Interview with Becki Heller from Trendsta Part 1

in Strategy & Trends | by Ethan Lyon


By Ethan Lyon, Senior Writer

Over the past weeks, we have discussed the importance of influencers in the world of marketing. We reviewed Razorfish’s Fluent: A Social Influencer Marketing Survey, developed a guide to buzz marketing and explored how to identify and engage influencers.

We recently had an opportunity to speak with Becki Heller, a founder of Trendsta—an online web network that connects teens with products / services. Trendsta, a DreamIt Ventures site, leverages teen influencers to spread their clients products / services to a vast network of friends. Trendsta is pioneering a new revolution in marketing that happily accepts brands slipping ownership over their products / services. Instead, managers have to play ball with consumers on their court, on their terms.

Becki was formerly the editorial director at MyYearbook. Her experience with teens stems from her work with MTV Networks and Rolling Stone. Her inspiration for Trendsta came when major brands started seeking her advice on how to reach and engage local teens and how to spread messages through their networks.

1. Who are influencers in the social media world?

“It’s about going back to high school,” Becki said, describing the work of buzz marketing. There are clusters of people that exert influence within their respective groups. It is these group leaders that are the social glue and can be a powerful resource for brands to share their products / services. With the help of a few powerful influencers, within days, brands can see their products / services go viral—spreading to millions of people.

2. Why does Trendsta target influencers to promote products?

To illustrate the power of digital influencers, Trendsta randomly selected 50 social network profiles. They were able to follow approximately 14,000 conversations that started with the initial 50 influencers. Trendsta focuses on teen influencers with networks of about 600-700 people and comprise approximately 12% of the population. If you do the math, if Trendsta reaches 30 influencers, that totals to more than 18,000 valuable impressions. These impressions spark conversations— which means hundreds of thousands consumers discussing a brand’s products / services.

3. How do you find influencers to promote your client’s products?

Social influencer marketing is only as effective as the quality of your target audience: influencers. Trendsta prides itself on its ability to discover the 12% influencer population. On the Trendsta homepage, prospective influencers can take the “coolness factor” test—a sophisticated algorithm that scans participants Facebook profiles (via Facebook Connect) to determine whether or not they’re influential. The “coolness factor” measures the impact of your voice amongst your peers. Are people commenting on your status or writing on your wall? It weighs how much the community interacts with you, no necessarily how much you interact with the community. Of those qualified, Trendsta has approximately 25% return rate. That 25% then go on to use the products / services of Trendsta’s client, spread the word through their respective social networks.

4. How do you measure your performance and success?

“We are in a transitional decade,” Becki says. Gen We / Y are “completely digital” and as Becki notes, digital is very traceable. Online exchanges can be measured, analyzed and monetized—making Trendsta an efficient marketing resource for businesses looking to maximize their marketing budgets. The low cost barrier is definitely a benefit when business marketing expenditures are shrinking.

The major benefit of working within the digital environment is the incredible ability to measure everything—from conversations, to sales, to browsing history, to network sizes, to influence, etc. Trendsta developer, Burak Kanber, has built a dashboard for its clients to allow them, nearly every hour, to monitor the conversations sparked by influencers. Clients can watch their campaign go viral by following the many lines of conversation.

5. How can Trendsta make sense of all the conversations from influencers?

To make sense of the hundreds or thousands of conversations, Trendsta offers semantic analysis that determines the positive, negative or neutrality of each brand mention. Their software can learn from each campaign, therefore, with more data input, it will develop the ability to make clear predictions on consumer sentiment even before a campaign is launched—based solely on the preferences and personalities of the targeted audiences.

6. How is social influencers marketing different from traditional marketing strategies?

This top-down versus traditional media’s horizontal approach requires a new strategy. With social influence marketing, brands have to change their mode of thinking. With the inception of the internet and social networks, brands are forced to seed control to their consumers.

Instead of throwing a message at the wall, social influence marketing seeks to maximize marketing efforts through highly targeted campaigns that rely on a select few to impact a greater audience. For influencers, “it’s not about conglomerates, it’s about hand-to-hand sales,” Becki says. Going back to basics to explore how people communicate is what it’s all about.

7. How can traditional media companies transition to this new form of marketing?

“Large companies need to dismantle” to have a one-on-one interaction with their consumer-base. The typical big-budget marketing campaign takes an estimated six months from the word go to production. For teens, six months is an eternity, says Becki. Therefore, for brands to target teens, they need to be more agile and flexible. The conglomerate-style business model is sluggish and bogged down with bureaucracy—making it difficult to effectively target Gen Y and Gen We.

In essence, social influencer marketing removes the veil that has so long separated corporations from their consumers. Getting down on the ground level and finding out who their consumers really are is what SIM is all about. Like Becki said, it’s all about high school politics. Are you the nark or the guy / girl people like to hang out with?