“Brands are drawn to influencer marketing because it leverages an existing relationship between follower and influencer,” Cole said in an interview with the author. Influencers generate followings through ‘authentic’ content. Cole sees H as a new breed of dot-connector, one that emphasizes community, creativity, and decentralization to take the good aspects of influencer marketing -- quality content and quality relationships -- and rebuild them into a powerful ecosystem where all parties benefit. “In the early 1900s, ad agencies were creative shops and media buyers; that is, they would create the ads and place them into newspapers,” Cole said. On a community level, the Hub empowers it’s creators by encouraging them to connect (and create) with each other. The result is a wealth of data on how the 40,000 creators on the Hub interact, and naturally collaborate. Their followers follow them for a reason. “My favorite campaigns we have done are those that function like quilts – that is, dozens of creators each make their own, highly personalized patch that is woven into a larger fabric (a campaign),” Cole said. “The Hub community works best when 40 or 50 people all create something authentic to them and the chorus of voices makes something authentic to the brand for whom the content is being made. “Their followers trust them in a way that they don't trust billboards or 30 second spots.” This buy-in from creators -- which engenders trust and authenticity -- is what will ultimately bridge the gap between brand and consumer.
The H Hub is pioneering a new system of decentralized content creation with their community-driven content engine — replacing influencer marketing in the process.
Influencer marketing has been heralded as the ‘Next Big Thing’ in marketing; in 2015, brands spent $1B on sponsored posts on social media. In 2016, that number jumped to $2B, then $4B in 2017, and it’s projected to double again to $8B by this year’s close.
Many see this as evidence that the burgeoning marketing category is booming, but according to James Cole, the Founder of The H Hub, it’s proof of the exact opposite; influencer marketing has already sealed its own doom.
“Brands are drawn to influencer marketing because it leverages an existing relationship between follower and influencer,” Cole said in an interview with the author. “It’s a media buy with an implicit endorsement.”
Influencer marketing has found success over the past few years because it taps this ecosystem built on trust. Influencers generate followings through ‘authentic’ content. This situates them with a marketer’s most desirable commodity: consumer attention. The surge in spend on influencer marketing can be attributed to brands and agencies increasingly turning to influencers for this type of high-engagement, authentic reach that’s unavailable through traditional channels. According to Cole, though, as spend has increased, the quality of content has vastly diluted — and in a few short years turned influencer marketing into a “skyscraper on soft ground”:
With every #sponsored post and every soulless endorsement of a product you don’t truly love, your followers trust you a little less. Then, they buy a little less. Then, the brand trusts you a little less because your followers bought less of their product. Then, the brand pays you a little less. Then, you trust the brand a little less in return….it’s a death spiral, and no, I am not being dramatic.
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This race to the bottom is exacerbated by an influx of influencer marketing agencies designed to match-make influencers and brands. According to Cole, these companies often similarly prize speed over quality; prioritizing any match over the appropriate match. In this model, a travel influencer might endorse a watch; a mommy blogger, hair vitamins. This could be a contributing factor to recent Linqia findings that even though the number of branded posts has tripled since 2017, the number of “likes” on those posts has remained constant.
Enter: The H Hub. Cole sees H as a new breed of dot-connector, one that emphasizes community, creativity, and decentralization to take the good aspects of influencer marketing — quality content and quality relationships — and rebuild them into a powerful ecosystem where all parties benefit. The “H” is intended to represent the shape connecting creators to brands (i.e. |-|).
H has been in operation since 2016, but Cole has used that time to focus on building a community specifically comprised of content creators (not influencers) before offering access to brands and agencies via a marketplace. In those two years, the H Hub has become a place where creatives of many different backgrounds can find like-minded collaborators, as well as discover what aspects of their work are resonating with audiences and peers. And the results speak for themselves. In that time, The H Hub has formed into a curated, connected community, with nearly 40,000 members across the country — while maintaining a selectivity rate of 30 percent.
“Though we present like a database, we function more like a creative roster,” Cole said. “We know and have relationships with our entire roster….