Ben Jeffries is a 23-year-old entrepreneur, specialising in influencer marketing and social media. Ben founded his second company, Influencer, at 18 and has since driven it to become an industry-leading business in marketing’s hottest sector, raising their first round of investment on Crowdcube in under 24 hours.
Ben has since partnered up with YouTube sensation Caspar Lee as a co-founder and appointed him CMO, whilst leading his team to close a further £500k investment round for Influencer. Ben was recently named Media Week’s Rising Star and UK Tech Founder of the Year 2018 at the BMW
1:54 Ben introduces himself, his company Influencer, how he got started and his role as CEO.
5:06 How the Influencer platform works.
8:14 The clients Influencer works with along with in-house and agency split.
9:21 The influencer marketing landscape in the UK.
12:31 The Competition and Markets Authority’s influencer marketing guidelines.
20:39 How much do the social networks value influencers and content creators on their platforms.
21:44 Influencer marketing in the B2B space.
22:55 How Ben sees the future of influencer marketing over the next 12 months and the next five years.
26:40 Future plans for Influencer.
27:23 The one book Ben recommends everyone should read.
Resources/People/Articles mentioned in podcast
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Ste Davies: Ben, welcome to the podcast.
Ben Jeffries: Thank you very much for having me on the podcast. Really excited to be here.
SD: Delighted to have you on. To start off with, can you give us some background on yourself, your company, Influencer and your role as CEO there.
BJ: Of course, so I started the company back in 2015 but the brainwave for the company obviously came before then. When I was younger than I am now, I had a clothing company called Breeze and essentially I wanted to make it the next big thing.
I always thought that if celebrities wore my clothes that would really help. However I couldn’t afford any celebrities nor did I know any celebrities. So, I’m a massive Chelsea football fan – sorry if that offends anyone who’s listening – but I reached out to quite a few Chelsea reserve teams players on social media.
These guys had around 10 or 15 thousand followers on Twitter and I basically said, “If I give you fifty quid would you mind posting a tweet wearing my clothes?” So I started working with not just Chelsea reserve teams players but other reserve team players from up and down the country.
I branched out to models, fitness bloggers and all these people who had, you know, a very small following on social media but had some influence. And while I was building up this network I thought, “OK, other brands can benefit from this network as well.”
So I decided that even though Breeze was really cool and I was loving it there’ll be much more success in the future from launching an agency which connects brands with these influential content creators. I decided to put Breeze to one side and launch what Influencer is today and this was back in 2015.
Since 2015 there have been plenty of stories along the way, from multiple rounds of funding to taking on board new business partners. It has expanded from a small agency in my university room to an actual technology platform with a team of 28 based in Holborn.
SD: Wow. And I just want to point out to people listening that Ben you’re still very much in your early 20s, right?
BJ: Yeah, I am actually 22, but 23 on Friday though.
SD: Wow when I was 23 I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. So you got started purely by accident and you fell into the space purely because of you wanted to seed your clothing brand out to football players and you identified an opportunity?
BJ: Yeah, 100% I think I just fell into it because I saw the power of what it was doing to my own clothing brand. And I thought, “If I’m seeing this power and there’s not other people doing it in this space then other brands will feel the power too.”
And it was really interesting because in the early days I could approach some of the world’s biggest companies like Uber, Badoo and even other ones like European Bartender School which is basically for learning cocktails.
They were really on board with it and were like, “We’ll give you a small test budget and we’ll see how it goes.” And so I started working with larger budgets as well so that was really exciting.
SD: Very cool. Can you explain the technology behind your platform? Let’s say I’m a brand, what can I expect when using it?
BJ: The way to describe it is, it’s an influencer marketing marketplace. In the essence that, creators – who are influencers – have one side of the platform and on the other side, the advertisers. So talking about the advertiser side first, they use it for four different reasons.
They use it for influencer discovery – so finding influencers on the platform. They use it for building relationships with influencers because they can use it to speak directly to influencers on the platform. They use it as a campaign management tool because the influencers submit draft content to the platform and advertisers can review the content and give feedback. And it’s also a reporting tool because we pull in all the data after the campaign so they can make sure what kind of return on investment they’ve got from it.
On the flip side, looking at it from a creator angle, you’ve got the ability to apply to campaigns and negotiate prices with advertisers. And also to upload content and also to analyse the results for yourself once the campaign goes live so it’s like a two-sided marketplace.
What’s really cool is we have advertisers that use it, both in a self-service fashion so they’ll be running the campaigns themselves through it. Then also we have a managed arm to the business where we’ll run it on behalf of clients through the platform.
SD: I was just about to ask you that, so do you guys also help with the creative as well or do you act as a marketplace and a connector of brands and influencers?
BJ: We definitely act as both and the reason being is we like to give advertisers the flexibility. So obviously in the self-service style you have the ability to use our technology just as we would in-house. On the managed side, we certainly get involved in the creative to help think of some innovative ways to use influencers to help propel their marketing ideas.
As an example, we did a campaign last year with Apple Music. The target was to drive as many student downloads as possible and what we did is get quite a bit macro-influencer who is actually my business partner – Caspar Lee – and we basically got him to launch his own motivational playlist on Apple Music.
He said to his followers, “Send in a screenshot of your favourite song on Apple Music to me and I’ll add it to my playlist.” Then we got 100 micro-influencers, these influencers between 10,000 and 100,000 followers and they all posted screenshots of their favourite songs on Apple Music to add to Caspar’s playlist.
Obviously what did is got their followers to also send in screenshots and it set off that chain reaction to build up a conversation on Instagram about Caspar’s motivational playlist and Apple Music actually labeled it as one of their greatest ever brand awareness pieces to drive student awareness which is fantastic.
SD: Wow, impressive. Speaking of Apple and companies that you work with, what kind of brands and companies are you working with and what’s the brand and agency split? Are you dealing with more brands over agencies or is it still in the agency phase?
BJ: We’re definitely working with both. We work with the likes of the WPP group, the Omnicom group, the Havas group, the Dentsu group in terms of the agency side. Then on the flip side with the brands, we do work heavily brand direct with the likes of Alibaba, McDonald’s, N26 Bank, those style of companies.
So it is very much split at the moment but a bit more brand direct with about 60% brands and 40% agencies. For us, we’re very much about building these relationships with the agencies for the longevity of the campaigns. At the moment, we have some really exciting partners and brands coming up, so we’re really looking forward to seeing what kind of campaigns we can run.
SD: Cool. Your platform includes influencers from around the world but I want to zoom in a little. I know that you know the UK influencer marketing market very well so what’s the big picture view of the UK influencer marketing market and how does it compare with other markets? Are we a leader or are we behind other markets?
BJ: It’s a really interesting question because the UK market is one of the leaders, for sure. I’d say other areas where they’re leading is obviously the States and also Australia. Germany think they’re very far ahead but perhaps they’re not because their legislation is a little bit too far-fetched.
But just focussing on the UK, as such, the industry itself is growing massively,. We’re starting to see, especially on the advertiser side, budgets are increasing massively. We’re being invited to annual budget meetings which shows how serious brands are taking influencer marketing.
Especially on the creator side, we’re seeing creators getting involved much more than being referred to as, you know, just YouTubers or Instagrammers. We’re seeing, for example, creators being involved in films and all the rest of it so it’s really exciting to see the industry take it more seriously.
Obviously there have been set-backs when the press have perhaps attack influencer marketing quite strongly posting articles saying is this the end of influencer marketing after the Fyre Festival documentaries. Or whether that’s them launching their own Panorama series to attack the industry.
To be honest, they’re so far behind on what their actual experiences are on influencer marketing, it’s actually quite funny for us in the industry to see and really we just take it as something they feel threatened by because it’s attacking traditional press because people are moving budgets away from that and into influencer marketing.
SD: Exactly and I agree 100%. The media coverage of influencer marketing over the last 12 months has been nothing but negative and as someone pointed out on this podcast before, dog bites man is not a story but man bites dog is a story. As you say the budgets are being allocated from traditional advertising and even from online publications too. It does seem like the press, even when it comes to writing about Facebook and other social networks, are always negative and it seems like they’re on the back foot.
BJ: 100% and as I said earlier I just think it’s the fact that they feel threatened by our industry. So for us, we take it with a pinch of salt. The fact that all these YouTubers have more coverage themselves than a lot of these massive publications just shows the power that these actual people have.
I think the most important thing is, which I’m sure we’ll go on to mention, with all these big influencers with all these big followings do have big responsibilities and that’s why things like transparency is so key. Especially with the recent CMA guidelines, providing transparency to their followers about all their relationships.
SD: Speaking of the CMA guidelines, you recently wrote a piece on the new guidelines they brought out for influencer marketing and you took a slightly more contrarian view to the general responses that I saw. Do you want to elaborate on this a little?
BJ: Because originally the ASA have been managing the regulation in the industry and perhaps haven’t been doing the greatest job, should I say. The CMA have had to get involved and they’ve probably got involved from a perspective where they’ve gone full force. They haven’t really taken into consideration how the industry works, I think that’s the way I can softly say it.
For example, if you get paid to promote a brand once obviously you have to disclose it as an advert. But if you promote that brand in any post over the next 12 months and you tag that brand then you have to put #ad again. So what that creates is mass confusion for consumers who engage with the content because they don’t know what the influencers are actually getting paid because essentially they’re only getting paid for the first post but now they’re saying if they don’t get paid but they promote this brand they have to disclose it. The transparency is, ironically, becomes less clear.
SD: You also said that they’re not comprehensive enough as well right? Is that what you meant by this?
BJ: Yeah, they’re not comprehensive enough because they don’t have, perhaps, the understanding as clearly as they perhaps thought and the reason being is that I don’t think they consulted enough influencers. I think they consulted a few influencers but they didn’t consult the right type of influencers.
The only ones they consulted with the big macro influencers who perhaps do fewer and fewer brand deals because they’re more celebrities who do more long-term collaborations. When really they should have been consulting with the agencies and the smaller influencers to see how it works because if you’re a fashion blogger, for example, you’re consistently being gifted items right? Which means surely your profile could turn into a walking billboard with their existing legislation which really isn’t good for anyone, right?
I think one of the most important points I wrote at the end of the end of the article is how it’s actually unfair. If you’re watching Stranger Things on Netflix and you suddenly see them drinking a can of Diet Coke, there’s no ad disclosure on that actual screenplay. Whereas if that was an influencer marketing advert they’d have to put #ad all over it and it’s about just finding that balance as such.
To go even further, there was actually an influencer called Grace Beverley who put one of the best tweets out I’d seen ever – which was last month – and she basically said that they are unfairly targeting the influencers and the influencer marketing industry when actually it’s the reality TV stars and sports people as well who are actually letting down the industry. And what I mean by that is the influencers are actually abiding by the legislation but it’s the sports people and reality TV stars who perhaps don’t know clearly about the industry who don’t ever disclose.
Not to single anyone out but I’m going to. You go to Wayne Rooney’s profile and you scroll down you’ll see that he’s done quite a few adverts recently where he hasn’t disclosed it.
SD: You’re saying the social media influencers who are actually much more professional than the celebrities who are using social media to earn extra money for promoting products. Are you beginning to see social media influencers become more professional in their approach?
BJ: Yeah and I think this is one of the good things, I guess, from the guidelines that got issued is, it forces the influencers to be more transparent. It means they’re only working with brands who they truly believe in because their followers know they’re being paid for it. If the brand doesn’t align to the influencer then the followers will kick off because they’ll say, “If you’re actually going to sell me something, make sure it’s inline with your actual own personal brand.”
This means the influencers are going to have to be, I guess, much more picky over which brands they work with because they have to keep their authenticity. Again, I think one of the most important things is that the fact these influencers have got their large followings is because they have trust with their followers so they have to be careful not to break that trust by promoting brands they don’t believe in.
SD: Do you think in the future influencers will start collaborating with brands in the long term. That is, not just one-off projects but 12 months / 24 months types of agreements?
BJ: I think for influencers and brands it’s the way it should be because when you have longer relationships with a brand it builds deeper relationships and it helps drive greater conversion because people see it as more authentic because the influencers are actually using the product or service more.
SD: Can you do that at a micro and nano level as well?
BJ: I’m not really a believer in nano-influencers so I don’t think anyone under 10,000 followers necessarily has influence. I still see them more as an affiliate, I guess you could say. For me, they don’t really have influence and using them at scale is still just an affiliate.
SD: When it comes to social networks (i.e. Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and so on) where do you see the opportunities for both marketers and influencers? I recently saw a story where, she’s based in London but I can’t remember her name or her company, but she said she’s ditching Instagram purely for YouTube as she sees more value in influencer marketing in YouTube. Do you agree with her assumption or do you think there’s still an opportunity to engage influencers across all channels?
BJ: Definitely an opportunity across all channels. I think different channels have different benefits to advertisers. I’d say YouTube and Instagram are leading the way. YouTube has also just release YouTube Stories which offers even more opportunities for brands to sponsor.
Unlike Instagram stories which are alive for 24 hours, they’re alive for a longer period which again, you know, brands drive additional conversions. We all know with video content as well, it helps to provide greater insight and that’s why YouTube has its strengths but on the flip side, you know, Instagram as well has Instagram Stories which influencers use every day to provide a ‘behind-the-scenes’ aspect to their life.
So different networks provide different benefits and to be honest if you’re using an influencer you should be using them to provide as many of their networks as possible to provide that full 360 approach to show the insights of them actually using it.
I mentioned earlier the element of authenticity because if someone likes a product they’re likely going to be talking about it on their networks. And it’s not just YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, there are other networks we use for certain clients. Twitter and Snapchat do actually work better for betting clients quite successfully because they help with the link conversion.
Going further, there are new networks out there like TikTok which is really exciting and you can target a younger generation. So it really depends on the KPIs themselves.
SD: In terms of the social networks themselves, do they help creators a lot? I know that Facebook has its creators section and so does YouTube and Instagram has some guidance but how valuable do they see content creators and influencers? Do they see them as fundamental to their platform?
BJ: Yeah 100%. They know that if they have happy content creators on their platform then consumers will stay on that platform because ultimately content creators will be sharing their favourite content across it, right. They do do a lot.
I know Instagram for example recently took hundreds of creators to Soho Farmhouse on a nice little trip to basically tell them about all their upcoming plans. At Vidcon, for example, YouTube and Instagram had their own lounges at well where they got creators to come in so they could talk about any product launches they had. Creators are key to their success.
SD: I’m not sure if you do B2B as well but what’s your opinion on influencer marketing within the B2B space? Is it an emerging area?
BJ: It’s definitely an emerging area. I think the most important thing for B2B is how you use influencers. What I mean by this is, it might be that you’re advertising an accountancy software, it might not be suitable to use the influencer to post on their own social networks but you might use those influencers in your own content and that might help to drive conversions because it’s more persuasive coming from the influencer.
On the flip side, where I talk about what kind of influencers, the greatest influencers to a business in the B2B space are the employees. So if you can get the employees act the like the influencers, where you’re getting them to spread positive content across social media about your company then that could be another avenue to think about.
SD: Do you guys to B2B or are you purely a B2C play?
BJ: We do work on some B2B but it’s predominantly B2C because we do feel that’s where the core strength of influencer marketing lies. But we have worked on some B2B campaigns before.
SD: I want you to get out your crystal ball and on my next question I want to get two predictions from you on the future of influencer marketing. The first one being where do you see the industry in the next 12 months and where do you see it in the next five years?
BJ: In the next 12 months I’d say influencer marketing is moving much more towards the performance angle. I think last year was definitely the year for influencer fraud, where people were coming out and saying “Influencers have fake followers, let’s find out their fraud ratings and make sure we don’t work with influencers with either fake followers or fake engagement.”
This year, fraud is still going to be an element to it but it’s really going to be about the performance of an individual creator. Because let’s say you have two influencers and both have 10,000 followers, as an example, and influencer A has a 90% audience credibility rating and influencer B has a 50/50 split between fraud and real followers.
If you then find out that influencer A drives you 100 clicks but influencer B, with the greater fraud, drives 1,000 clicks you’re going to discard the element of fraud and be much more interested in the fact that of the 50% of followers that are real, that influencer is driving a greater conversion for the brand.
So there’s that element to think about as well and I think that will be a big shift this year as brands and agencies are demanding much more insights on the return on investment that they actually get so, you know, we’re seeing advertisers want to push for more CPC campaigns where they want guaranteed X amount of clicks, for example.
So I think that’s one direction the influencer industry is going and especially over the next five years as we spoke about earlier, there’ll be a much bigger push in the long-term brand ambassadors programs where influencers will be used not just for one off posts but for long term collaborations. It won’t just be 12 months but it’ll be 24 months and the reason being is that it will establish those deeper relationships and as a result improve conversions.
SD: In terms of performance over the next 12 months, a brand wanting to measure ROI, does it lend itself to better platforms than say Instagram? Would YouTube be better in this instance from an ROI perspective if we’re tracking clicks than something like Instagram where putting a link in a caption you can’t do and you can only do it in a bio or a swipe up.
BJ: It would depend on the brand’s KPI. As you were saying, in an Instagram post there is no way you can do a click through. However, on an Instagram story you can do the ‘swipe up’ so it depends upon the brand as well. You might find out that for a clothing brand a YouTube video be better because if they’re doing a whole video where they’re unboxing loads of items they can post the links to every individual item underneath their YouTube description.
Whereas you might find that for an app you’re trying to drive downloads for and because it’s one link an Instagram story might be a better way for them to convert. So it’s really still open to the battle of the social networks depending on the brand.
SD: OK, and that was a great point you made about an influencer having 50% of fraudulent followers, even if that’s the case, if they’re driving more traffic, more engagement or more awareness then essentially it doesn’t really matter, right?
BJ: Exactly, I mean there’ll still be that aspect if their main focus is brand awareness. However, if it is performance around clicks it’ll depend on who can drive more clicks.
SD: What does the future look like for Influencer? What do you have planned?
BJ: We’ve just recently taken on board a new director to the company who is the third key man for the business aside from Caspar and myself. He’s Adam Ludwin and he’s a founder of a business called Cactify which is a search intelligence company and he scaled it up to £100m+ business and opened across six different international cities.
For us the focus over the next 12 months is international expansion. We’re looking at the States at the moment as our first move across the pond and yeah we’ll see where else we go after that.
SD: Sounds like business is booming. In terms of the last question, it’s a question that I ask to everyone and it doesn’t have to be related to influencer marketing or marketing in general, but what is the one book you recommend everybody read.
BJ: Blue Ocean Strategy