Mar 9, 2021
More than a decade ago, I consulted for a company named i.TV where Justin Whittaker served as a top executive. i.TV was the creator of the most downloaded TV guide app in Apple’s App Store. i.TV designed and built second screen and social TV experiences for brands like AOL, Huffington Post, Entertainment Weekly, and Nintendo through a software as a service model. Every month, millions of people used i.TV technology to discover, watch, and engage with television.
Justin Whittaker used unpaid influencer marketing for i.TV more effectively than almost any other company I have ever seen. I was so impressed with Justin’s efforts and success that I’ve used his model as an example over the years when teaching other people about successful influencer marketing.
I’ve seen some businesses use influencer marketing incredibly effectively by offering high commissions to the influencers. With Justin and i.TV, no financial compensation was offered to the influencers. Yet, Justin was still able to secure huge amounts of exposure for i.TV from the influencers.
6 Steps for Successful Influencer Marketing
Here’s how Justin secured so much unpaid exposure for i.TV from influencers:
(1) Find hundreds of targeted influencers and their contact info. Before the initial release of i.TV, Justin identified hundreds of highly targeted influencers. The list of influencers didn’t just include names of media organizations, but also included the list of news writers and bloggers who created content about the types of products and services i.TV created, along with their specific contact information.
Justin researched almost every single reporter or blogger he talked to. He looked at articles they had written on similar topics. i.TV also subscribed to a PR contact database that helped him identify and find contact information for the influencers. Once Justin got in the door with reporters, he asked them for referrals to other reporters who wrote on his topic.
Sometimes we don’t think of news writers as influencers, but if their publication writes about our niche, and the author writes about our niche, then that author is an influencer for our niche.
(2) Build relationships with the influencers by providing value. Justin was not sending bulk spam messages trying to get influencers and reporters to promote his company. Instead, he worked to build individual relationships with those influencers. And, he built the relationship before he ever asked for anything in return. Then, he nurtured the relationships with the influencers over time. This was another big key to Justin’s success is that he didn’t approach the influencers and reporters as a one-time transaction. He invested in long-term relationships.
Content creators love it when we are familiar with their work and the things that they care about and write about. So, Justin invested in getting to know the influencers and their work.
He provided value to the influencers and reports that helped them be successful in their jobs. As Justin reached out to influencers, he often offered them a chance to interview with the CEO of his company.
One great way to build relationships with influencers is to follow, share and comment on their content and social channels. One of Justin’s secrets of success was to treat reporters like influencers (which they are).
(3) Build credibility with the influencers. Justin feels that a one-letter domain really helped i.TV’s credibility working with influencers. He felt that the influencers took i.TV more seriously. I have seen the same benefit of credibility by owning the authoritative Adoption.com domain name. It can be worth it for young companies without credibility to buy a domain name that can give them credibility.
As an aside, I have used this credible domain name strategy over the years. My businesses or my clients have purchased premium domains such as Adoption.com, Law.com, Retirement.com, Advertising.com, Families.com, StockMarket.com, and many others. These types of domain names gave a lot of credibility and made a big difference.
Also, the enormous number of i.TV users and being the leader in their niche helped grow i.TV’s credibility and the willingness of the influencers to write about them. There are many other ways we can grow our credibility with influencers, such as through awards, testimonials, advanced degrees, credible statistics, associating with credible sources, and more.
(4) Make it easy for the influencers. As i.TV released new versions of the mobile app with significant new features, Justin worked with the influencers to get articles written about the release.
Justin was very thorough in what he sent the influencers. He didn’t just send a press release. He also sent content, images, logos, quotes, story ideas, etc. Justin made it as easy as possible for these influencers to write stories about i.TV. Justin says that he almost wrote their stories for them, and often the influencers and reporters just cut and pasted what he sent them into what he published.
This was very valuable because these writers had deadlines to create content, and Justin helped them meet their deadlines by providing them quality content they could publish with reduced effort.
(5) Provide value to the end-user. It is really important that the content we send to influencers provides real value to their customers, instead of being an advertorial for our product or company. For example, the i.TV content wasn't focused on why i.TV is the best TV Guide app. Instead, the content was focused on the new FREE features and benefits that readers could use to have a better experience with their entertainment. The content has to be focused on providing value to the end-user.
(6) Affiliate Marketing - Justin rolled out his i.TV influencer program before influencer marketing became the craze it is today. As such, Justin didn’t need to offer compensation to the influencers. Today, so many businesses are reaching out to the influencers, and many of the influencers are requiring compensation. Some influencers may promote our products and services without compensation, but that is becoming rarer, especially for the larger influencers. Today, many companies are choosing to increase the effectiveness of their affiliate marketing by setting up affiliate programs with tracking links and paying influencers a commission for each person they refer who purchases the company’s product or services. I strongly encourage all of my clients to set up paid affiliate programs to facilitate long-term win-win relationships with influencers.
What should we pay influencers?
My clients regularly ask me something like “What is the lowest amount I have to pay influencers?” I think that is the wrong question. In today’s influencer marketplace, the people who pay influencers the lowest amount possible have a hard time getting the attention of the right influencers, and they leave a lot of money on the table.
I think the right question is, “How much can I afford to pay the influencers in my affiliate program?” Remember, that with an affiliate program, we don’t pay the influencers anything until they generate a sale. So, we really don’t have to pay the influencers anything ourselves. With an affiliate program, payments come from the profit of the business the influencers send us.
Also, remember that with most other advertising sources, we take a big risk by paying for the advertising upfront, because the profits generated from the advertising may not be sufficient to cover the cost of the advertising. With affiliate marketing, that risk is eliminated for the business and transferred to the affiliate partner or influencers, because the affiliate partner only receives a commission after they have generated sales.
What size of influencers should we go after?
Justin organized his influencers in tiers to prioritize their reach. A lot of the big PR firms focus on the larger influencers because if we get a couple of wins with the bigger influencers it will trickle down. However, Justin's strategy was to go after all of the targeted influencers, in almost a “ground-up” strategy. His philosophy was “Why not get them all?”
However, with this “ground-up” model Justin found that he needed to give some preferential treatment to the top influencers, such as giving exclusive information to the top influencers. He also gave the smaller publishers “embargoes” limiting when they could publish the stories, so the larger influencers could break the story first. Justin’s ground-up strategy did not hurt i.TV with the big influencers, and he was able to get covered by the leading influencers.
Huge Success from Justin’s Efforts
Because of Justin’s incredible efforts, i.TV received more than 100 mentions from media and influencers each time i.TV put out a substantial press release while I was there.
I helped i.TV with their monetization and we were able to sign deals with 5 of the top 7 movie studios in a short period of time, which was only possible because of the tremendous influencer marketing efforts and media exposure Justin secured for i.TV.
Then, because of credibility and relationships, i.TV was able to morph into a technology services provider for large entertainment companies, which provided a larger and more stable revenue stream.
Connect with Justin
If you enjoyed this interview and want to learn more about Justin or connect with him, you can find him on LinkedIn:
Thank you so much Justin for sharing your stories and strategies about influencer marketing with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from today’s episode:
If we desire monetization we have never before achieved, we must leverage strategies we have never before implemented. I challenge each of us to pick one thing that resonated with us from today’s episode and schedule a time this week to implement it to help achieve our monetization goals.
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