For some time, celebrities have been leveraging their online influence to promote brands: a tweet about this car or that brand of jewelry can win them a lucrative payday. But it’s been harder for “citizen influencers” – the regular people who have amassed significant online followings – to cash in. “It’s a very opaque process right now,” says Mark Fidelman, Forbes blogger and founder and CEO of Raynforest, a soon-to-launch virtual marketplace that seeks to connect companies and online influencers. “Influencers don’t know what brands are out there who want to work with them, and most brands don’t know who’s available to work with them.”
Raynforest seeks to be a “matchmaker, introducing influencers to brands.” Specifically, says Fidelman, “Influencers can post engagements, list the fact that you have a YouTube channel or podcast that is popular and you’re actively looking for sponsors from your favorite brands. Those following you will be notified automatically. Behind the scenes, we’re also using big data to connect influencers with the brands that share a common vision. Brands will be notified about new potential matches that seem like a good fit.
The key, he says, is “we’re going to be very proactive about building relationships. We’re a sales force for any influencer that posts engagements in the marketplace. We’re not a static listing like YellowPages; we’re dynamic.”
There’s no question many regular citizens with an online following would like to earn some extra money. Fidelman gives the example of an influencer “who wants to take a trip to Africa” and could find a sponsor to underwrite the accompanying webcast.
But it’s also a win-win for brands, he says. “The brand enjoys exposure among their hosts’ networks, as well as travel-minded consumers. It may be harder to find, work with and develop a plan with influencers,” compared to traditional advertising. “But once you do, you could end up seeing 16x better results than traditional advertising. Those are the types of numbers that Raynforest and some of the leading practitioners in the field are seeing.”
Of course, full disclosure is key (and legally required). “If an influencer is actively working on behalf of a brand and doesn’t disclose it, and that situation is found out, both will have significant egg on their respective faces,” says Fidelman. But that doesn’t lessen the impact of the sponsorship. “People understand that they have all of the information about the brand and influencer’s relationship, but the trust is still there because they know the influencer isn’t going to choose a product they don’t care about.”
“Influencer marketing is still very early” in its development, says Fidelman. But Raynforest provides an interesting glimpse into the possibilities for how regular people who have become social media “power users” can begin to tap the power of their networks – and make a living doing so.
This article first appeared at Forbes.
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.