Consider how an influencer will relate to your brand image and customers.
By Melanie Young
“Influencer” is a marketing term that’s recently exploded as fast and forcefully as the pop of a champagne cork. And, much like sparkling wines, there are different influencer styles. Many wine experts are considered “influential,” but not all are “influencers.” Marketing experts sum up the difference in three words: “social media engagement.”
Influencer Personality vs. Influential Spokesperson
Traditional public relations pros seek earned (unpaid) media coverage. One tactic is hiring a credible and influential spokesperson for media interviews and tastings. In contrast, influencers are hired to create compelling content — social media posts, reels, and other digital assets — to share with their existing audience to drive a conversation about a brand or destination.
“Influencers have a strong digital reach and platform of their own. Tastemakers — think buyers or sommeliers — also have strong influence, but may not have digital reach over their social media networks,” says Alison Seibert, founder of PR and communications agency The James Collective. “The benefit of paid campaigns is that brands have more control over the end product. Also ROI with influencers is best tied to a built-in awareness or [increased] following rather than direct sales, especially in wine.”
The influencer relationship is not always a financial transaction. Influencers attend expense-paid wine trips or attend VIP events in exchange for posting about their experience. The James Collective invited Christina Najjar, known as Tinx on TikTok, to taste cult Cabernet Sauvignons as a guest to Realm Cellars’ VIP suite at BottleRock Napa Valley. Najjar later posted about her experience and recommended Realm Cellars in a New York Times article.
Most marketers seek a media-savvy influencer with a 10,000-plus following. But look beyond audience numbers. Consider how the influencer will relate to your brand image and customers.
“Consumers are astute; they know when they are seeing an ad and being sold to. Identify an influencer who genuinely has an affinity for your brand and who has built a strong relationship and credibility with their audience,” says Amy Lund, vice president of marketing for E&J Gallo. “Create a clear and communicated vetting process that includes assessing [the influencer’s] past behavior and potential risks but also ensuring their content is culturally and sensitively on-brand.”
Key metrics include average impressions per post/reel, frequency of posting and active engagement. “If an influencer has 30,000 followers but is only getting 100 likes on their page or 1,000 views per Instagram reel, that indicates their audience is not very engaged and the partnership will not be worth the rate,” says Nikki Dickerson, senior account executive at TBL/Benson.
You’re looking for organic, peer-to-peer, digital word-of-mouth, observes Lund. “The most impactful influencer marketing initiatives are those that generate high engagement and trigger positive conversation.”
Put Everything in Writing
Prepare a contract with guidelines for content and frequency of posts, required metrics and how materials may be used. Most influencers have established rates based on their audience and services rendered. Expect to pay more if their content is used in digital ads or other usage not specified in their contract.
“There are clear things wine brands can and cannot do with influencer partnerships, since they are considered a form of digital advertising. If an influencer is paid for a partnership, legally they must include the words or hashtag #sponsored, #ad or #paidpartnership clearly and prominently in the caption of their post. If the collaboration is in-kind (in exchange for product), the influencer still legally needs to inform their audiences, noting wines were #gifted. Neither alcohol nor gift cards intended for the purchase of alcohol can be free giveaways in social media. Other legalities vary by state and should be carefully researched,” advises Dickerson.
Influencers Weigh In
An influencer collaboration starts with transparency. “My audience genuinely trusts me with their wine decisions. I have declined paid partnerships with brands I could not wholeheartedly recommend. If I am unfamiliar with a brand that reaches out, I ask for samples to try first,” says author and lifestyle blogger, Alicia T. Chew (@aliciatenise)
Brands with limited budgets have options, notes Joyce Lin, a CMS-certified sommelier, Sip with Joyce. “Consider [working with] micro-influencers who have smaller but highly engaged and dedicated followings. They often offer a more personal and authentic connection with their audience.”
Custom podcasts or blog posts offer other collaboration possibilities. “Paying to license content from a blogger is a great way to get high-quality [evergreen] content for a brand’s digital media channels. A blogger with savvy SEO optimization skills can direct traffic to a brand or destination,” offers Chew.
Both Lin and Chew underscore building long-term relationships and keeping in touch after the project activation concludes. Lin notes, “Instead of one-off partnerships, establish ongoing collaborations that let influencers develop a deeper understanding of your brand over time. This can lead to more authentic and compelling content that resonates with their audience.”
Melanie Young is a certified specialist of wine and co-host/writer for The Connected Table LIVE, a global podcast featuring conversations with thought leaders in wine, food, spirits & hospitality. Her articles have appeared in Wine Industry News, Wine Enthusiast and Seven Fifty Daily. She travels frequently to report on wine regions, people and events. IG@theconnectedtable