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Leveraging Social Media Influencers for Your E-Commerce Business

0 min readLast updated: July 21, 2022
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Ramin, a Managing Partner at SKU Agency focused on growing your business through strategy, technology & design. Ramin loves to devour business books, podcasts, and blogs. In his spare time (which is minimal) he enjoys hanging out at home with his wife and three kids - and occasionally riding the Peleton.

Social media influencers can help you grow your e-commerce business, and our latest podcast guest Brett Bernstein has built software that scales brand influencer and ambassador programs for e-commerce brands.

Brett is the founder and CEO of Gatsby.ai. He shares how he responded to e-commerce companies’ needs by building Gatsby and advice on how entrepreneurs can build a business for the long haul.

How Rock Climbing is Like E-Commerce

Ramin: You’re an avid rock climber. Are there any parallels between rock climbing and building a business?

Brett: I guess one thing that I would say is that in rock climbing, you strive to get better, and the way you get better is that you do harder and harder routes. So right now, let’s say I do a V4 or V5, but I started on a V0. 

And to get up to V1 or V2, you can’t just use brute strength to push yourself from zero to one or from one to two. You have to have technique. You have to learn how to move your body in certain ways to get that hold. And I think the parallel is that you can’t just force your way into a market.

You have to figure out what the market wants and how you can get there strategically and build up the foundation to get there. You can’t just push your way through. You have to build something people want and learn how to get there.

From Digital Vending Machines to Social Media Influencers

Ramin: How did Gatsby come about? What were you doing, and how did that idea start?

Brett: So the company I started five or six years ago, still called Gatsby, was so different from what we are today. I didn’t sit down one day and dream up this idea of scaling influencer marketing in a silo.

It wasn’t my idea over coffee or a drink. Instead, it was a constant iteration that got us here through customer feedback and requests. I think that’s the most important way to grow a business: by having companies use it and give you feedback, and those requests drive it. 

The story goes that when I wanted to start my next business, I wanted to find something unique to my background, which had been healthy vending machines and enterprise software. And I came across a concept at the time, 2015ish, called social media vending machines. I haven’t seen it around anytime recently, but you looked at some of the largest companies at the time, like Old Navy, the PGA tour, and Chase Bank. 

In the case of Old Navy, they would set up a new store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. 

And they would buy a vending machine, deck it out with their branding, and fill it up with slippers on the side of the vending machine. It was called “a tweet for your feet.” And if you walked by the vending machine on Fifth Avenue, you could tweet about Old Navy, and that would dispense a free pair of slippers.

And there was an opportunity here because the barrier to this marketing campaign was very high. It was like a hundred thousand dollars a month to run this campaign, from what I see. Between buying the machine, getting the permitting, and getting the technology out into the machine – all of that is super expensive. Most brands could never do it.

So I thought, okay, if I can create this vending machine with this technology in it and place it in malls or movie theaters and have brands come through me and rent access to the machine on a monthly basis, that could be a way of providing this service to brands of all sizes. 

I went to FedEx office and printed off a few flyers, and I just walked down the Santa Monica promenade one day in 2015, asking companies if they wanted to do this. And I got down to the end of the Santa Monica promenade, and there’s a mall at the end of it called Santa Monica Place.

I knocked on the door of the leasing company or the property management company. I pitched the idea to them, and they loved it. And this was like November 1st, 2015. A couple of meetings later, they wanted this machine in place before Black Friday of that year.

And I looked at all of the numbers and liked what it would take to get this thing done in two weeks. And I realized that I didn’t want to go back to the vending machines. 

I wanted not to be dealing with all the hardware and the headaches that I had to deal with the first time around, like the vandalism, the insurance, the gas and the cars and the employees and the restocking. Instead, I wanted to just deal with virtual, with software, which is what I learned from Box.

So I declined the offer. And instead, I looked at how I could take that idea of turning foot traffic into social media awareness and bring it to e-commerce. That’s how Gatsby was first born – around that pivot. This was now 2016, and the concept was very simple. We built a pop-up builder in 2016 that allowed you to connect your Instagram handle for a discount.

The number one goal of that pop up is to get leads. And there are more barriers in the one that we built. Brands loved it, but it wasn’t able to scale because it didn’t satisfy the number one requirement, which was to get leads.

However, we got lucky. We got very lucky because right after we launched this thing, the Fyre Festival happened, which transformed marketing in many ways. Prior to the Fyre Festival, brands were dealing with large influencers. They wanted the big celebrity influencers, which was what they used at the Fyre Festival.

But post-Fyre Festival, after all of that calamity, brands started wanting more micro-influencers. And by sheer luck, one of the things that our first version did was it told you how many Instagram followers that customer has. We started seeing merchants using our software to identify which of their customers have a micro-influencer following.

You couldn’t find that data in 2016 through any traditional influencer marketing services. 

They just didn’t have a way of finding micro-influencers other than going through Instagram and just clicking on profiles and looking at hashtags.

Finding the Right Size Micro-Influencer

Ramin: Can you define the micro-influencer level? Is it less than 5,000?

Brett: There isn’t a standard in the market. We have clients who want to implement our strategy for people with anything north of 500 followers. But then other brands think “micro” has less than a hundred thousand. There’s such a deviation in what brands are defining, and really what it comes down to is how many customers you have at your disposal to work with?

If you’re a smaller merchant doing under a million dollars in revenue, you’re going to want to start at a smaller level because that’s what you have access to. You have many more people with 500 followers or more, and that army of influence can be built. And then, as you grow your business and you have more and more customers, you can start to see more volume of people who have more than a thousand followers and 5,000 followers.

But what we make available to e-commerce businesses is the ability to scale that micro-influencer channel. So whatever you define that channel as, whether it be 500 followers or starting at 3000 followers, it’s all based on your unique volume and your unique need as a brand.

The Future of Influencer Marketing

Ramin: Where do you see influencer marketing in the next five years? 

Brett: I think there are a few interesting things that we could see it morphing into. The first thing that comes to mind is I do think we’re going to see some more distribution channels.

So right now, it’s so heavily focused on Instagram. But we are seeing TikTok grow faster than any other platform since Instagram for this channel of marketing. So I think they’ll continue to spread. 

We’ll see more channels that people are investing in, especially with the advertising, unless Facebook can figure out how to bring attribution back the way they used to.

So you just see people testing Pinterest, TikTok, Twitter, LinkedIn, Twitch, and whatever else might emerge. We’ll have more distribution of channels. 

The second thing which I’m hopeful becomes a thing is virtual reality. We’re going to see more companies building products and investing in virtual reality.

I have little cousins. They’re 10, 12, 13 years old. I see what they’re doing on their phones. And they’re buying virtual products. I just think there’s going to be more market for virtual products. And there’s going to be a need to influence that. 

And then third is a deeper understanding of authentic marketing about authentic influencer marketing. It is moving more and more away from the influencer. There will always be a place for the influencer to be attached to a product. That’s not going away. But with tools like Gatsby that allow you to scale word of mouth, acknowledge when a customer posts content about you and has a thousand followers and reward them for that behavior.

You’re not just rewarding them for referring an order anymore. An affiliate program is pretty linear. It’s a 10% commission on any orders you drive, and it doesn’t reward all the other things that social media influencers could be doing for your business like generating UGC, engagement on social media, and posting content; all those activities are getting lost in the traditional affiliate program.

I like affiliate programs. We’re partners with them. Clients use us with them, but when you have Gatsby involved, you can start to broaden your approach. One of our clients, Promix Nutrition, renamed their ambassador program as their “Family Program.” It’s about building a family with your customers by being part of their program. They have monthly zoom calls with one of their founders, who is an influencer as well. And they get special access to perks and all these great things. 

Kulani Kini is another client of ours. Their program’s called Sun Chasers. It’s their customers, and they sell bikinis around Australia. So they’re always chasing the sun. It’s not about that rigid affiliate or ambassador program or an influencer program; it is about building that community at scale.

How Gatsby Helps E-Commerce Grow Via Social Media Influencers

Ramin: What happens behind the scenes once Gatsby gets installed? What’s the process?

Brett: So the same way you ask for an email or a phone number from your customers to do SMS marketing or email marketing, you would start to ask for an Instagram handle or a Tik Tok handle.

And then that information goes into your Gatsby account. Gatsby enriches that: it pulls in all the publicly-available insights on that person’s handle. So you’re going to see their profile photo, how many followers they have, their bio, and all the keywords in their bio. And then we give this data to you in Gatsby, and you can start to segment it.

You put your customers into buckets based on influence. So all of your customers who have between 500 and a thousand followers, that’s a segment. A thousand followers to 10,000 followers, that’s a segment. And you can start to see how your customers are distributed along this influence spectrum.

Then, all of those segments and insights of how many followers each customer has sync with your email marketing system. So Klaviyo is a big partner of ours. Gatsby syncs with Klayvio and syncs with Omnisend or Sailthru or Rejoiner and other email systems, or it could sync with Gorgias for customer support.

The point is you now have this information, like how many followers your customers have layered on top of whatever else you know about that customer. So, you know they bought from you, when they first found you, what they’ve opened email-wise or SMS-wise.

At Gatsby, we will give you Klaviyo or Omnisend flows, templates that allow you to automate outreach. So, say somebody has a certain degree of influence. You can automate outreach to them and say, Hey, you’re in our program. You know, you’ve qualified for our program.

Here’s a special code for you to share with your followers so they can get a reward. And anytime you mention us in a story, post, or video, we will send you a special gift. We’ll send you our new product, or we’ll send you a gift card worth X as a thank you for enriching the community.

And what’s great is you don’t have to be up on a Saturday morning checking your Instagram story anymore. You don’t have to be in a Google spreadsheet keeping track of all these conversations. Gatsby will do all of that for you. We will track every time those ambassadors, those customers mentioned you in their story.

We’ll preview the story for you. If it’s a post, we’ll save that content or UGC for you indefinitely and even better, we will tell Klaviyo that story just happened. So Klaviyo can automatically send that email, that SMS to that customer with their reward, as you promised, pulling things off.

Ramin: The merchant in this scenario doesn’t have to touch anything. Gatsby is working in the background, taking care of it as your tagline says.

It is a community. That’s the point of it. It is a community that you’re trying to build out there.

Brett: Yeah. We have a new feature coming out this month, and it’s going to be a full social listening suite. You’ll be able to have every person who’s mentioning your band on their Instagram story, let’s say, in your account. You may not have their email address because they haven’t opted in yet, but you can go and ask them over DM writing in Gatsby, and then that’ll sync over. 

We want you to feel that it’s not rigid. You own this community, and you can change the name in Gatsby to be whatever you want. This is all about the brand and its community and making it unique to them.

Advice for E-commerce Entrepreneurs

Ramin: What one tip would you give e-commerce entrepreneurs to take their business to the next level, to get them excited?

Brett: It’s not as fast as you think. I’ve been doing this for over five years, and a lot of people have come and gone in that time.

People that raised a lot of money fast, and at the time, I was thinking, well, I’m going to go the slow road. I saw people raise two, $3 million in their first year. But they’re out of business, and I just keep going along. It’s like the tortoise and the hare.

I just keep my head down, and I focus on what matters the most. And I’m growing at a great clip right now. Our business is growing, but it wasn’t overnight. And people that only hear about us now think that we’re brand new, and it’s all overnight growth.

When I started, I felt like I wasn’t doing the right things because I wasn’t seeing immediate success. But when I thought about it, I realized this is not a short-term thing. The goal of this business is not to start it, raise money, and sell in five years.

I’m building a business for my life, for my future, my children. I’m thinking about the right way to bring this home. I did not sit down five years ago and realize what Gatsby would become. It was all built through early customer interactions and listening to customers.

We have nearly 70, 80 reviews now on Shopify. Every one of them has five stars. Every one of them is because we would make a concerted effort to know our customers and know what they want, what they need. We prioritize what our customers are asking for.

So my point is don’t get discouraged if it takes longer than you might expect. And listen to your customers because if I had raised a bunch of money in 2017 for what I was building then, then I’d be out of business now. By staying lean, not overextending myself, and listening to customers, I was able to navigate the world, the role of Fyre Festival, the role of Cambridge Analytica, and the role of Tik Tok emerging. 

All these things happened, and we needed to stay nimble. And I think keeping your ear to the ground and focusing on the bigger picture has allowed me to get the position I’m in right now.

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If you’re a Shopify merchant, Brett recommends using Gatsby’s Shopify app as the simplest way to install Gatsby for your e-commerce business. You can also learn more about and sign up for Gatsby on their website, Gatsby.ai, via the chat widget, which a team member will answer. 

SKU Agency specializes in email, SMS and mobile push marketing services. If your company is focused on the direct-to-consumer segment, is driving significant top of the funnel revenue through SEO, social or paid ads and wants email and SMS to drive more revenue, then book a call. We’ll run a free opportunity audit worth $850 on your website to identify how much revenue you may be leaving on the table and could recoup through these powerful owned marketing channels.

You can watch the full podcast on our YouTube channel, listen in on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Audible, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio (or wherever else you listen to your favorite podcasts).

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