oulder’s TapInfluence is fast becoming the dominant go-to destination for marketers seeking to hook up with influencers. Influencers, in the new parlance of online marketing, are individuals who hold sway over potential buyers.
The company is indisputably on a roll. In just the last month, the firm officially launched its “Influencer Marketplace,” landed a fresh investment round of $5 million and announced a partnership with a digital marketing firm that helps marketers reach mothers in the household.
To top it off, CEO Rustin Banks was cited as one of “10 Leaders Changing the Content Landscape” in Forbes magazine.
"Marketers see the need for content-focused strategies, but most don't have the internal resources to create the volume and variety needed to reach consumers," says Banks. "Influencers represent a powerful content army for brands and the only way to manage and measure that effort with hundreds of influencers instead of a handful, is with technology that lets you scale.”
Influencer marketing is not new. The concept dates back to the 1940s, when sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld introduced what he called the “multistep flow model.” His theory was based on a 1940s study that showed most people are influenced by the media secondhand, through the personal influence of opinion leaders.
What is new though, is an avalanche of influencers sprouting in the mother of all marketplaces — the Internet. Every day, millions of consumers seek out the advice of specialized bloggers who write about everything from shoes to solar panels.
TapInfluence does just what it name says — tap influencers with key audiences on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social platforms who can help businesses promote their brands.
In the true spirit of a marketplace, the TapInfluence platform is a two-way street. Bloggers — journalists, academics, industry analysts, professional advisers, etc. — register on the TapInfluence website and describe their content focus. Businesses search the listings and connect with authors whose content is relevant to their audience.
The result is a win-win proposition. Bloggers, as influencers, are paid for content they produce on behalf of the client; the client builds credibility through the influencer. TapInfluence makes money from the companies whose brands are promoted.
The model has been eminently successful.
According to executives, the firm has 100,000-plus registered influencers who currently serve more than 75 enterprise brands, including some impressive heavyweights like Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, JC Penny, Oreo, Tyson Foods, and ABC News.
TapInfluence was co-founded by Rustin Banks and Holly Hamann in 2009 as BlogFrog, Inc. The company’s initial aim was to help bloggers – primarily “mommy bloggers” – make revenue. In a major rebranding project, the name was changed to TapInfluence last March, coinciding with a new business model and the roll-out of a new software platform.
Last month, TapInfluence announced $5 million in fresh funding from current investor Grotech Ventures and a new investor, Access Venture Partners. Both venture capital firms boast successful investments in the social and software space, with portfolios that include LivingSocial, Advertising.com, Sympoz and LogRhythm. Kirk Holland, managing director of Access Ventures will join the TapInfluence board of directors.
"While consumers appreciate product information from brands, what influences their purchase decisions the most are opinions from other consumers," says Holland. "Marketers are underserved when it comes to tools that allow them to engage buyers with true, consumer-centric content and TapInfluence is the only company in the market that fills that need."
The new money adds to a reported $4.1 million that has been raised since the company was founded. Company officials say they will use the funds to hire engineering, marketing and customer support staff. TapInfluence currently has 37 employees in Boulder and in a New York office opened last year.
The TapInfluence Marketplace platform is relatively straightforward. Bloggers register on the TapInfluence website and create “media kits” describing their content and expertise. To be listed, they must apply and meet minimum requirements for reach, content frequency and quality. Profile information is authenticated with Google Analytics and other social accounts to provide marketers with accurate metrics on social reach and engagement.
Marketers browse the blogger database using more than 35 filters, such as topic, reach, education, language, gender, geography, audience demographics and other characteristics.
The software allows clients to create “assignments” for bloggers and manage the complete process of content creation, publication, influencer collaboration, content distribution and engagement online. The content can then be instantly distributed to the clients branded assets, websites and social media channels.
"In the past, marketers had access to limited data on an influencer and almost no data on that influencer's audience," says Raviv Turner, the company’s vice president of product management. "The Influencer Marketplace eliminates this marketing blind spot and allows brands and agencies to make much better decisions regarding their content marketing investments."
One of the most tantalizing features of the platform is the ability to track results. A cloud-based dashboard allows clients to examine real-time performance metrics, including content reach, number of views, clicks on the client’s URL, tweets and Facebook comments, and other engagement statistics. TapInfluence tallies those statistics to yield a “Total Media Value,” which can be used to compare to other media buys.
As an example, a TapInfluence video on the company’s website boasts that one program had 120 bloggers, each posting one blog, and had 96,000 views.
"Marketers see the actual dollar value of every piece of content and can watch ROI grow in real-time whenever content is viewed or shared," says co-founder Holly Hamann, who serves as Chief Marketing Officer. "With the addition of the Influencer Marketplace, searchable audience data, and real-time tracking of total media value, marketers have unprecedented power to better target their audience and marketing dollars."
Last month, TapInfluence announced that MtoM Consulting, a Washington, D.C. digital marketing firm, will integrate the TapInlfuence platform into its solution suite. MtoM focuses specifically on what it calls the "CEOs of the household" — mothers. The firm develops content marketing strategies to help brands reach mom consumers.
"Influencer marketing is key for our clients to successfully engage with the digital community," according to MtoM CEO Christine Wilson. "Using the TapInfluence platform has brought our marketing services to a new level because we now have the ability to manage influencer campaigns at scale and measure results in real-time."
Industry observers believe influencer marketing is only in its infancy. In a Forrester Research report last August, analyst Nate Elliott predicted "in the next two years, savvy marketers will demand social measurement tools that demonstrate how their social programs are creating marketing and business success. Those tools are likely to come from vendors with expertise in tying marketing spend directly to business outcomes."
Forbes apparently agrees.
“[TapInfluence CEO] Rustin [Banks] may be an unknown, but that status looks pretty temporary,” the magazine wrote. “Tapping into influencers is an essential part of content distribution. ... Others have journeyed into this area, but Rustin’s natural passion to make a true impact on the bottom line and deliver a turnkey process will differentiate him from others. Keep an eye out for Rustin.”