Social media's new matchmakers pair users with brands

Fans of Argentina take a selfie while attending the FIFA World Cup match Argentina vs Switzerland at the Fan Fest in Rio de Janeiro, on July 1, 2014.

Increasingly, big brands are adding social media to their ad budgets, often placing ads directly with users who’ve built large online followings on sites like Instagram, YouTube, and Vine. But how do companies and these influencers hook up? There’s a new crop of matchmakers eager to help pair companies with people who will post ads to their feeds.

For Jessica Shyba, companies' interest in her blog and social media networks took off back in November, after she posted photos of her son napping with the family’s new puppy coiled around him.

The photos went viral, and suddenly, she was everywhere.

“At that point, I hired an agent,” said Shyba, turning to Cara Braude, though she’s not sure the word “agent” is the best fit. “You know, when I introduce her to brands or to PR representatives, I introduce her as being in charge of my sponsorships and partnerships.”

Whatever the right title, it was clear Shyba needed help. On Instagram alone, she has nearly half a million followers, which draws lots of attention from brands. On the other side of the table, companies need help finding the Shybas of the internet.

These matchmakers can range from independents like Shyba’s rep or fancy tech start-ups. But the questions they help answer are similar.

“So if you have a have a budget that you want to allocate to Instagram but you’re like, ‘Well how do I go about finding the 30 people who are the perfect brand ambassadors for me?’” says Rob Fishman, co-founder of Niche, which helps companies place packages of ads across a handful of social networks. “Once I find them, how do I reach out, how much should I be paying them and how do know what the return on my investment is?’”

Another company, Reelio, currently focuses exclusively on YouTube ads.

“YouTube’s the big dog,” say Ben Williams, one of Reelio’s founders as well as its CTO and CIO.

Eventually, the company plans to add other sites, but Williams says YouTube is a good starting point for brands.

“The top hundred channels on are really easy to find,” say Williams. As a result, placing ads with them can be competitive, with rates hitting as much as $30,000 or $50,000 per sponsored video.  

Finding YouTube  "influencers" with more modest, but still significant subscriber bases can be more time consuming, which is where Reelio and its matching algorithm comes in. They typically broker deals where compensation is based on the viewership of a sponsored video.

For example, Reelio matched a YouTube creator with a few hundred thousand followers with Squarespace, a company that helps people make websites.

 The video’s producer staged a race between two smartphones to test their processing speed, even though Squarespace doesn’t sell the phones.

“It’s more for brand recognition, like traditional advertising,” says Williams.

The video had about 330,000 views. People had chosen to watch the video because they were interested in the content -- which is the real match companies are seeking.

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