7 Questions With Platform Media’s Sara Koonar, Queen Of Social Media Influencers

This article is part of Street Meet, FLEETSTREET’s series, where we meet up with trailblazers and thought leaders to deliver unique insight and inspiration into issues we all care about. Meet Sara Koonar.

Over the past few years, it’s been tough to miss the incredible rise in popularity of content creators, or, as you probably know them: influencers. They use their online power to shape consumer behaviour and create brand awareness. And one key player is Canada’s very own Sara Koonar, who founded Platform Media in 2016 as one of the original influencer marketing agencies in the country.

Last month, I caught up with Koonar when her company Platform Media held its first influencer marketing conference at Hotel X in Toronto.

What is influencer marketing? Who can be an influencer?

You’re scrolling through your social media feed, and bam! You see your favourite celebrity endorsing a product or raving about a new trend. That, my friend, is influencer marketing in action!

Influencer marketing has proven to be a great way for brands to connect with their ideal audience. As social media platforms continue to explode in popularity, there‘s no doubt we‘ll continue to see more and more influencers emerge.

In a nutshell, influencer marketing is when brands collaborate with popular individuals, known as influencers, to promote their products or services. These influencers have a loyal following (cue the heart emojis) and the power to sway consumer opinions and purchasing decisions. It’s like having an army of trendsetters on a mission to slay the marketing game.

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Now, who can be an influencer, you ask? Well, anyone who has that special sauce of charisma, authenticity, and a kick-ass online presence. They can be fashion gurus, fitness enthusiasts, foodies, makeup wizards, or even adorable pets with a knack for stealing hearts. As long as they have a devoted following, engagement on their posts, and influence over their audience’s decisions, they’ve got the potential to be an influencer.

Influencer marketing has become the new frontier of advertising, with brands partnering up with these influential peeps to spread the word, gain exposure, and ultimately reach their target audience in a fresh, engaging way. It’s like having your BFF recommend that trendy new café or the latest must-have gadget. You trust their opinion, right? But being an influencer isn’t just snapping Insta-worthy pics and sipping on fancy lattes. It takes hard work, dedication, and a genuine connection with your audience.

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What can we expect from influencers?

With a projected value of US$24.1 billion by 2025, influencer marketing remains a top marketing strategy for brands. With such power, comes responsibility, and authenticity, transparency, diversification, data-driven strategies, and collaborations are the focuses for the future of influencer marketing.

Q&A with Sarah Koonar

I spoke with Koonar at her event, to get the scoop on the future of influencer marketing and what to look out for in 2023 and beyond.

What were you doing before you launched Platform Media?

I was a magazine editor. After graduating from journalism school at Centennial College in 2009, I worked in marketing, while freelancing writing for Canada’s top magazines, including Canadian Living, Glow and Hello! Canada. In 2012, I joined Maple Media as the editor-in-chief of 29Secrets.com. And in the years that followed, my role grew to editing beautydesk.com, and becoming the Canadian branded content editor for [the international websites] WhoWhatWear, Byrdie and MyDomaine.

Why did you want to start working with influencers and creators?

When I was working as an editor, I always had an interest in the advertising side of the publishing business. I would go along with the sales team to meetings and help them pitch branded content series ideas to our magazine’s advertisers. I really enjoyed building relationships with our advertisers and finding new ways to work together.

In 2016, prior to launching Platform, I realized that budgets were rapidly shifting towards social media. Having made friends with many creators in the industry, I knew that many didn’t know how to manage the influx of incoming collaboration requests they were receiving from advertisers. And, simultaneously, advertisers were frustrated working with talent. It was different from the structure of the publishing and broadcast sales teams they were used to buying advertising from. So, I decided to use my experience to help manage the relationship between creators and advertisers, providing that same level of professionalism they were used to, while advocating for fair compensations and contracts for creators.

Where do you see the future of creators and influencers going in 2024?

It’s only up from here. Now that influencer marketing has become a more legitimate form of advertising, and arguably the most effective and top form of advertising today, there is so much to build on.

As we saw with the rapid growth and popularity of TikTok we may see some new platforms enter the space. As the influencer industry becomes more saturated, I see brands focusing on collaborating with creators who have a highly engaged, specialized audience, allowing for more targeted and authentic brand partnerships.

As for our influencers specifically, there’s increasing awareness of environmental and social issues, so they are likely to prioritize sustainability and social responsibility in their content and brand partnerships.

With increased scrutiny of sponsored content, there will likely be a growing emphasis on authenticity and transparency. Influencers who can build genuine connections with their audience, maintain transparency about sponsored partnerships, and produce high-quality, honest content are likely to thrive.

How are brands working with creators and influencers now? What trends are you seeing?

Platform’s creators publish more than 300 branded content campaigns a month so the trends become quite evident to us. What we are seeing right now is a lot of brands shifting towards long-term partnerships and ambassadorships. This approach allows for deeper integration, trust-building and continuity in brand messaging. While in the last few years, Meta has dominated – with the majority of our campaigns being hosted on Instagram – we are seeing a large shift in budgets towards TikTok, YouTube’s new Shorts feature, and testing out platforms like Twitch and Pinterest. With Instagram’s algorithm constantly changing and the challenges with reach, brands are becoming more willing to try new avenues.

Virtual and (artificial intelligence) AI-generated content is still quite new in Canada, and we haven’t seen a lot of brands jump into that space yet. But we do anticipate this could become bigger in 2024 and 2025.

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What sparked the interest in doing the Platform Social Influencer Marketing event? 

First, it served as a great platform for industry experts and thought leaders to share valuable insights, best practices and success stories related to influencer marketing.

As influencer and content agents, we spend a lot of time speaking candidly to brands and a lot of time speaking candidly to our creators. We are on the receiving end of a lot of really insightful feedback. but what we noticed is, it’s rare for marketers and influencers to sit down together and talk through their struggles, wants, issues and wishes. We wanted a space where both could come together and have those discussions, so we can all work better together. We felt the event provided a lot of insights that people were able to immediately take with them to improve their campaigns. It also provided a space to build relationships and establish personal connections that could lead to future collaborations and opportunities. That exposure to different perspectives, ideas and stories can spark creativity and innovation in the influencer marketing space.

What are you working on now? Anything interesting that people should know about?

Personally, I am becoming a new mother, with a baby on the way in September. This new experience can only contribute to my growth as an entrepreneur. Learning time management, juggling responsibilities, how to adapt to unexpected situations and challenges, are all things I experienced early on in my entrepreneurial journey that I can lend to this new stage of life. I have an amazing team, which will be led by our VP of partnerships, Sarah Francis, and VP of finance, Nicole Garito, while I take a couple of months off. The team is already working on Platform Social 2024, coming next spring, recruiting more new and exciting talent, scaling our services, and getting ready for our busiest season of the year, holiday campaigns.