Today the Business Herald launches a series on Digital Darlings, Kiwis who use social media to build their brand or sell a product. Experts, including fashion stylist Jaime Ridge, Torrell Tafa and the Cougar boys, reality TV stars Harry Jowsey and Kristian Barbarich, MONDAY Haircare co-founder Jaimee Lupton and founder of the Hine Collection, Miria Flavell, will talk about how they built their platforms and their businesses, and how to get noticed in an increasingly noisy space.
They understand Millennials and can talk Gen Z-speak. They're breathlessly good at
what they do. They know the power of social media and how to harness digital
dollars. They're not afraid to share their faces, bodies, personalities and influencer
friends, or let strangers into their lives.
The successful ones go from hundreds, then thousands, to sometimes millions of followers. Some get rich but it's no easy ride in what has become a crowded market competing fiercely for the world's eyeballs.
Making money on social media is all about building an online following, then finding ways to use that audience to make a profit - by advertising products, for example, or becoming a brand ambassador.
But social media consultant and founder of The Attention Agency Tina Moore warns it's no longer easy to get noticed. "You do need to be smarter, more creative and more savvy, and understand what your purpose is and who your audience is far more than you ever used to."
For the average business starting out now, says Moore, the days of the free audience and massive organic reach are gone. On digi-platforms today, it's very much "pay to play", she says, either in the form of ads or paying people with a huge online presence to create content for your brand.
"Don't be Dad at the disco"
Social media experts say identifying the right platform for the target audience and creating great content are the key.
"Don't be Dad at the disco," says head of digital and social at Mango Communications, Zoe Virtue. Users will see right through try-too-hard content, or brands jumping on trends for the wrong reason.
"You can spend a lot of time and energy creating content for social that delivers zero return," Virtue says.
She says the most successful influencers aren't those who started out trying to be an influencer. Instead, they grew followers because people were interested in what they had to say and liked the content they posted.
Influencers also need to take care. In the first decision of its kind, the Advertising Standards Authority last month upheld complaints against Simone Anderson, who has 313,000 Instagram followers, for posting content not clearly labelled as advertising. There was nothing wrong being paid to produce content, it said, but commercial relationships should be disclosed.
Aspiring influencers have already worked their way through a range of platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. Now roaring up in popularity is the Chinese platform TikTok, which began as a social media forum for young users to post short videos of themselves dancing or lip-syncing to songs.
The reigning Queen of TikTok is American teenage dancer Charli D'Amelio, who uploaded her first video last year. A year later the 16-year-old has more than 71 million followers and earned 5.1 billion likes for her videos - a figure that rose by several hundred thousand during the writing of this series.
With 5.6 million YouTube subscribers, 23.7 million followers on Instagram and 3.3 million on Twitter, it wasn't long before the big brands came calling, including Procter & Gamble.
While Moore acknowledges the explosion of interest in TikTok and its engagement compared to other social media channels, she is wary of its very young audience. She warns businesses to question who they're targeting.
"If you've got limited resources I'd steer clear of it. It's there for entertainment value and isn't really commercially viable as a place to make money at this stage."
However, some TikTokers have amassed enormous followings and in those cases they would become influencers who could negotiate commercial partnerships, she says.
And Virtue thinks TikTok is "ageing up" rapidly, as all social media platforms do after they launch. The weeks of Covid lockdown accelerated that ageing-up process as parents and even nanas became engaged.
Dame Judi Dench, 85, got into some TikTok action with daughter Finty Williams and grandson Sam Williams, busting some moves during lockdown. And then there's TikTok newcomer Kiwi GrandmotherJane, who has built up a startling following of 19,600 by not doing terribly much.
With 1.1 million monthly active users in New Zealand now, Virtue think TikTok is not to be underestimated.
"Brands are seeing the greatest success on TikTok working with influencers more than through creation of their own brand page," Virtue says. "TikTok recently launched their ad buys in NZ so we'll start to see more brand ads on the platform."
Although most TikTokers don't earn money directly from the platform, social media watchers predict e-commerce integration - like Instagram's shoppable content - won't be far away on the New Zealand TikTok platform.
Some of the best success stories have been accidental. Five years ago, How to Dad star Jordan Watson made a "how to hold a baby" video with his baby daughter Alba for his mate, whose partner was having a baby. He posted it on Facebook and tagged in his friend, who in turn shared it.
The video went viral – it's now had 3.9 million views on YouTube – and led to Watson having millions of followers across several social media platforms, writing two How to Dad books and landing a contract to produce content for meal delivery business HelloFresh.
Content creator and chief executive of talent agency WeAreTENZING, Brook Howard-Smith, agrees that social media personalities who have built up an organic audience, by creating content their followers like, have the strongest reach.
He uses Torrell Tafa and the Cougar Boys as an example. They're four mates who all went to Edgewater College in Pakuranga and started making funny videos for fun. With their range of Pacific and Indian ethnicities and their blokey, lark-about humour, they connect with an audience that's difficult to reach through mainstream media.
"They reach around 800,000 Kiwis and Australians, predominantly male, Māori and Pasifika," Howard-Smith says. "They are traditionally one of the hardest groups to reach because they're not watching TV. They're off traditional media."
The Cougar Boys were used to parody the Bluebird Chip dancing penguin ad, a campaign that encouraged others to make their own videos. The Cougar Boys' version spread across Instagram, Facebook and TikTok, getting tens of thousands of views.
Instagram stories – personal photos or very brief videos that disappear after 24 hours - have revolutionised social media followings, says Howard-Smith.
When Hannah Barrett, wife of All Blacks star Beauden Barrett, posts an Instagram story, 40,000 people will watch.
Howard-Smith says Instagram stories allow followers to swipe up into a connecting website. "Swipe up, boom, into a sale."
Management consultant Lani Fogelberg tells how followers of her zany personal Instagram account became unexpected clients on her business account.
When Lani Fogelberg launched her management consulting business a year ago, she figured most of her clients would come through Facebook, Linkedin and word of mouth.
Instead, she was startled to discover followers of her Instagram account – in which she is the first to admit she looks anything but businesslike – were becoming clients.
The contrast between the two Instagram accounts – Fogelberg's personal one and Fogelberg Consulting – couldn't be more extreme. In the first, Fogelberg is deliberately hamming it up in provocative poses, or poking fun at herself by being downright ridiculous.
Switch to the professional account and potential clients see a poised, well-groomed 31-year-old consultant in the expected uniform – crisp white shirts and tailored business attire – giving Covid-related advice.
What Fogelberg didn't count on was the unintentional bonus of one Instagram account benefiting another.
"It proves a point that you don't have to fit a specific label or image for people to understand what you do. That [Fogelberg's personal account] doesn't change the intellect that I have or the knowledge, or the experience."
One of her most "liked" images is a mini-skirted Fogelberg sprawled face down after tripping up while getting out of her red convertible Ferrari F430 Spider, matching stilettos waving in the air.
She and a couple of friends set up the props for the shoot as part of the #fallingstarschallenge that went viral showing wealthy people falling out of their cars and planes.
Scattered on the ground around her are the contents of her handbag (a girl's worst nightmare), a bottle of bubbly and cash - not your typical business consultant's image.
Like most of her personal posts, Fogelberg did it for a laugh. But let anyone suggest she can't possibly know anything about business and Fogelberg will set them straight.
"As soon as I open my mouth they know what I'm talking about."
Fogelberg doesn't have a business degree. Instead, she learned her skills on the job, first running the finance department for Winger Subaru Greenlane in Auckland and then, in 2012, helping an Australian company set up Kiwi Car Loans in New Zealand. A year later she helped launch and run financial services company Credit One.
Fogelberg's experience came not only from building Credit One in New Zealand, but also dealing with a wide range of businesses over the past eight years. "It's those businesses that have enabled me to do what I do now."
But by last year the long hours and high stress took its toll. "I was 30 and I felt like I was 80. All I had to show for myself was a tired body and a pile of money, and that's not the way to live."
Fogelberg resigned, intending to take a break, travel, and do some business consulting part-time. But the looming pandemic quashed her travel plans and then her phone began to ring.
Clients she had dealt with previously wanted help. Others saw her profile on social media platforms. Suddenly, Fogelberg was consulting almost fulltime, working with clients in key industries including infrastructure, tourism, logistics, transport, medical, property development, hospitality and tourism.
Although some desperate clients wanted help to survive during Covid-19, others had identified business opportunities and were looking to grow.
New tourism venture about to launch
It was working with one of those clients that led Fogelberg to a joint venture in the tourism sector. Venture New Zealand is a new business model, aimed at making special-offer and discount deals more beneficial for tourism operators.
Operators will pay a fee to belong to the site and no commission will be taken on the sale. Fogelberg says high commissions and fees from some discount websites mean operators are sometimes not doing much better than break-even. And if the voucher expires, the tourism operator often does not receive a share.
Venturenewzealand.co.nz will go live next week with a soft launch planned for next month.
"I'm passionate about bringing transparency into business and particularly tourism operators who are going to be hurting the most at the moment," Fogelberg says.
And she's keen to remove ambiguity around professional services and business, and is instantly upfront about her charges. "I mean you get an invoice from a lawyer and you're like, uh? Uh?"
She charges $325 an hour plus GST whether she's dealing with a multimillion-dollar company or a small enterprise. As soon as the pandemic hit, Fogelberg dropped her fee to $217 plus GST during April, May and part of June.
But aware that not every business owner can afford one-on-one advice, Fogelberg is in the process of launching Finance Stuffs, an online financial education platform so clients can access her management consultancy advice for a one-off fee or subscription. Her aim is to reach 1 million people by 2024 through her consultancy and Finance Stuffs.
And there are other plans. While in Europe late last year she began setting up a niche business range – delayed due to Covid – which is still secret but involves eyelash extensions and sleeping. Fogelberg laughs. "Niche market I know." But it's a problem she has and she's a problem solver from way back, since school days.
And while one of her ventures concerns eyelash extensions, the other side of Fogelberg is a petrolhead. She hangs out with other supercar enthusiasts and was this year elected Auckland regional chair of the Ferrari Owners' Club.
Fogelberg was 28 when she bought her Ferrari, having stalled for a few years, worried about what people would think. But in the end she figured she had earned every gleaming red inch of that F430 Spider.
"You have to work very, very hard to achieve success at a young age. I'd been unwell and I thought, stuff it, I'm going to buy this car. Ï just don't care to be honest. People can think what they think."
Having said that, Fogelberg is wary of dealing with clients whose businesses have been stricken by Covid. She'll take an Uber to those meetings, leaving the Ferrari under its cover in the basement of her inner-city apartment block.
She takes a holistic approach to her business consulting, getting to know the people behind the business and what success looks like to them. "Not everyone wants to be the next Bob Jones."
Clients might want to step away from their business a little so they can relax at weekends, or they might want to get their net worth up to a certain level. Others might want to build an exit plan for selling out and moving on to a different project, or retiring.
In her spare time Fogelberg is brushing up on her vocal skills and practising the piano, which she's learned since she was four. Her aim is to be good enough to do a few paid gigs, again mainly for fun.
And, keen to give back, she's involved with the charity Bread which runs mentoring programmes in low-decile schools. She takes her Ferrari along to fundraising events and drives it to the schools where she mentors to show the kids "anything is possible".
The time to do charity work is one of the advantages of going out on her own, Fogelberg says.
"You can't just walk out of an office on a Tuesday afternoon to do that when you're working for a corporate."
READ MORE FROM THE SERIES:
• Today: The fame game: Hitting it big on social media
• Today: Digital fame: How the Cougar Boys conquered social media
• Saturday: MONDAY's child: How Jaimee Lupton sold 22,000 bottles of shampoo in a week
• Sunday: Reality TV stars Harry Jowsey and Kristian Barbarich reaping online rewards
• Sunday: Jaime Ridge on how to get noticed
• Monday: Miria Flavell's Hine Collection caters for women of all shapes and sizes