The media landscape is changing, and if you are looking only to reporters to share your message, you are leaving money on the table.
That’s what Stonyfield realized when it started working with bloggers and social media influencers to spread the message about its unique product with “Stonyfield Farms Quarterly Blogger Tours.” By bringing a small group of influencers to the farms that supply the yogurt maker, the communications team has found a distinctive way to talk about organic farming and get in front of the fiercest gatekeepers of all: moms.
“We started the program over nine years ago,” explains Kristina Drociak, director of PR for Stonyfield, “and it was really a way to bring our point of difference to life and illuminate the whole story behind our sourcing and the relationship with our farmers and really educate around organic.”
The event series has been incredibly successful, with one particular weekend garnering over 20 million impressions. The campaign is the winner of PR Daily’s Influencer Event award.
Lots of hard work
The farm tour is all about creating lifelong brand ambassadors, and that means rolling out a five-star experience for attendees.
It starts by crafting a story, that of Stonyfield’s organic mission, and it starts with farmers.
“We go to farmers who we work with, who supply us with our organic milk for our yogurt. We go see their farms, which ones would be best, and set up two to three days with these particular influencers,” explains Mairead Dunphy, mission communications manager for Stonyfield.
The team then carefully selects the influencers it will invite for the weekend.
“We obviously are trying to find people who don’t talk about a new brand every single day, but also someone who’s trying to eat healthy and trying to be a little bit green in the world or environmentally friendly,” Dunphy explains.
The team coordinates with each guest on travel and accommodations to remove hassle so these creators can focus on the Stonyfield story. Then, they turn to their experts to share their message.
“We go through the 101s of organic and how we work with our farmers and how they supply us,” says Dunphy. “From there we go out to each of the farms and let the farmers really do the talking.”
The farmers are an ace in the hole for Stonyfield’s brand managers. The reason comes down to one word: authenticity. “Our farmers are so hardworking, and they are so genuine,” says Dunphy. “Most of them don’t even know what an influencer is until we bring them there. … It’s a fun interaction to see.”
At the end of the weekend, the team puts together an intimate dinner with Stonyfield co-founder and organics evangelist Gary Hirshberg. “He goes through the past and the present and what Stonyfield hopes for the future,” Dunphy adds.
Picking your partners
The invitees are carefully selected by Stonyfield team members, who concede they have made the process unusually arduous. However, their attention to detail is no small part of the reason behind their success.
“Stonyfield manages probably 80% of our influencer relationships in-house, and certainly for all of the farm tours,” says Drociak. “It is kind of a lengthy process of hand-selecting these bloggers.”
The criteria that Stonyfield uses to select their guests also make the search more difficult. “There’s very specific things we’re looking for to make sure that they’re aligned with our mission,” says Drociak. She quips that a writer or creator isn’t a fit if they are “posting about large industrial ag or McDonald’s every other day.”
However, that doesn’t mean that Stonyfield wants only sycophants in the room. “We’re really trying to tap into the audience where it’s something they considered before but might not necessarily fully understand and just need some education on it,” says Drociak.
Plus, these influencers have to draw an engaged audience.
“We think it’s really important that the influencers we’re working with have an audience that really trusts and engages in their content,” says Drociak. That means taking a hard look at engagement numbers and looking for metrics that go beyond industry benchmarks.
Plus, Stonyfield is looking at the content itself. Does it fit aesthetically with the brand identity Stonyfield is trying to create?
“We’re also looking for kind of a visual fit,” says Drociak, adding that content will hopefully be repurposed by the company, so the creative style of the writer or creator has to align.
What are the metrics that let Stonyfield know if an influencer’s engagement is real? They use cost per mention (CPM) to measure the engagement with a piece of content and the internal team does the legwork to show the exact cost per engagement.
“I think the industry benchmark for CPM is 11,” says Dunphy. “We normally fall at least around the $5 mark, so we’re always looking for bloggers who have high engagement, because without that it’s really not worth the cost to have them come up here.”
The engagement rate that the team looks for is above 3%, which means that at least 3% of their audience engages with any post shared on their channel.
However, the biggest wins are a little less tangible but offer immense upside for leaders who are ready to buy in. What these influencers do that Stonyfield couldn’t get any other way is to garner third-party validation from outside tastemakers.
“The best part of it is that it’s not just Stonyfield going to a farm and taking pictures and posting it online, being like, ‘Aren’t our farmers great?’” says Dunphy. “We’re actually having these people go to the farms and make their own decisions.”
For making the case about the value to leaders, Dunphy cites the repurposing of the content.
“We so we work with them so that we can repurpose all of the content on our websites and social media channels,” she says. “It helps us get a new point of view from these influencers by either quoting them in our posts or reusing their photography, which is always gorgeous.”
Sometimes, an influencer will even exceed the contracted number of posts because they have become a Stonyfield convert. However, that kind of persuasion doesn’t come easy, and the Stonyfield team works tirelessly to ensure the brand product is incorporated into every part of the weekend.
“We work with hotels, we work with restaurants, we work with chefs to make sure that they are incorporating our product in every aspect of the meals that we serve these bloggers,” says Dunphy.
Communicator, be warned. These outreach efforts are not for the faint of heart.
Knowing your audience
One benefit of working with influencers is the unique consumer insights you can glean by having access to these influential shoppers.
“These influencers really are kind of our target audience themselves,” says Dorciak, “so kind of the gatekeeper, millennial mom.” These insights can then be used to guide all kinds of company efforts.
“Oftentimes we’ll bring quotes from their posts and some of these insights straight to kind of our top-line business meetings and share them with the sales team and senior leadership, and they’re just really quality insights that we’re able to apply in our marketing,” Drociak says.
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