Make sure your small business leverages to right influencers to reach your desired target audience. Small Business Community contributor, Joel Comm, shares his influencer insights on this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street.”




“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.


The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.


Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at and Bank of America at And here's your host, Gregg Stebben.


Gregg Stebben:         I am here with Joel Comm. His website is Joel is J-O-E-L. Comm is C-O-M-M, dot com. He's on Twitter and Facebook @JoelComm. Joel was a true internet pioneer and he's been creating profitable websites, software, products, and helping entrepreneurs succeed since 1995 and he calls himself the functional futurist. He doesn't just see the future. He gets there first.


Gregg Stebben:         And in addition to being the functional futurist, he is also an author, speaker, consultant, and podcaster. So Joel, one of your books is called The Fun Formula: How Curiosity, Risk-Taking, and Serendipity Can Revolutionize How You Work. Welcome and I hope we can talk about this and things like influencer marketing because influencers are supposed to be fun, too.


Joel Comm:               Oh, I hope they are. But the most important thing is that influencers are supposed to be influential and there's a lot of people that call themselves influencers, but they don't actually influence anybody to do anything. That is not an influencer.


Gregg Stebben:         And certainly not one you should hire or pay.


Joel Comm:               Right.


Gregg Stebben:         Can you define influencer marketing for us?


Joel Comm:               Well, it's basically working with the brand to bring awareness of that brand to their target market in the hopes that it will bring results, right? So, an influencer is typically somebody who will use, represent, a product or service to their audience in order for that audience to say, "Hey, this person approves or likes or uses this. Maybe I should too."


Gregg Stebben:         Hmm. So, it's endorsement marketing or what we might have called endorsement marketing at another time in media history.


Joel Comm:               Sure. I think that it really is the same thing only now instead of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, being the ones to do the influencing, a new realm of micro celebrities, micro influencers, that are not nearly as well-known as some of these major celebrities, which also means you don't have to pay the same multimillion dollar celebrity fees, but also have a more personal connection with their audience.



Joel Comm:               So as a tech influencer, the people that, the companies which hire me to influence, they know me already. I have a relationship with them. It's not that, "Oh, they've seen me play sports or that they've seen me in movies." Many of them have actually met me or has engaged with me already on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or YouTube or Twitter or anywhere. And so, there's a greater likelihood that those people will be responsive to an influencer that they're more connected to.


Gregg Stebben:         So if I'm a small business owner, why might this be a better way for me to spend my marketing dollars than to pay for traditional paid advertising?


Joel Comm:               Well, that's a great question. Paid advertising, you're targeting a market, but the messaging is coming directly from you as the merchant. And so, you might not have any relationship with the people that you're trying to reach. Whereas if you secure the services of an influencer, it is a third-party endorsement, right?


Joel Comm:               People are…there's a reason people go to third-party review sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor, or that we read reviews on assuming that what we're reading is legitimate—and we know that there are reviews that are planted and that some people game the system—but assuming that those are legitimate, we trust the input and advice of other people more than we trust the messaging that comes directly from the merchant themselves.


Joel Comm:               And if it's somebody that we know that we already trust, that endorsement is exponentially more influential, and so it makes sense rather than just go and buy ads that go direct to the consumer to say, "Hey, here is somebody who has some clout that is influential. They already use my product or my service. What if I pay them to tell their target market about what we're selling?" And it's highly effective when done right.


Gregg Stebben:         I'm talking with Joel Comm. He's an amazing guy. He's an internet pioneer. He's been around the Internet and social media since the beginning. He calls himself the functional futurist. One of his books, one of his 15 books, is called The Fun Formula: How Curiosity, Risk-Taking and Serendipity Can Revolutionize How You Work. One of the things you mentioned, well you mentioned some big name athletes as potential influencers, and we all recognize this because we see celebrities as influencers. We know that this is part of what they do, but I'm a small business owner. Is it possible that there are influencers in my world that can make a difference for my business because I surely can't afford a movie star or an all-star athlete?


Joel Comm:               Sure, of course there are. And the key to that is finding one of your customers that has an audience. That's really the key right there. Somebody who already buys your socks and wears them and enjoys them. Somebody who eats your baked goods that has an audience that has perhaps a local audience that they could reach, go, "Mm, that is one good cupcake. Go over to Cupcake Heaven over there and try one of these." And they post a video. I mean that would be me. If there was a cupcake place I loved and they're going to say, "We're going to pay you in cupcakes, Joel." I would be like down there and I would shoot a video of myself eating this delicious cupcake and I would post it on Instagram perhaps. And then people that know me here locally would go, "Oh Joel, that looks amazing. I've got to go try one of those." It's that simple.


Gregg Stebben:         And I trust Joel. So if Joel says it's the best cupcake, it's gotta be the best cupcake.


Joel Comm:               Right. And he really appears to be enjoying that cupcake. I mean, him and that cupcake should probably get a room. They're having such a good time. So, this is influencer marketing at its most basic, and it really is basic. This is not rocket science. Which is good because I am not an engineer and a rocket scientist. But I do know what I like and I do know that I enjoy telling other people what I like and by demonstrating how much I like a brand for their product or their service, I'm communicating to those who follow me, "I think this is worthy of your attention. Here's why. Want to check it out? Here's how."



Gregg Stebben:         So in this cupcake scenario, Joel.


Joel Comm:               Now I'm hungry.


Gregg Stebben:         Yeah. Well you're going to just have to wait a few minutes. Sorry about that. But I'm the cupcake shop owner and I know you love my cupcakes and I know you have a good audience and people trust you. So, you seem like a really good influencer for me and my cupcake shop. Am I going to get away with just offering you all the cupcakes you can eat in exchange for you tweeting and Instagramming, Snapchatting and Facebooking and did I mention tweeting my cupcakes? Or might I have to pay a little bit more than that?


Joel Comm:               Yeah, I would probably ask you to pay me as well and then I would ask you to pay for my doctor bill because I'd become huge and unhealthy from eating too many of your delicious cupcakes. But I've done all kinds of influencer deals. I've worked with big brands. Most recently I did some influencer work for Alibaba as a consumer electronic show. I've worked with IBM and just a lot of other brands and I've worked with smaller brands and sometimes it's just that, "You know what? If you'll send me that piece of electronic hardware that you created or your software. Let me try it. If I like it, I'll take a picture, I'll send a tweet." Sometimes I've actually had people send me socks because people know I like fun socks and I'm in the crypto currency space because my podcast is all about bitcoin.


Joel Comm:               It's called the Bad Crypto Podcast and I've had people that are making these fun crypto currency socks, send them to me, unsolicited, and that that's a good way, by the way, to get an influencer to do something without paying them is just sending them a gift. Don't expect anything in return, but if it's something that they like, then odds are they're going to be, "Hey, I got this cool coffee mug or this gift basket or whatever from so-and-so." And they'll often tag you and sometimes that is the most cost-effective way to get influencer marketing and word of mouth that you could possibly do.


Gregg Stebben:         You actually bring up a really important point here and that is there have been some issues with the FTC about influencer marketing, right? I mean if you are paid to be an influencer, you are supposed to, in some appropriate and legal way disclose, that you're being paid, and we need to be conscious of that.


Joel Comm:               Oh yes you are. Yeah, you are. And so the hashtags that you are to use, if it's sponsored in any way, and that could mean payment or that could mean that you received goods or services of some value. You're supposed to use one of these three hashtags: either #ad #sponsored or #promoted, and that is what the FTC is looking for. As long as you have labeled, you don't have to have this long disclaimer, you just need to have one of those hashtags. And that is what is commonly understood as full disclosure.


Gregg Stebben:         And so when someone sends you socks or I send my product to a celebrity hoping he or she will use it or wear it or eat it and take a picture of it, are they because they got it for free, supposed to use one of those three hashtags?


Joel Comm:               You know, I am not a lawyer and I've never played one on television. I think a gift is a gift and I don't know that it's necessary. Now, if an agreement was made, right, I think that that's different. If there was a contract, whether verbal or written, I would probably default to, "Hey, if you'll send me the ..." If somebody was trying to negotiate with you, what would it take to do this? Send me these. You know, it's a sticky area. I don't really know. I'm not going to give legal advice.


Gregg Stebben:         Where do I….Do you know where I would go to find out more? Is that the FTC website?


Joel Comm:                Yeah, I would probably do that. I would go use a search engine and just ask that question.


Gregg Stebben:         Okay. The last question really quick is if I am engaging with an influencer, what kind of metrics should I be looking at to know if that influencer is really creating results for me and these are actually a return on investment?



Joel Comm:               Yeah. You want to look at their engagement. It's not about the number of followers they have. It's about the engagement that they have. There are micro influencers, people that are very influential in small communities. They might only have a thousand followers on Twitter, but then you'll see 20 or so reactions, which is a lot for just having a thousand followers. So look at how many followers they have and then look at the metrics for what type of engagement, what kind of comments are people leaving? Are they retweeting and sharing this content? And then you'll know whether or not this person is truly influential or has the reach to get the job done.


Gregg Stebben:         All right. He is Joel Comm. It's J-O-E-L C-O-M-M.,on Twitter and Facebook @JoelComm. I mentioned one of his books, he's written 15 but one of them is The Fun Formula, How Curiosity, Risk-Taking and Serendipity Can Revolutionize How You Work. Full disclosure for Joel, he's also, I believe, an influencer for Bank of America, correct?


Joel Comm:               That is correct. I was going to leave that to you to bring up.


Gregg Stebben:         Yeah. So, for more great tips from Joel as one of Bank of America's influencers and other small business experts like him, check out Bank of America's online Small Business Community Joel, thanks for joining us.


Joel Comm:               You bet. My pleasure.


Narrator:                    Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at and Bank of America at

Similar Content