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Entrepreneurs share tips on working with social media influencers

A panel of Cornell alumni and other marketing executives explored the important role social influencers play in business today during a Jan. 18 event hosted by the Cornell Entrepreneur Network and Entrepreneurship at Cornell in New York City.

“The Business Behind Social Media Marketing” drew more than 120 people to the offices of Cooley LLP in Hudson Yards to hear from:

  • Angela Barkan '00, senior vice president for marketing, BMG
  • Barbara Jones, founder and CEO, Outshine Talent
  • Marilyn Laverty '76, CEO, Shore Fire Media
  • Moderator Matthew Nastos '10, CEO, Maison MRKT

“Pretty much every marketing campaign has some form of creator/influencer program in their mix,” Jones said. “There’s no such thing as mass media anymore, it’s all about communities and figuring out who is influential within the community to find the audience you’re trying to reach.”

Marketers have access to vast amounts of data, so it’s not hard to find those people, she added.

Influencers, who prefer to be called creators, Jones said, can make money directly from brands through deals, but they can also be paid through affiliate marketing, AdSense (which matches brands to creators so that ads can appear on creators’ sites), subscription services or product lines they’re creating, Jones said.

Unlike the past, when people learned about new products, music or trends through advertising or traditional reviews, younger people are choosing to buy based on recommendations from creators, celebrities or events.

“It used to be that positive reviews meant a lot,” Laverty said. “But now most of our clients have given up on reviews, especially if they’re more than 2-3 sentences long. We’re mourning the loss of so many great journalists at Pitchfork (a music publication that recently folded), but what’s moving our audiences are more out-of-the box elements.”

But there are challenges for both creators and for brands who want to work with them. Creators and celebrities face “creator fatigue,” the pressure to be doing everything, as well as creating their own products or lines.

“Their core competency isn’t enough, you can’t just be a singer, you have to be also posting on TikTok six times a week and then Instagram and that stuff has to travel over to YouTube shorts,” Barkan said. “On top of that, you’re doing appearances on more traditional media.”

And brands need to know how the creators they work with are reaching their audiences. It’s not only through social media posting, but also through more direct to consumer marketing, such as emails and texts.

“People are yearning more than ever for some sort of authentic communication,” Jones said.

For brands who want to work with creators, all of the speakers suggested working with a marketing agency. “There are so many influencers and it’s very complicated,” Barkan said. “It takes someone to help guide you and get you to the right audiences. You have to know what they talk about, what they care about, what’s important to them.”

Visit the Cornell Entrepreneur Network website to learn about more upcoming events for alumni, including a Cornell reception at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas in March and the Entrepreneurship at Cornell Celebration on campus in April.

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