It isn’t just brands that are using influencers anymore — publishers are getting onboard, too. Leveraging social media influencers’ power and pull for original and branded content, publishers are boosting traffic and upping the efficacy of content created in partnership with brands. In a world where ad blockers are putting a serious dent in publishers’ ability to bring in ad revenue, they’re finding new ways to drive traffic and step out of the traditional (ergo blockable) advertising.
Influencers are proven experts when it comes to reaching and engaging audiences, which makes them a natural fit for helping publishers capture audience attention. BuzzFeed, Refinery29, The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, and more are building influencer networks to strengthen the performance of branded content and are even using some influencers in original content to drive traffic and boost advertising demand.
Though programmatic ads once ruled the digital advertising roost, ad blocking software and the current landscape of online media have forced publishers to change their approach. Many publishers (large publishers in particular) have begun creating native branded content that lives alongside regular site content. Some publishers have even created entire dedicated branded content teams and studios exclusively for brand work.
Hearst and The New York Times, among others, have created branded content teams, but have also included influencers in the effort. The New York Times acquired influencer marketing agency HelloSociety in early 2016, and Hearst has developed its own network of influencers, and recently announced that Cosmopolitan is getting an influencer network of its own to “integrate influencer-generated content into their commercial campaigns.”
Native branded content from publishers exists in a variety of forms, including articles, videos, and social media posts. Often, though, influencers are a part of branded video efforts. Videos have a home on publishers’ websites. They’re easy to share, and they’re visual, meaning that publishers and brands can maximize the impact of influencer involvement by including them in a visual, dynamic medium.
Cosmopolitan worked with Jenn Im on a campaign for cosmetics brand Almay wherein Im walked viewers through a tutorial on how to get her signature “Instagram Glow.” The video featured Almay’s Healthy Glow foundation and showed Im teaching audiences how to use and complement it.
Native branded content with influencers benefits brands, influencers, and publishers because it provides an opportunity for each to reach and connect to new audiences.
Influencers often have loyal fanbases who are eager to tune into their content, which boosts both brand and publisher exposure. In turn, influencers benefit from the exposure that comes with working with major publishers and brand, allowing them to tap into new and wider audiences.
Many publishers are partnering with influencers outside of typical branded content, too. Knowing that partnering with influencers can amplify sponsored efforts, some publishers have extended the same thinking to their original site content.
BuzzFeed videos with influencers like Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart don’t necessarily promote brand products, but they do come with the same kind of symbiotic relationship that native branded content offers. “12 Signs Being Ladylike Is Not Your Forte” (starring Grace Helbig) includes a plug for Helbig’s then-upcoming film Camp Takota at the end of the video and in the caption, but it wasn’t the same type of branded content that one might see from traditional branded content partnerships. Since it was uploaded, the video’s been viewed nearly 9 million times.
Similarly, BuzzFeed partnered with influencer and YouTube personality GloZell in a classic BuzzFeed video list which showcases BuzzFeed’s office and most well-known content creators. The video was viewed nearly 5 million times.
BuzzFeed has also worked with influencers to create episodes for some of its original series. Its Boldly channel (formerly BuzzFeed Yellow) has a series called Ladylike, which has seen collaborations with Ingrid Nilsen and Hannah Hart.
Plenty of publishers include influencers on their site organically, too, covering their projects and interviewing them for videos and articles. It’s a testament not only to the incredible power that influencers have in reaching and connecting with audiences, but to the fact that many influencers are working on large-scale projects of interest to major publications and, in some cases, even akin to celebrities.