A&E (the initials belong to its two founders, Amra and Elma Beganovich, sisters best known by their first names) is a digital agency with a powerful portfolio of Fortune 500 companies as clients, including Netflix, Wells Fargo, Procter & Gamble, and Johnson & Johnson. As influencers, Amra and Elma have over 2.2 million social followers (no, that is not a typo).
Below, the two sisters share their thoughts on everything from how to stimulate eCommerce spending to strictures on messaging during COVID-19 to what you should do if you’re tempted to try being an influencer yourself (and whether that makes sense).
Micah Solomon, Senior Contributor, Forbes: Can you fill me in on A&E’s sweet spot and the services for which you’re best known?
Amra Beganovich, CEO and Co-founder, A&E: Our services include influencer marketing, social media management, branding, and photo and video production. We started out as influencers, and although we have evolved since our start on social media in 2012, our core expertise has always been influencer marketing. We are the best known for putting together memorable influencer marketing campaigns. I believe our background as influencers allows us to understand both the creative requirements of the campaign – the influencer side – and the KPI/ROI goals of the campaign – the brand side.
Solomon: What led up to you founding a digital agency?
Elma Beganovich, COO and founder, A&E: It was quite an organic process. we started posting on social media very early on even before Facebook pages had launched. We grew up with Facebook and were on Instagram almost as soon as it launched, it was early 2012, we were one of the first influencers on Instagram. At first, we gained a lot of followers and started working with brands just advertising their products on our social channels.
Soon, we started receiving requests from companies to optimize their digital strategy; they were interested in growing their presence on social media. They asked us to assist considering that we already had a robust following; I suppose that was a good indication of our understanding of the social media sphere, and that’s how our digital agency was born.
Solomon: Who are some of your marquee clients?
E. Beganovich: We consider all of our clients to be important, but here are a few of the biggest names: Nestle, LVMH, EssilorLuxottica, Johnson & Johnson, and Wells Fargo.
Solomon: I think a question on everyone’s mind, when they make an investment, is how they can measure ROI from influencer marketing.
A. Beganovich: Every brand has a unique way of determining their KPIs and assessing their ROI. For some, this includes sales or subscribers; for others, it can be website visits, email sign-ups, social media follower growth, or impressions. Whenever we start working with a brand, we establish these goals and then customize the campaign specifically to achieve them. For example, a campaign that is designed to achieve high growth in following will be entirely different than the campaign that is designed for sales and/or subscriptions or even to increase foot traffic to the brick and mortar stores.
Solomon: What are some best practices for influencer marketing, whether a reader is going to try to do it on their own or work with you?
E. Beganovich: One of the best practices is to determine the brand’s objective. It cannot be as simple as “sales.” It needs to be more specific. For example, a brand should detail the process of sales, i.e., having their target market visit their landing page via influencer campaign and use a “swipe up link,” a customized link. The next step would be to determine which influencers have their desired target audience. The brand will then have to request their insights and pricing in order to determine whether they can achieve a positive ROI. For smaller brands whose budgets don’t include advertising, another clever strategy is to opt for gifting to boost their branding – establish a reputation, build trust. and nurture relationships with influencers, who may become their brand ambassadors.
Solomon: What are some pitfalls to watch out for?
A. Beganovich: One of the pitfalls we have seen is the duration of efforts, i.e., the length of the campaign. Some brands imagine that it takes one influencer and one post to sell out their product. Unless this influencer has millions of followers and the brand is already very well-known, the process is not quite as simple. New brands will mistakenly believe that one campaign is enough to test out the effectiveness of social media and influencer marketing. Successful campaigns take a lot of brand building/brand familiarity, continuous audience exposure via different types of influencers, and constant adjustment in reaching their target audience. For new brands or products, an excellent starting point is the magic rule of 7: make sure that the product is seen at least seven times by your target audience to allow them to make a purchasing decision (research, talk to friends, read reviews, etc.) Some other pitfalls include lack of site optimization and absence of web-traffic tracking.
Solomon: Can you tell me a cautionary example or two? (You don’t have to name names!)
E. Beganovich: One of our clients wanted to do a campaign with only two influencers. They are a new brand, without a reputation to fall back on, and were not willing to opt into gifting to multiple influencers and therefore increase their reach and the duration length of the campaign. Instead, this brand chose to focus all of their efforts on two influencers, who were charging high rates for sponsored posts.
The brand was in a rush and didn’t optimize its landing pages, and they wanted to link only to their homepage that included general information. They were upset when the campaign didn’t yield the results they expected. They also failed to measure the traffic, and so they didn’t know which influencer drove more interest (website visits and sales).
Solomon: How are things different in the COVID era in communications? Any pointers relating to this?
A. Beganovich: During COVID, we have seen brands become a lot more sensitive when it comes to their messaging, i.e., not being tone-deaf. Many have taken their communities’ needs into consideration, and their efforts have often included some type of plan of give back programs, e.g., 100% of proceeds of the sale of a specific product goes to such and such charity that has been impacted by COVID. The result has been that their customers are a lot more receptive to their marketing campaigns and more likely to purchase their products.
Also, we are seeing brands cater their social media feeds to convey solidarity with their community. For example, one of our clients donated their products to hospital workers and had them take a photo. They used this image to thank the healthcare workers on the frontlines and encourage their followers to stay at home.
Solomon: Can you share a heartwarming story along these lines?
A. Beganovich: One of our clients did a food drive where influencers encouraged their followers to donate cans of food and either drop them off or ship them to the local store branches. The brand saw an increase of 400%+ of food donations when the influencers posted about the brand’s community involvement. Also, it was great to see people who were receiving this food when the brand shared images of the results.
Solomon: I know you’ve got some thoughts on how a business can use Instagram Live and Facebook Live to stimulate eCommerce spending. Do tell!
A. Beganovich: Instagram Live and Facebook Live have both been very popular during COVID. Brands use these platforms to invite influencers and/or celebrities to tune-in and to get the audience excited about a new launch or to demonstrate the benefits of staple products. Live sessions are particularly useful as they allow the audience to directly ask questions and shop items on the spot via a link provided. It is a more direct way of communicating with the audience in comparison to traditional posts in feed and/or on Instagram stories. Also, it is more exciting as the video can only be viewed for a limited time: the live videos expire within 24 hours on Instagram.
Solomon: What if a reader of mine wants to become an influencer? Any encouragement/discouragement/advice on that?
E. Beganovich: Now is a great time to become an influencer and turn one’s creative energy into inspirational or entertaining content on Instagram, TikTok or Facebook. We are spending a lot of time indoors, and we are looking for practical and dreamy content that will allow us to see our homes in a different light.
For example, before COVID, planting your own garden may not have had as much appeal since much of our time was spent in restaurants, traveling or other entertainment away from home. However, today we are looking for ways to optimize our budgets or develop stay at home hobbies/entertainment. All we need to do is document, film or photograph with our smartphones the process of creation and share it on social media. It may be surprising to see how many of our friends, family, and/or total strangers will find this content inspiring and useful.
Solomon: Is being an influencer a feasible career path–and can it provide a secure stream of income?”
E. Beganovich: Being an influencer is exciting, and it can be a rewarding career path for those who love creating and sharing content. However, it also has drawbacks. One of the negative aspects of being an influencer is that most compensation happens on a per project basis. For those who like stable and reliable income streams, this may not be the most desirable career path. Scaling it is also a problem as most influencers work alone and can create only a limited amount of content to maintain the desired quality. Some advice to aspiring influencers would be to start off as a hobby and then slowly decide if this is something they want to pursue full-time. Otherwise, many influencers maintain their everyday jobs and continue developing content as a side project.
Solomon: Any final philosophical thoughts before I leave you be?
A. Beganovich: One thing that comes up in our world is the concept of how important it is to stay true to yourself when facing a lucrative job opportunity or a project based contract. The best answer is to always allow yourself to make a decision that will put your values first. Many times, as influencers and as a business, we have been faced with the dilemma of taking on a brand whose vision didn’t match ours. Even though we often refused, those situations where we gave-in always ended up becoming a regret.
E. Beganovich: Exactly. Whether or not you think other opportunities are coming along, rest assured that you’ll never be faced with only one chance to work on something great. We now know that criteria for sustainable and rewarding business relationships includes shared values/vision. Be patient, work smart, and know that there are always great things looming around the corner.