We’re up to over 60 episodes of this podcast since it shifted to be totally focused on influence marketing and in that span we’ve talked to a lot of the executives at various influencer marketing software platforms. We asked many of them point-blank questions about how they’re dealing with influencer fraud. Most of them put on their sales hat, telling us how their proprietary thingamabob has a transverse positive quotion in the 98th percentile of whatchamajigger or some such nonsense.

When I asked Caroline Duong, the founder and CEO of Zine about fighting influencer fraud, she was surprisingly candid about it. The fact is, fighting influencer fraud is hard work. And it doesn’t stop. She told me there are probably more new ways to cheat the system being created every day than there are influencer marketing platforms. And that’s saying something.

Caroline Duong on Winfluence

Caroline and I chatted recently about how Zine deals with that issue, but also discussed how the company got started, what all features and services it provides and beyond. Caroline hinted at some interesting changes to come for the industry and steered me away from a rabbit hole around the recent regulatory statement by the Advertising Standards Authority, which is sort of the Federal Trade Commission in the United Kingdom, saying it’s not cool for beauty influencers to use photo filters. Seemed like overstepping to me, but she course corrected my thinking, which was nice.

Zine started in 2015 and began with a focus on bloggers and providing content creators with demographic information about their audiences. In fact, to this day if you sign up as a content creator with Zine, they give you the pleasantly perfect gift of an automated media kit. You connect your channels, answer a few questions and you get a nifty PDF you can share with potential collaborator brands to show off your audience.

Caroline and Zine are great resources for influencers and brands alike. We had a great conversation I know you’ll enjoy. 

This episode of Winfluence, the podcast, is sponsored by Julius.

If you’ve read my book, you know I’ve depended on Julius for influencer discovery and campaign management for some time now. When I’m looking for the right influencer for my clients, Julius allows me to search across Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Twitch, Twitter, Pinterest, Blogs and more. When I click into an influencer’s profile, I can see their audience demographics, what other networks they have reach through and quickly scan their recent posts to decide if they’re a right influencer for my brand. All the pieces of campaign management are there, too. Julius allows you to reach out, document contracts, share and approve influencer content and, of course, measure the ROI of each campaign, influencer or post. You owe it to your brand or agency to do a demo of Julius today. Go to jason.online/julius and request one. That’s jason.online/julius.

Winfluence Transcript – Caroline Duong – Zine

Jason Falls
Hello again, friends thanks for listening to Winfluence – The Influence Marketing Podcast. We’re up to over 60 episodes of this podcast since it shifted to be totally focused on influence marketing. And in that span we’ve talked to a lot of executives at various influencer marketing software platforms. We’ve asked many of them point blank questions about how they are dealing with influencer fraud. Most of them put on their sales hat telling us how their proprietary thingamabob has transverse positive quotien in the 98th percentile of whatchamajigger or some such nonsense. When I asked Caroline Duong, the founder and CEO of Zine about fighting influencer fraud, she was surprisingly candid about it.

Jason Falls
The fact is fighting influencer fraud is hard work, and it doesn’t stop. She told me there are probably more new ways to cheat the system being created every day than there are influencer marketing platforms. And that’s saying something. Caroline and I chatted recently about how Zine deals with that issue, but also discussed how the company got started, what all features and services it provides and beyond. Caroline hinted at some interesting changes to come for the industry and steered me away from a rabbit hole around the recent regulatory statement by the Advertising Standards Authority, which is sort of the Federal Trade Commission in the United Kingdom, saying it’s not cool for beauty influencers to use photo filters, seemed like overstepping to me, but she course corrected my thinking, which was nice.

Jason Falls
Zine started in 2015, and began with the focus on bloggers and providing content creators with demographic information about their audiences. In fact, to this day, if you sign up as a content creator with Zine, they give you the pleasantly perfect gift of an automated media kit. You connect your channels answer a few questions and you get a nifty PDF you can share with potential collaborator brands to show off your audience. Caroline and Zine are a great resource for influencers and brands alike. We had a great conversation. I know you’ll enjoy.

Jason Falls
This episode of Winfluence, The podcast is sponsored by Julius. If you’ve read my book, you know I’ve depended on Julius for influencer discovery and campaign management for some time now. When I’m looking for the right influencer for my clients, Julius allows me to search across Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Twitch, Twitter, Pinterest, blogs, and more. When I click into an influencers profile, I can see their audience demographics, what other networks they have reached through and quickly scan their recent posts to decide if they’re a right influencer for my brand. All the pieces of campaign management are there to Julius allows you to reach out document contracts share and approve influencer content and of course measure the ROI of each campaign the influencer or post you owe it to your brand or agency to do a demo of Julius today. Go to jason.online/julius and request one that’s jason.online/julius.

Jason Falls
Facing the reality of fighting influencer fraud and much more. Caroline Duong of Zine is next on Winfluence.

Jason Falls
Caroline, I believe your background is in finance, if I’m not mistaken, how did you wind up as the CEO of an influencer marketing software company?

Caroline Duong
Well, that’s a bit of a longer story, I actually founded the business. And it came about through a conversation with a friend about back then it was so called bloggers not influences, and how these people are taking over the world and how there’s a whole new industry emerging. And working in finance, I was covering a lot of industries and natural kind of like interest in discovering how certain industries work and what’s behind it. So I started researching a little bit. And I found that most agencies are most people that are using influencers actually know nothing about their audiences, and who they actually advertising to, it was all done manually, Instagram calling kind of my thing here. That one looks nice, but without real knowledge around, you know, where their audiences coming from who’s reading their blog, demographics or anything. And it didn’t seem to make sense because it’s a digital channel, right? The data is all there and it could be very easily aggregated. So my idea was, there should be a Bloomberg for influencers where advertisers can understand what they invest in before they invest it. The next thing I knew I was running an influencer marketing company.

Jason Falls
So, I know Zine started with a clever way to make that influencer connection. When a content creator connects with Zine, you produce a neat little media kit that shows the influencers, social content, follower counts, and all that in one place. Now, that tells me that Zine might be more influence or creator centric. And I think that kind of leans to, you know, your, your previous answer, maybe more so than it is perhaps brand centric. Is that accurate? And if not, how would you describe yourself kind of in that continuum between brands and influencers?

Caroline Duong
I think there’s, I mean, there’s obviously two sides to the table, right. So we’re a two sided marketplace, we have influences, and we have brands, and they’re both clients of ours, we need to make sure that influencers are happy, as much as we need to make sure that our brands are happy. And we want to have a, you know, fair playing field for everyone. To kind of like offer something to influencers in the first place was a way of, of building a database organically, without going out and mass scraping Instagram and other channels, but really getting people to sign up and give us access to their data, which is much more valuable than, you know, just scraping stuff off the web.

Caroline Duong
And yeah, we do, I think we cater to both sides very much. We do want to continue developing tools. And we we set aside a certain amount of time and budget to develop tools for influencers and trying to make their life easier, as much as we invest into new features for brands. I think it’s, you can’t say like you’re focusing just on one side or the other, because you need the influencers as much as you need the brand as a company. So it’s, we’re trying to balance it, which is not always easy, but we’re trying our best.

Jason Falls
So there are hundreds of influencer tools out there. Some are databases, discovery tools, and even that vertical has dozens of permutations from scraping everyone to invite only curated communities, then there are campaign management features payment solutions. What all does Zine do? What is the gamut of your software, you know, feature set?

Caroline Duong
I think, since we’ve been in the industry, literally, almost since the start. And we started off in I think I started researching in 2015. And we started officially, kind of like the first development in 2016. We cover most of what you just mentioned, Oh, actually, we cover all of what he just mentioned. I think what Zine aspires to be is the backbone for influencer marketing. And I believe that, you know, often influencer marketing is perceived as something that’s only about influence, but it’s evolved a lot beyond that. And it’s around content creation around building communities around, you know, building, finding brand advocates, it’s so many different things. And today, influencer marketing is not siloed anymore. It’s not just one person or one one department that does it, but it’s across all departments, you know, the marketing department might do it, the paid social department, the affiliate department, everyone is doing a little bit of influence and marketing. Everyone has different KPIs. But in the end of the day, there should be one process that all you know, all people walk out with a company should follow are like a standard standardization that makes sense. That is fair, that is transparent. That gives everyone it gives everyone a solid base to work off, kind of. So we in trying to really get a 360 view of influencer marketing and make sure that brands use all aspects of the benefits of influencer marketing, to maximize their ROI, because a lot of brands come and they say, but we tried a few influences, but we didn’t really see drive with any sales.

Caroline Duong
And that’s that’s often a misconception that you will see in direct impact on sales. It’s a lot about, you know, brand awareness, the content created and you know, the brand loyalty you built with some people as well. So, yeah, it is a bit of a … it’s a learning phase for everyone. And it is a bit of a mission to kind of educate the market as well, to make everyone understand that there’s more to it. And that is you can’t just look at it in one side.

Jason Falls
Okay, so the big issue in the industry in the last few weeks, at least here in the United States has been the topic of influencer fraud. And that’s coming, you know, off of the fallout of a documentary called Fake Famous which is airing on HBO here. I don’t think you guys have seen that yet. But talk to me about the problem of influencer fraud. So buying followers or engagement, often driven by bots rather than people and comment pods and what and what software platforms like Zine can or are doing to combat those behaviors.

Caroline Duong
I think there’s almost as many new ways of cheating on social channels coming up every day as it is influencer marketing companies. It is fascinating how far people would go. So very easy with kind of like buying followers and now you can buy followers as a subscription. So they go up slowly.] And all sorts of things obviously influence, a pause, and so on. There’s so many ways to cheat that sometimes it’s hard to stay on top, it is also very hard to give a definite answer. Because there might always be, you know, circumstances under which a spike of 10% and your followers is completely normal because you appear on TV or you you know, certain things, it’s very difficult to rule out that someone, you know, hasn’t possibly not cheated. What we are trying to do is give as much information as possible and give first party data. Above all, we think that things like reach an impression that, at least in the beginning from Instagram were much more difficult to cheat on. So we will see some profiles who had, you know, less reach than they had engagements, which is not possible. So that’s an instant flag, right? We know something is wrong here. Because if you buy programmatic likes, no one has seen your post that didn’t trigger a actually the post we actually loaded, and therefore, it didn’t count as an imprint impression. We kind of like monitor accounts, growth over time, we provide guidance on what to look for in an influencer. And what to look out for is a little bit of detective work. And it’s a bit subjective, and you have to make it’s a judgment call. And I don’t think there’s a perfect automated software that can find everything, and will give you a definite answer. What we can do is we can flag the things that may be suspicious. And then it’s just down to evaluating the influencer, or maybe even talking to the influencer and asking us about what is this about?

Jason Falls
Well, it’s refreshing to hear you say that, because I’ve talked to a lot of folks at software companies who like to, you know, have, you know, promote the confidence they have in their little algorithms are their scoring tools to say whether or not an influencers audience is reliable or not, it’s refreshing to hear someone say that, because my analysis of all of these tools has been a they’re very inconsistent from platform to platform, there’s really not a consistency in there. And as you said, it’s a subjective judgment in a lot of ways. And my my counsel to clients and brands has been, you’ve got to go look at the influencers, content, and really just get a feel for it yourself. And so what I’m hearing you say is, you would probably echo that recommendation of this takes still some manual heavy lifting on the brands. And before you can make a decision, is that what I’m what I’m hearing?

Caroline Duong
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely, I wouldn’t even say that it’s a lot of manual work. I mean, I think if you, it’s may seem daunting, and if you look at a couple of qualifiers. I’m not sure what I’m doing here. But after why you get a hang of it, it’s similar. If you you know, like do influencer marketing or you know, run one campaign run two campaigns. And afterwards, you will know what makes a good influence, and you will see the results. One thing that I think is least cheated on, and this is getting more tricky with all the data available to brands these days, is to cheat on story views. And as people where people draw the lines, like, Okay, I’m gonna invest in likes, I’m going to invest the comments and followers, but not on story views and everything. And I think that’s a lot more difficult and maybe a little bit more expensive. So less likely to happen, we always find that a good indicator. But yeah, we have our own fraud algorithms.

Caroline Duong
But again, even within those, we try to give a lot a lot of kind of like touch points where we say there’s something normal or abnormal here. And we try to recalibrate that an ongoing basis. And we also always check if someone flagged something as not looking right to kind of like see if we can make a correction to it. It’s a learning process.

Jason Falls
So aside from the fraud issue, let’s focus more on the quality of an influencers, performance, the mid tier and up influencers, I think are becoming more and more e-commerce driven, or at least that’s what I’m seeing shoppable images in the like, are big trends. And of course, you know, when you get to that mid tier enough, you know, you’re getting with influencers who are very motivated to continue to monetize better what they’re doing. I wonder from your perspective, our marketers and or the influencers that are looking to monetize their feeds, almost killing the medium a bit by turning it into a shopping channel, or is that what consumers seem to want?

Caroline Duong
Super interesting that you bring that up? Because I’ve been thinking about it and it’s funny how, how the industry changed so much over the last couple of years and evolved. And yeah, this is this is what it’s, but it’s coming to it seems and you could say it’s maybe demand driven but possibly it’s also driven by the big platforms are trying to monetize influencer marketing and driving more revenue and most revenue comes from advertising and obviously conversions drive advertising, and put being able to prove those conversions and the more easily you make it to shop something the more likely you’re going to find someone who will click and actually buy something.

Caroline Duong
I think that only time will tell. I think that, you know, the industry has come to a point everything, everyone saying it is now a mature industry. But I think it will undergo more evolutions and changes. And I think that, you know, to some extent you’re right like the authenticity on the platform as been lost a little bit. It becomes much less relevant how influential and influences and it’s becoming more about content and content fueled paid social ads, because, you know, the content is more authentic, and it sells better drives more conversions, right. And I wonder myself, and at some point, there will be a return to the basics, so to say, and people becoming more influential, of putting a bigger emphasis on being influential and less on actually monetizing something. And we will see possibly a spin off industry and different types of influences, or maybe even new channels coming up.

Jason Falls
So the UK is version of the Federal Trade Commission, I think, is the Advertising Standards Authority. And it recently came out with a ban of beauty filters in posts that promote skincare products or cosmetics, I certainly applaud that on one hand, but on the other I’m a little bothered by it. No, I don’t think an influencer should fake or lie about what particular you know, a particular product does to their skin. So I get that. But photo filters are a mainstay on Instagram and Snapchat and in other contexts are part of the way some influencers actually build their following and their content. I wonder if that move might concern you that the government is stepping maybe too far into minding the business of influencers or brands here?

Caroline Duong
Yes, it’s an interesting one, I have to say, I wasn’t sure but I had in my mind, like years and years and years ago, there was a similar ruling on for billboards, and also actually in magazines that they have to, if there’s a skincare product that they have to actually make a note on the advertisement that this there has been post production done on that picture. So it’s kind of the same thing. And so therefore, I don’t think it’s a bad move. I think it makes sense. It also I mean, there’s generally a movement to say like that Instagram or like, more social channels are not really representing reality, and it’s causing mass depression and insecurities. And in young teenagers, which is obviously not something the platform’s want themselves, either. So I think it is a I think it’s a reasonable step to take. I think influencers most impressive.Actually, there’s no reason why an influencer shouldn’t get away without a filter and still look good and be able to promote a product. Of course, if it kind of like doesn’t fit into the feed that you usually have using a lot of filters or using a certain color tone or something like that, and it might be more difficult to advertise certain products.

Jason Falls
So Instagram, TikTok and YouTube are kind of the 800 pound gorillas in the room in this space, but are also very consumer focused. Do you think all the b2c attention on those channels takes away perhaps from platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter or even Clubhouse which is emerging and might undercut some businesses from finding really effective influencer channels for their business if they’re not in the sort of b2c space?

Caroline Duong
No, I think that, you know, businesses that do influencer marketing via LinkedIn or other platforms, that is a different way of doing influencer marketing, it’s not for the masses. And we have had some campaigns looking for influencers on LinkedIn is a completely different game completely different. And the kind of like, what you’re looking for, and the way you interact and engage with influencers in those spaces is, is very different. Because all it most likely the product you’re trying to sell or promote is very different. And it’s just a different industry, I guess. Obviously, the consumer market is bigger than the b2b market in a way, and therefore they will get the lion’s share of platforms I assume.

Jason Falls
What do you think 2021 has in store for us either as you know trends emerging in the industry, or what does Zine have up its sleeves with new things coming to bear on the platform?

Caroline Duong
Well, we’re going to continue and, and work on more integrations, paid social integrations, TikTok, of course, looking into launching a few influencer tools as well, because we have we have been a bit lagging behind with that. And we want to we want to build a little bit more of that for sure. To kind of like help influencers stay on top of their game and making sure that they can collaborate with any brand on the platform but also outside of the platform with a set of tools that will make it more easy and that makes it very transparent and clear in terms of content approval and also payment.

Caroline Duong
For the influencer marketing industry, I think it’s gonna be a lot of things have been put on hold, just because of the lockdown and a lot of companies have been stopping to because it can’t send any product they can’t physically cut off from his job or to send our product to influences at this point. So I think there’s going to be a little bit of a catch up kind of like getting campaigns out getting marketing budget out influencer marketing itself. I think that, you know, more disruptive platform, I think club has actually is a really, really interesting one. And I wouldn’t write it off as something that is more or less consumer focused. Actually, I think people quite you know, podcasts have been I’ve been coming for a while and I think there’s, there’s really something of people wanting to listen to something and listening to a review and wishing it is, is very similar to talking about certain things. So I think Yeah, overall, I think in the market is coming to a point where there will be some changes. There will be some changes to it’s going to split, I think into different industries or different types of influencer marketing and different types of influences out there. And I think that’s going to be more pronounced as we go along.

Jason Falls
Very nice. Well, I look forward to the the challenges and the opportunities ahead. Caroline, thank you so much for joining me today. I appreciate the perspective and insights. tell people where they can find you and find Zine online.

Caroline Duong
Oh, of course you can find us on Zine.co and you can find me at caroline — at — zine.co if you have any questions.

Jason Falls
Excellent. Thank you so much again for the time.

Caroline Duong
Thank you.

Transcribed by otter.ai

The Winfluence theme music is “One More Look” featuring Jacquire King and Stephan Sharp by The K Club found on Facebook Sound Collection.


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