If it’s simply a case of having thousands of followers, anyone could be an influencer. You could be one. I could be one. There’s no talent required to ‘buy’ followers or set up a bot on your account to follow/ unfollow. And this is where many brands have gone wrong, chasing people with hundreds of thousands of (often fake) followers, and have been burned when the campaign didn’t perform as anticipated.
Over the summer it was revealed that more than half of this year’s Love Island contestants’ social media followers were fake, yet many of them were still able to secure lucrative brand-ambassador roles. And despite it now being a requirement for influencers to declare if they’ve been paid or received an item for free, many of them continue to turn a blind eye.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to any digital marketers that it’s no longer a question of how many followers, but rather who are their followers, and how much do they engage? Countless (often costly) tools have been set up to help brands identify appropriate influencers. But a human filter still needs to be applied – data can take you only so far before common sense must prevail.
Share data and insights
To have a successful relationship with a brand, influencers should also be more willing to share data and insights from their side. Media outlets are regulated to provide their readership figures; bloggers should provide proof of visitor stats and post view figures. Instagrammers should give evidence of data not visible to the public, such as performance of Stories and enquiries via DMs. With the recent news that Instagram is removing visible ‘likes’ (until now, one of the most valuable forms of social ‘currency’), it’s crucial for influencers to be more transparent with the brands they work with.
It’s also important to be crystal clear with what the objectives are for the campaign, and that both the brand and influencer fully understand what’s expected. This is where our own concept of ‘Brand Action™’ plays an important role in our work with influencers – this is where the ability to apply powerful creative insight merges with the brilliant application of proven data and direct techniques to give a brand the best of both worlds. The right influencers should be able to push both brand and sales.
When we launched kitchen appliances brand Sage by Heston Blumenthal, we established a clear ‘tiering’ strategy of official spokespeople, ambassadors and bloggers/ vloggers, and the important (and different) roles each of them played. Our micro-influencers played a vital part in spreading the word about this new player in the UK market, and they grew along with the brand. The relationships formed in those early days created solid foundations as these influencers shifted from micro to macro, and even to celebrity in some cases.
And it doesn’t just work for consumer brands. We’ve also successfully applied this approach to b2b clients such as Kerry Foods, working with baristas to promote its DaVinci Gourmet beverage solutions to the ever-growing coffee shop market.
Keep lines of communication open
Without working closely with brands, influencers will continue to make mistakes, sometimes producing inappropriate or irrelevant content, without understanding what they’ve done wrong until it’s too late. Heightened regulation from both the government and the media channels will make the process a more level playing field for both the brands and the influencers, but this will clearly be a complex and lengthy process.
The best that we can do, to make sure influencer marketing is working the hardest it can, is to be certain that we’re pairing the right influencers with the right brands and ensuring the content they produce is creative, engaging and will actually drive tangible, measurable results. And above all, forming deep, two-way relationships designed to last beyond one campaign; playing email ping-pong with an agent is always going to feel transactional.
Influencer marketing has become a key marketing channel that can no longer be overlooked, with equal rigour applied as that of the more established channels. When done properly, it has a real power to transform a brand.
It’s vital to qualify the quality of individual influencers and the validity of their data.
Transparency is key – influencers must become be er at reporting ‘real’ results.
What is the objective? Awareness? Sales? Make this clear to the influencer so you’re not heading in different directions.
Brands should create lasting partnerships with influencers rather than one-off ‘tests’ of creativity.
Megan Hallinan is head of PR and social at MBA.