A recent study found that 90% of marketers plan to maintain or increase their influencer marketing budget this year. It’s a hefty percentage, but in line with growth so consistent, experts predict the industry will be worth between $5 billion and $10 billion by 2022. Yet some marketers still remain reluctant to invest in it.
Like any new and disruptive strategy, influencer marketing has received its fair share of criticism over the past few years. Unilever’s CMO, Keith Weed ignited a conversation about ‘fake influence’ last year which rumbled on for months. It wasn’t helped by some high profile scandals involving content creators using tech wizardry in their posts and falsely inflating their followings.
Then there’s the persistent concern that influencer marketing fails to deliver return on investment (ROI), either because the followings are fake, or because social content creators don’t actually have the ability to impact people’s spending decisions. Brands and marketers also fear that their high standards of content will take a tumble if they risk briefing work outside their tried and trusted agency circle.
Debunking these misconceptions is the first step to unlocking the potential of influencer marketing. Or at least getting a fair assessment as to whether the channel is right for your brand.
The practice of buying followers and engagement still exists. For years influencers were valued on their follower counts and looked for shortcuts to better brand partnerships. In 2019, we realise that the engagement an influencer can generate is far more important than the number of followers they have. Since bot followers are a surefire way to make your engagement levels plummet, their appeal is fading fast.
At the same time, the technology used to detect fake followers and engagement has progressed. It’s not difficult to spot influencers that have been discovered and are blacklisted by brands and agencies. The most reputable influencers will meticulously check their followings, removing the inevitable bot hangers-on that come with a large audience.
Setting clear objectives
When it comes to ROI, there’s plenty of evidence to show how truly effective influencer content can be. Both anecdotally through case studies, and in statistics. Studies have revealed that Gen Z regularly seek reviews from their peers before making a purchase. They have grown up with online reviews just a click away and make considered spending decisions. They’re also far more trusting of their peers and influencers than celebrities.
Clarifying the end goal is an important first step to measuring the impact of any campaign. Do you wish to raise brand awareness? Generate leads? Convert sales? Or drive customers to a website or app download? Getting clear about the objectives will help you decide which process you need to measure success. Failing to recognise the nuances here will stop you from gauging the true impact of a campaign.
Soaring quality of content
Audiences are just as discerning about where they spend their time online as they are about spending their money. Social media is becoming a saturated market, full of stunning imagery and high production value video. As the standards are driven higher and higher, influencers know they must raise their game in order to capture the attention of time-poor audiences who are bombarded with content. Those with high followings and strong engagement rates are the ones who have succeeded – and you can be sure that isn’t with substandard content.
Advancing technology is a contributing factor here too. Affordable drones, better quality phone cameras and access to slick editing software allow self-taught digital content creators to compete with established agencies. Content is so strong, it’s living way beyond the social space and is being reused in digital ads, on websites, and out-of-home advertising making that marketing spend stretch even further.
Overcoming the challenges
The spotlight on influencer marketing’s shortcomings has made its stakeholders work harder to overcome them. Often, marketers who still haven’t invested in the strategy won’t be aware of how far it has come. It has also evolved into a more adaptable practice. Paying a big name influencer to promote a product on Instagram may be how the industry originated, but there are now more low commitment ways to trial the strategy. Multiple micro influencers can stage a month-long campaign for the same price as a mega influencer. Or they can be engaged purely as content creators, generating authentic and cost-effective assets to post within your own channels.
By arming themselves with the knowledge of how the industry has actually changed, concerned marketers can allay their fears and discover the potential of influencer marketing.