With the ad world constantly embroiled in scandals over fraud, brand safety and transparency, brands rested easy, thinking everything was fine in the sleepy influencer marketing backwater. Fortunately, marketers are waking up to the fact that they need to start demanding more results and accountability from their programmes. It’s time to make influencer marketing work harder.

In the good old days of maybe a couple months ago, many marketers viewed follower count as the most important determinant of who they utilise as influencers. It became clear that this allowed ways to game the system. For example, celebrities could buy fake followers for less money than their compensation, and some influencers created fake “comment pods” to increase “engagements.”

But the times are changing and we’re seeing brands demand more from their influencer programs with an eye towards measures of ROI. They are starting at the core, finding those who have genuine connections with the brands they follow and the followers who follow them (as opposed to just being there for the paycheque). The focus is shifting from follower count to ratio of engagement. Research has shown that those who get the best engagement typically have between 1,000 and 100,000 followers: they’ve built their audiences organically, and there’s a natural connection between the brands they’re endorsing themselves and their audience.

One way brands are evaluating influencer marketing programs is relative to the visual content influencers are sharing. It’s not just numbers of posts, number of likes, or number of impressions, but it’s also how the content is being shared, what type of engagement influencers are creating not only from themselves but downstream with their followers. We see some of these micro-influencers are driving really strong second-degree and third-degree engagements in a way that some celebrity influencers do not.

Marketers burned by ad tech malfeasance know that no campaign should operate from a ‘set it and forget it’ mentality. Influencer marketing programmes need a great deal of attention, especially when working with celebrities who may be inclined to honour the letter but not the spirit of the contract with a brand: posting late at night, doing the bare minimum and clearly not trying to create a bond with followers.

The real reckoning for marketers is putting all of this under the microscope of measurement. In the modern marketing mix, paid, owned and earned media need to be held accountable or they will never truly work in concert. The trouble is earned media (and influencer marketing) have been resistant to being tied to metrics. Brands want to be able to measure, evaluate and optimize earned like the other two channels, and should have the full ability to turn dials up and down within that mix. 

Influencer marketing can be a huge driver of discovery, a marketing holy grail. The biggest challenge in digital is that it’s not traditionally been tremendously effective driving discovery of new products, or awareness of brands. Earned media is the best way to drive discovery, and if you’re having influencers or social media channels introducing customers and fans to new products and services, you can get a lot closer to a complete attribution model. It’s my opinion that in attribution models the discovery element has been under-weighted. The overwhelming focus for the last 10 to 15 years has been on last-click and last-touch attribution. By bringing influencer marketing under a new, measurable earned media umbrella, we’re closer to having it earn its place in the ROI-based marketing mix.