Thursday, May 26th, 2016 | 7 min read
Influencer marketing has come under scrutiny lately as industry professionals, journalists, and influencers themselves have brought attention to the problems that arise from brand-influencer collaborations.
In this recent Digiday interview, a social media executive disclosed why relationships between brands, agencies, and influencers have become shaky, saying:
“Influencers are going to start disappearing. Brands are going to start realizing the amount of followers you have doesn’t mean shit. Just because photos look good and have 200,000 followers means nothing.”
The interview sparked widespread response, including the creation of “Who Pays Influencers”, a crowd-sourced site that defends the work of influencers and supports transparency in an evolving industry.
Meanwhile, Sam Biddle of Gawker argued that the backlash is well deserved, saying it’s absurd for brands to pay people with strong followings on social media to create content for them:
“The Influencer Economy isn’t an economy, it’s a market irrationality. It’s bonkers that anyone thought it was a good idea, and for once, companies are self-correcting in the face of so much wasted money.”
The gauntlet has been thrown and the value of influencer marketing has been challenged. This is probably a good thing since it will force brands and social media influencers to reexamine how they work with one another, and it will likely help regulate the extremely varied fees that brands pay influencers.
As social platforms evolve, companies are determining what they should pay influencers. This Jezebel article explores how fees fluctuate depending on how popular an influencer is on social media. The article points out that celebrity-sponsored content can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $300,000 per post. But it’s not all about actors and popstars. Inbound.org says that a popular fashion blogger can get anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 for a product-placement photo.
These high rates explain why the market is saturated with aspiring influencers and why some companies, according to the Digiday article, are concerned that influencers care more about money than the quality of their work. There is added uncertainty around who should have creative control over the collaborations and the extent to which companies should direct the content of established influencers.
Companies also aren’t sure which influencers will be the most effective. While some brands will use any influencer with a high social following, more brands are beginning to realize that this doesn’t necessarily drive ROI. There is no guarantee that the content produced by the influencer will resonate with the brand’s target audience or perform as desired—a risk inherent in any type of marketing campaign, but something that people seem to be particularly worried about when it comes to influencer marketing.
What’s more, brands and influencers must be careful about how they advertise on social media. When a consumer’s personal space is interrupted with a sponsored product post, it can feel forced and fake instead of genuine and believable. Recent incidents such as the Machinima case show that consumers may feel deceived by the brands they like, and the influencers they follow, if they aren’t aware that the recommended product is actually part of a paid campaign.
Influencer marketing poses some tough challenges, but brands shouldn’t disregard it as an effective marketing tool.
For one, it seems like every few months the tech and marketing industries decide that a trend or popular platform is over (last year, everyone was talking about the death of Facebook). Is influencer marketing simply the latest victim?
Odds are it won’t be going anywhere. Research by Nielsen finds that 84% of consumers trust opinions from people they know, while 70% take action based on other consumer opinions online. And, according to a study by Collective Bias, consumers trust non-celebrity influencers more than the most publicized stars.
These are important facts to consider. They support Digiday’s article on micro-influencers, which states that audience engagement and conversions actually decrease once a social media influencer has too many fans. According to a survey by Markerly, an influencer with a following of about 10,000 to 100,000 people is more effective than someone with millions of followers.
As we continue to uncover what makes influencer marketing fail or succeed, our understanding of how to use it effectively will only improve.
Brands need to change how they approach influencer marketing. Too many consider influencer marketing a short-term business transaction. This can drive unrealistic expectations and disappointment on both ends. Instead, brands should focus on creating long-term, meaningful relationships that will benefit both the company and the influencer over time.
When brands are authentic and transparent about their influencer relationships, they build trust and credibility.
This video made by Extra Credits for Creative Assembly is a great example of an authentic influencer marketing campaign—if you can even call it that.
Instead of using their marketing budget to create promos for their new game, Creative Assembly approached Extra Credits, which has over 700,000 subscribers on YouTube, to create a video about the time period in which their game is set. Extra Credits liked this idea so much that they created an amazing piece of content including a shout out to the company, even though Creative Assembly said there was no need to mention them.
By collaborating with an influencer whose work aligns with the company mission, Creative Assembly turned an influencer into an advocate for their brand. And that’s just it: the best influencer marketing feels more like customer advocacy than anything else. It’s genuine and natural, and it represents true brand affinity.
Brands can achieve this same success by finding the right influencers to partner with. They should use strategic social listening to identify which influencers are passionate about their brand, or at least passionate about topics directly related to the brand, and whose efforts will resonate with their audience.
Despite the current debate, when done right, influencer marketing can still be a great marketing strategy for brands.