There's good news and bad news where influencer marketing is concerned. On the one hand, one survey shows that 79 percent of marketing decision makers will spend money on influencer marketing this year, and 43 percent plan to spend more this year than they did in 2017.

That's good news for influencers -- or at least for the handful of influencers who can command thousands of dollars for social media posts or video collaborations. But what about smaller brands that decide not to -- or can't afford to -- work with the top influencers in their respective industries? Managing partnerships with dozens of different influencers can be overwhelming. 

And what about all the people who have built followings, built communities, are influential within their circles... but haven't found a way to monetize the authority and respect they've built?

Good questions -- ones that #paid, the makers of an integrated influencer marketing platform that just closed a $9 million Series A, are working to answer.

#paid uses Affinity Score, their AI-powered algorithm that matches influencers and audiences with brands -- and lets those brands efficiently run their marketing platforms at scale.

And in the process, allow more influencers to turn their passions into professions.

To find out more I talked with Bryan Gold, the CEO and co-founder (along with Adam Rivietz) of #paid. 

Aspiring entrepreneurs love origin stories. Where did the idea for #paid come from?

One of our good friends felt she was overweight, didn't exercise, didn't feel healthy... and she saw a therapist who recommended that she blog about her fitness goals as a way to keep herself accountable.

She actually started one of the original fitness inspiration accounts on Instagram. She picked up 100,000 followers in no time, but more importantly she totally transformed her body. People loved the before and after pictures, they loved seeing her journey, they encouraged her...

But they also asked a lot of questions. Like, "Where do you get your clothes?" Or, "What kind of protein powder do you use?" "What kind of blender do you use?"

And we realized that her audience would buy anything she said she used to get fit. That inspired us -- and now we work with over 15,000 content creators in over 100 countries.

Of course the key is that she built an audience first -- an audience that trusted her. 

Absolutely. Our goal is to help content creators -- super talented content creators who have organically risen to the top of social media -- make money doing what they love. That's where we come in.

Our platform houses all of our technology, our database of content creators, the marketing campaigns, etc. Brands use the platform and the matching algorithm to partner with the right content creators for them, and do that at scale.

For a brand, one of the hardest parts of influencer marketing is sure, you can manage collaborations with 5 or 10 influencers... but managing 50 influencers can be really hard. Finding the right people is tough. Making sure they're an authentic match is tough. Tracking deliverables, managing legal, managing safety... it can get really complicated really quickly. 

So we've built the technology to facilitate the entire collaboration process. Brands can efficiently manage a number of ongoing programs; the average user manages 16.8 different programs.

Pretend I'm an influencer and I sign up on your platform. Talk me through the process.
After you sign up we would go through your profile, understand the content you create, the types of posts you tend to do, the social media sites you use, the pricing you set... then our AI-based learning algorithms identifies and classifies you under different categories.

So when the right brand comes along... 

I'm thinking Porsche.

(Laughs.) Okay, say it's Porsche. The wizard kicks off the campaign if it sounds like you're a perfect influencer for Porsche. You get a notification that Porsche is interested in collaborating. If you are as well, the platform works on the details. Maybe you pick up a car, drive it, take pictures or video, write about it... and then you upload your content to our platform so Porsche can review it using our real-view technology.

That way they get to see everything.

How often do brands request changes?

On average, 85 percent of content is immediately accepted. 10 percent of the time the brand will request a minor change; maybe it's something as simple as a caption where Coke was spelled with a lower-case "c." And around 5 percent of the time the influencer will need to go back to the drawing board.

But that's happening less and less often as our platform grows increasingly intelligent about matching the right influencers with the right brands.

I'm sure some creators don't get a lot of interest from brands.

There are definitely people who sign up and don't get deals. In those cases -- as with everyone who signs up -- we try to help them become professional business partners who are able to collaborate with brands.

For example, we may notice that a provider isn't pricing him or herself correctly -- either higher or lower. We're also work hard to provide information to our content providers. Many people are experts about their passion... but that doesn't mean they understand how to turn that expertise into a profession.

Many brands are probably just as inexperienced at influencer marketing.

There are definitely nuances involved in running influencer marketing campaigns. Beyond providing a platform, because we've collected a significant amount of data we're able to suggest best practices.

For example a few years ago we started working with record labels and they didn't understand the collaboration process. They were giving us content and treating it like a media buy: Here's a photo, here's the caption, have people run it... we had to say, "That's not how it works. Let the influencers create the content. They'll make it special. They'll make it unique. They'll come up with awesome things you never imagined.

"And then we'll make sure you get to approve it beforehand."

Brands are definitely learning to put content creation in the hands of the content creators themselves. They're starting to understand that authenticity matters a lot. If you're a content creator and you had a great experience with a brand, can authentically and enthusiastically talk about all the things you like about it... that's when your audience responds.

And that's when the brands see the best results. 

You're clearly generating revenue, but none of that comes from the pockets of influencers.

We've changed our model a few times. Figuring out pricing and monetization strategies was difficult.

Eventually we settled on promising content creators that they get 100 percent of the price they set. While our algorithm recommends a price, we leave it up to them to charge more or less.

On the brand side, we charge on a package basis. If a brand is accustomed to working on a cost per engagement model, for example we may provide a package of 50 creators who will generate millions of engagements.

Ultimately all that comes from our matching algorithm that fills the package at the right price for the brand.

Being an entrepreneur is really, really hard -- yet also really fulfilling. A few years in, what's the best thing about your job? 

Within 2 weeks of graduating from university, Adam and I got accepted to the Ryerson incubator program and spent the next year and a half building the business.

And you're right. There were lots of ups and downs. A number of things came close to ending the company early on. But we worked hard and hung in there.

I like being at the forefront of one of the ways culture is created. I like that I'm always learning, that I'm constantly having to level up, to gain new skills... over time my job has gone from working with a team of three people to over fifty people, and we continue to grow.

Growth and learning are my day-to-day.

Sure, I could make good money doing something else, something that would free up evenings and weekends... but for me it's about building something amazing, growing a team, executing against a vision, changing something you believe in...

Helping creative people make a living doing something they love is professionally and personally fulfilling.

Published on: May 22, 2018
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