There’s no denying that influencer marketing has rapidly grown in the past decade. I cannot help but admire how the ecosystem has blossomed since my first influencer campaign in 2015. The industry is maturing fast, yet I still come across outdated, ineffective or untested ‘advice’ which creates a hurdle for marketers looking to translate creator-led campaigns into sales and brand-building.
While influencer marketing sits rightfully at the intersection of creative, media and PR, marketers need to revise their perception and consider social creators as media vehicles capable of delivering full-funnel effectiveness from reach to customer engagement and, potentially, sales. Here are five golden rules to maximise the media benefits of influencer marketing.
DATA MAKES INFLUENCER MARKETING ‘PLANNABLE’
Before turning influencer campaigns into line items on media plans, media agencies need to be able to quantify the expected outcome. Let me get one thing off my chest: the number of followers is not a suitable performance indicator, yet it’s a way used more widely than it should be. Follower counts are plagued with fake accounts (although decreasing), duplicates, business users, or simply uninterested human followers. Instead, it’s best to average out actual historical performance using metrics like impressions, reach or views and place those right on your media plan.
Planning is one side of the influencer marketing equation: we’d still need to realise the numbers on the plan, and, ultimately, the odds of hitting our estimates with absolute precision are minimal. In theory, creators who fail to deliver on their historical benchmark can push additional derivative content to meet their reach or video views targets. But how many creators are willing to offer media guarantees? This is one of the ways to restore some of the lost trust in the influencer-brand relationship. And what about guarantees on meaningful business outcomes like sales or leads? A few brands have started enrolling influencers in affiliate programs where they ‘pay per’ whatever outcome they consider meaningful.
TARGET AUDIENCE DICTATES CREATOR SELECTION
On most platforms, each piece of branded content that a social creator publishes ends up reaching an audience that fits that creator’s follower breakdown. As advertisers or media planners, start by defining your target locations, demographics and interests, and then find influencers with a matching follower base. There’s also a layer of contextual targeting within branded content, and here’s how to use it. Social influencers usually specialise in certain topics or verticals like travel, for example. A shampoo brand might find it suitable to place its product within a ‘travel essentials’ video. In that example, we have a CPG brand advertising in a travel context. Instead of delivering pure reach, an ad within the perfect context speaks to warm and engaged audiences and has more potential to deliver impact.
YOUR BRAND NEEDS AMBASSADORS
Though I’ve used, so far, the words ‘influencer’ and ‘creator’ interchangeably, not all influencers create the same volume or quality of content, and not all content creators exert the same influence over their audience. When classifying creators into macro, micro, nano, and what have you, it’s troubling that the industry still uses the imperfect follower counts as a filter. We can always substitute this metric with reach or views and apply the same logic.
‘Upper-class’ influencers and celebrities can reach broadly while making a statement about the brand’s size that says, ‘We’re big, and we can afford it.’ Getting similar coverage through the second tier requires collaborating with a network of carefully picked creators. Take an influencer with 380,000 followers and up to 60 per cent reach per post. Yes, it’s possible for a creator who adds value for their audience to achieve 60 per cent organic reach; that was a real-life example. Working solely with this creator will cap your reach at 228,000 on a sunny day. It is also unlikely for a single micro-influencer to cover the brand’s entire target audience. Considering an optimistic 80 per cent overlap in this example, the creator at hand will reach 180,000 tops, leaving some of that audience untapped. You may need to look for dozens of influencers to achieve your reach.
Brands should consider moving from one-off influencer campaigns to long-term brand ambassador programmes because consistency creates believability, and long-term programmes help brands measure, amend, and develop deeper relationships with the most effective creators.
BRANDED CONTENT + PAID SOCIAL
Holistic social campaigns allow media planners to balance branded content’s impact and relevance with paid media’s control and precision. Your social strategy should feature more branded content with paid media as a tag team. Not only do paid social ads help creators in reaching every last member of their social following, they also allow brands to retarget consumers right after watching or engaging with creator content. Imagine the impact of seeing a brand-led social ad with a ‘buy now’ call-to-action within hours of discovering the product’s benefits from your favourite content creator. Sharing audiences between brands and creators is immune to the deprecation of the third-party cookie, as the audiences are collected and shared within the same walled garden.
COMMIT TO MEASUREMENT AND INNOVATION
The shortage of native metrics that measure the business impact of influencer marketing has turned into a barrier for some. Others have been riding the wave, taking every bit of advice they can find on influencer blogs at face value. Between those extremes, we need ‘sceptical believers’ willing to test and learn and pave the way to more sophisticated influencer marketing. There’s nothing wrong with taking a new approach without being able to predict the outcome from the beginning. In fact, that’s the beauty of innovation: believing in the theory and waiting for the results to confirm or deny it.
Starting with brand measurement, metrics like reach and video views only provide insight into the media side of the equation but do not address the impact on brand awareness or favourability. For uninterrupted measurement, social listening can help monitor metrics like brand lift and sentiment around a given campaign’s timeframe.
Brands investing in demand generation and performance marketing campaigns can track purchases using tagged links or coupon codes and attribute sales to the branded content medium overall or to specific campaigns and influencers, which they can aggregate on their measurement ‘source of truth’. Influencer marketing platforms that offer e-commerce tracking can pull in data from web and app analytics or integrate with sales platforms like Shopify’s analytics.
To elevate influencer marketing, media agencies should start seeing influencers as media vehicles and play a more prominent role in planning effective creator-led campaigns, measuring their impact, and educating advertisers on their media benefits. It is in everybody’s interest that we find ways to eliminate barriers to adoption. These are more than steps forward, they are an invitation to discuss and collaborate so that we separate the facts from fiction.
By Anthony Nghayoui, senior manager-social at OMG