Criticism. It’s a valuable part of our development. As kids, we’re provided with criticism from both parents and teachers: “You can do better, here’s how.” As adults, that feedback often comes from our jobs in the form of annual reviews and results. If we’re lucky, we also have a couple friends willing to critique us. But in the influencer world, that feedback system doesn’t exist. Content creators are regularly reminded of their greatness but are rarely educated on their flaws. As an influencer, your guiding light is your ego. More likes, more views, more brand deals and more money. Rarely in that mix do you find feedback. And when you DO get criticism, you dismiss it as a hater who is hating.
Today, we thought we’d do a very meta version of Grading the Campaign, by objectively criticizing one of Zach’s campaigns. (And yes, I’m going to write this in third person.) Our focus is the annual unboxing and giveaway series #Techmas. The series involves him filming and posting an unboxing and then giving away the item. His lineup in the previous two years has been impressive with brands like Roku, Best Buy, Amazon, Telus, LG and many others. But does the campaign deliver results for the brands, his audience and himself?
Production and Planning
One of the things we have to give Zach credit for is the amount of work that goes into making #Techmas happen. Weeks of work beforehand set the foundation for filming, editing, and posting. He has to find brands interested in being involved – which isn’t always an easy thing to do. Anyone who has ever pitched their own campaign knows that more often than not the answer is ‘no’. The act of filming takes less time but does need careful planning. It’s clear that his experience from Year One resulted in improvements in Year Two. Year One videos are poorly lit and feel more like a funeral than a holiday. It’s clear that he learned from the failings though: Year Two is bright and vibrant with a virtual fireplace and plenty of festive colour. The transitions are also much nicer and being able to swap between front facing and overhead cameras is a nice touch.
The viewing experience is enjoyable, with easy to understand language about the products. But there are things that could be improved upon. One of the most obvious is how ‘soft’ focused the camera is at times. The sound is also a little quiet in some episodes versus others, so some more time spent mixing would be a wise investment. We’d also recommend trying to avoid looking at the camera screen, and more time looking at the camera lens.
Implied Disclosure is not Disclosure
One thing that is problematic about #Techmas is the lack of disclosure. While there is no cash exchange between Zach and the brands, they are providing him with a product. While he does say the item is from the brand in the videos, he still needs to disclose that these are, in fact, ads. The brands aren’t giving him products because he asked, they are hoping that people will see them and buy them. Disclosure is lacking from his YouTube videos, his Tweets, and his Facebook Status updates. If you’re not buying the items yourself, you’re marketing – that’s an ad.
The Contest Impact of #Techmas
This brings us the giveaway part of #Techmas. Each episode also has an associated giveaway attached to it. In most cases, it’s a duplicate of the item he’s unboxing. It’s a common tactic that influencers use because it does a few nice things. One, it’s a way to give back to your audience. Two, it’s a way to get new traffic to the site. And three, it shows the brand how influential that person actually is. To get a general idea of how effective Techmas is at reaching an audience, we have a few public data points we can look at:
- Video Views: They range from 800 to 14,000.
- Video Comments: They range from 50 to 250.
- Public Tweets: Average of 1000 for each of the giveaways.
The former two data points are interesting, but on their own, they don’t tell us much. It’s Twitter that provides us with the most data. For this post, we’re only going to look at the Monster Elements Headphone giveaway. By searching for ‘Techmas Monster’, we get a list of every tweet sent out by every public user. Over 950 tweets were made as contest entries – which is an impressive number! But, Techmas allows a Twitter entry every day – so if we ONLY look at unique entrants, the number is much smaller at 211.
Who are the 211 #Techmas Entrants?
Now, this is where things start to get even more interesting. Of the 211 unique Twitter users, about HALF (101) of them are part of a unique community: Professional Contesters aka Sweepers. This group of users exists to enter contests. They operate a bit like the Borg, finding, entering and privately sharing contests with their collective. You can figure out a Sweeper rather easily on Twitter: Are their most recent 20 tweets all contest entries? That’s a pretty clear sign.
We also went one step further, because it’s possible that contesters become fans. So, we did a search for each contesters username and both @ZachBussey and @GuyMaven to see if at ANY time during the last year they tweeted each other. Three of the 101 had some type of interaction throughout the year. So, Sweepers CAN become fans, but it’s rare.
Now, assuming that contesters ONLY enter contests – their following likely are not very engaged… which means that all those tweets they are sending out aren’t actually reaching anyone. So, if we subtract the Contester tweets from the 950 tweets, there are 165 total tweets. Those tweets come from 114 engaged fans of Zach’s following – as a percentage that’s 17%. Going further down the data path, those 114 people had an estimated following of 68,0000… but assuming only 10% are exposed to the tweet they sent out means 6800 REAL impressions. It’s not terrible, but in the context of 950 tweets it doesn’t sound great.
Grading the Campaign
The object of Techmas is about both introducing his audience to new tech and giving them an opportunity to win it. While it does both, it’s also attracting (and rewarding) an audience that isn’t interested in his content otherwise. The campaign has nice products, and production improves year over year. But, the lack of disclosure is disturbing! If you’re getting a product for free, you need to disclose! So, with that in mind, we’re grading this campaign a B.
For creators, there’s a wonderful opportunity to remind yourself that Pro Contesters aren’t going to be there 364 days of the year. That’s the unfortunate reality of contest bait. It’s also something we need to look into deeper – are contests, in general, a waste of time if it’s only sweepers entering? There are likely ways that you can reward your loyal audience members without having to make it a contest. There’s also a great (everyday) reminder to DISCLOSE! It’s not optional, you gotta do it!
For brands, it’s a good reminder that a BIG number doesn’t always mean better results. 950 tweets for a single contest isn’t bad… until you realize most are basically human contest bots. Then the picture isn’t so clear. Techmas is a decent project that does connect with a real audience and comes with no cost other than product. That said, it’s also a mixed bag of results. Depending on the product, it could be viewed 800 times or it could be viewed 10,000+ times. So don’t assume that past performance will deliver future results.
Techmas ROI Add-on
*Just as an added data point and because I don’t want to completely nuke myself… while I keep these reviews based on public data, I can tell you that Techmas 2016 resulted in $6 spent for every $1 of product valuation. Monster Headphones did worse than the average. The Amazon Affiliate link tracked 3 pairs sold (3-to-1). But something like the Parrot drone video sold about $980 in Parrot products. The problem with the data point is it’s private and I don’t know if contesters bought stuff or if it was the real people interested in the product. But yeah, last year I was able to prove ROI to the brands involved. That said, I have no excuse for my disclosure failing. I’m going back and adding it now.