The influencer marketing universe keeps growing like a real one, expanding out in all directions and at a rapid pace. SaaS platforms dedicated to influencer automation are increasingly populating this universe as people begin to understand new and different ways to tap into the market. In the wake of this, niches are discovered or created, always followed by the clever software solutions that serve them.
Such is the case with Octoly, a French company that’s launched a unique platform for brands to quickly and inexpensively get their products in front of millions of eyes. The conceit behind Octoly is a simple one: instead of launching campaigns and paying influencers for content, brands simply send free products to the influencers in exchange for honest reviews. It’s a kind of one-and-done influencer philosophy that’s low risk and high reward for brands, who seem to be taking to the concept.
Octoly’s current offering is a sharp pivot from the idea upon which the company was founded. In 2013, its first year of business, Octoly was an analytics platform for brands looking to manage their YouTube presence. By October of 2015, they’d become a platform for beauty brands to send swag to YouTube micro-influencers in exchange for video reviews. The idea and the success of their beta program led to $1.2 million in seed funding. Just one year after that, the company reported that it had a Very Good Year with its new product: they’d seen 80% quarter-over-quarter growth in reviews as 80 beauty brands (including big names like L’Oreal and Estee Lauder) set up shop on the platform.
Fast forward to the present day, and Octoly’s added the Gaming vertical, which should attract a new crew of creators and brands alike. And what will they find? A decent platform that does one thing pretty well, and needs work in some areas.
Summary: Quick Jump Menu
Access to Octoly is granted on a subscription basis. Their website doesn’t give any details on the subscription cost or terms. Neither is that information available inside the platform if you’re running a demo. Click on the “Upgrade” button to access more features, and you’re just given a message that someone will be in touch.
The model of the Octoly’s business is enough to tell you the kinds of customers the service would fit best. It’s aimed squarely at large companies in the beauty, fashion, and gaming industries—with marketing budgets and enough surplus product to hand out for free. It’s a pretty niche audience, to be sure.
As a marketplace Octoly serves two communities, the creators and the brands. For influencers, it’s a pretty simple proposition: sign up on Octoly’s website, and if you meet the requirements, you’re in. This is what it takes to get onto the platform as a creator:
- YouTube: 1,000 subscribers; 1,000 views per video after 30 days; an active account; growing follower base
- Instagram: 10,000 followers; consistent engagement ratio; 5+ posts per week; you own all posts; public account
- Twitch: 5,000 followers, 4+ streams per week; an active account; growing follower base
These are the requirements as spelled out on the signup page. There’s no indication what constitutes an “active and growing” account, or whether your engagement ratio needs to be anything other than consistent. There’s likely more wiggle room here than the strict minimums that are stated.
When brands sign on, they begin by creating their “store.” They add in all the products they want to have reviewed, specify how many they have, and any variations (like size or color) that creators might want to choose. They can attach rules/guidelines, too: these are centered around any hashtags or @mentions required, trackable links to include, as well as any disclaimers they might need the creator to say. They cannot, however, give any kind of direction as to the content of the video. Once the store is setup, they ship their products to Octoly, which handles sending items out to the influencers.
The platform is designed so that creators can log on and “shop” for products that they’re interested in, and which would make sense for their channels. When they select products they want, the brands are notified. Brands can then dig deeper into the creators to see if they’re a good fit; if they approve, then Octoly ships the product out. Creators are assigned 5 credits, and can use 1 credit per item. When their reviews are complete, they have an hour to submit the URL to Octoly—once it’s verified, they get their credit back.
It’s all a great idea, making it easy for companies to work with micro-influencers at the kind of scale where they can be effective. The idea works in execution, too, but Octoly still has some growing to do—mostly around the interface and its usability.
Let’s start with the search function. True, the idea behind Octoly is that brands don’t need to search for creators—the creators find them through their products. Still, they’ve added this search function, and you can use it to conduct a fairly precise search for influencers you might want to work with. But things get a little weird with it: you can search for creators that are both on and off the Octoly platform. With less than 4,000 creators registered, it’s nice to be able to see who else is out there—but they’ll still need to join up for you to work with them, which is the kind of introductory communication you’re hoping to avoid with Octoly. And the search results themselves aren’t particularly helpful. You just see a list of names with tiny thumbnail profile pics, and three stats. Highlighting a creator doesn’t get you much more information. In some cases, it’s exactly what you’ve already seen.
That’s what’s most frustrating about the search: apart from the lack of data on the creators, there isn’t any consistency to the information you can find out. Even just restricting my search to Octoly members, I got varying degrees of data. For one creator, I got details on how many reviews she’s already done, and the tiniest bit of demographic data on her audience (age and gender). For another, I got the info past reviews, but no demographic. For most of the influencers I looked at, I just got the repeated data that was in the search results. And on at least one occasion, I the data didn’t match:
There are navigational issues with the search interface as well. Do a search on influencers, check off some filters, select someone who looks interesting, and you’re taken to a page that shows past posts. Click on the Back arrow (not the one that comes with your browser, but the one on the Octoly website that they coded in), and you’re brought back to the search screen with all your keywords and filter gone. You’re back to square one.
The other big problem with Octoly is its lack of data for analyzing the results of your store. You can see the big picture, or filter down to a specific product, but the only useful metrics you get are:
- The number of interactions, described as a “view” for YouTube, and a “Like” for Instagram.
- The earned media value, which here is an indicator of what you would have had to spend with the YouTube or Instagram to reach the same amount of people
- The overall engagement rate
- The top performers/influencers that participated
- There’s no way to track if any of these reviews converted to sales, unless the brands want to create their own trackable links and monitor them. Again, though, that’s more manual work for the Octoly customer that could be automated within the platform.
While Octoly isn’t perfect, there’s still much to recommend about it. And, as I stated before: it’s a pretty low risk, high reward proposition for the participating brands. In all reality, the chance of getting a bad review from a creator is pretty low. That’s not because of anything nefarious going on—it’s a simple matter of human psychology: For creators, the premise of Octoly is that it’s a big store full of the stuff they want, for free. Creators are then browsing stores and “shopping” for the things they want. The likelihood that they’ll be happy when they get it is very high, because people enjoy getting what they want—especially for free.
Octoly essentially allows companies to turn sample and surplus products into a bartered form of a marketing budget. In Octoly’s first year, their customers turned their products into $8.6 million worth of reach on YouTube. What brand wouldn’t love that? With its product, Octoly created its own niche to serve, and its success means there will likely be copycats. With some tweaks to the interface and more powerful reporting, Octoly can own the space rather than compete for it.