Influencer marketing has boomed in the last couple of years, you only have to look at this Google Trends graph to see how much interest has increased.

According to a Mediakix report the influencer marketing industry was worth $1 billion in 2017 and is predicted to reach $5-10BN by 2020, that’s some big money! 

But, although more marketers are employing influencer marketing strategies, does this mean it’s worth it?

First, I have to say that, in my opinion, influencer marketing isn’t new at all, it’s essentially the same as celebrity endorsement which has been around for years. The lines are pretty blurred these days with the influx of z list/reality TV stars who make a chunk of their money through product endorsements.

The only real differences are generally; a closer connection between influencers and their fans, more tailored content for brands, and a cheaper rate, which can make it more preferential to celebrity endorsement. 

Why do some people think it doesn’t work?

As with all marketing activity we need to be very specific with what our end objective is from the activity and what we’re trying to achieve. Are you looking for direct sales or increased brand awareness leading to sales down the line and other benefits?

The connection between an influencer and their fans is key for brands but when fans start to believe influencers (or celebrities) have ‘sold out’ and started promoting too many products they are less likely to trust their recommendations, fans start to question whether their opinions are honest and genuine.

We’ve seen this numerous times including with some big names of the influencer world such as Zoella with controversy over her Christmas calendar last year where people believed the price tag wasn’t appropriate for her young fans and took issue with the quality of the contents. Also, with ‘celebrities’ such as Jess and Dom from last year’s Love Island who were slammed for their constant promotional posts.

The key problem is a perceived loss of authenticity, it’s probably best to avoid working with influencers with negative ‘sell out’ comments as they’ve probably lost the trust of their audience and therefore the influence you wanted to leverage for your campaign.

Another problem can be that people start too big, going for macro influencers, it’s probably best to start with micro influencers, start seeing the returns and build up from there. 

Where’s the evidence it does work?

There’s plenty of articles around showing how influencers have shared products on their feed and managed to cause that item to sell out, and not just for big brands. 

One example earlier this year showed blogger, The Fashion Guitar, sell out a dress for London label Kitri within 45 minutes. Considering the dress cost £145 and they sold 200 within 45 minutes that means they made £29k in sales from that one partnership. They haven’t disclosed what they paid for the partnership, but I’d hazard a guess that it was significantly less than that.

It’s not just Instagram though, Twitter’s research has shown “Nearly 40% of Twitter users say they’ve made a purchase as a direct result of a Tweet from an influencer” and YouTube found that “6 in 10 subscribers would follow advice on what to buy from their favourite creator”.

So, how can we measure the value?

As I said at the start, the key to assessing value comes down to have clear objectives and the way you measure value will need to match them.

Here are some steps if your objective was direct sales: 

  • Affiliate programme – various tools allow for this and this allows the influencer to take commission from every sale they make 
  • If you don’t want to use any of those programmes you can simply use Google-tracked URLs to check how much traffic/conversions driven and agree a fee based on this if the influencer is open to it. This cuts out the money you’d spend on tools. 

If your objective was more long-term looking at brand awareness eventually leading to sales, there are some options:

  • Run pre and post awareness surveys with your target audience to see whether they’ve heard of your brand and if they remember where they saw it.
  • Check your own follower stats to see whether they increase (for this its best staggering your influencer partnerships to more easily identify which drove the biggest uplift)
  • As above, use tracked URLs to see the traffic each influencer is sending and in the long term the assisted conversion they’ve driven.

If your objective is SEO-related your best bet is to track the links you’ve acquired from the influencers and see if you can attribute this to any uplift in rankings or visibility. 

Tips for working with influencers

  1. Don’t just focus on the huge stars – look at the ones most relevant, authenticity is key – could you see the influencer using your product or service if you didn’t pay them to? If so they’re probably a good fit
  2. Run their stats before paying to ensure their followers are real
  3. Check for negative comments on their posts which would indicate a distrusting audience
  4. Ensure your tracking/measurement is set up so you can really see the value and assess whether to work with that influencer again