Kelechi_image

This is part one in an ongoing series UNFILTERED, where Curalate Marketing Director Brendan Lowry interviews influencers and marketers that are shaping the future of e-commerce. Enjoy it with your morning coffee.

Kelechi Kalu took quite an windy path to becoming Social Media Manager for Lucky Brand.

He started his career in Washington, D.C, working as a staff assistant to Senator Roland W. Burris of Illinois. (Burris replaced Barack Obama after the 2008 presidential election.) Although Kalu enjoyed drafting press releases, managing digital messaging and working on policy initiatives for the Senator, he could never stop thinking about his first love — fashion.

So he switched gears and took buying roles in menswear for prominent brands like Macy’s and Gucci Americas. When he moved to Forever 21, he stepped into the creative and social media strategy world — directing men’s product shoots and helping to launch @forever21men on Instagram.

During that process a few years ago, Kelechi quickly realized Instagram’s power and started taking his own account much more seriously. Now armed with more than 9,000 followers, he’s a full-fledged style influencer partnering with brands to help them show off their latest looks to his growing audience.

Kelechi sat down with Curalate Marketing Director Brendan Lowry for a Q&A — discussing social media influencers, his role at Lucky Brand and the future of influencer marketing.

What does it actually mean to be an “influencer”? A typical consumer thinks it’s someone traveling the world, drinking some new magical tea drink which keeps them amazingly in shape, or someone dressed incredibly while walking in NYC’s hippest neighborhoods. But we all know a lot more is happening behind the scenes. Before you joined Lucky, what did it actually mean to be an “influencer”?

I think the term “influencer” loosely speaks for itself. An influencer has the ability to INFLUENCE the lifestyle, shopping, eating, traveling etc. habits of his or her audience. In many cases when it comes to social media, these influencers are seemingly regular people, like you and me, who inspire others through their genuine and authentic approach to creating and showcasing content.

What has been the biggest challenge in making the switch from influencer to full-time brand marketer?

I’d first like to state for the record that I’m not a mega-famous style influencer. But, at the same time, I do understand my level of engagement and influence is higher than many Instagram users. That being said, I’d say the biggest challenge when making the switch to full-time brand marketer has been fitting in time to create content on my own.

What are some of the tactics you learned from working with various brands and building your own Instagram community to grow Lucky’s social media accounts?

I think the most important tactic has, and will always be, producing good, authentic content consistently. You can’t attract and keep a following if your content doesn’t live up to certain standards. That’s especially true for style/fashion influencers. Not only are you creating with other influencers, you’re competing with big brands and publications that have large budgets to create content. Building a personal connection with your audience is key. And continuously providing them with content that they’ll love goes a long way.

Recently, have you seen any creative ways brands are leveraging editorial content (whether created by in-house teams, influencers or fans) outside of e-commerce?

Social equity is everything! And the brands who are getting it right on social media aren’t just reposting influencers. They’re creating an omnichannel social media experience. Urban Outiftters, for example, repurposes influencer content on its e-commerce site, store signage and printed materials. It makes the UO experience a rewarding one for influencers and shoppers alike.

What are brands getting wrong when it comes to influencer marketing?

I think one of the biggest issues that brands have when incorrectly activating social media influencers is choosing influencers just because they’re “popular.” Popularity is only one reason why influencer activations work. The most important factor is whether or not that influencer is going to organically connect with your audience. What story is the influencer telling on a day-in, day-out basis? What’s in it for your audience? These are the questions to really ponder before dropping lots of cash on an influencer who is disconnected from your core brand message and audience.

We’ve seen “social influencers” quickly scale from peers to celebrities, with social accounts that exceed those of Fortune 500 brands and traditional hollywood celebrities. Some influencers are no longer relatable because they’ve almost grown too large. What does this mean for the future of influencer marketing?

Do I think there’s an expiration date on influencer marketing? Maybe. Do I think the industry is going to go away anytime soon? Absolutely not. There will always be a new, cool kid on the block. Style muses pop up every day. I’m honestly quite excited about who the future style mavens will be, and how they will share their art with the fashion community.

What does a typical day look like for you in your role as Social Media Manager for Lucky Brand?

I think it’s safe to say that I don’t have “typical” days. If I’m not building a content calendar, I’m strategizing a sweepstakes effort. Or I’m on the phone with a PR agency discussing a possible style collaboration effort to pitch to their batch of influencers. At the same time, I’m monitoring our internal organic social media efforts and analyzing data points. There aren’t enough hours in the day, honestly. There’s so much to do!

What’s next for you? What do you hope to see happening at Lucky within six to 12 months thanks to your contributions?

I’m working on a pretty big fall fashion activation for Lucky Brand that will, hopefully, thrust it into the fashion conversation during New York Fashion Week. So **fingers crossed** all goes well. As far as the future is concerned, only time will tell. But it looks pretty bright.

Looking for ways to discover influencers who have an authentic voice? Check out Curalate Explore, which can help you find influencers to work with, form relationships with micro-influencers and find high-quality content piece-by-piece.