(Originally posted in Austin American Statesman)
In 2012, Sarah Ware founded a company called Markerly that built tools to make it easier for bloggers to share their content on social media.
Ware said their widgets allowed Markerly to gather data on which bloggers were “truly influential” based on how many people were sharing their content. So Markerly had the idea of sharing this data with brands interested in working with these social media influencers.
Soon, they were making more money off their influence marketing business than the widgets. Markerly, which started in San Francisco but moved its headquarters to Austin, is now focused exclusively on helping brands find influencers and develop campaigns.
They employ 15 people and raised $800,000 two years ago, most of which came from a single angel investor, Ware said.
As the popularity of the influence marketing industry soars, it’s also created an opening for middle-man tech companies.
These firms develop technology that helps brands find influencers, manage and automate campaigns and create metrics for measuring influence.
In Austin, there are several influence marketing companies that launched within the last three years. And even traditional advertising agencies like GSD&M now have entire teams dedicated to influence marketing campaigns.
Some influence marketing companies act like talent agents, building a network of influencers who sign up with them and then connecting them with brands based on the type of campaign. They will also help out with the negotiations and with planning the campaign.
Other companies also have developed technology that helps pinpoint exactly how much influence these influencers have.
It’s not enough to just count how many followers on Instagram a fashion blogger has accrued, in part because it’s fairly easy to “buy” followers.
Daniel Carter, a doctoral student at the University of Texas’ School of Information, has studied influence marketing. He wrote a paper that examined computer science techniques that could be used to better measure influence on social media.
But he explained that social media companies keep a lot of their data to themselves because that’s how they sell ads, rendering it nearly impossible to use extensive data science to find the best influencers.
So influence marketing agencies are forced to look instead at only the publicly accessible data, such as followers, retweets and likes, comments and shares.
Markerly, for instance, has developed software that allows a brand to find their own influencers based on keyword searches. They also measure influencers based on “engagement” scores, which Ware defines as how many people liked, commented or shared content from a certain influencer, as well as total follower count. “They are able to find the perfect voice for them,” Ware said. Markerly’s technology also helps brands contact the influencers and monitor campaigns.
She said the company still handles influencer campaigns on behalf of companies, but they built this software so that companies can manage these campaigns in-house.
Austin-based influence marketing firm Mattr has also developed software and other techniques to help brands and influencers connect.
“We come in as the middle man and we have different reports and features through the app that monitor the campaign from beginning to end,” explained Carol Scott, a senior director of marketing for Mattr. Like Markerly, the agency also developed ways to measure engagement, which can help guide how much an influencer is paid.
“The more engagement they get on their post, the more a brand will pay,” Scott said. Like Markerly, the 5-year-old company initially focused on a different type of technology before shifting to influencer marketing.
They also offer marketers access to a “few thousand” influencers that have signed up to be part of Mattr’s network and are vetted by the company to determine their suitability for campaigns, Scott said.
Influencer marketing firms said the companies and brands they work with aren’t always concerned about generating sales.
Sometimes the goal is simply to generate awareness of their brand among millennials, or to get people talking about a certain product.
“Millennials have zero trust in anything outside their own social networks,” Scott said. “They only trust their friends, their family, a small group of people, and they all have social media accounts. This is how they are getting their news, their value, what to buy, what to wear, what to eat.”