In a world that is increasingly digitized, data storage, backups, hard disk, cloud storage, devices have become terms and language of necessity. Our guest today, from Western Digital, is Heather Davis, who’s going to share with us how influencer marketers not only need and use their products, but how Western Digital itself has embraced influencer marketing as part of their overall marketing process.

About Heather Davis Leader of Corporate Communications at Western Digital

A 20-plus year veteran of the Public Relations industry, Heather Davis is a seasoned professional who has been with tech storage giant Western Digital for the past 13 years. She leads the development and implementation of strategic and comprehensive PR plans that integrate traditional and social media tactics both globally and in the Americas. In her time at Western Digital, Heather has driven PR campaigns for several consumer tech products from enterprise to smart video, and also launched the company’s first-ever gaming brand, WD_Black. It was with WD_Black that she formally launched the Global Influencer program for Western Digital, an initiative that spans across multiple digital platforms including Twitch and YouTube, and which Heather continues to spearhead.

Born and raised in Orange County, CA, Heather now lives in a sleepy beach town (Cardiff-by-the-Sea) in San Diego County, CA with her husband and their two dogs, Boomer and Emma.  She practices Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai, and in her spare time, runs Cardiff Sweets, a small-batch custom cookie business. 

Complete Transcript:

So, I know you’ve been with Western Digital for more than a decade. Could you tell us a little bit more about your role at the company?

Heather Davis: Sure. I’ve actually been here for almost 13 years, so it’s been quite a while, and I’ve seen the company grow, and change, and integrate with different brands. I’m currently the lead MPR manager for our Client Plus division, and gaming, as well as influencer marketing. But, I’ve held many roles within the company, all under the product communications realm. But, things have shifted over the years, and I’ve just been able to learn and grow.

What do you think the biggest shift has been in public relations, in your opinion?

Heather Davis: Well, on the tech side, it’s interesting. You’ve got your traditional journalists, I guess you would say, and influencers have been a big part of that, in their own right, in terms of journalists. But, what I’ve seen grow more than anything is that shift from traditional journalism, to everybody being a journalist, or an editor, whether it be a blog, or an influencer, or an analyst. And really seeing that shift move over to influencer marketing, but having a larger gray area, and really trying to work with folks in terms of, what does that governance mean?

When do you work with a journalist, and when would you work with a blogger, and when would you work with what would be considered an influencer? And, what does that mean? Social media converging in between all of that has really been a key part of how influencer marketing has grown.

So, for over the last years that I’ve been in this business, I’ve seen that shift, just, really fast.

Sherri Langburt: Yeah. I feel like bloggers came on the scene earlier in 2005, four. Then, once you started with the Facebook and Twitter, it’s a whole new game.

Heather Davis: Whole new game.

Sherri Langburt: Yeah.

Heather Davis: It’s exciting, at the same time as being a little scary for big brands, because you want to make sure that everything is buttoned up, and legalities are taken care of, and all of these policies that the FCC has, and making sure that we’re hitting the right people. Because, they’re everywhere, and you can find an influencer in every category. There’s just so many people that are now experts in fields.

It’s exciting, but you want to make sure you’re being strategic, and doing it the right way.

Where does influencer marketing fall, within your organization? I know, in some companies, it’s on the digital side. I guess, for you, is it mostly driven on the PR side?

Heather Davis: Yeah, it’s actually part of our product communications team. However, it’s more of a … In the states, in our headquarters division, we handle influencer marketing as a team. I’m a lead for influencer marketing as whole, from a global perspective, and really trying to share and make best practices for our regional teams, so that they can go off and do what they need to do, from an influencer marketing perspective. But, having the governance, and policies, and really approaching influencers in a way that they’re working with certain criteria, and making sure that they’re the right thing for the right vertical that they have.

So, it’s my job to be able to converge everything globally, together, and really give our teams the tools to be able to perform the program. But, it does fit within the product communications department, at the headquarters’ perspective. But, when you get the regional level, it gets very granular, specific.

When you say tools you mean internal tools, but are you using any kind of a SaaS platforms out there, or any tools that help with influencer onboarding and management?

Heather Davis: That’s a great question, it really depends. Most of our tools that we have are internal, and it’s really more of a manual process, which can get a little bit in the weeds. We have, and are looking at different platforms, right now, to bring out global teams together, so that we can look at onboarding a little bit more cleanly, and have more direct KPIs.

We do work with other tools, like Babbleboxx, and other tools that we can look at influencers as a whole, in different key segments. That’s extremely helpful, especially as you want to work with, maybe, a variety of influencers. Maybe you want to onboard 10, or 20. It’s really important to work with companies like Babbleboxx, and other, like Tap Influence, Up Influence, just because it does help streamline the process, as well as the legalities that are behind those things.

But, when those aren’t available, or we have certain budgets we need to contend to, and we have a manual process, we do have criteria, and way of onboarding those folks internally.

Sherri Langburt: Okay. Yeah, I think that, with the platforms, they’re great, but you also need a lot of handholding, because you’re dealing with hundreds of people. So, making sure the right guidelines are out there, and everything …

Heather Davis: Right. Well, guidelines and messaging, and making sure that people are followed up on, you’re having briefings, that they understand the products that they’re looking at, those are all things that we have to consider. To your point, that takes a lot of time. It’s a lot of effort that goes into there, it’s not just picking up the phone and calling one person. You do get along of nos, you do get a lot of folks that are not within the budget that we have constrained, or they just don’t want to meet some of the criteria that we have.

That’s one of the things that important for us, is meeting FTC guidelines. There are folks that just want to be a little bit more organic, in that direction, and that’s fine. But, we make sure that we’ve got a lot of those things that we need to cover, and sometimes there’s a good fit, and sometimes there’s not. But, there are hundreds of them, thousands that we have to look into, making sure that they’re the right fit for us.

We’re a very specific vertical too, right? So, we have a lot of products on our roadmap, and not one particular influencer’s going to fit the entire portfolio. So, we need to make sure that we’re finding the right person.

Gaming could be a whole different type of influencer, than if it was a cloud storage device, and there’s so many uses for your products, that you could be hitting any kind of influencer, at the end of the day, not just tech influencers.

Heather Davis: Oh, absolutely. Especially on the consumer side, we have a consumer business that really hits the mainstream consumer, just like myself, or my parents, or anybody that wants to store data. Whether it be photos and videos of your family. And, to your point, our cloud storage product, I think, you’re probably referring to ED, or My Cloud Home, those are great products for consumers, and they’re not going to necessarily go to a tech influencer to get that information, they’re going to go to a more consumer driven platform, so those are super important to us, as well, so it really depends.

On the gaming side, you’re going to get really hardcore gamers, but you’re also going to get gamers that are just more casual gamers, not necessarily super tech-y. So, we look at them on both sides.

With the gamers, do you ever look into Twitch, and do any activations on Twitch?

Heather Davis: Oh, absolutely. We actually have a Twitch program right now, we kicked it off last June. It’s been really successful for us. We actually go through a company called Stream Elements, they are a fantastic company that really enables us to merge the platform itself, with influencers that are streaming on that platform. It allows us to overlay certain assets, affiliate links, and really have that direct conversation with those viewers. It’s been great, it’s been super successful. But, that’s a platform that we actually have a full program that surrounds it. That’s one that I actually head up, and it’s a global program, so we’re bringing in influencers on Twitch, pretty much around the globe, or have global influence.

Sherri Langburt: That’s great. Yeah, Twitch is, I think, the channel that people are not talking about enough.

Heather Davis: Well, I agree, and it’s really getting to be a platform that is growing really fast. What I love about Twitch and their influencers is that they’re super engaging, and there’s a lot of crosstalk, there’s a lot of chat box happening, and there’s lot of conversation that we can understand consumer’s needs a little bit better. That’s why I love that platform.

It’s sometimes a little bit, I wouldn’t say scary, but there’s a lot of different conversations happening between young and old, and transitional gamers, versus hardcore gamers, or people just really trying to understand, or they want to be influencers themselves. So, I love the conversations that happen on there, because they’re extremely dynamic, they’re really fun to watch. The influencers that we work with have big personalities, and are a lot of fun, and that makes it exciting for us.

Sherri Langburt: Yeah, a lot of them are very funny characters, engaging and funny. But, I think it’s a great channel, and I’m glad that you’re in it.

Are there any other kind of programs, on the influencer side that you’ve put in place, that you just want to share with us?

Heather Davis: It’s interesting, we look at influencers across our product lines very differently. Consumer’s very different than B2B.

Heather Davis: When we look at the business to business side, for example, on surveillance, which can sometimes be a really stodgy topic, but very passionate people are behind there, in terms of from an influencer perspective. So, what I love about being able to work with different verticals is that they are dynamic in how they talk to their consumers are very different.

So, one of the things that we’re working on is pulling together a program for surveillance products, and home security, and smart video. Working through some of those influencers is very different than the consumer side, or even Twitch, for example. So, it gives us an opportunity to look at our customers a little differently, and that’s what I love working with influencers across the board, because it really changes the dynamic between every product line that we have.

Do you find that the influencers who cover B2B topics, is it harder to work with them?

Heather Davis: Oh, absolutely. It’s harder to find. There, obviously are less of them. But, I find that the ones that you do find in that space, … And, I would put analysts in this mix, as well. More, I would say, smaller analysts, or smaller folks that are looking at the market, that are more professional blogs, and areas of interest that are a little bit different than your traditional consumer. They are hard to get, because they’re not necessarily doing this as their day job.

So, to make headway in that area, it takes a lot of handholding, a lot of understanding of where our customers are getting their information. Sometimes, that’s on somebody else’s blog, it’s on somebody else’s platform, that may not be Instagram, or Facebook. It could be a LinkedIn, or another professional blog space. So, those are a little bit different in how you handhold those, but yeah, they take a little bit more time.

But, when you do get one that is very targeted, it’s very rewarding because you know that those people that are watching that blog, or reading their information, are very savvy, and they’re typically ones that really focus on that spot, and so we know we’re hitting the right people, in that sense.

Sherri Langburt: Yeah, and I think it’s almost like they’re not even influencers, they’re kind of like subject matter experts, because most of them have jobs, and they’re just doing this because they’re-

Heather Davis: Yes, absolutely.

Sherri Langburt: They’re an expert at what they do.

Sherri Langburt: We did some of that. I don’t know if you ever worked with Social Media Today, they have a lot of B2B influencers in their network. Or, at least they used to, when we worked with them.

Heather Davis: Yeah, it’s interesting. The term influencer marketing can really run the gamut. We look at them as, media can be influencers, analysts can be influencers, anybody that’s influential in their role. But, in terms of B2B, I would absolutely agree with you, that they are typically experts in their field.

What do you see as being different regulations? Maybe if it’s on the FTC side, what are some of the unique opportunities in other countries, and challenges that you see?

Heather Davis: That’s a great question. We had this discussion last night, as a group, in fact. We’re a US based company, and we have to abide by the FTC guidelines that are imposed upon us. We feel like those are probably the most scrutinized, at this point. Influencer marketing is such a new marketing tool, and it’s so gray in so many areas. Even when you look at some of the FTC guidelines, they still are gray. So, you have to use some better judgment, and best practices as company, in making sure that you’re doing the right thing.

So as a company, we want to make sure that is the common denominator, across all regions. Now, we’re going to have areas that have different rules and regulations, most of them are a little bit more lax, and don’t necessarily need the requirements. So, one of the struggles and the challenges that we have, is making sure that even though a particular country may not have that as a requirement, that we, as a company, have that as a requirement, and making sure that we still abide by those FTC guidelines, so that’s important.

That could be a challenge, but it could also be a blessing because it becomes an education opportunity for us to be able to talk to different influencers in different regions, and understand what they’re working with, and what they’re used to.

Sherri Lanburt: I think someone mentioned recently, in Australia, it’s a fortune to get an influencer. Then, you go to another country, and it’s not as expensive at all.

So, I’m sure all the pricing, and that comes into effect, too?

Heather Davis: Oh, that’s a huge issue. It’s interesting, one of the things that I’m responsible for is educating our internal teams about influencer marketing, and even the costs associated with that, that it’s not free. And that, sometimes it’s products, and you still have to disclose, and sometimes, it’s based on monetary funding. I think it’s an eyeopener for a lot of teams within the organization, as well as outside the organization, on how much things do cost.

What I’ll typically do is say, “What’s your budget?” Then, we’ll go through, and I’ll be like, “Okay, you can probably get one person for that.” And, the eyes get big, and it’s like, “What? That person’s that expensive?” It’s definitely an eyeopening time, and an opportunity for us to educate our teams on this new discipline, because it’s not free. It could be a very expensive way of going about it, and also can be a great opportunity, but it really depends. There are different countries that have different ways that they go about it, and there’s monetary amounts that are completely different. It’s hard to say which ones are the best ways of going about it, but we try and take our budget and really pull the best opportunities, for that project, rather than just blowing it on one particular person.

Sherri Langburt: Yeah, I think it’s best to have more, because you get different pieces of content with a different voice. But, I get the “find one big influencer,” I think it just depends.

How are you looking at setting those rates for influencers? Do you have this many followers, this level of engagement, the quality of their content?

Heather Davis: We did this Twitch, and we pulled together a plan that we felt had different tiers, so we marked them into a bucket of tier one, tier twos, then tier threes, and that based upon what the subscribers, or what the viewership looked like, we would put them in a bucket. It’s harder to do that, from a YouTube perspective, or from an Instagram perspective, because they just run the gamut. But, with Twitch we were able to do that, and at least, in our own minds, be able to put them in categories in how we could work with them, and what would make sense for the business. That has seemed to work with us, pretty well.

When you do that, we also enable our teams worldwide to be able to share that information with them, so that when they come to us with an opportunity, or a recommendation that they would like us to look at, we can come back and say, “Oh, this is a tier one, and it’s going to cost what we think is X amount of dollars. If you have that type of budget, we can obviously look at it, and pursue it, but we would recommend you work in this particular tier.” We’ve done that internally. It’s in shift, it’s a living document. We’re trying to do that with YouTube, but it’s a little bit more difficult.

Sherri Langburt: Yeah, there’s more moving parts with Instagram, too.

Heather Davis: Oh, absolutely.

Sherri Langburt: It’s great, that you’ve done that, because I think we get those questions all the time. How do I know how much to pay them? And, I have no idea.

Heather Davis: Well, it’s also good, when you look at blogs, for example, and say you have 10 blogs, and they can all be different amounts. If it’s a vertical, though, and it’s smaller in readership, but very targeted, that might mean more to somebody than a larger blog, that has a larger following, that may or may not be appropriate for your business. I wouldn’t necessarily, from an influencer guideline, always leave out the little guy, because sometimes the little guys are really targeted, and that would be a perfect thing for your business.

Sherri Langburt: Amen.

Heather Davis: Versus a larger one, that you may get lost in the shuffle.

You really have to look at, and really strategize on what makes sense, to have that balance.

I think that’s extremely important, because I think a lot of companies get very caught up in the weeds of, “I need to have this celebrity, or this person, and I want to pay X amount of dollars.” That may not be the best thing, for that particular product strategy.

Sherri Langburt: That is brilliant, brilliant advice, thank you. Yes. I think that is, too, why now, people are just looking at nano, and they’re talking about all the nano influencers. They’re saying it’s because of engagement, but the engagement is precisely because of what you just said, right?

Heather Davis: Absolutely.

Are you looking at influencer marketing as an awareness play? What are your primary KPIs? Is it sales, is it awareness, is it education?

Heather Davis: It’s mostly awareness and education. However, a lot of influencers that we are starting to work with are pulling in affiliate links, and affiliate tools, so that we can start to look at, are they bringing in folks, into our website? Are we able to talk to them, and educate them on the different types of products that we offer, from a portfolio?

So, we are starting to pull some of those key things in, but mostly, as an organization, the top part of our program is awareness.

Sherri Langburt: Yeah. I was always against the whole affiliate play, not meaning that we couldn’t influencers the code, but we just actually, Babbleboxx launched affiliate platform, too. I don’t think it necessarily is the sale, it’s an after effect, but I do think it’s important.

Heather Davis: Yeah, absolutely.

Sherri Langburt: My last question is my guilty pleasure.

Name an influencer you love to follow, but hate to admit that you do? If you can’t answer the question, just name a few of your favorites, and why?

Heather Davis: Okay. Interesting.

From a work perspective, I’m really into this guy named Lamar Wilson. We just started to work with him, and there’s something about somebody’s humor, that they can bring into the mix. I find him extremely funny, I find him smart. He makes me laugh, but he’s very intellectual in how he does his videos. I love his enjoyment about what he does, and that, for me, is key. When you see somebody that really enjoys what they do, and they’re not just doing it for the sake of the paycheck, it really comes out, and I love that. So, that’s one.

From a personal perspective, I’m really into jiu jitsu, that’s my guilty pleasure. I love watching a particular grappler named Gordon Ryan, and Rufus Barbosa, they’re really great for inspiration. But, I’m also a baker, I bake cookies, and I get sucked into watching a ton of videos on, and influencers, very influential cookie influencers, and how they’re creating these masterpieces on cookies. So, those are my two personal, guilty pleasures, for watching influencers.

Sherri Langburt: I’m sure you’re on Pinterest, with the cookies a lot? It must lead you down a rabbit hole.

Heather Davis: You know, it’s funny, I’m not on Pinterest. I use Instagram as more of my inspiration. But, there are so many amazing artists, that I love to watch. You can look up, and spend an hour, you can lose time very fast.

Sherri Langburt: Yeah. The talent out there is amazing I always say, there’s a million Martha Stewarts no one just ever knew about them, now.

Heather Davis: Oh, exactly. I love it because I can learn from them, and I’m learning these great things that, for a hobby, it’s fantastic.

Sherri Langburt: That’s great. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, this has been really-

Heather Davis: Thanks for having me.

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