hashtag (like #TeamDMZ) will allow them to get a glance with one click.

Build friendships. Not leads

With Google Adwords bids skyrocketing in price, Twitter ads being completely and utterly useless and Facebook billing you for breathing on their platform, Instagram is the next best thing (and will only charge you time).

Building relationships on @Instagram is very different from what you’d normally think to do.

Follow, like, comment, repeat

The best and most cost effective way to get your brand known on Instagram is to engage as much as you can. While most businesses wait for consumers to come to them, Instagram favours those who take the first step. So get on your phone, search for the most relevant hashtag for your startup (e.g., #fintech) and get to work. I find that on average 40% of the accounts you engage with follow you back.

Re-engage. Over and over and over

Now that you have the followers and audience, you need to consistently engage and peak their interest. Make sure you’re posting high quality and relevant content between one to three times a day. As you post, you may see your audience engaging at different times. Be adaptable and change the frequency of your posts based on performance (Instagram’s built-in analytics options are a great way to gauge).

Also, make sure you’re replying within 30 minutes of someone commenting on your post. You want to reply to a user during the (short) timeframe they’re active on the platform. This keeps your metrics in the green and forces users to come back to your profile to reply (easy, but often overlooked).

Use #hashtags

We’ve all seen it… the massive wall of hashtags that looks horrendous, but gets the job done. Its purpose? To reach into as many topic buckets as possible. But try and keep the hashtags relevant to the content (e.g., #GoNorth – Google’s tech conference). You’re going to want to attach those hashtags as a separate comment after posting your picture (read: avoid looking too foolish).

Don’t know what hashtags to post? You can go retro and do some grunt work and research, but luckily technology has advanced far enough for an app to do all the work. Check out Focalmark for all your Instagram hashtag needs.

Like any relationship, building trust and loyalty takes time. And just like acting, my other true calling, social media is about reacting. Listen, engage and don’t expect users to immediately jump onto your profile. Slow and steady definitely wins the race here.

Succeeding on @Instagram means forgetting the need and creating the want.

Finally, never force your content. If you don’t know what to post or don’t think you should post something, don’t. The most successful brands are ones that act, post and engage as people – not businesses. Don’t overthink it and have fun.

Bonus: Get the right tools

Before you jump into the world of In
 stagram, here are the five tools that will make your content look and feel a lot more exciting than it may be (#nofilter is no longer cool).

VSCO: Simple, intuitive and necessary. This camera app will allow you to edit your picture in ways Instagram won’t.

Ultralight: If VSCO cam is just too mainstream for you.

Boomerang: Instagram’s own app which lets you capture your moment in a GIF format when a picture or video just won’t cut it (if it moves, it’s more interesting).

Hyperlapse: Timelapse for Instagram (everything moves faster).

Followers+: Track your accounts’ followers ratio and see who unfollows you, doesn’t follow you back or blocks you (great to gauge content types).

How do I… measure my PR to determine my ROI?

How do you track and measure your PR activities?

Depends on who you ask. Unfortunately, there isn’t one overarching PR measurement tool to help you track whether what you’re doing is working. Depending on your business, your PR strategy, and your PR goals, how you measure your outcomes can vary.

Below are some basic ways to align your sales with your PR strategy.

Make use of Google Analytics

Are you familiar with Google Analytics? If not, then get on it! Google Analytics can help your business understand the behaviour flow of your target audience, especially after your media feature is published. Set up conversion goals to track where your traffic is coming from – blog, social media, media placements. Google Analytics can also help your startup gauge what messaging appeals most to your target market. Ask yourself, does the audience I’m tracking have clear needs? Is the messaging in our published feature meeting those needs? Answering these questions will help you understand how to leverage your media wins in order to see impact.

Track your website visitors

After an interview or feature with a top-tier media platform gets published, many startups tend to jump on their social media to see who’s sharing or talking about their most recent media win. While it’s important to know this information, don’t neglect your website analytics. Tracking the volume of visitors after a published piece has appeared is an easy way to see how much traction your media win generated and whether your messaging is having an impact.

Don’t forget to update the press/blog page of your website and your social media platforms to reflect the recent media interest in your startup.

Keep a pulse on the trends

Many startups pull major PR efforts for the launch of their business, new product or service. Although the timeframe of your startup’s goals is important, so is the seasonality in your business cycle. Make sure your PR campaign is timed with the market you’re addressing. For example, if you’re the founder of a startup that supports the learning process for students, your PR campaign will see a higher ROI during the back-to-school season. If your company addresses a current concern that’s being widely covered by the media, go out with a PR strategy and pitch a team member as an expert on this topic, while providing clear messaging on how your startup is the solution for this growing public concern.

Keep your story alive

Successful coverage doesn’t only depend on which outlet picked up your story, but how well you promote the story to your audience. For example, you land a story with The Globe and Mail and it’s shared through their Twitter account, don’t just retweet their post and consider your job done. Find ways to ride the wave by amplifying it with various marketing initiatives like sharing it through your company’s monthly newsletter, re-promoting it through your social channels weeks and months later and even venturing into paid social advertising. These efforts will continue to generate leads and help you track possible future leads.

Sales and PR can speak the same language. With this information, you can start to analyze how your PR efforts can be better suited towards your business development strategy.

How to explain technical things to not so technical people

Every entrepreneur and developer has been faced with the challenge of communicating with people who know very little about what they do. No matter what industry you’re part of, you’ll most likely bump into people (and possible customers) that may not have the same skill sets as you. It’s important to find ways to make sure you’re being understood by whoever you’re pitching to. Here are a few tips to improve the sometimes strenuous process of talking about technical things to non-technical people.

Ask questions… like you mean it

As the expert, it’s your job to be the one who reaches across any knowledge cracks. To do this, you have to express technical ideas in ways they’ll understand without demeaning the audience. Start off by asking a few open-ended questions that allow the individual to feel comfortable with sharing how much they know or don’t know. This will give you a better understanding of the best way to explain your product or service in order to keep them engaged.

People and actions > systems and code

It can be difficult to avoid acronyms and jargon because these terms are useful and meaningful. There are a couple simple tricks to doing this. The first is to stop using technical names and take the time to describe what they do. And the second is to begin to educate your audience on a few key terms that may come up frequently during your presentation and then use just these terms throughout your pitch.

It can also be helpful to explain things from the user or customer’s point of view. Instead of saying “the system will,” start every sentence with “the user will.” Instead of “it’s coded like this” say “it’s made possible like this.” Case in point: don’t speak to everyone as if they’re a fellow entrepreneur or developer.

Market the benefits, not the features

Not all your customers are tech savvy folks who salivate when hearing about all the facts related to your product or service. What attracts most individuals are the benefits because they answer the question: “why does this matter to me?” So even though your developer spent months or even years on some state-of-the-art features that just can’t go unrecognized, in order to reel the point home, always follow your points on each feature with the sentence “the benefit of this is….”

Keep your cool

It’s important not to treat the people you’re presenting to as if they’re stupid. Although you may know much more than they do about a certain technical topic, it doesn’t mean you have to be trivial when making your point. Be humble. If the individual or group you’re presenting to has a blank stare on their face, learn how to deliver your content in a variety of ways that will allow your audience to focus on the mode that’s the most meaningful to them.

Just remember the age old saying “less is more.” When it comes to explaining the technical aspects of your product or service to nontechnical people, avoid data dumping and instead, try involving your audience as if you’re having a conversation.