Kyle Hjelmeseth (“YELM-SETH”) is the Founder and CEO of top-tier talent management agency G&B, which houses both the College of Influence and the Normalize Equality initiative. A self-made minority business owner, Hjelmeseth brings the full extent of his experience living as a half black, half white male to his work, building media momentum around messages of diversity and inclusivity with his trademark solutions-driven attitude. Under his leadership, G&B has successfully re-invented the talent management world with integrity while creating a refreshingly diverse company culture, serving more than 60 exclusive clients with a powerfully inclusive ethos that transforms influencers into influential people.
Does Dupont need Kim Kardashian to succeed in its digital marketing campaign? Before you answer that, have a listen to Kyle Hjelmeseth, CEO of top-tier talent management agency G&B, who provides a deep dive into digital influencer marketing, finding the right fit for your brand, and what types of policies are appropriate in this perils-riden world we live in. Kyle also helps break down the DuPont/Kardashian question!
KRISTINA PODNAR, HOST: Consumers don't trust traditional media. And consumers demand trust. Looking to the Edelman Trust Barometer, the bible on understanding consumer trust, I saw a report on brands that screamed out, "Consumers Trust Influencers!" To find out more, I reached out to someone who knows a lot about this space. Kyle Hjelmeseth ("YELM-SETH") is the Founder and CEO of top-tier talent management agency G&B, which houses both the College of Influence and the Normalize Equality initiative. A self-made minority business owner, Hjelmeseth brings the full extent of his experience living as a half black, half white male to his work, building media momentum around messages of diversity and inclusivity with his trademark solutions-driven attitude.
I asked Kyle to tell us whether every brand, like DuPont, needs a Kardashian or what influencers mean in today's digital marketing environment. Let's have a listen to the conversation.
KYLE HJELMESETH, GUEST: To answer your question, does Dupont need Kim Kardashian, absolutely not, and Kim Kardashian and actually kind of like suss out the difference of who was talking about when we talk about influencers. There are certainly two categories that I will boil it down to, and you know, it's very simple to think about things and macro and micro and what their purposes are when you have somebody who's got a platform in there a macro influencer, meaning they have a large digital footprint. They have a lot of, you know, we could also they have a lot of followers on their accounts and when I say accounts, I mean, you know their platforms like maybe they're on Instagram. Maybe they're on YouTube. Maybe they're on Tick-Tock, maybe don't they're on all of them all at the same time, somebody like Kim Kardashian is on all of these platforms at all the same time. She has a digital team running them. She has a huge presence across all of them, but she isn't somebody who is speaking at a very small level to one person. There's no one to one communication or 1 to 2 a small group a Kim Kardashian is a bullhorn, you know, or she is she is somebody screaming off of the top of the mountain into a valley that's echoing right like a lot of people are going to hear her one message, but there is no to way and so you can absolutely as a brand interacts with that person as a digital influencer is the most akin to a traditional celebrity that you would expect it whether it's you know, Kim Kardashian came up kind of as a more traditional celebrity, to begin with, but now we have these new-age celebrities that started a digital-first like the D'amelio twins or not. They're not twins. Sorry, but the D'amelio sisters from Tik Tok. OK, so massive platform reaching a lot of people, but it's one way, that's macro, and then micro oh and I guess it's helpful if I give the levels of followers. So I would say macro really is generally thought of as people who have a million or more followers on any platform. If you get below that, it's kind of considered micro, which sounds a little weird; you could have nine hundred thousand followers, and still, kind of be on that edge of macro-micro and micro influence is really all about or it tends to be about community development and what I mean by that is, you know, it's you'll have a person who could be a stay-at-home mom, could be, you know, an individual who's got, you know, just like love for fashion and I love for beauty products and is trying like, you know different ways of applying their makeup every day, and they start to share that content what they're creating what they're doing in their daily lives, and then a community of people grow up around them not because they're a celebrity and big-name person. But because they relate to what that individual is sharing in some way and that individual as they share, they can interact with the community. They can, you know, hold conversations, you know, when you have less than a million followers, it does get pretty tedious at 900,000 but let's say we're talking about somebody with 10,000 or 100,000 they can have DM conversations. And really further out and have these more beautiful interactions with, you know, a variety of people out there because the following is smaller more niche.
KRISTINA: That's great. I was thinking to myself about sort of the influencer marketing arena and how quickly it's really grown in popularity during the last decade. I think, in fact, you know, I think I read somewhere I think it was maybe like a Google Trends, It's more popular than print marketing. Just as popular as video marketing, you know, tell us a little bit about that dynamic. What's driving it? Why do we have influencers at all? What really is sort of the feel for that fire?
KYLE: There's a lot of fuel for that fire. I want to, you know, I want to take it back to I think what people kind were really of be able to viscerally understand because of different platforms that they may have used themselves, you know, if we look at the history of influencer marketing influencer was only used or coined in like 2015, 16. It was actually, I'd started my agency. So my agency just turned five years old on the 15th of this month. So we just passed that milestone. I had started working with an influencer but really was a blogger, you know, and I fought back against the term influencer because it didn't make any sense to me like five years ago, and it's still not something I'm completely comfortable with. I think that you know, I like to think of the especially the people that we service in my agency or that we managed as digital talent, I guess, you know, like they're creatives, creating something they have real communicated will talent. So anyway, you know, they years ago, they were just bloggers, and the way the bloggers like V1 blogger made money was typically through Amazon links, you know, you could say like affiliate links Amazon was one of the biggest companies that made links where you could draw a commission by sharing a link, and if somebody bought something through your link, you would you look at that attribution and draw a commission off of that sale. So that was pretty V1 of bloggers life. You would have a site, and you would try to, you know, gear your site to gain the most traffic, and then you would insert your links, and you can make money off of the ads and the affiliate links on your site, and then social media platform started to come in like Instagram and Vine and the rise of the app platform, you know, it was really around like 2011-12, and so that certainly had an effect, you know and not an immediate impact on the space, but it had an effective like where people were sharing and spending their time. So you take like the emergence of app-based sharing, you know of ideas and content, you mix that with an environment where there are individuals now, you know people across the country who have blogs, you know, these blog journals where they're sharing what they're buying out there and they're driving revenue through links and they're getting a commission on it. So there's starting to be this economy that's building up in the background, and then you layer in the effect of, and I haven't seen a lot of people talk about this. So I don't know if I'm the only one that just thinks this way, but I believe that influencers are a direct result of Yelp. And the reason is the Yelp effect, like really pushing people to give their honest or hopefully honest opinions about products and services is what in my mind, I haven't found a better attribution personally, but what in my mind has created literally what has taken over our country and is starting to provide more globally the idea that I don't want to get my information and like what I'm buying my you know, the referral from a celebrity who's doing a product endorsement. I don't know who that person is. They're not like me at all, you know in any way measurable way and visible way, and now I'm starting to hear and get opinions from people that kind of are like me that you know if I'm on Yelp and I see it's got five stars and a bunch of reviews from other normal-ish people or Yelp leaders, you know, whatever, that to me feels more real and that there's more trust that this person is really got has having a similar life experience or somewhat similar life experience to what I'm going through so that those three things but Yelp most of all is what I think really pushed society to say I'm done with celebrity endorsement and I'm into this kind of more personal interaction or as a personal referral, personal feeling referral even I don't really know them but I kind of feel like they're more like me and you know, now we have influencers, a bubble…
KRISTINA: So it's not as complicated as I thought you were going to tell me in terms of the history. It sounds so it definitely it there, sounds like a point in time whereas a society or even a global society, we started to sort of shift our thinking, but it's not nearly as adventurous as I really wanted that story to be.
KYLE: No. I yeah, I think it's just like it was these things. You know, and I've researched and read a lot of articles, and you know, I've known a lot of people personally who are kind of like OG bloggers and my wife is I mean how I got into space and journalism is related to my wife who pushed me to help her with her business. She was starting to receive inquiries from brands, to have her write about their brand on her blog and then post about it on Instagram. And this was before Instagram had really a way to drive meaningful traffic, but you know, a lot of people were starting to put content creation or branded products brand of posts on the platform. But yeah, it was really like when you look under the hood it was this change in how people wanted to get a referral and really like understand what's the best product, you know, sort of move away from commercials, away from celebrities and say, OK. I'll well, and I heard about this from my friend because we were all doing that anyway, you know. It's widely referenced the basis of Malcolm. Gladwell's Tipping Point. But yeah, now you take the Tipping Point you take his first story in that book about I think somebody wearing, what the shoes were? Anyway, he talks about these shoes that became popular because of somebody like a hipster and Brooklyn, and yeah, you just magnify that same effect that same idea through the digital space.
KRISTINA: There are definitely risks in choosing to affiliate a brand regardless of where that brand is in its life cycle, with an influencer, you know, what advice do you give brands and selecting an influencer, and conversely, what types of guardrails do you suggest for influencers themselves?
KYLE: Yeah, that's a great question. So in the first part of your question, you know the advice I give I can really like even going to give you the backup of what brands have done to this point, and I would say that you know, the brands that you work with are have been a lot more tempted to the space of influencers tip it in. And more tiptoeing, and it makes a lot of sense because a lot of the brands, especially those that you work with, whether you know, it's a large multinational or government, tend to work more B2B versus B2C and B2B is a completely different animal on influencers. It's more about thought leadership, sharing of information, and then everybody kind of crowds around the person who's writing the best white paper or whatever it may be it versus b2c is like all about like, OK, how do I use the right toothpaste, you know like showing and telling and that sense. So anyways to explain like the advice that I give in where this comes, from a few years ago when influencers are really started to emerge what we saw with that brands were giving up their brand identity left and right, the power that they hold over their own story and what I mean when I say that is that they literally would hire anybody who had a following and we saw this all the time left and right and of course I saw it because people were approaching me that with a product to put in the hands of one of my talents that made zero sense, you know like it could be XYZ clothing that is not at all related to what this person wears or you know the style that they talk about it's just that in the especially in the beginning time of influencer just like throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what would stick because people were trying to figure out where to start, in this particular marketing channel, and there's a lot more waste like now to tell what that is. But so, you know, my base advice is like don't give your brand away, you know, it's like really research, and if you're looking for an influencer to talk about something you want to market to a particular demographic or audience, like, figure out who those people are that really speak to that audience, you know, they can push your brand in the right direction or open you up to the right community, you know understand the program that you're trying to talk about or a great, you know gain awareness on, but it takes that research, and there's a lot of tools out there. There are a lot of tools and platforms, digital tools that you can use to kind of suss out which influencers speak to which communities, and we've seen we've seen brands move more in the direction of using those tools that are now available. Not completely I would say there's still a lot of brands that we deal with their kind of, you know, more or less throwing spaghetti against the wall, but you know, that's my cautionary tale in my advices like really look at the individual look at you know, who they're speaking to ask for their demographics really look at their statistics and the breakdown is their community their followers look back at their past posts. You know, it's always interesting. You know, there's some influencers who have you might look at their grade, you might take a look at their Instagram real quick and think, oh, this person's really got it together. It looks beautiful. They seem very chill. It's like if you were to look at somebody's Instagram feed just what you seem like right when you pull up on the screen, you might miss something. You know, it's like yeah, as an example. It's like if you were to thumb a little bit down, go a little bit further into their back story. You may find that their core values don't align with your company's core values that they do things that you would not accept as a company, you know in somewhere, you know, don't ethically matchup or otherwise, maybe the person you know had taken a break from this kind of conversation, but just a few posts ago they were like hyper-political, and you don't want to you know have your brand associated with somebody who's hyper-political or whatever. So it just again it takes actually investigating who the individuals are that you, you know, potentially want to partner with for a campaign and understanding do they match up with your brand values? Are they sharing things, you know, with the community that's going to be interested in whatever you're doing?
KRISTINA: And what about from the influencer perspective? You know, are the types of guardrails that you suggest for them in terms of their own platform, and you know, they have a brand of their own as well.
KYLE: Yeah. I mean, that's a great thing about the influencer. I mean, that's a really liberating kind of interesting paradigm shift in a sense is like before when you had a celebrity endorsement in the company, they would like to say, "Hey, you know, I'm going to put this drink in your hand, and you're going to be in this commercial it's going you're going to have hair and makeup and everything, and it's going to be very stylized, this is a story that's going to be told" and typically with celebrity endorsements you'd always have like something in the contract where it's like OK if anybody asks you about you holding XYZ product up, you know, this orange juice next time somebody asks you about the orange juice on the record you have to say you love the orange juice, right? With influencers, they're not celebrities; they're not people that are generally like they don't have these like large legal teams behind them. You know again, it could be a stay-at-home mom who is sharing every day at home with their child, and you know what they're going through, and they really create a great community around that experience. So for the influencer they have to say OK, does this brand fit again who my audience is who I'm speaking to but then my own life like the brand a brand could come out of you know, out nowhere and offer them a big paycheck to get in with their community, but does the brand espouse the values that that the individual there is now a lot more of that two-way conversation than ever before does each party, you know really match up and values and so I was told influencers like make sure they do their own research, you know, especially this year when we had things like the pandemic when we have things like the activism in the middle of the year round Black lives matter in the murder of George Floyd and they know and the resulting fall out across the country from that like is the brand story going to match up with my story, is the brand making a stand about this thing that I think is really important and I want to see them speaking about are they doing that or they they, you know kind of waiting for everything to blow over and how do I feel about that now? It's a two-way conversation versus really being one way driven by the dollar.
KRISTINA: That's a really interesting point, I think, because you have the potential of influencers who are not just pushing out a message on behalf of your brand, but they really are listening. They're really attuned. I think at a much more local level, potentially of what's happening. What's the sentiment like, and in some ways, they might actually be your first cue of things you should be saying or not saying conversely. How much of that do you see brands doing or they tapping into to sort of metrics, whether their quantitative or qualitative with their influencers and looking to partner with influencers around a strategy?
KYLE: That is an extremely good question because I think when it comes to the strategy in some cases, yes, but in a lot of cases, no. There is still some control when it comes to campaigns, you know, and most campaigns I would say it's changed a little bit because of the pandemic and obviously shrinking budgets and certain areas, but most campaigns, probably 85% of the campaign's that our own agency was a part of this year came from an outside agency. So it like a PR agency planning the campaign on behalf of the brand versus directly with the brand. So in most instances, there is the brand they have somebody on their internal team saying, hey, we want to use influencers they partner with XYZ agency who does the campaign planning that agency comes up with a shortlist of the appropriate influencers and all of them find me, you know, it was some of the people that we work with you know, that would be on their campaign. So in a lot of ways, the influencer themselves is not a part of the strategy discussion. It happens more that they are if the brand is smaller, you know and say, you know that there's a small business or whatever that comes directly to an influencer and
ask the influencer or asks us because we represent the influencers, you know for are our two cents on how this should run, then you'll see the influencer say well, OK, and when we definitely have that this year like we saw as a talent agency I should say as a talent agency we saw a opportunity for us to take some power back in the conversation when the results are, you know, the instances of the summer really took place where we said, OK, we want to be a part of the conversation when it comes to Black lives and black inclusion in campaigns across the digital spectrum because this is absolutely true that you know, there is a high or there was a high level of tokenism in the world of marketing around, you know, especially your I guess if we're just talking specifically around influencers where you've got a 8 Caucasian women on the campaign and two kind of token others, right? And so the shift and really where we started to get involved in that again feel like we have some power is to ask the questions back to the planning agency. The people who are developing the strategy, how many you know, black, the indigenous person of color talent or on this campaign who else is just asking the base question who else is on the campaign so that we can see, you know, a broader picture of what this is all going to turn out to be asking those questions are saying hey, this is really the tone that we would like to strike in this conversation. You know, it just really became because of what was going on in our society a lot more two-way than it had ever been when it comes to the strategy component.
KRISTINA: Do you think that part will actually stay? I mean, that sounds like it's a positive thing. I think, overall, great. But is it going to stick around? You know, will it be here in two years from now the same sentiments in you know, how does that look from your perspective?
KYLE: You know, I'm like I kind of said at the beginning of our discussion, I'm an optimist. So I think it absolutely will be around, but I think in order for it to stay around, people are going to have to keep pushing it because one of the conversations we have really early on and you are In the days after George Floyd's murder was like, OK all the changes that were immediately seeing from brands who want to be a part of this conversation, you want to support, you know, BLM or they want to just you know, make sure that people know the audience knows their customers know that they are sensitive to what's going on that there was the fervor for that. You know, it was just like a fever pitch of conversation all around that for a good two months. And so what we were saying pretty early on, it's like we know this is going to be our first fervor, and we know it's going to be a part of the conversation for a couple of months. But what we don't want to see happen in month three or month four. The conversation completely went away, especially because 2020 and was an election year. There was a lot of other things that people could be potentially talking about so so that you know to answer your question, I think that these things will continue, still be a part of the conversation in two years, but it's going to require that brands keep coming to the plate wanting to talk about it, you know, and we've seen some brands continue the conversation in this lane and some brands, you know, kind of fall back to it. Like they were really raw raw about everything, about pro-diversity, you know from minute, and now that it's not the hot-button topic it's not there, not on their agenda, but then everybody else in the pipeline who joined the conversation this year, it's on us to keep it going to years from now. It's on it used to be something that talent and talent agencies. I even had a reporter, you know asked me earlier this year. Like why do you even care? You know, it's not a part of it. You don't have to have a point in this discussion at all because we're kind of at the end of the funnel. And but it's on us, it's on us. It's on talent. It's on every you know, different parts or player in the strategy making it important to years from now.
KRISTINA: I hope that we can have this conversation I get into years, and we see what's happened. I hope you know we can check that box. I hope that folks can be more aware. I think in more inclusive, and you know, I'm wondering if you also see that in other areas. Has not just in terms of, you know, sort of the normalizing equality from a color perspective, but also other ways, you know, one of the things that I always talk about with teams is are we being inclusive and that doesn't just mean color. It means gender. It means disability. It means language. It means all kinds of different things. Right? So it's not just one single point of view. And I think that we have to be respectful about the fact that each one of those points of views is valid, but there's also many of them right, and so how do we honor that and make sure that that's part of the strategy for a brand where appropriate obviously some brands are going to shy away and they're not going to want to speak up because they're more conservative potentially or there are other brands such as say look that's one of our core values and that's what we're going with, and that's just our DNA, and that's how we work, but I'm wondering, you know kind of as we're looking at 2021. Where do you see the kind of influencer influencers really paying a role in digital marketing and help? Being these brands evolved, you know are is that going to be more of a partnership? Is that going to be what does he even look like, I guess in 2020 and beyond that. Do you know what would get your crystal ball? OK, let's go!
KYLE: Pulling out the crystal ball, I would say that if a brand really looks at their core values and says, OK. These are the things we need to model and show people that we're modeling because it's expected out there now that we show up and show out in a sense. OK, who are the right people to tell those parts of the story? And how do we draw them in? Does our particular brand have a component where we need a number of the LGBTQ community speaking honestly or not? You know, it's like if I'm a brand that is security system company don't know that I would need that. It may be maybe the, you know saying like that particular example, probably not a lot of alignment there you got to worry about or think about but you know, there are other yeah, it's just like each brand has thought about OK what values are we trying to communicate? Who are the different people that have really a stake in that conversation, you know, and there's always it's always great to pull in outside voices to say help me think through who should be a part of this conversation or who could be a part of this conversation and start to interact or look for those influencers to partner with, those voices out there and then bringing them into say, OK cool, you know, like we find that we have an alignment of values? We want to hear your perspective on you know these topics what they are and then using that information to figure out, OK, what is the brand's campaign.
KRISTINA: I have a one really interesting question. That's a little bit self-serving, but you have a two-year-old. So I feel like I can ask you this. When I was writing the book, I was explaining to my illustrator how I think about policy, and I was actually using my son as an example, and I said, look, No, when he was 3 or 4 years old, we would let him do whatever he wanted in the backyard because we had a 6-foot fence and we knew he couldn't get out into the street get run over by a car. He couldn't do something completely insane that would cost him his life. He could do crazy things; he could actually race worms. He could play in the sandbox pretending like the sand was snow falling down and get really dirty. He could ride the rake thinking it was a horse so he could do all these creative and imaginative things, but he was safe within the framework. And that's exactly what policies do, so in this instance, it sounds like you don't just create policies for your brand don't just create policies with your influencers, but also create policies for your children and for yourself and make sure that they're engaged and they're for everybody.
KYLE: Yeah, and I have an I will say, you know my particular stake in this game or like my business stake. We do represent some children that are on Instagram primarily, and that's been the one thing especially over the last years that I've learned is like the constant communication I have with the parents because the parents are in control of the accounts like it is it's always been like a really interesting discussion. It's something that you have to like really pay attention to but what I've found is like giving me the most heart or what's the word I'm looking for like confidence in what's going on, you know, like when I'm not around, you know, I'm not watching this content being made, you know, it's like the fear there is, of course, the parents are using this as an earning opportunity and using and abusing their children and some way, you know coercing them into doing XYZ never what you want to see, but I have learned so much from listening and talking to the parents of those that we work with knowing that like there especially for them. And this has come up in some articles that have been referenced, and it's like the parents ask permission, you know, and it's never forced on their kids. Like this is the opportunity in hand, it is, you know, a conversation, and this is what we can do together. Let's talk about the ideas of how we tell the story or whatever, you know, so there's like I always just that's what I want to hear. I guess I'm saying like as an agency owner. I want to know, and I want to hear, and I want to see it play out that the parents are involving their kids talking about it, you know, treating the kids like a partner and what they're creating. So, at least until there are more policy and framework in place, you know, I have a high level of confidence that at least the people we're working with are doing so in good faith with their families.
KRISTINA: Well, that's great. Kyle, I think that I've kept you over time, which I appreciate you being on the ride for and certainly appreciate you hanging out today and giving us insights lots of good insights and lots of good info on influencers, how influencers hope to be thought about from a brand perspective. As well as policies to keep us all operating in the safe zone and yet moving ahead. If folks want more information, I will include links in the resource section as well as a full transcript and promise maybe please Kyle you'll come back and talk to us again because lots of really great insights, and I know that we could probably talk for several more hours and still not exhaust all of the topics we have