“Influencer” has become the most polarizing term in marketing over the last few years.
Companies in the region are still clamoring over each other trying to figure out what influencer marketing is and how not to miss out on this supposed gold mine. Agencies are rolling their eyes at every random fashionista that posts pictures taken on her iPhone and asks to be paid $500 to rave about the brands they represent. And viewers? They’re quickly catching on to the fact that the internet celebrities they follow don’t always post truthful reviews of products they claim to love.
So is influencer marketing all a sham?
Back to basics: what is an influencer?
In the simplest of terms, an influencer is a person who regularly posts content online, generally via social media channels, and has amassed a large* following of engaged individuals who respect his/her opinion. I say “large” because in the influencer game numbers don’t always translate as bigger is better, which I’ll elaborate on further along in this article.
An important note: while the two terms are regularly (incorrectly) used interchangeably, influencers are not necessarily bloggers, but bloggers can be influencers.
So why do people hate the term?
It’s a mix of semantics and industry abuse.
When it comes to semantics, using a term like influencer suggests sheep like behavior from followers. It implies that they are easily and blindly influenced by others, rather than free thinking people who have come to respect and trust a person’s opinion or style over a period of observing her content. The word influencer also shifts the focus away from creating interesting content to creating content purely to sway opinion, which feels dishonest.
And then you have to blame irresponsible influencers and the brands that fueled them for also breeding consumer mistrust. Over the years, anyone with a smart phone, a little charisma, and a nice wardrobe was able to propel herself into social media stardom through selfies and hashtags. This sudden fame did not come with guidelines on how to harness this influence in an ethical way, and thus it became an open playing field.
Most influencers start out by genuinely recommending products and services. Once they realize that they are driving sales for those businesses, they begin to seek payment. That’s well within their right, but many begin to auction their services off to the highest bidder without thinking about personal relevance or whether they’ve recently supported a competitive brand. Each week brings a new and sometimes conflicting recommendation. This has caused audiences to become wary of influencer content, clumping it all together in one dubious pile. Unfortunately, a lot of high caliber content creators now suffer from this widespread mistrust.
6 tips to successfully work with influencers
Does that mean the influencer industry is over? Far from it. An Ogilvy-Cannes study showed that 74% of people still refer to social media when making a purchase decision, and a 2016 Twitter/Annalect study claims that 40% of people make purchases based on influencer recommendations. Still, brands have to be far more careful today in regards to how they deal with influencers.
Here are 6 tips to keep in mind if you plan to go down that route.
The person you select should have relevance to your business in some way and credibility with your target audience. It’s no use reaching an audience that has zero interest in what you have to offer, no matter how large it is. There needs to be an authentic connection between your brand and the influencer.
- Engagement is key
When it comes to numbers, the quality of the audience along with its engagement rate are important factors to consider beyond the top line number of followers. Sometimes it’s better to work with someone who has a small, dedicated following rather than a massive online celebrity whose following may have grown weary of the amount of sponsored content.
Prior to selecting a person to work with, monitor the feed and look out for red flags like phony comments or an immense amount of followers with fishy profiles. It is also important to check where the followers are based, as it is ineffective for you to be advertising to people who don’t live in your market. With the rise of Instagram growth programs and bot accounts, it’s become quite easy for wannabe influencers to fake a following. While the platform is cracking down on this behavior, brands must still be vigilant.
- Allow them to use their own voice
As a marketing consultant, I understand that brands have their key messages and that maintaining consistency across all channels is one of a brand manager’s many responsibilities, but when it comes to working with influencers a little flexibility is necessary.
According to an Altimeter/Tapinfluence report, 40% of influencers reported that restrictive content guidelines often caused collaborations to fail. When brands involve themselves too much in how the influencer words content, the posts appear inauthentic and have no impact on the audience.
Have a creative meeting prior to the campaign launch in which you brief the influencer about key messages you want to communicate and allow him to find ways he can integrate those messages into content that still rings true with his followers.
- Set clear expectations
A lack of clear expectations is the reason for many clashes I have seen between brands and influencers. Brand managers may believe that the influencer is going to post video and photos onto her page in return for a free service, whereas the influencer may feel that a free service only warrants posts on Snapchat and Instastories, which disappear after 24 hours. Each proceeds with their individual assumptions and disappointment then taints the relationship. It may awkward to talk about compensation and expected content because there are still no clear cut rules in this industry. However, you must push past that to establish exactly what you will receive for the budget you have allocated. It is unreasonable for brands to expect beautiful and purposeful content simply in return for a free product, just as it is unethical for influencers to seek out free products and services without clearly stating what the brand gets in return. As a brand, you should be clear about what you want and the influencer is then free to propose a price she feels is fair. Following that, draw up a simple agreement that makes the terms crystal clear in order to protect both parties.
- Long terms relationships
Most influencer marketing in the region fails because brands see these social media celebs as a magic wand that can boost sales with one post. It is very rare that one post or mention results in significant impact. Over 70% of marketers instead claim that the most successful approach to influencer marketing is long term ambassadorships. Building a long term relationship takes time, effort, and money, but it yields more genuine content and better results in the long term. When the audience sees regular content about your brand, it is more likely that they will consider purchase. A one off promotion is clearly a sponsored post, whereas a stream of regular content is a lot more believable and palatable.
- Find ways to track
Measuring ROI is one of the most difficult yet important things to do when it comes to marketing in general and influencer marketing in specific. Before beginning any collaborations, it is important to clarify what your objective is. Do you want to increase your brand’s social following? Increase sales of a certain product? Drive visits to your website? Whatever it is, make that clear both to your team and to the influencer you are working with. This should shape what kind of content is created and how to track it.
UAE based website Kidore recently worked with Louise Sleightholme of Mum of Boys & Mabel with the objective of driving sales before the UAE summer exodus. Rather than creating content that increased generic brand awareness, Kidore hired Sleightholme to curate travel packs that were suitable for different types of children. Sleightholme then promoted these packs on her social media pages and the result was phenomenal. Kidore’s revenue was double its monthly sales target and brand recognition soared as a side benefit.
The collaboration was specific and based on consumer insight. Sleightholme took her role seriously as curator and promoter and created packs that appealed to different types of mothers and children. Tying the collaboration directly to certain packages made it easy to track results, and overall this is an example of the perfect influencer collaboration.
So while many marketers still sigh at the mention of “influencer”, it is unlikely that this style of advertising is going away anytime soon. It is up to marketers to work more carefully with influencers and set higher expectations. There are numerous people out there that take their job as content creators seriously, you just have to look for them and pay them properly. Good quality exposure isn’t free.