The growth of influencer marketing has been phenomenal over the last few years. As the likes of ad blockers and opt outs make it harder for brands to reach people through online advertising, and as consumers become more skeptical of promotional content, a direct channel where you can reach an engaged audience is a great thing indeed.
As such, it’s moved beyond a ‘nice to have’ for brands into a well-established and mature discipline. But alongside this growth, influencer marketing has been plagued by issues and controversies that the industry can no longer ignore. And some are starting to recognise this.
At Cannes this summer, Unilever CMO Keith Weed thrust the topic of influencer marketing transparency and credibility into the headlines with an announcement that the company would be taking ‘urgent action’ to tackle influencer fraud with a new policy and specific commitments.
For brands looking to work with influencer talent, policies like this are increasingly becoming essential. Firstly for the sake of credibility; The New York Times’ gritty, high profile “Follower Factory’ exposé earlier this year put the issue of fake followers into the spotlight. In the wake of this, studies are now exposing brands who have been ‘fooled’ by influencers with fake followers.
But most importantly, bad practices do nothing for a business’s bottom line. A bot isn’t going to buy your product, or recommend it to a friend. The appeal comes from marketers’ obsession with vanity metrics; what we really should be focused on is business results such as shifts in brand perception and brand loyalty – and of course, sales.
Influencer marketing isn’t going away – in fact, a recent survey found that 62% of marketers said they will be growing their influencer budgets in 2018. What we now need is for brands to be rigorous when selecting their influencer partners, applying process to develop the category to become more sophisticated and scientific.
Many brands, our clients among them, are beginning to do just this – applying rigour to the medium, measuring it in comparable ways to other paid-for media channels.
There are a number of ways to go about this. When looking to work with an influencer, ask for a breakdown of who their audience is and what kind of themes and content they respond well to. A true influencer with past brand experience should be able to provide KPIs from previous partnerships, such as how many followers were gained for the brand they worked with, how much referral traffic was generated, and so on.
Do your own research – there are incredibility sophisticated tools that use AI and machine learning to give you an in-depth dissection of influencer’s audience and highlight any red flags in relation to fake followers. You can also check for high levels of bot accounts by looking at factors such as large follower numbers coupled with low engagement rates on content. Any reputable agency you employ should be all over this too.
One of the most effective ways of tackling fraudulent influencer practices is to focus on building long-term relationships. The most impactful influencer partnerships are often delivered over a long period of time, rather than looking for someone willing to take a pay out for one post, on one platform. And of course, it’s important to set and track performance against clear KPIs that include business metrics. If something seems not to be working, speak to your influencer partner about why they think that is, and see if you can work together to change it.
It’s time to invest in legitimate influencers who reflect your brand values to build authentic partnerships. This is how you’re going to effectively engage with consumers. Or else, if influencer marketing continues to perpetuate its ‘wild west’ image, we risk losing this valuable channel altogether.
Kevin Gessay is managing director UK of PR and entertainment marketing company PMK-BNC.