Ryan Williams, author of The Influencer Economy, knows a thing or two about brands and online influence. With over 12 years in marketing, business and entertainment, Williams and his team launched Disney’s social media and analytics division. After that, he worked as a marketing executive for Machinima, one of the largest millennial YouTube communities in the world that was recently purchased by Warner Brothers. We caught up with Williams at the [a]list summit to discuss why influencer campaigns are not all created equal and why you should attend The Collaboration Summit on March 31.
The Influencer Economy contains over 120 interviews from entrepreneurs and creators who share their stories, while Williams teaches the reader his three-step business launch framework—complete with lessons and actions for anyone to reinvent their career. During his time at Machinima, for example, Williams personally witnessed the rise of one of today’s hottest games—thanks to the influence of gaming videos.
“One of the inspirations for the book was when Minecraft launched,” he told ION. “The game has now been acquired by Microsoft for 2.5 billion dollars so we helped Minecraft launch. We didn’t get paid for it, but our YouTube influencers—these gamers that had half a million to a million subscribers—they helped post gameplay videos. I watched Minecraft go from nothing to this massive thing overnight. I was able to see how the software mentality in Silicon Valley—how you get product feedback continually [throughout] the creative process—is imperative to all of our businesses now. We all have to collaborate if we want to launch successful companies and ideas in the internet age.”
While most everyone has come up with the “next million dollar idea” at one point in their lives, Williams stressed the importance of finding the right people to help bring that idea to life. “Never build by yourself,” he explained. “Always build with other people.”
“There are a lot of people who quit their day jobs . . . not always the best advice to get. You need to identify if you have a community around your idea. You should not waste your time building an idea or company or service if you don’t have a community around that idea already. A lot of people make something [but] they’re not the right person to execute it. So, I found that what influential people do is build their networks well in advance of whenever their business is going to be. Sometimes they don’t realize it.”
For example, Williams related how his experiences working at Disney and other companies allowed him to make contacts that set him up for success later. While he didn’t plan to start a company, write a book or start a podcast at the time, those experiences laid the groundwork for where he is today.
It’s important to find the perfect match for your brand message, as well as the product itself, which is the epitome of ION. Being famous does not automatically make you a candidate to be a brand’s soulmate.
“One of the reasons I wrote the book was because I studied a lot of data on celebrities on [social media] to find out what their conversion was,” said Williams. “So I studied Kim Kardashian—there’s a big trend [of people saying], ‘hey, I love Kim Kardashian and I love that she tweeted my product out.’ Then I looked at her links in bit.ly and she had less of a percent. Ashton Kuchter, less than half a percent. A banner ad is less than half a percent. So, celebrities are so broad and big, they don’t have a niche community. Find micro-influencers in groups of five to 10 that are very specific in exactly what you’re doing. If you’re a chocolate cake maker and you’re making cakes for grandparents, you need to find the influencer in the cake category that reaches the category for grandparents and likes the chocolate variety. Go very, very specific to your niche and find three different ways to validate why they’re niche and right for you.”
The internet has three parts, he explained, which can be remembered as “I.C.E.”—Influencers, Collaborators and Everyone else. “Influencers are the one-percenters,” he explained, “they’re the taste makers. Collaborators are the nine-percenters that make the product with you, post on Wikipedia and do the edits, leave comments on YouTube, etc. They’re the ones that make the system go. They’re there to support the influencers. Then the 90 percent is everyone else. It’s based on the old rule that the internet is really a small city. You have the one-percenters, the nine-percenters and the 90 percenters.”
If you’re a creator who wants to become an influencer yourself, Williams has advice for you, too.
“If you’re someone with a following of any community size and you want to reach out to companies and work with them, you have to look at yourself as a collaborator,” he advised. “You want to build the product with them and give them feedback. You want to get in early on the grand floor as soon as possible so you can actually impact the product. That could be licensing your name to it, that could be just endorsing it but ultimately you want to love what you’re endorsing—you can’t fake it.”
If you’d like to learn more, join Ryan Williams and other experts March 30 for the Collaboration Summit in Los Angeles. Williams likened conferences to speed dating—you have a limited amount of time to hopefully connect in a meaningful way with strangers. To make the Collaboration Summit as valuable as possible, they are matching people before hand based on a survey so that you can network with those individuals at the show. In addition, everyone who purchases a ticket will be able to participate in a book called The Art of Collaboration, a collection of knowledge from those to attend. The book will be sold on Amazon and proceeds will be given to charity.