Influencer marketing is coming under fire and at the heart of the scrutiny is the question: how can influencer marketing move forward when influencer fraud is so prevalent.
International brands like Unilever have officially and publicly called a stop to fraudulent influencers with fake followers and brands are vowing to stop working with influencers who have fake followers and fake engagement. Coupled with the fact that influencer marketing is often described as the Wild Wild West and that transparency is non-existent (or is it?), there is no surprise that everyone is freaking out about the future of influencer marketing.
But we’re not concerned, and we already have a solution.
In fact, all of this scrutiny is forcing influencer marketing to mature, so the “crisis” is a much-needed advance for the industry.
So, how does influencer marketing move forward? The future lies in how we use the data that is available.
But first, let’s talk about the topic of transparency and why we are making a mountain out of a molehill.
Influencer marketing is more transparent than you think
I’m calling it - we’re experiencing an influencer marketing witch hunt. Transparency in influencer marketing and its place as a legitimate marketing channel is being challenged, but when you compare influencer marketing to other marketing channels (both digital and offline) it’s pretty obvious that influencer marketing is actually more transparent than everyone thinks. Here me out...
1. Bots impact lots of other marketing channels
Influencer marketing is not the only channel that is dealing with “fake” actions and results that are not performed by a genuine human. Digital publishers deal with bot traffic and clicks, SEO experts deal with link farms, social media marketers deal with spammy comments and in influencer marketing, we’re dealing with fake followers and fake engagements.
2. Reach can be superficial in every marketing channel
Magazines and print publications verify their readership numbers through companies like Roy Morgan, radio and TV calculate their audience based on old-school surveys and outdoor advertising relies on a reach guesstimation based on foot traffic. None of these marketing channels can truly prove the size of the audience that the content is being displayed to, yet, their reach metric is considered gospel. However, in influencer marketing, the reach is clearly the number of followers an influencer has verified by the very social network they appear on.
3. Impressions are fact
While impressions is an accessible metric in many digital marketing channels, in above the line advertising, it’s not available and that’s considered okay. In influencer marketing, we can understand the exact number of impressions a piece of content received and use this in reporting, depending on the capabilities of the social platform.
4. Next level segmentation and targeting
When a billboard is on a major highway, you cannot serve different consumer groups with targeted and segmented messaging. It’s one piece of content that is consumed at mass. On the flip side, influencer marketing, like other digital marketing channels, makes segmentation and targeting transparent and you can really understand who is viewing the content. On top of that, influencers themselves are the content creators and publishers, so each piece of content is created specifically for a particular audience (their followers).
These are just a few examples of how influencer marketing is actually more transparent and targeted than we think. So, why are there such big expectations for influencer marketing when other channels are not held to the same expectations?
We know there are transparency issues in other media and marketing channels, and it just so happens that influencer fraud is the cause for concern in influencer marketing. But that doesn’t mean that influencer fraud cannot be overcome and that it will bring influencer marketing to an abrupt halt. Transparency concerns can be overcome with data-driven strategies and a focus credibility.
The role of data
Data in influencer marketing is a relatively new concept. For years, marketers have been running influencer campaigns based on the reach of an influencer (their followers) and the style of content they create. They have been the only prerequisites for identifying influencers.
Fast forward a couple of years and marketers have access to so much data, and in particular in influencer selection. We can now understand the audience of an influencer to ensure the message reaches the right people. Targeting can become as granular as knowing the age, gender, location and interests of the influencer’s audience and we can understand how a post or piece of content might perform based on the average engagements and the average engagement rate.
Combined, these data points take the risk out of influencer marketing and make it easier to invest in the right influencers. All of these data points are in Scrunch, by the way! #ShamelessPlug
And that’s just in influencer selection!
When it comes to strategy development, data has an important role to play. Dreaming up a concept will no longer suffice. Your campaign needs to be set up to achieve the intended goal, and you need to be able to measure success. Want to sell products? A solo Instagram post is unlikely to make an impact, but engaging 10 influencers to do an Instagram post coupled with a series of Instagram Stories with a swipe uplink inclusion and an IGTV post could work.
It’s all about defining your influencer marketing goals and shaping your strategy around them.
And then there’s reporting. When reporting on the performance of an influencer campaign internally or to a client, data can take influencer marketing to the next level. We can compare the average engagement rate with the engagement rate on campaign content to understand how engaged the audience was to the campaign content, in comparison to regular content. We can see the demographics of the people who engaged with the content to identify whether they are in the target market. We can make recommendations on what type of content performed best, we can see the sentiment of the engagements and we can compare influencer content to branded content. Plus, we can track ROI metrics that are more important to a business's bottom line, like leads and sales, through discount codes, unique tracking links and landing pages.
There are so many data points to consider in the reporting phase of a campaign, but they’re only available and helpful if you think about this before the campaign, not at the end.