As data becomes the end-all be-all of marketing success, the obsession with measurement raises some important questions about the usefulness of one of marketing’s most successful, but most nuanced approaches—influencer marketing.
The problem? People aren’t ad units, and likes are not sales. Influencer marketing is not something that lends itself to easy quantification. However, it’s far from unquantifiable.
First, let's dispel some myths.
Myth: Influencer marketing is a good way to drive direct conversions.
Truth: Influencer marketing is about building brand awareness and affinity.
Myth: There are hard and fast going rates for influencer fees.
Truth: Rates vary from person to person. One Instagram model may be asking for 10 times what another charges. A good agency will know who’s worth it and who isn’t—and an educated client will understand that two people naturally will have different going rates, depending on a number of factors like audience size (75,000 to 100,000 is usually a sweet spot), audience type, or even the industry in which they’ve made a name for themselves.
Myth: Influencers don’t actually "do" anything.
Truth: Brands pay influencers for their time, creativity, the work that goes into creating their content, and access to the audience they worked very hard to build.
Myth: Clicks and likes are a good way to measure business impact.
Truth: Likes do not correlate with sales in any consistently verifiable way, so assigning a specific dollar value to them is ludicrous (a practice that happens all too often). It’s not only misleading, it’s plain false. But engagement metrics are still important. Your mentions, your share of voice, and the sentiment around how people are talking about your brand matter, and all of this can be measured. Influencer marketing should be thought of as a way to plant a seed, not a way to guarantee ROI. Just ask yourself – do you go on Instagram, first and foremost, to shop? No. You go on Instagram to look at fashionable styles or cute dogs. The purchase decision happens later.
Myth: The debate around metrics in influencer marketing is easily solved.
Truth: The debate around metrics in influencer marketing won’t be solved in one year, and it may not be solved in 10 years. CMOs want an immediate answer for where their investment is going, and we as agencies understand that. But we’re dealing with an approach that’s new and promising—but that can’t be put into a neat little package that says X number of influencers will yield Y dollars in incremental sales.
We know that influencer marketing really works, because it’s been proven. In studies that compared consumers who were exposed to influencer content with those who weren’t, we’ve measured visible brand lift and an increase in sales among those who saw the influencer content. The difficulty comes when trying to relate that to media budgets and marketers who want to compare all their digital efforts as apples to apples.
This doesn’t mean that influencer marketing isn’t measurable. In fact, there are several valuable ways to measure its impact—they just don’t happen to line up exactly with the ways you might measure a digital ad or a sponsored Facebook post. (Of course, some agencies will tell you they should be measured the same way. They are lying to you.) Advanced new tools can track how many mentions a brand is getting from an influencer campaign, the engagement around the campaign, and crucially, the sentiment around these mentions.
Influencers will remain important in the face of programmatic advertising, because people need an authentic, human connection in order to trust a brand. An ad that follows you everywhere you go online is never going to be a substitute for a person you admire and respect recommending a product to you, no matter how persistent your retargeting is. And without that element of human involvement, any influencer marketing program will fall completely flat. Marketers need to rethink the way they are approaching influencer marketing, face that they are going to have to absorb yet another set of numbers, and go out and make that all important human connection.
—Kristy Sammis is the founder and chief innovation officer of Clever.