The Movie Marketing Blog: IBM Watson-powered Hollywood influencers

IBM's Watson now powers Hollywood influencers / IBM

Influencer marketing is all the rage right now. Back in December of last year a report was released by Linqia showing that while ROI was sometimes sketchy, more and more brands were pouring more and more money into influencer campaigns.

The rationale and logic behind these efforts seems to be that these influencers - those with large and highly-engaged online audiences - have a more authentic voice than a brand could ever hope for, not to mention a built-in audience that can sometimes number in the millions.

Countless companies have engaged in these campaigns. YouTube stars are making millions through brand integrations while Instagram’s biggest accounts make similar income, with Snapchat not far behind. While sometimes these deals come about as the result of direct one-to-one contact between the brand and the individual, increasingly they’re coming about thanks to the work of third-party agencies and specialty shops that connect brands with the influencers who can bring them messaging reach.

Enter Influential. Based in Beverly Hills, the 90-person agency has made major forays into helping Hollywood studios work with influencers to create original content to promote their movies or to amplify the reach of existing marketing materials.

The agency approaches - and sells - influencer marketing in many of the expected ways. It knows that when a message comes from a respected individual with a fair amount of social capital, it’s seen as being more authentic than if it comes from a brand. It looks for influencers who will be a good fit for the product, the message and the intended audience.

Where it differs from some other agencies or systems is that it has become the only influencer marketing partner for IBM’s Watson. That partnership allows Influential to do deep data-mining of social networks to find a list of influencers who could be a potential match for the program based not just on a simple keyword search but based on natural language processing of an entire social profile history that looks for sentiment and preferences.

That natural language processing also allows Influential and its clients to understand the “voice” of the potential influencer pick and decide if he or she would be a good fit for a particular campaign. So the Watson-powered profiles help determine if that individual is a fan of the genre, if they’ve talked about the principle cast before and if so in what context and more. It’s not just about the influencer themselves, either, it’s also able to look at the influencer’s audience and see if that group is likely to be receptive to the message based on their histories.

In terms of who’s chosen to participate, according to Influential CEO Ryan Detert the doors aren’t open to just anyone. In order to qualify, someone has to have a certain audience size and have a good level of engagement, meaning it’s not just about reach it’s also about interactions. Those individuals are invited into the agency’s app, through which they can receive potential projects and see the price being offered for that campaign. Creative briefs are also delivered that may range from simple amplification of an existing trailer or other marketing asset all the way through larger-scale productions. The finished products are then submitted for approval, a process Detert says usually involves only light edits for tone and messaging or slight corrections if release dates have shifted or other changes made.

Detert says Influential has worked with most all of Hollywood’s big studios on one kind of campaign or another, though specific case studies weren’t available due to client confidentiality. But he claims that the results speak for themselves with ROI that not only outstrips studio-produced assets but also goes up when compared to organic, non-sponsored messages. Detert attributes that to the depth of the research that’s put into creating the list of influencers on any given campaign, meaning the work to create and fine-tune the list results in reaching a highly interested and motivated audience. That ROI, Detert points out, is measured in a variety of ways, from tracking pixels to increased conversation volume and so on, depending on the specific goals of the campaign.

Not content to rest on its laurels, Influential has a big year coming up in 2017. At the moment 10 of its 90 staffers are devoted to entertainment campaigns, ranging from account managers to number-crunching data scientists. That could increase, though, as the company is planning a major push to all the Hollywood movie and TV studios to sell not only its influencer marketing capabilities but also its original production services, which allow it to create videos and other media that can be used in various campaigns.

There are many predictions as to how influencer marketing will go in the coming year and the near future. But with budgets set to increase and people in the audience becoming ever-more comfortable with ad-blockers that tune out traditional ads, influencer marketing seems poised to grow significantly, with Hollywood chasing that trend to help bring people to their latest releases.

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Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a writer and consultant

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