Executive Q&A: Bob Gilbreath, Vice President, Social Media and General Manager, Ahalogy

How did you get your start in social media?
I personally began working in social media in the mid 2000’s as the strategy lead at a national digital agency that was part of WPP. From the beginning we saw that consumers were less interested in being “friends” with brands, but actively looking for ideas and inspiration from useful content. We started Ahalogy in 2012 in order to focus on this growing opportunity for brands and were one of the first companies to concentrate on Pinterest. While working on Pinterest we saw that useful content from trusted influencers performed better than typical branded content on every measure. Over time we saw each of the social platforms similarly reward our approach. We shifted toward this bigger opportunity to reframe our approach as influencer marketing that could come to life on all social platforms that consumers choose to engage with.

What are the key elements, in your opinion, which can help brands find and connect with the right social media influencers to grow their business?
I believe that too many marketers over-think this question and the selection process should focus on a few core elements that make great marketing: first, the quality of the influencer’s historic creative work, with a focus on the visual imagery. This is what will grab their attention and leave a positive (or negative) impression in the consumer’s mind. Second, the voice of the influencer and whether or not she creates content that truly resonates with her audience. Finally, look for the unique ways that the influencer is connecting her audience’s interest with your specific brand. It’s got to be original and cannot be forced.

How do you expect influencer marketing to evolve in 2019 and beyond?
The large shift in progress now is that as brands invest a truly significant percentage of their budget in influencer marketing, they are coming to expect these investments to match up with what they are used to in media buys. That means elements such as finely tuned targeting, third-party verification of media impressions, and measurement of return on ad spend. The greatest challenge to this is the industry’s historic dependence on follower counts and earned media. Unfortunately, earned media is nearly impossible to target and apply sales measurement. As a result, a big story of 2019 and 2020 will revolve around how a growing number of brands are embracing a paid media approach, which gives brands the control and measurement they have come to expect.

What’s your favorite social media platform and why?
Right now, I’m most excited about Reddit as a platform. First, it is at an exciting early stage where consumer interest and growth are high, yet most other marketers have not jumped in. This opens a huge opportunity to win engaged consumer at lower media costs. Second, it blends human-curated content discovery—like Pinterest—with a community and conversation element that is lacking in Pinterest and gone negative in other social platforms.

What do you believe is the most challenging part of working in social media?
The challenge of social media is that it is a lot of work to do well. Sellers of self-service software promise that it is simple to discover, hire and receive great work from influencers and social media creators. Yes, anyone can log onto this service and post a job or go to Facebook and build an ad. I recall the days when clients would tell my agency that “my son can build a website.” But anyone who has actually managed these campaigns will be reminded that working with a group of strangers isn’t easy—especially when you’re a huge brand with your own levels of approvals and creative guidelines. And social media ad wear out happens in days or weeks, so you’ve got to continually source and optimize with new content. If you’re betting your business on this investment, you need to work with an expert team that you can hold accountable.

What is the impact of social media on the marketing industry?
While the negative aspects are dominating the news lately, I think growth of social media has generally been a positive for both marketers and the consumers they serve. First, the rapid public voice that consumers now have has forced brands to be more responsive and responsible. Second, we can use social media as a live, uncompromised focus group to help us understand what people’s needs are and how we can better serve them. Finally, since most people use social media to discover ideas and inspiration, brands have an opportunity to connect with consumers and grow their business by providing such useful content.

What is the direct impact of influencer marketing and social media on the CPG and Retail industry?
I believe the bigger picture opportunity for CPG and Retail is to create growth at a time when population change is flat, and the number of store trips is decreasing. Smart retailers and brands are partnering to help their customers discover growth in the form of new uses and usage occasions. Ideas for these new uses and occasions are best when they come from trusted influencers and discovered on social media. For example, new events from Valentine’s Day to National Donut Day bring people into the store for incremental purchases. While influencer video tutorials for everything from baking cakes to new makeup techniques are encouraging people to buy into new categories.