November 26, 2019: YouTube CEO publishes letter to creators; Expert brand-builders find success in incubating influencers; Instagram shares new details on its algorithm for Explore; Snapchat invests $750k in AR Lens Creators; Brands launch more holiday influencer marketing campaigns this year than ever before 

Not to get overly sentimental: we’re thankful for you. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts with us each week. We’re all in this together. Wishing you a happy, ‘grammable Thanksgiving worthy of all the TikTok dance challenges. 

Here’s what’s worth knowing this week: 

YouTube CEO’s Letter to Creators

The Story

Last week, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki published her quarterly letter to creators in which she shared updates supporting YouTube’s three key priorities: supporting creator and artist success, improving communication and engagement, and living up to [YouTube’s] responsibility. 

What were the main takeaways?

Shifts in brand safety sentiment: YouTube is in the process of identifying advertisers who are interested in running ads against “edgier” videos (think: R-rated movies, violent video games, stunts, pranks) and matching them with creators whose content fits their ads. So far, this program has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of ads on “yellow icon videos” (referring to an icon that appears to creators when their videos are restricted or may see limited monetization because of content).

Previously, advertisers on YouTube had been unable to run any ads on these so-called “edgy” videos, which resulted in a lot of angry creators who felt that their content had been demonetized without a clear explanation as to why. 

Self-reporting for creators:  On the topic of brand safety, YouTube is also developing a “Self-Certification” pilot program that will enable creators to tell YouTube which of their videos do and don’t comply with the site’s ad policies. The system is part of a larger reinforcing process: the more accurate creators are in their self-reporting, the more YouTube’s system trusts them. 

Improvements to policy/legislation: Internally, YouTube is in the process of updating its harassment policy guidelines, as well as changing the way it treats data for children’s content on YouTube as part of a larger settlement with the FTC. On the external front, YouTube also was able to make improvements to the EU’s proposed copyright directive (Article 17, fka Article 13), in particular, securing liability protections for creators around unintentionally copyrighted content. 


Over the past year, YouTube made significant strides to appeal to creators’ needs, largely driven by the introduction of creator-specific features aimed at delivering revenue, lobbying for and raising awareness around legislation that would improve creator monetization, and incentivizing creators that play by YouTube’s rules. 

Based on Wojcicki’s letter, it appears that these efforts are paying off (other platforms, take notes). Within the last year, thousands of channels have doubled their revenue by using new features that help fans engage with creators (think: Super Chat, Channel Memberships, and Merchandise). Additionally, compared to last year, the number of creators with one million or more subscribers has grown 65 percent, and the number of creators earning five or six figures, annually, has increased more than 40 percent. 

Now Trending for 2020: Influencer Incubators

The Story

We’re not saying we called it, but we did. An increasing number of established brands, agencies, and expert brand builders are finding success in incubating influencers.

How so?

Expert brand builder Shaun Neff, founder of Beach House Group, has incubated four celebrity brands in the last year alone: Shay Mitchell’s travel brand BÉIS; Kendall Jenner’s oral-care brand Moon; Millie Bobby Brown’s cosmetics brand Florence by Mills; and Tracee Ellis Ross’ hair care brand Pattern Beau. Neff is on track to bring in $100 million in sales at the end of the year solely from these four brands.

What’s the secret sauce?

Unicorns. For Neff, it starts with identifying whitespace and pairing that opportunity and eventual product with “unicorn-like” talent. While the term “unicorn” typically refers to businesses, Neff has also coined the term for the individual: someone who can bring a product to life while telling an authentic and credible story. Oh, and that person must be capable of building a $100-$200 million business that can be worth half-of-a-billion dollars. 


As influencer-to-consumer (ITC) brands continue to emerge as next-gen disrupters, there’s not only an opportunity for traditional brands to partner with and learn from influencers in these ventures, but there’s also a growth market for the creation of holding companies and agencies, like Beach House Group and recently-acquired Digital Brand Architects, to support influencers in this capacity. 

Additionally, as those same brands create lasting partnerships with influencers, their ability to gain influencers’ preferences and trust amongst their audiences will only increase. Not only do these partnerships foster authenticity and credibility between brands, agencies, and creators, but they also provide more ways for creators to monetize their influence independent of one specific platform.


Exploring Instagram’s Explore Algorithm

The Story

For perhaps the first time ever, Instagram has shared new details about how it uses machine learning to surface content for users in its Explore Page.

What’s the tea?

When making recommendations in Explore, Instagram’s algorithm focuses on finding accounts that it thinks people will enjoy, rather than identifying individual posts. As part of this, the Explore system looks at “seed accounts,” which are accounts that users have interacted with in the past by liking or saving their content. It then identifies accounts similar to these, and from them, it selects 500 pieces of content – which are filtered to remove spam, misinformation, and “likely policy-violating content” –  and the remaining posts are ranked based on how likely a user is to interact with each one. Lastly, the top 25 posts are sent to the first page of the user’s Explore tab. 


What stands out to us as we all contemplate the future of social for this coming year are the stark differences between Facebook/Insta’s social graph and TikTok’s content graph, with Insta based on an algorithm focused on accounts that it thinks users will enjoy, while TikTok’s is based on content that it thinks users will enjoy. Whereas Facebook has never been that transparent into the inner, black-box workings of its algorithms, it’s likely that this new transparency is in strategic response to the scrutiny TikTok has faced due to  the sophistication of its content-led AI.    


Snapchat Invests $750k in AR Lens Creators

The Story

Snapchat is investing $750k in an AR competition for Lens Creators in order to stay ahead of the competition. 

Go on…

In order to stand out and stay relevant in the face of slowed growth, Snapchat has turned to its number one differentiator: its AR feats. These well-known filters (think: baby and gender swap lenses) led to the platform more than doubling its number of app downloads back in June.  

In an effort to further capitalize on this core capability, the platform is prepared to pay out $750k to “augmented reality stars” in 2020. While Snapchat may be unable to compete with the audience size of social platform giants like Instagram and Facebook, creating engaging, sharable content that sparks use and conversation is key to maintaining momentum.

So Snapchat’s doubling down?

Exactly. Seemingly, the eventual goal is to establish Snap’s Spectacles as mainstream AR wearables. While this isn’t a major deviation from its original plan for the devices back in 2017, the inclusion of influencers as a funnel for developing its AR content and capes shows a shift in the Snap team’s thinking when it comes to the value of influencer-generated content. 


Outside of filters, the world may not be ready for AR spectacles and AR right now, but Snapchat is continuing to put itself out there as the platform that will continue to be first. However, in this case: is it better to be first, or is it better to be best (see: Facebook’s Oculus strat)? Too soon to tell.  

Snapchat needs innovative AR features and content to create culture and stay relevant – both of which also require creator talent. As noted above, there are really only two ways to stay relevant: you can be THE platform of preference and/or you can also be the platform that makes content creation the easiest to syndicate across other platforms (while also maintaining your own community).


The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The Story

You get a campaign! You get a campaign! Holiday influencer marketing campaigns have started earlier this year than in years prior and volume by all accounts is off the charts.

Here for it. Deets!

With about 20 percent of retail sales occurring during November and December, contributing to upwards of $730.7 billion in sales, marketers are eager to get their brands in front of consumers. Mavrck has observed a 40 percent increase in influencer campaigns this holiday season compared to last year’s (and we’re not the only ones).  

How are influencers responding?

Influencers’ responses to the increased demand seems to be dependent on three variables:  the number of deals offered, when those deals were offered, and any existing partnerships. 

Amount of deals offered: Influencers seem to be concerned with oversaturating their feeds and turning off their audiences – sometimes going so far as to warn their audiences about the plethora of #ads to come. Marquis Clarke (@marquis_clarke) shared that she receives as many as 15 requests per day for coverage from brands. Furthermore, 73 percent of influencers say that they limit the amount of sponsored post opportunities that they accept during the holidays.

When the deals are offered: The holiday creep is legit and brands that wait too long are left behind. 63 percent of influencers say they have turned down a deal during the holiday season because the brand reached out too late.   

Existing partnerships: Simply put, existing partnerships and contracts will get preference during this time of year. Always-on ambassador programs like H&M League, Sephora Squad, and more are able to activate and backlog content from their partnered community of influencers. These partnerships and contracts also provide brands with a way to avoid influencer holiday surge pricing


So at this point, whether you’ve invested in influencers for the holidays or you’ve opted-out, how do you rise above the noise of every other #ad and #sponsored seasonal post? First, connect with your paid media teams; it’s not too late to add paid to your distribution plan to amplify and repurpose high-performing influencer content via influencers directly (such as Instagram’s Branded Content Ads, which are still limited to a few imps/engagement-based objectives) and brand-owned channels. Additionally, connect your PR teams. Many influencers are often queued into their communities as tastemakers. It’s worth a quick email to all to see if any influencers have national or local news segments or podcasts that present opportunities for a last-minute product plug and some valuable earned media coverage. 



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