Forbes Pushes Into Influencer Marketing

Rather than paying social media stars, business publication looks to simply connect marketers with experts

Many advertisers and media companies are trying to tap into the growing power of influential social-media personalities to reach consumers and make money.

Next up is Forbes, but the business publisher is flipping the model a bit on its head.

Forbes isn’t looking to pull together a network of YouTube or Snapchat stars who are willing to incorporate advertising messages from the likes of Charles Schwab in their videos.

Forbes is inviting advertisers to pay for access to a network of journalists, academics and bloggers who wield influence in key subject areas, like cloud computing or monetary policy. But instead of marketers paying these influential experts to peddle their products, Forbes says the point is to help brands broker relationships—particularly brands that are creating their own content.

Ideally, Forbes will help these brands push that content to a more targeted audience who may be more likely to care about the subject matter and share it on social media. The network was set up through a partnership with the social media analytics firm Traackr.

For example, take a company like Oracle, which is part of Forbes BrandVoice, a program that lets advertisers pay to post content to Oracle frequently posts content on subjects like using technology to manage supply chains. With this new offering, Oracle might want to locate people who care deeply about this sort of thing. Working with Forbes, Oracle might identify a few dozen vocal supply chain experts and get them to check out Oracle’s content on the subject. The hope is that those influencers will share that content with their own social networks.

And while Oracle won’t pay these influencers to talk about its products, according to Forbes, a brand like Oracle might invite these influencers to speak at one of its events. And Forbes might ask these influencers to create content on the brand’s behalf that would be posted on (though that influencer would not be paid).

To qualify for this data-driven networking, marketers must produce content for Forbes as part of its BrandVoice Premium program — and must commit to spending at least $100,000 a month for a minimum of six months.

Forbes is the first media company to work with Traackr, which compiles data from social media platforms and over 20,000 websites and blogs. To date the company has worked primarily with brands such as L’Oréal and Samsung.

According to Traackr Chief Executive Pierre-Loïc Assayag, the company ranks influencers based on how large their social networks are and how often their content is shared, commented on and engaged with. Traackr compiles data from 17 different Web platforms, including Instagram and YouTube.

Mark Howard, Forbes’ chief revenue officer, said that as more advertisers come to Forbes looking to produce and distribute content rather than simply buy traditional ads, they’ve been asking things like “‘How do I know I’m reaching the influencers? How do I amplify my message?’” he said. “We’ve been limited in identifying the right people, and this helps them. Traackr goes into publisher websites and deep into blogosphere.”

Mr. Howard said that Forbes will sift through a list of potential influencers for a particular brand and look to eliminate any influencers who may have potential conflicts or may be less likely to respond to an outreach from a marketer.

Mr. Assayag predicted that more marketers will look to partner with influencers and commission them to create content or speak at their events, instead of trying to create paid endorsers.

“With the people we can find, their currency is authority,” he said. “The last thing they want to do is jeopardize this. We want to have respect for the audience. Influencers who say things [in their videos] like ‘this phone is great,’ no one gets tricked by this. Brands and marketers need to build relationships.”

Of course, it’s worth asking, will enough prominent academics, bloggers and journalists be interested in hearing from marketers—let alone working with them in some capacity—knowing these marketers are paying Forbes?

Mr. Howard said he realizes that not every influencer will want to participate. “For some, however, the opportunity to align themselves with Forbes via the brand will be of interest and worthwhile to them,” he said. “So often in marketing today, brands are trying to forge relationships with influencers. This program benefits our BrandVoice partners because we’ve created a tool to identify the influencers that matter most to their business and we’re inviting these influencers to participate on the brand’s behalf.”

Article Written By: Mike Shields