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‘A Tweet Can Tank An Economy’

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Many perspectives have been shared on influencer marketing, but very few from the brands themselves. What are its business imperatives and ROI?


In the heart of Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile, is Brittany Preece, a social media manager at Investec Bank.

As part of the Private Banking marketing team, Preece and her team have managed to successfully implement disruptive digital strategies to meet the growth objectives of the bank.

Traditionally, the role of marketing has been to support business objectives. Yet when companies experience financial difficulty, more often than not, marketing is seen to be the first in line on the chopping block. As a way of adapting to this reality, most marketing managers have had to look at cost-effective, yet creative, ways of achieving business impact.

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Social and digital media have given room for new ways businesses can engage and sell to their customers.

Increasingly gaining traction in South Africa is influencer marketing, an entirely new branch of the sales and marketing funnel which has seen brands leverage popular personalities on social media to promote their products and services online. Globally, the influencer marketing industry is forecast to be worth $5 billion to $10 billion by 2020, according to a study by Mediakix.

For Investec, attracting and diversifying into new markets has informed their decision to leverage influencers as part of their marketing strategy.

“Since 2015, we as Investec, have predominantly used influencer marketing to reach the young professional audience,” Preece says.

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“We (Investec Private Bank) have recently evolved our qualifying criteria. We’re no longer just the preferred banking partner for accountants, engineers, lawyers, doctors and actuaries. We’re positioned to be the bank of choice for those who are under the age of 30, consistently earning more than R600,000 ($42,582)a year, with a university degree and working in their area of expertise.”

Seated in front of a glass wall which looks out to a view of a bustling and upbeat office environment, she elaborates that to effectively reach the young professionals’ target market, it is important to identify individuals that can speak to that audience.

“What influencer marketing gives you, that a lot of the other marketing channels can’t, is great reach and engagement with your target audience. Using [influencers] brings a lot of authenticity to the brand, where Investec Private Banking was seen as unattainable to a lot of young professionals,” Preece says.

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In the digital universe, content is king. Authenticity is paramount. A study conducted by the Mobile Marketing Association reported that most consumers have banner blindness and suffer from advertising fatigue. They cannot recall the last digital banner ad that they saw.

Ad-blocking continues to be a growing phenomenon, further demonstrating the shift in consumer behavior. Consumers simply don’t want to be marketed to. To this effect, influencers assist brands to reach their customers through content that is more relevant to those consumers.

According to Business Insider’s 2018 Influencer Marketing Report: Research, Strategy & Platforms for Leveraging Social Media Influencers, the average social media engagement rate from influencer marketing averages 5.7% per post.

This is a feat compared to content generated by brands which fluctuates around 2% – 3% per post.

With this in mind, it’s even more essential for brands to involve influencers upfront to co-create an envisioned campaign.

“You want your influencer to buy into what you stand for as a brand. It shouldn’t be a hard sell – consumers see through that. If not done properly, it can look very fake and [we] never want to make it feel like an ad,” Preece says.

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Brands and agencies measure awareness and engagement by analyzing a few parameters, including, inter alia, number of likes, comments, shares and followers. Proponents of this theory believe an increase in these parameters lead to brand success.

Detractors of the theory believe awareness and engagement alone are not sufficient indicators of brand success. “Likes and follows are unimpressive without an increase in the bottom line,” says Sinesipho Maninjwa, a financial analyst and commentator.

But technology has its limitations. Dianne Joseph, the Commercial Director of Digital at Nielsen, a leading global information, data and measurement company, elaborates that there are real challenges in measuring sales attribution as a result of influencer marketing.

“The influencer models are difficult to measure because most influencers use their own personal pages to post, and these organic posts don’t offer us the opportunity to implement a tag (for tracking purposes) and, therefore, we aren’t able to track the outcomes,” Joseph says.

The ability to measure what is happening on and off digital platforms, or across social media platforms, is a challenge that most digital marketers face. Different platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have their own unique methods of tracking and storing data. The link between these platforms is, therefore, a lot more tenuous.

But in support of influencer marketing, a number of global studies have come out and shown that influencer marketing does yield a positive return on investment (ROI).

Pierre Cassuto, of social media influencer platform Humanz, who recently set up shop in South Africa from Tel Aviv in Israel, believes that the use of influencers can lead to increased sales. “In the US market, there is about a four times ROI on money spent in the influencer marketing space for retailers, cosmetics and FMCG brands,” he adds.

Cassuto agrees that engagement on its own doesn’t yield conversion. For influencer marketing to yield conversion, the message being broadcast by influencers has to be well thought out and carefully constructed to achieve that objective.

There has to be a reason for someone to do something now as opposed to anytime. That can be around creating urgency around something specific, it can be around creating a limited time availability offer.

Essentially, brands can become creative and purposeful in how they design their entire campaign to track conversion from the ground up. “The way we suggest measuring conversion is by making sure that the influencers have a way that [brands] can track the relationship between the influencers post and the actual conversion,” Cassuto says.

The first looks at providing the influencer a coupon code that they can distribute and share. In doing so, the specific brands will know that the people who redeemed the coupon code came from the influencers. The second options measures sell over time related to increase in traffic due to influencer marketing towards a landing page that the brand is driving to. With this, Cassuto states that brands can do A/B testing to see the impact on days influencers are posting and days when they’re not.

With all the advantages of influencer marketing, should brands solely invest in this sales channel?

Preece firmly holds the view that influencer marketing on its own isn’t the be all and end all. “I do believe that it should be a mix. I believe that an integrated marketing plan that uses out-of-home, billboards, TV and digital is where you see the most results.”

“Things can go wrong with influencer marketing. You are putting faith and trust into a human being who is imperfect. We have a saying: A tweet can tank an economy,” Preece says.

With consumers becoming increasingly selective about what they consume, influencer marketing continues to grow as an attractive sales channel. It is imperative that brands place the necessary care and due diligence before partnering with any influencer.

The perfect fit between an influencer and the brand will determine the overall ROI. After all, effective influencer marketing is the online equivalent of the highly valuable word-of-mouth advertising that marketers have always coveted.

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Health

How Virtual Therapy Apps Are Trying To Disrupt The Mental Health Industry

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Millions of Americans deal with mental illness each year, and more than half of them go untreated. As the mental health industry has grown in recent years, so has the number of tech startups offering virtual therapy, which range from online and app-based chatbots to video therapy sessions and messaging. 

Still a nascent industry, with most startups in the early seed-stage funding round, these companies say they aim to increase access to qualified mental health care providers and reduce the social stigma that comes with seeking help. 

While the efficacy of virtual therapy, compared with traditional in-person therapy, is still being hotly debated, its popularity is undeniable. Its most recognizable pioneers, BetterHelp and TalkSpace, have enrolled nearly 700,000 and more than 1 million users respectively. And investors are taking notice.

Funding for mental health tech startups has boomed in the past few years, jumping from roughly $100 million in 2014 to more than $500 million in 2018, according to Pitchbook. In May of this year, the subscription-based online therapy platform Talkspace raised an additional $50 million, bringing its total funding to just under $110 million since its 2012 inception.

The ubiquity of smartphones, coupled with the lessening of the stigma associated with mental health treatment have played a large role in the growing demand for virtual therapy. Of the various services offered on the Talkspace platform, “clients by far want asynchronous text messaging,” says Neil Leibowitz, the company’s chief medical officer.

Users seem to prefer back-and-forth messaging that isn’t restricted to a narrow window of time over face-to-face interactions. At BetterHelp, founder Alon Matas notes that older users are more likely to go for phone and video therapy sessions, whereas younger users favor text messaging.

“Each generation is getting progressively more mobile-native,” says John Prendergass, an associate director at Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ healthcare investment group, “so I think we’re going to see people become increasingly more accustomed, or predisposed, to a higher level of comfort in seeking care online.”

The ease and convenience of virtual therapy is another draw, particularly for busy people or those who live in rural areas with limited access to therapy and a range of care options.

Alison Darcy, founder and CEO of Woebot, a free automated chatbot that uses artificial intelligence to provide therapeutic services without the direct involvement of humans, says that with Woebot and other similar services, there is no need to schedule appointments weeks in advance and users can receive real-time coaching at the moment they need it, unlike traditional therapy. The sense of anonymity online can also lead to more openness and transparency and attracts people who normally wouldn’t seek therapy.

Along with stigma, the cost of therapy has historically acted as a barrier to accessing quality mental-health care. Health insurance is often unlikely to cover therapy sessions. In most cities, sessions run about $75 to $150 each, and can go as high as $200 or more in places like New York City. Web therapists don’t have to bear the expense of brick-and-mortar offices, filing paperwork or marketing their services, and these savings can be passed on to clients. 

BetterHelp offers a $200-a-month membership that includes weekly live sessions with a therapist and unlimited messaging in between, while Talkspace’s cheapest monthly subscription at $260-a-month, offers unlimited text, video and audio messaging.

But virtual therapy, particularly text-based therapy, is not suitable for everyone. Nor is it likely to make traditional therapy obsolete. “Online therapy isn’t good for people who have severe mental and relational health issues, or any kind of psychosis, deep depression or violence,” says Christiana Awosan, a licensed marriage and family therapist. 

At her New York and New Jersey offices, she works predominantly with black clients, a population that she says prefers face-to-face meetings. “This community is wary of mental health in general because of structural discrimination,” Awosan says. “They pay attention to nonverbal cues and so they need to first build trust in-person.”  

Virtual therapy apps can still be beneficial for people with low-level anxiety, stress or insomnia, and they can also help users become aware of harmful behaviors and obtain a higher sense of well-being. 

Sean Luo, a psychiatrist whose consultancy work focuses on machine learning techniques in mental health technology, says: “This why some of these companies are getting very high valuations. There are a lot of commercialization possibilities.” He adds that from a mental health treatment perspective, a virtual therapy app “isn’t going to solve your problems, because people who are truly ill will by definition require a lot more.”

Relying on digital therapy platforms might also provide a false sense of security for users who actually need more serious mental-health care, and many of these apps are ill-equipped to deal with emergencies like suicide, drug overdoses or the medical consequences of psychiatric illness. “The level of intervention simply isn’t strong enough,” says Luo, “and so these aspects still need to be evaluated by a trained professional.

Ruth Umoh, Diversity and Inclusion Writer, Forbes Staff.

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AI 50 Founders Say This Is What People Get Wrong About Artificial Intelligence

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Forbes’ new list of promising artificial intelligence companies highlights how the technology is creating real value across industries like transportation, healthcare, HR, insurance and finance.

Naturally, the founders of the honoree companies are excited about the technology’s benefits and, in their roles, spend a lot of time thinking and talking about its strengths and limitations. Here’s what they think people get wrong about artificial intelligence.

Affectiva CEO Rana el Kaliouby says she’s too often encountered the idea that AI is “evil.”

“AI—like any technology in history—is neutral,” she says. “It’s what we do with it that counts, so it’s our responsibility, as an AI ecosystem, to drive it in the right direction.” 

Companies need to be aware of how AI could widen bounds of inequality, she adds: “Any AI that is designed to interact with humans—Affectiva’s included—must be evaluated with regards to the ethical and privacy implications of these technologies.”

Sarjoun Skaff, CTO and cofounder of Bossa Nova Robotics, says that the biggest misconception he encounters is that artificial intelligence is actually, well, intelligent. 

“The truth is much more mundane,” he says. “AI is a very good pattern-matching tool. To make it work well, though, scientists need to understand the details of how it internally works and not treat it as an ‘intelligent’ black box. At the end of the day, making good use of great pattern matching still belongs to humans.”

Similarly, Aira cofounder Suman Kanuganti says that the public has “over-inflated expectations” for artificial intelligence.

“Garry Kasparov sums it up nicely: ‘We are in the beginning of MS-DOS and people think we are Windows 10,’” Kanuganti says. “AI realistically is still like a 3-year-old child at this stage. When it works, it feels magical. It does some things well, but there’s still a long way to go.”

So, no, we are nowhere close to “artificial general intelligence,” or AGI, where machines are actually as smart as humans.

“We’re still a long way from AI having the general intelligence of even a flea,” says David Gausebeck.

Despite the tendency to overestimate what artificial intelligence can do, the difficulty of building an effective system is often underestimated, some founders say.

“The systems you need to implement and manage machine learning in production are often much more complex than the algorithms themselves,” says Algorithmia CEO Diego Oppenheimer. “You can’t throw models at a complex business problem and expect returned value. You need to build an ecosystem to manage those models and connect their intelligence to your applications.” 

Put another way, you can’t just “sprinkle on some artificial intelligence like a magic sauce,” says Feedzai CEO Nuno Sebastiao.

One of the most common tropes that a handful of founders brought up was the idea that artificial intelligence is primarily a job killer.

People.ai founder Oleg Rogynskyy says that AI should be seen as a creator of new opportunities instead of a destroyer of jobs.

“In a nutshell, AI does two things: It automates repetitive low-value-add work for humans (which will indeed take low-complexity jobs away), which we think of as ‘Autopilot,’  and it guides people on how to do their work or other activities better (which makes humans more effective at what they do), which we call ‘Copilot,’” he says. “While Autopilot can take simple, repetitive and boring jobs away, Copilot is absolutely the best way to guide, train and educate humans on how to do new things.”

– By Jillian D’Onfro, Forbes

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‘AI Is A Powerful Tool’

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Research forecasts that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans. Murat Sonmez, member of the managing board, and Head of the Centre for the WEF Fourth Industrial Revolution Network, expands on the role humans might play.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is at the center of the current economic frontier. In reality, is Africa prepared for such changes?

Moving quickly and being agile are key principles of success in the 4IR. Any country can succeed if they take on this mindset. A few years ago, Rwanda saw the opportunities drones, a 4IR technology, brought to their country.

They helped save over 800 lives by delivering blood to remote villages. To scale this, the government worked with the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) drones’ team to create the world’s first agile airspace regulation. Now, we see countries in Africa and around the world looking to the Rwandan model.

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What feasible solutions can  artificial intelligence (AI) offer in terms of forecasting natural disasters, droughts food security on the African continent?

AI can help predict diseases, increase agriculture yields and help first responders. It is a powerful tool for governments and businesses, but it needs a lot of data to be effective.

For AI to be all that it can be, countries and companies need to work together to build frameworks for better management and protection of our data and ensure that it is shared and not stored in silos. Data is the oxygen of the (4IR). If countries do not leverage data and have their policies in place, they will be left behind.

There is a growing concern that the 4IR will strip people of jobs, of which there is already a shortage. How true is this?

The world is going through a workplace revolution that will bring a seismic shift in the way humans work alongside machines and algorithms.

Latest research from the WEF forecasts that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans, compared to 71% being performed by humans today.

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The rapid evolution of machines and algorithms in the workplace could create 133 million new roles in place of 75 million that will be displaced between now and 2022.

Consumers have real concerns around the potential harm technology can cause in areas such as privacy, misinformation, surveillance, job loss, environmental damage and increased inequality. What ethical precautions are being considered in the robotics space?

Now more than ever, it is important to incorporate ethics into the design, deployment and use of emerging technology. Innovating in the 4IR requires addressing concerns around privacy and data ownership, while attracting the skills and forward-looking thinkers of the future.

There are big challenges and bigger opportunities ahead. We have seen many companies and countries create ethical and human rights-based frameworks. What’s important is they are co-designed with members of both communities along with academia, civil society and start-ups.

A multi-stakeholder approach will result in a more holistic set of guidelines and principles that can be adopted in many different industries and geographies.

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What changes need to take place for the African continent to be on par with global developments, and are there tangible goals set?

The 4IR provides governments the opportunity to be global leaders in shaping the next 20 to 30 years of science and technology. It is important they create an environment where companies can innovate.

The other tenet is to be open to working across borders and learning from each other. The global health industry has access to mountains of data on rare diseases, but it is trapped within countries and sometimes even within the hospital walls.

If we can build trust and find innovative ways to share the data while protecting privacy, we can employ tools like AI to help us cure disease faster. Countries and companies need to have the right governance frameworks and mechanisms in place for these breakthroughs to happen. It is possible to do these things now, but we need to work together to make it happen.

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