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How do brands ensure effective influencer marketing?

There has been an undeniable backlash to influencer marketing in 2018, from the New York Times to Keith Weed at Cannes, the spotlight is increasingly being shone on fraudulent practices, fake followers and wasted budgets. This is clearly a good thing for marketers, but also should be seen as a sign that the channel is finally being taken seriously.

With this in mind, ISBA’s launch of a standard briefing template for influencer agencies is great news – with the influencer marketing business being valued at up to $2.38bn in 2019, there is a clear need for stronger governance to ensure that money is spent effectively.

Before governance, however, spend on this channel needs to be justified in the first place. This can only happen if the purpose of the activity is clear – is it about driving reach, positive association, engagement, demonstration of a USP, connecting with a new audience, encouraging consideration or sales? Without clarity of purpose, there won’t be clarity in the message or a clear reason for a user to engage with the content produced, leading to little likelihood of success.

Naturally, consumer engagement will suffer when faced with excessive content – there are only so many hours in a day to scroll through Instagram Stories – but this just highlights how consumers are getting more discerning, just like they are with their TV viewing habits and overall media consumption. For brands, there are some important considerations to ensure your money isn’t wasted:

Be authentic. Don’t try to shoehorn your content in with an unsuitable influencer who’s just doing it for the money. It makes both you and the influencer look bad.

Play by the rules. Make sure your influencer content is clearly labelled as an ad, sponsorship or partnership. The risk of not doing this is that it can look as though you are trying to trick your audience, negating any of the positive impact the content could create.

Think like your audience. Work with influencers to create content that your audience will actually want to consume, rather than sterile videos based on inward-focussed brand guidelines which nobody will ever watch outside of your offices.

Take time to find the right influencer. For some brands it’s all about the big names with broad reach, but for others it’s all about trusted figures in the field with a smaller, more relevant audience. The decision you take should be based on strategy and KPIs – what do you want to see resulting from your influencer activity?

Don’t accept audience figures on trust alone. Aside from making sure the content is right, making sure metrics are accurate is just as important. Clearly, there are industry challenges with fake followers and these will have a knock-on effect with accurate, human reach and engagement figures. Due diligence in these areas is mandatory, pushing for 3rd party validation wherever possible.

Judge performance against business and media metrics. Did your influencer spend drive cost-effective, trackable sales, verified, quality traffic to your site or a similar tangible business outcome? If it did, then the campaign worked. Reach and engagement are useful metrics, but if only viewed in isolation then arguably they are just vanity metrics.

Influencer marketing requires a nuanced approach since the paid media is coming from the voice of the influencer. This is a lot of power to give away, so working on a long-term strategy with these influencers makes sense, as does studying their other content yourself rather than just picking from a list.

Also, bear in mind that the only barriers to stop your influencer promoting a competitor after your campaign has finished will be in the contract your draw up, so if you want exclusivity it is incumbent on you to raise the issue.
Clearly, influencer marketing has its problems and examples of fraudulent practices should raise concerns – from Twitter suspending 70 million bots in 2 months to influencers claiming stock imagery as original artwork. These issues also highlight just how little time and attention continues to be given to accountability in this channel. Clear guidelines, defined success criteria and due diligence around audience and engagement numbers are critical in helping your campaign have the best possible opportunity to deliver strong results against key business and media metrics.

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