Stephanie McCratic founded Acorn: An Influence Company in 2014. The Bentonville-based venture currently employs 12 people and works with more than 700 contractors through social media. The company works as a kind of match-making service between brands and people with marketing influence online.
It’s the latest iteration of old-fashioned word of mouth marketing and public relations, but in the current highly quantifiable digital age.
She spoke to Talk Business & Politics about her company, career advice and what inspires her.
TB&P: Briefly describe Acorn.
McCratic: We are in the influencer activation business. We identify, vet and recruit digital influencers (think Instagram, bloggers, SnapChat, YouTube, etc.) for advertising, PR and marketing campaigns. Sometimes this is 150 food bloggers making holiday party trays out of little sausages on Pinterest and Instagram, and sometimes it’s one elite beauty blogger creating a custom video for a retail .com product page. It all depends on the campaign goals.
TB&P: Influencer marketing can sound like Internet voodoo to some people. How do you explain what you do and how you do it for the uninitiated?
McCratic: Depending on the audience, I have two clear illustrations. Illustration A: This one is for those who are trying to understand the difference between social media marketing and influencer marketing. Social media marketing is like a guy walking into ladies night at a bar, standing on the table and shouting “Hey everybody! I’m really really good looking, drive a nice car, have a great job, plus my mom is delightful.” Influencer marketing is like having an army of advocates in the bar who are charismatic and engaging, each telling a small group of people about their “amazing friend who just happens to be single.” Your brand is the eligible bachelor.
Illustration B: It’s like staffing for word of mouth marketing. We find the people, quantify their influence using algorithms (so, basically voodoo), identify their interest and level of experience and then hire the right people with the right audience for campaigns. From there, we manage them and our clients using our proprietary Acorn campaign execution process and deliver a tidy package of reports to our clients showing metrics (such as reach and organic engagements), benchmarks and stand out content.
TB&P: There is a fairly well-documented gender gap in the tech industry. Why does it matter if women are represented in tech companies or learn to code?
McCratic: The most important part of technology is UX/UI (user experience/user interface). There are so many amazing ideas, but if the end user doesn’t feel compelled to engage – it’s meaningless. Women bring a unique perspective to UX/UI because our buying behavior is very different from men’s. We love the hunt and the discovery. Men want to type in exactly what they already know they want. Also of note and not to be discounted, women spend 80% of the retail dollars in the U.S., so having our perspective at the table and in the code is wise for every company.
There are also some incredible statistics around having women on boards. I’m kind of lonely in the startup/venture capital scene here in Arkansas. I’d love to encourage more women to found companies, seek funding or make their talents available for local boards.
TB&P: Acorn is a fairly young company. What trends do you see for the next two to three years in tech, social media and influencer marketing? How do you plan to capitalize on those trends to grow your company?
McCratic: I believe 2016 will be the year for Influencer Marketing. This niche will emerge as the new PR. Remember 2012? The year that Social Media Marketing really took hold? Just about that same time “digital” was upending “traditional” advertising. We’re at another one of those spots in history. We’re changing the way it all happens.
Acorn has grown insanely fast, but we have stayed true to our core values. That dedication to the content creators and to client ROI will help us stay focused through this major growth period. Last year our revenue grew by 10 times the previous year, and this year we’re on track to grow by an additional five times last year.
I’m so dang proud of the work my team is doing.
TB&P: What advice would you give yourself 15 years ago in your career?
McCratic: Think bigger. Break the rules. You are single with no kids, so travel more. The people you spend time with matter, so please quit hanging out with potheads. Let me also say, though, that I believe every bit of my journey has led me right where I’m supposed to be. Sheryl Sandberg has said that careers these days are more like jungle gyms than ladders, and I completely agree. It all matters.
TB&P: Who inspires you?
McCratic: Audrey Kinsman. She’s a partner at Kayne Anderson Capital Partners. That may not sound sexy, but she is whip smart and a lot of fun. She’s a woman in a man’s world and is Kayne’s top fundraiser. She reminds me that being a woman in this world is different, and that’s OK. We just have to work a little harder for what we want.
Ann Bordelon, who just retired as CFO from Walmart at the age of 48. She’s become a great friend and I admire her tough-as-nails style.
Oprah, because she said, “‘No’ is a complete sentence,” and because her Super Soul Sunday on OWN has a powerful impact on me every single week. Sounds cheesy, but it’s legit.
My dad. He’s 87 years old and ran his own concrete business for decades. He is actually my grandfather, and he didn’t have to raise me, but he did. I watched him manage people, work hard, be a dedicated friend and sing (albeit off key) loudly in church every Sunday. He’s the salt of the earth.
TB&P: What books are on your nightstand right now?
McCratic: “Why Not Me” by Mindy Kaling. “Rich Bitch” (think Dave Ramsey, but without praise hands). “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty (fiction washes my brain).