What you heard is true: Advertisers and brands love influencer marketing. According to the Association of National Advertisers, 75% of [national advertisers] currently employ the discipline and almost half (43%) are planning to increase their spending on it in the next 12 months.
Despite its ever-growing popularity, influencer marketing continues to be misunderstood and misused. Advertisers and brands are throwing money at influencers, often surprised to see that a large following and fan base does not lead to a correlated increase of ROI. So what is the real value of influence and how can brands be sure that their dollars are being used wisely?
The foundational issue is that the common ways in which an influencer’s value is measured are flawed. For traditional digital advertising, the measurement metrics are clear and mostly reliable: CTR, purchase intent, impressions, etc. But influencer marketing has largely evolved from a PR-driven tactic to a media-driven one. In the absence of any standardized method of measuring conversion or attribution, brands and agencies have had to lean on vanity metrics.
Vanity metrics, such as followers, subscribers, views, likes, and comments, are as common as they are effective in obscuring true performance. Follower and subscriber counts, one of the main reasons a brand will choose to work with an influencer, can be deceiving. Many accounts, either wittingly or unwittingly, are followed by a considerable number of fake profiles, bots or inactive accounts, negating these numbers as a measure of true reach. Similarly, while views are an excellent measure of attention, especially if you measure view-completion rate and quartile viewing; views alone don’t tell the whole story. An ad may have captured someone’s attention, but did it forge a connection that will benefit the brand?
Engagement—the most direct comparison to the click that has driven digital marketing metrics over the years—is easy to be attracted to. But social engagement is far from a dependable metric when it comes to measuring sponsored content’s impact. Consider this scenario: an influencer that has 1 million Instagram followers and averages a 2% engagement rate on his content. He then produces branded content, which garners a 2% engagement rate. Is there a way to know if the influencer’s content created on your brand’s behalf drove an emotional response? Perhaps, but it’s likely that most of those engagements had little to do with the content’s message.
Instead of using engagement as a primary measurement, a better measure of success is found in analyzing the on-brand comments for that influencer’s branded content. If an influencer is promoting a brand’s shampoo, useless comments like “first!” and “I love you XOXO” must be disregarded, while ones like, “Wow, your hair looks amazing” would be indicative of meaningful engagement. Understanding the quality and sentiment of the conversation as it pertains to the brand message is paramount for measuring performance. Brands need to find a way to understand if their content moved the needle: did it drive conversation, website visits, shares, etc., and reach the upper funnel.
The most effective way to improve an influencer marketing campaign is to not make it an influencer marketing campaign at all, but one important piece of a holistic plan. A comprehensive marketing plan, one that includes influencer marketing, makes much better use of influencer content, integrating it into other campaign assets.
Not only does this save money on creative-generation, but makes influencer measurement much easier (as it appears in more traditional digital formats). The best way to find the true value of influence is by turning it into a tool in a tool chest rather than a single, misunderstood tactic.