Influencer Marketing Q&A with Urban Barn and Social Dad

Last week, I had the opportunity to invite my long time friend and colleague, James RC Smith, Digital & Social Media Marketing Specialist at Urban Barn to say a few words on the growing topic of influencer marketing to my UBC Digital Marketing & Communications class.

What I thought would be really interesting was to have James share his experience both as a brand and creator at

My students benefited greatly from James’s insights and I hope you will as well.

Hi James, for people who may not know you, please tell us about yourself 

I’m James, the Digital Marketing Specialist for Urban Barn. I also write for the Huffington Post and run my own blog, As a blogger,  I talk about being a Dad and share things I’ve learned, or ask for help from other parents. I also spend a lot of time working with brands on campaigns that are relevant to my readers.

James RC Smith Huffington Post Blog

James RC Smith Huffington Post Blog

I’ve been working with social media or content creation in some capacity for about 12 years.

Believe it or not, it started with a podcast on Myspace! I then got into travel blogs while working on cruise ships and started helping companies figure out what social media is and why they need to get involved.

What is your role at Urban Barn?

I’m the voice of the company via social. I naturally wear many hats which include content creation, channel engagement, community building, as well as strategy development; i.e. coming up with new ways to give our customers what they want, while (hopefully) increasing the company’s bottom line.

Urban Barn Twitter

How would you describe Urban Barn Customers?

Simply put, Urban Barn is a furniture and home decor destination store where you get a little more than what you’d expect.

Our Buyers and Creative Director travel around the world to discover trends and share their inspiration. We then work with the furniture creators to come up with something that our customers are going to love.

Our primary customers are female, from 25-55 who like to shop with premium brands. They know what they want, but always love to feel inspired.

What is Urban Barn’s Social Content Strategy?

In brief, it’s to consistently bring new inspiration and share the new pieces with our new and returning customers.


Urban Barn Instagram (source: Instagram)

Urban Barn Instagram (source: Instagram)


It’s also to ensure that our community gets excited about the brand and trusts us as thought-leader in interior design and decor.

Why Do Brands need to Work with Influencers?

Trust – People don’t believe ads. They come from faceless corporations that want your money.

Having a familiar or likable person talk about a product is much more likely to resonate and make you consider using it.


Notice I’m using the words ‘using it’, not ‘buying it’. Ads want you to ‘buy’ when you may not be ready yet. Influencers think you’ll love ‘using the product’, which may inspire you to pay the store a visit.

What Influencers Does Urban Barn Work With and Why?

We work with Designers, TV Personalities, and Decor Enthusiasts who are able to:

  • Connect with our audience
  • Speak with authority
  • Provide insight and design recommendations instead of just mention a product they like
  • Reach a large audience, of which need to be one of our key demographics

These often include guests on shows like Marilyn Denis or Cityline, or writers for Home and Decor magazines.

How Do You Measure Success of Your Influencer Marketing Program or Campaign?

Whenever you’re working with TV or print media, the measurements are pretty sketchy.

They’ll give you ‘impressions’ numbers, which are rough estimates of how many people usually watch the show, or buy the magazine. It doesn’t mean that they saw your brand mention or were even in the room when the TV was on.

With digital, it’s a lot easier. Through Google Analytics, we can see where our visitors came from, and whether there was a spike in traffic during TV shows we work with. When working with our social influencers, we look at visits from their channels and engagement metrics. 

Can You Provide a Recent Example of a Successful Urban Barn Influencer Campaign? 

While we have regular slots on a few TV shows, reaching a few million viewers per month, I wanted to mention one of my favourite influencer campaigns.

We worked with Amanda Forrest, a Canadian designer for last November’s Urban Barn Workshop.

We host these workshops across all 54 stores on the same day a few times a year, but this one was filmed on my iPhone at the Park Royal store with Amanda hosting it.

Facebook live urban barn

Urban Barn Facebook Live (source: Facebook)

Guests were eager to have their photo taken with Amanda, as she’s a regular on the Marilyn Denis show. 

The Facebook live video had 47,000 views, and served as a great launch into live workshops where we can provide inspiration and show that Urban Barn is more than just a furniture store, but home to ideas and inspiration, as well as a source of knowledge within the industry.


How Did You Get Started as an Influencer?

I’ve been involved in social media and content creation for over a decade and have built up a following slowly. I wouldn’t consider myself an ‘influencer’, more a writer or community engager.

I started working with larger brands only recently.

After setting up my blog and social channels to be a cohesive ‘brand’, I printed some business cards and went to a Family expo here in Vancouver. I went to each booth and asked if they work with bloggers. 


The ones that did, or expressed an interest got a card and a follow-up email. I used those blogs as examples to send to bigger brands. Now the PR agencies come to me!

Can You Provide a Recent Successful Campaign You Worked On?

This summer, I wanted to have a fun project for my nieces and give them something to be proud of. So I offered to help them build a lemonade stand.

I had worked with a couple of brands prior to Home Depot, but was curious to see if they’d be interested in working with me.

I sent their Marketing department a pitch with my prices for a blog post or campaign and they loved the idea. They wanted a campaign and would pay for the equipment too.


James and his Niece at Home Depot

James and his Niece at Home Depot

I broke the campaign up into three parts:

  1. The design and what we’d need
  2. The trip to Home Depot to shop for everything,
  3. The finished product and the resulting Lemonade sale

I chronicled the whole process via Instagram and Twitter to get my followers and the brand itself invested in the campaign.


Source: Instagram

The blog posts were fun, with plenty of my nieces and I painting and putting the whole stand together.

It was a relatable project and wouldn’t put people off attempting the same thing. I called it ‘the Easy Lemonade Stand’ because most people don’t want to be faced with something complicated to tackle on a sunny afternoon.

The campaign was designed foremost to be useful. It provided a step-by-step process to making the lemonade stand, the shopping list, and the reasons why kids need projects like this to feel proud of.

The 3 blogs had over 700 shares onto people’s social networks. The most popular Pin was ‘re-pinned’ almost 4,500 times and continues to bring traffic to It also worked as a piece of cornerstone content that I could use to send to other brands to show what they could get in return for working with me.



What Advice Do You Have for Creators or Wanna be Influencers?

  1. Know your niche and stick to it
  2. What are the brands going to get from working with you?
  3. If you’re asking for money or product, figure out how much the brand you’re going to represent is going to make from your post or from having you hold something they make
  4. Know what you’re worth, and ask a little more
  5. Be better than other people. If you’re lost in the crowd, the brands have no reason to take a risk on you. Show off, be special, and make great content.

You can get in touch with James at or @JamesRCS on Twitter