B Magazine: Power of the post: Influencer marketing in Southeast Missouri (11/3/22)

As technology evolves, so does business, and so does the way businesses market themselves.

Digital marketing is expanding rapidly with consumers spending more time online or browsing social media each day. According to Statistica, the average internet user worldwide spends 147 minutes per day on social media. With statistics like this, it is almost a necessity for companies to set up Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Even if a company is present on social media, they may still supplement their digital advertising efforts by using influencers.

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Influencers are social media users who create promotional content for a brand and then post the content on their personal accounts. In return for posting, influencers are paid, offered commission, or given free and discounted products.

Southeast Missouri is not exempt from the use of influencer marketing. This issue, B Magazine explored the creative ways companies, individuals and even academic institutions are using this tool to expand their reach online.

A brand founded on influence

Christen Edmonds, owner of Brickwood Boutique, utilized influencer marketing from the beginning of her business career with headband company, Bandiez Couture.

To market Bandiez Couture, Edmonds said she looked through hashtags on Instagram and began contacting creators and bloggers “all over the United States” with small followings, typically under 10,000 followers.

“It was kind of an exchange for product for content. So, I would send headbands out, and they’d do a post. And that was really, really powerful for growth. So, I learned that and applied it here at Brickwood,” Edmonds said.

Influencers have become a staple for Brickwood Boutique. Edmonds said she has used influencers across Missouri, specifically to target cities like St. Louis and drive traffic to her e-commerce website; but for 2022, she plans on sticking with local influencers to promote Brickwood Boutique’s new location at 430 Broadway in Cape Girardeau.

“I think having influencers, especially on the local level, come in [to the store] is authentic in itself, cause it creates more of an emotional and personal experience. When they see their friend influencing, it’s genuine,” Edmonds said. “Even girls with 5,000 to 7,000 followers who are just in the area, have such a powerful influence.”

Last year, Edmonds said she tried to bring in a new model every week, to showcase her clothes on a variety of women with every height and body type. This strategy also helped her expand her audience, since each model had a different set of friends and followers.

Most of Edmonds’ collaborations with influencers have involved an exchange of free products for content. Edmonds will invite the influencer into the store for a try-on photo and video shoot, and afterwards, the content will be posted to Brickwood Boutique’s account and the influencer’s personal account. She has noticed the reach with personal social media accounts is better than her business accounts, as of now.

Edmonds said she measures success from her influencer marketing through an increase in orders and followers. Although Edmonds puts a lot of focus on influencer marketing, she still uses other methods of marketing such as Facebook and Instagram ads to promote her business.

The faces behind the phones

In Southeast Missouri, influencers are taking advantage of opportunities local brands like Brickwood give them. Southeast Missouri residents Kristin Gill and Chelsie Holifield have both collaborated with Brickwood Boutique in the past to promote their products.

Gill is a resident of Dexter, Missouri, and fell into the world of social media influencers after she started a blog around 2014.

“Honestly, I just started sharing things that I like, or sharing things around the house that I found useful on [Instagram] stories, which has always kind of been my personality. Then, it started to grow and people reached out to me,” Gill said.

Gill said she works mostly with local companies and brands. She has worked with some national brands, in which she gets commission for products bought with her discount code. However, Gill said she prefers collaborations without commission, because it feels more authentic. With some of her collaborations, she said the main thing she received in return was an increase in followers.

She is also an Amazon Associate, and has a storefront where followers can purchase her favorite products. Gill receives store credit commissions for everything purchased through her storefront, which she jokes “helps to balance her Amazon bills.”

“For me, it’s such a hobby. Some months I share a ton and others months I share nothing,” Gill said.

While influencers like Gill create content as a hobby, other local influencers are turning their social media skills into a source of income.

Holifield, originally from Perryville, Missouri, started influencing three-and-a-half years ago. She launched her blog, “fashionably chae” and began posting content on her Instagram page under the same title.

“I didn’t start it because I wanted to make money. I started it cause I wanted to do something creative, and I wanted to be able to help women feel more empowered by what they wear,” Holifield said.

Holifield said in the last six months, influencing has grown “a lot” for her monetarily, but it took time and dedication. Starting out, most of Holifield’s collaborations involved discounts on products. Now, most of her collaborations are gifted or paid. Holifield is also an Amazon Associate, like Gill, and earns credit from the Amazon storefront linked to her Instagram profile.

Holifield has an Instagram following of about 9,500 followers, which classifies her as a micro-influencer. Lately, she said a lot more companies have reached out to her. She thinks the reason for this is due to micro-influencers being perceived as more “trusted” by their followers and community.

She said she has worked with local boutiques like Brickwood, but mostly works with national brands at the moment. Holifield said she has collaborated and created content for some brands, such as TULA skincare, for over two years.

Usually, Holifield said she contacts a brand first, emailing her pitch to a social media manager or influencer coordinator for whatever brand she is interested in working with.

Once she signs a contract and receives the company’s product, she creates Instagram reels, photos and stories. Holifield said she creates content in batches, sometimes working eight hours on a Saturday to get content filmed, edited and planned for a span of two weeks.

For those wanting to become influencers, Holifield said they need to be cautious of scams and giving out their banking information to companies. Holifield said she uses GRIN, a creator management platform, or PayPal to receive payments from companies.

Holifield is currently a Spanish teacher and volleyball coach in Sikeston, Missouri. She said it could take a long time, possibly five to six years, before influencing could become a full-time job for her.

“[Influencing] is such a saturated market and there’s still plenty of room for more [influencers], cause everyone has their own niche. If you’re not trying to be someone else, if you’re trying to be you, then you’re going to have way more success,” Holifield said.

Academia and the

influencer world

Even academia isn’t exempt from the influence of influencer marketing. After seeing major brands use influencers, Southeast Missouri State University re-invented the concept to promote the university to prospective and current students through a new SEMO Ambassadors program.

Assistant director of digital marketing Jasmine Adams helped start the program during the 2021-22 academic year. Adams said University Marketing started by recruiting 10 ambassadors through an application and interview process.

She said SEMO Ambassadors are required to post at least once a week and attend bi-weekly meetings with University Marketing. In return, ambassadors are paid for five hours of their time each week and receive exclusive merchandise.

The payment method sets ambassadors apart from other influencers who typically get paid per post; They also use separate Instagram accounts with their names followed by “_atsemo,” as opposed to posting content on their personal accounts. Adams said separate accounts help make the association with the university clear.

SEMO Ambassadors post lifestyle content on their “_atsemo” accounts, such as video reels of daily life at the River Campus to photos from university sponsored events like Shipyard Music Festival.

Adams said they measure the success of the SEMO ambassadors through looking at social media analytics and follower counts, along with the positive feedback they hear from students.

Assistant Vice President for marketing and communications Tonya Wells said the new SEMO Ambassadors program is not the main way they market to prospective students. She said the university has an “extensive marketing and communications plan” for reaching prospective students including billboard, direct mail, e-mail and digital advertising campaigns.

Right now, the SEMO Ambassadors program is mainly a way to show students what daily life is like from a variety of students’ perspectives.

“Our prospective students care most about what our current students say about the university … so it doesn’t get any better than seeing what those current students are doing on a daily basis,” Wells said.

After one year of using SEMO Ambassadors, both Wells and Adams see positive growth for the influencer-inspired program.

“[The SEMO Ambassadors] get thousands of impressions [number of times content was displayed to users] per post which is really great to see. People are looking at their content and engaging with it. So, those are some good signs to expect some growth in the future,” Adams said.

From boutiques to universities, the use of influencer marketing is growing for businesses in Southeast Missouri. Although it isn’t the primary form of advertising for most businesses, it offers a way to reach and connect with niche audiences.

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B Magazine: Power of the post: Influencer marketing in Southeast Missouri (11/3/22)

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