Talking Influence chatted with Danielle Wiley, CEO, and Founder of directory listed agency, Sway Group, to find out more about what they offer and how you can get involved.

Thank you for taking the time to work with us on this Q&A. First of all, please can you give us an overview of Sway Group and what you do. What is your USP?

I founded Sway Group in 2011 with the goal to professionalise, streamline and scale the way influencers connect with brands. We’ve since evolved to offer a number of digital marketing strategies as part of our full-service, partnership-based approach. At our core, we have an in-depth understanding of the kinds of promoted content that lead to specific business goals. From our deep background in influencer marketing to our latest digital advertising options, we’re known for our exceptional branded content and targeted audience reach.

We are as dedicated to our 30,000+-member-strong influencer community as we are to our clients, which is one of the reasons our best-in-class creator storytelling has been shown to bring in up to three times the industry standard engagement rate. We handpick diverse talent for every campaign and leverage our content strategy with expert reporting and analysis.

We also back our claims with guaranteed results: every influencer campaign comes with social engagement and/or reach minimums based on client goals.

Over the past couple of years, with Covid restrictions prominent for many, what are some of the impacts you have noticed on the influencer marketing industry? Both positive and negative.

On the negative front, brands were obviously impacted in a huge way over the last couple of years. Budgets took a beating, campaigns were scrubbed, in-store opportunities were limited, people weren’t able to meet in person to figure out new approaches, supply chain issues continue to cause delays, and of course we’re all still dealing with fresh waves of uncertainty from variants.

However, in my opinion, the advantages of influencer marketing have truly become undeniable. Spray-and-pray marketing really has no place in a consumer world where people are disproportionately impacted by the ongoing pandemic. It’s critical to invest in marketing tactics that 1) can be quickly adjusted as situations evolve, and 2) acknowledge the spectrum of human experiences right now.

Looking at some of these challenges, how did the team at Sway Group work to overcome these?

One of our corporate values is “We are agile and always evolving.” We have always embraced that (how else would we still be in the business after over a decade?), but it’s been particularly critical for us in the wake of Covid.

The good news for us is that we have been a remote business since our inception, so we didn’t have to go through the adjustments of figuring out new workflows and processes. We were able to stay focused on supporting our clients, even bringing in our largest retainer client to date. Our performance remained strong despite industry fluctuations and August of 2021 month of revenue ever. We were also able to achieve our goal of securing more brand-direct clients and launched our first Twitch-based influencer marketing campaign.

Diversity and inclusion have also been a huge topic of discussion throughout 2021. At Sway Group, how do you ensure that your company and the work you produce represents true D&I?

We know that our strength as a business comes from leveraging our collective differences and unique perspectives and that our campaigns are more powerful when they authentically represent the lives of the audiences who experience them.

We are committed to continually eliminating bias and inequity from our company and from our campaigns. Sway Group recently passed our one-year anniversary of launching ongoing oppression reduction and social justice training for all employees, which we continue to offer on a quarterly basis today. We use scenario roleplaying as part of our ongoing effort to educate and empower our employees, creating space to identify and problem-solve potentially challenging diversity-related client situations.

The value of diversity on campaigns is part of every client conversation at Sway Group: we consider it our responsibility to promote diversity in influencer selection and campaign content in order to amplify voices of underrepresented groups, reduce oppression in the influencer space, and broaden the perspectives of those whom our client’s campaigns reach.

What would be your advice to those in the influencer marketing space who want to focus more on diversity and inclusion, both internally and externally?

My main advice is to walk the talk when it comes to D&I. For today’s brands, it’s not enough to make public statements without taking the steps to continually eliminate bias and inequity from the inside out.

For Sway Group, it was important for us to invest in the resources we needed to live our D&I values. In 2020, we hired Shanell Tyus, our Director of Equity, Inclusion, and Learning. This role was created to lead Sway Group’s ongoing equity and inclusion initiatives through internal programmes and training, while also advocating for marginalised communities in the influencer space.

Brands and agencies need to understand that D&I is an ongoing process. We continue to review and refine the language we use, the influencers we recruit, and the messaging we share, in order to promote equitable campaign opportunities and inclusive representation.

What do you think will be some of the main challenges the influencer marketing industry will face in 2022?

We saw a shift towards consumers preferring authenticity in influencer marketing over the last year and a half, and I believe we’re going to continue to see content strategies trend towards genuine, relatable moments in the social media space.

At Sway Group, we’ve always understood the power of personal storytelling, whether through words, images, or video. We know it’s not enough for an influencer to post a product image or a bland endorsement; the real magic comes from feelings of inspiration, interest, and above all, authenticity.

The challenge will be for creators to meet this demand in new and exciting ways, even as cultural trends continue to evolve at breakneck speeds. Brands who prioritise influencers’ creativity and allow them to share messages in their own way are likely to see the most success.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Sway Group is a pioneer in the influencer marketing space: we launched over a decade ago as an agency representing a roster of “mom bloggers,” having recognised a need early on to streamline and codify branded partnerships. We’ve spent years staying current with ever-evolving content trends and technologies, and we’ve always understood the power of personal storytelling — whether through words, images, video, or media forms yet to come.

We believe that yesterday’s tactic of rigid control over messaging doesn’t have a place in a world where consumers can engage directly with brands and help shape their brand presence and perception. Creators have the powerful ability to drive positive brand associations, but only when they’re given the flexibility to be their genuine selves.

Proven digital strategies like creator marketing offer word-of-mouth benefits and can also be adjusted on the fly to stay relevant, which is critical for the short term but almost certainly necessary from here on out. With news and perceptions changing at lightning speed, brands need to stay authentically in touch with consumer realities.

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