Influencing authenticity

Executives from ShopStyle and Google on social media, influencer marketing and why generosity is key to making meaningful connections with customers

Jan 16, 2017 · 3 min read

Every community has its own culture — and social media is no different. That’s not to say that all of social media has the same culture, mind you; each channel has behaviors unique enough that non-natives stand out.

Taking part in this type of community as a brand, then, requires insight, understanding and authenticity — and working with influencers may well help.

“Social and the Art of the Influencer,” a Retail’s BIG Show session moderated by Vicki Cantrell, former SVP of Communities for NRF and executive director of, explored the social media landscape as a whole, the humanness of social media communities, brand use of influencers and more. Cantrell shared the stage with Melissa Davis, executive vice president and general manager for ShopStyle, and Abigail Posner, head of strategic planning for The Zoo, Google’s creative think tank.

Posner kicked things off with a look at the social media landscape. Google has worked to leverage various platforms such as mobile, YouTube and search, and is now doing the same with social. It’s not unusual for clients to come to Google confused, she said, because there’s just “so much out there.” In an effort to help, Google worked with anthropologists to “decode” what was really going on. What they discovered is how human a space social media is. It is immediate, raw and unfiltered — which expects and requires authenticity from individuals and brands alike.

Google’s anthropologists found that social media spaces are extremely human — immediate, raw and unfiltered — and these spaces expect and require authenticity from individuals and brands alike.

Influencers can help. Different from the traditional idea of celebrity as influencer, these people still present lifestyles that others want to emulate, but do so in a more accessible way. ShopStyle pairs retailers with such influencers, and those retailers can see real results: One larger retailer spent $30,000 to work with three influencers on a recent holiday campaign, “and those influencers drew over $500,000 in sales,” Davis said. ShopStyle scours its network of influencers to find the right fit, studying years of data about what those influencers have worn or used and what they — and, therefore, their audiences — are interested in.

“You wouldn’t want someone talking about your brand that wouldn’t use it or wear it in everyday life,” Davis said.

Whether working with influencers or not, brands using social media must remember that the old one-way method of only broadcasting out to consumers is gone.

Consumers have used social for authenticity and relationship on an individual basis, so they now expect brands to do the same. Posner spoke of the “energy exchange” that social allows, and believes it offers opportunities for connection that simply don’t exist elsewhere.

Generosity, Posner says, is key to building meaningful connections on social media. “We’re all in this together.”

Yes, social media can be seen as too negative and/or combative, but most of the time, she said, “We’re there to lift each other up. Be generous, whether it’s with other brands, or if you’re an influencer, with other influencers, with other consumers. Applaud what they’re doing. This is not a zero-sum game anymore. We’re all in this together, and we’re all about making this a better place for everybody.”

And for those willing to be generous, she said, “the rest of us will be excited and applaud you back. It’s about humility, generosity and relationship.”

This story originally appeared in print as part of STORES Convention Daily on January 16, 2017. Download the digital edition and see more coverage of Retail’s BIG Show 2017.

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