Influencer marketing is a common practice at this point, and it shows no signs of slowing down. According to social advertising agency Linqia’s most recent State of Influencer Marketing Report, 86 percent of marketers relied on the tactic in 2016, and 94 percent of them found it effective.
And yet, “a lot of it is still test-and-learn,” said Shirley Yang, the founder of Muses, an iPhone app launching internationally at the end of this week. With Muses, she’s offering a new route of experimentation by eliminating the middleman of an agency and encouraging both parties — brand and influencer — to bridge their resources and diverse skill-sets with more people. In the vein of Tinder Social, which promotes group dating and hangouts, the app allows numerous brands and/or influencers to work together on a product campaign, in lieu of the usual one-on-one method.
“We are based on the concept of cohorts and people working in groups to grow together [rather than via] one-on-one partnerships,” said Yang, an engineer who was formerly the head of social media for StyleHaul. The hope is that this emphasis on audience crossover amongst a larger swath of influencers and brands will differentiate the app from like-minded apps already on the market, like Revfluence and Famebit.
Unlike on those platforms, which typically require influencers to apply individually (and, essentially, compete with each other) to score brand campaigns, Muses believes in uniting various parties to promote those campaigns — the success of which will theoretically increase as more people take part.
The Muses app homepage
“I’ve been working in this industry for a while, and the most common question I get from brands is, ‘How do you choose the right influencer?’” said Yang. “The group model allows brands to experiment with a few different people, and not just with influencers. You can pair up with other brands [on marketing initiatives], if that makes sense for you.” A jewelry company, for example, could collaborate with a clothing company which has an aesthetic or values that match its own, allowing it to tap into a new but like-minded audience.
Consumers are getting tired of the old model, believes Yang, where the same 15 or so faces are regurgitated over and over again by brands in tired ways — think selfies, product flat-lays, etc. Working in groups leads to more dynamic, creative content, she said, while rising stars (or micro-influencers, who have 10,000 to 100,000 followers) tend to have higher engagement rates than the more famous influencers above them.
But Muses approach is not entirely democratic: The community management team vets everyone who applies to make sure they’re a good fit. “We believe that quality attracts quality,” said Yang.
While there are no numerical limits in terms of following, the team does look at all social profiles to gauge their level of engagement. This is calculated by adding together the average number of likes and comments and dividing it by their follower count. So, if someone averages 30 likes and comments per post and has 1,000 followers, they have a 3 percent engagement rate — the minimum that Muses requires.
The Muses app profile page
The nature and timeliness of the content, as well as how often a person posts (at least once a week), are also taken into consideration. “We want to see people who have enough to contribute — who can give value and not just take it,” said Yang.
Part of the vetting process also involves payment confirmation — Muses operates as a subscription service, charging $10 a month for the average user, which allows the user to create and join three groups per month. A $20-a-month premium membership is also available, which allows users to create and join as many groups as they’d like. These also assure the team that applicants are who they say they are, and not simply spam accounts.
Once they’re accepted, the app also facilitates any campaign payments between involved parties using Stripe software. The company takes 10 percent from the party making the payment.
That could be seen as detrimental to certain users, but regardless, Yang said they have 7,000 requesting to beta-test the platform, including Nordstrom and the Nike Central team. Around 2,000 of those wanting to sign on are also what Yang deems “high-quality” fashion, beauty, style, food and fitness influencers.
The Muses app group details page
A handful of them — each with 100-200k followers — have been hired as Muses Ambassadors, tasked with spreading the company’s message and driving downloads. These include the lifestyle and fashion bloggers Rachel Chen and Gergana Ivanova. “I call them the power-middle people,” said Yang. “They’re not your micro-influencers, but they’re not yet mega stars, either.” The more lucrative influencers involved will receive small payments per download, while others will be granted a few months to use the app for free.
Although these partnerships could easily be made through other social platforms, Muses does offer a few elements you can’t find elsewhere: There’s a star-rating system much like Uber’s that both brands and influencers can use to rate each other after a partnership ends. Rather than weed through a long list of influencers, users can filter (and speed up) their search by everything from age to race to geographic location.
Going rates, however, are not advertised up front. “I want them to meet first, because a lot of the influencers will say their rate depends,” said Yang. If a luxury brand reaches out to them to work for free, for instance, they may say yes to receive the clout and any free products.
The usual guesswork and anxiety that comes with reaching out to strangers on other social platforms and not knowing how they’ll respond is at least somewhat diminished. “If you find a brand or influencer on the app, you know they want to collaborate — that’s why they signed up for it,” she said.
Although Muses is trumping the need for influencer agencies (and the endless PR hoops one must jump through to reach their talent), Yang says they are still necessary for executing mass-scale campaigns.
“If you want to create some kind of movement with 200 influencers, of course you’ll need more manpower,” she said, noting that her app is more self-serve. “But I want to make it easier for everyone to talk to each other. People shouldn’t be gating off their influencers unless they’re paying them something insane.”