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How Authenticity Drives Influencer Engagement: An Interview with Brian Fanzo

Jun 23, 2017

When talking about influencer marketing, authenticity and trust are both popular topics that come up in conversation. But how are they executed in practice?  

To address these issues, I turned to the king of live-streaming himself, Brian Fanzo. In case you are not familiar with Brian, he is a millennial keynote speaker working with brands like IBM, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, SAP and Dell. Brian was also recognized as the most engaging influencer at SMMW this year. If you are struggling to partner with influencers, drive social engagement or build trust with your audience, check out the following interview to learn more.

With advice pertaining to authenticity and community engagement, here is Brian Fanzo’s full interview.

You make engaging with a large audience look easy, what’s your secret sauce?

Brian Fanzo: My secret sauce is that I absolutely love connecting with people. I don’t look at engagement on social media as a task or something that I have to do. I’ve baked engagement into my workflow, so it never feels like a checkbox. I love doing it, so when I have pockets of time the first thing I do is go to my notifications and look at mentions.

It sounds like you’re a natural at engagement. How do you set yourself apart?   

BF: I try to engage first, I link so much of my growth to “show you care”. I always try to care a little bit more than everyone else does on social. If everyone is retweeting someone, I will actually go read their content and reply by making a comment about the things they care about.

What does authenticity mean to you?

BF: Authenticity has become something that is harder to derive from this digital space as we build more distance and roadblocks between ourselves and the people we are actually trying to reach. The best compliment I get when I get off stage from speaking is, “You are the same person online as you are offline”. To me, that is the epitome of authenticity. It’s the idea that you are able to convey and be the person online that you are offline and you don’t separate the two. 

Where do you draw the line between being authentic and mentioning brands?

BF: The interesting part is no one brand or product is worth jeopardizing your authenticity and trust with your community. This takes years to build and it only takes one bad decision where you ‘sell out’ to lose that trust. For me, there is nothing I value more. I turned down the largest influencer offer I’ve ever received because the brand did not align with who I am. It’s not that I didn’t need or want the money but I think all influencers and brands need to consider not jeopardizing trust. To me, the building of relationships and trust over time is paramount, and no short-term pay check would ever be worth losing that.

What are some ways to avoid seeming inauthentic to your community?

BF: It’s about not treating your audience as if they are dumb. (Brian and I both laugh.) It’s the most basic thing but even things like disclosing payment with #ad and obeying FTC regulations is essential. Your community is smart.

Additionally, we all need to remember that perfection is a fairytale. I believe if you are trying to convey yourself as perfect and try to brand yourself like that, it is actually the easiest way to be inauthentic. No one believes perfection exists, so if you are trying to convey something that no one believes exists, then authenticity is dead in the water.

Are there connections between authenticity, engagement, and influence?

BF: Yes, this is the key foundation. When you are an influencer it is about inspiring action. I look at every digital conversation I have as a 1:1 conversation happening in a public space. Ultimately, people can benefit from it but this is not me talking to an avatar. It’s not logo to logo. I’m talking to the person behind the handle. 

The thing that often times influencers forget is that people follow you, and they want to follow you because of the content you produce. They don’t just care about the times you shared other people’s content or the vanity metrics on things we share. To have influence, I truly believe, engagement, authenticity and trust are they key foundation.

How can partnering with influencers impact a brand’s authenticity and engagement when they are often behind a logo?

BF: It’s a three-way trust cycle in the sense that:

  1. The brand has to trust the influencer creatively to convey the message to their audience
  2. The influencer has to also trust the brand in order to partner in a meaningful way
  3. The influencer, of course, is trusted by the community that they are trying to engage

 If a brand can partner with the right influencer who has a trusted community and is able to tell the brand’s story through the their eyes, then it allows the brand to reach a new audience. This builds trust at scale while ultimately not coming off as sales or marketing.

What’s one piece of advice for brands struggling to convey authenticity?

BF: I often ask, are your own employees following you on social media? And more often than not, their own employees aren’t following them because they are annoyed by the content. You need to have conversations that are relevant and if your employees aren’t doing it, then why would other people follow your brand? Brands, unfortunately, still believe that perfection is what they need to convey, and that ends up being a roadblock to engagement.

What advice do you have for influencers trying to grow, retain or engage a community?

BF: When you are building a community, you must go to where they are and be part of the conversation. So many people want to build something of their own--email lists, blogs, twitter chats--and that’s a process. It’s no longer, “build it and they will come” because we are already pulled in so many directions. Now you have to go where your audience is.

As an influencer, always give to your community before you get. Your right hook will work itself out for you if you have the ability to listen to the community’s current conversations. Talking down to the people in your community will automatically crush any influence you have.

As an industry influencer, where do you see the influencer space going?

BF: I look at influencer marketing as the key to extending the shrinking digital distance between the brand and the consumer. Working with influencers can help rebuild and renew the trust that brands may have lost. I believe influencer marketing will go beyond building relationships and it will be brands establishing partnerships. So rather than influencers only helping to share the brand’s story, they can also provide feedback to the brand.

As an influencer, I not only want to convey the message to my community, but I want to help shape that message as well. As we move to the future of this, it’s no longer event or campaign based. Brands will create and establish partnerships that will allow this to scale. I see the future as building partnerships more than a campaign-based approach.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

BF: The interesting part about being an influencer today is that no one grew up thinking they would be an influencer. When you look at the greater scheme, I am someone people look to for advice, and with great influence, comes great responsibility. There has to be a sense of humility, it’s amazing how far a smile and a thank you will take you.

If you have any additional questions for Brian, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. I want to thank Brian for his time and these super valuable insights from one of the best engagers on social today.

Feeling inspired to find your brand's authentic voice by working with influencers? Check out the new Guide to Influencer Marketing for a blueprint on how to get started building trusted influencer relations. You can even download worksheets to help you establish workflows so you can start engaging with influencers in no time.