Influencer Marketing: Influence vs Popularity?

influencer marketing

Over the last couple of years, I have witnessed the rapidly and ever annoying abuse of the word ‘influencer marketing’ within the walls that encase the digital frenzy of agency floors and client side meeting rooms. It’s really starting to grate on me!

‘Influence’ is not the world changing revolutionary marketing silver bullet that some would like you to believe, nor is it some mythical voodoo activity organised and captained by sub human oracles that will guarantee success. Don’t get me wrong, if planned, developed and implemented strategically and cohesively with other marketing activities it can kick some serious ass – I have some fantastically bad and amazingly successful first hand experience of influencer marketing for campaigns that I led – unfortunately, the aforementioned criteria that results in success with IM are often lacking, or so expensive you have to (or should) ask yourself is it actually worth it, or you simply can’t measure, which is even worse.

This post is part rant, part debate, and part advice. I hope to give some clarity on my thoughts about how you can navigate through the treacle that is influencer marketing and come out the other end with some tangible cost effective results.

What is influencer marketing?

I typed ‘define influencer marketing’ into Google and this is what came up.

“Influencer marketing is a type of marketing that focuses on using key leaders to drive your brand’s message to the larger market. Rather than marketing directly to a large group of consumers, you instead inspire / hire / pay influencers to get out the word for you.”

Makes sense.

Let’s be clear – Getting a famous person to endorse a product, initiative, fashion, trend, philosophy, political persuasion is not a new thing. It isn’t a new thing because to generalise, famous people tend to have a larger network than say the average non famous person, and their network may be influenced by said famous person when they are blatantly or subtly endorsing something. Go figure. Influence however, is not necessarily correlated to popularity…. more on that later.

So what’s all the noise about regarding ‘influencer marketing’?

I think there’s a couple of points to be made here:

  • #1 – HUGE growth period for social media:
    Let’s face it, social media has changed dramatically over the last few years. Aside from the mahoosive growth in the number of users on popular and niche social platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat fuelled by the rise of cheaper and smarter smartphones, wearables, and cheaper connectivity; influence – or presumed digital influence can now be better seen, attributed and measured say versus more traditional mediums.
  • #2 – Agency vs Internal:
    The industry has seen a huge shift in how social media is managed; what was once (2-4 years ago) largely managed externally such as community management, resourcing, and content ideation/production by a brands agency has now moved in-house. I think that has in turn triggered the influencer marketing frenzy as a ‘new service’ that agencies can offer clients. It’s likely a point of difference with what the agency can provide versus the capabilities of what an in-house team could provide. As influencer marketing is based upon established relationships that are often larger than one single client, agencies are likely one step ahead of many corporates in this sense. It also makes sense for a creative or media agency to leverage influencers as a part of their strategy, as opposed to a plugin from the client after said strategy has been created. A recent and brilliant white paper by eConsultancy in June 2016 titled ‘Social Media Best Practice Guide clearly shows how the role of social media has changed between agency vs in-house.

Presumed digital influence..

A few years ago and sadly still now for many brands and boardroom meetings, vanity stats (post likes, page likes, followers) were/are the craze. The bigger the number the better, which is obviously can lead to a misleading and jaded conclusion. Ultimately social media is about a number of elements that go well above and beyond these vanity stats, elements such as engagement in the true sense (comments – good and bad), advocacy (post shares and dark shares across messaging apps such as Whatsapp, email and SMS), brand sentiment, website visits, website sales/actions, customer service elements like response time, etc etc. All of these actions can result in real measurable actions and drive earned media.

Just because someone has 24 million Instagram followers it does not necessarily make somebody more influential, nor does the fact that each of said someones posts have over 100k likes. It simply means that they have a large audience base that may or may not have been bought or driven by some kind of incentive tactic, and raises questions about how fickle their audience base is and how valuable a like is. Or it all may be utterly and fantastically award winningly brilliant. It may be.

Influencer marketing checklist for success:

Influencer marketing can and does work for brands and can both compliment other activities or spearhead it. Just ensure that you have answers to the following points or you may be sat in a meeting explaining why you spent so much money to drive stats with impressively sized vanity numbers that actually have done little for your brand, and therefore you. Like a good cub scout, be prepared. Cleary define if you aiming for wide reach (popularity) or depth of reach (influence) – important difference that is often missed.

Below are twelve simple ‘check points’ for guiding you through that proverbial treacle and successfully coming out the other side.

  • #1 – Be authentic
    • In this ever more connected world people can see through BS and contrived endorsements. That can be damaging to your brand/cause. Authenticity should always come first so choose wisely about which influencer to use and how they fit your brand persona and audience.
  • #2 – Define specific objectives, KPIs and targets for your influencer strategy
    • Are you aiming for a wide reach (popularity) or depth of reach (influence) – important difference
  • #3 – Ensure you have measurement / tracking in place
  • #4 – Understand how engaged the proposed influencers’ audience are beyond page and post likes?
    • Ask for examples of previous influencer post results
    • Don’t be wooed by big follower and post likes numbers
    • Weigh up the pro’s and cons of niche influencers versus mass and how less can often result in more (much more)
  • #5 – Try and get longer form content commitment from the influencer i.e a blog post, video
  • #6 – Ensure the influencer fully understands the campaign ask, proposition, messaging, and that you are all on the same page in terms of expectations of the deliverables
  • #7 – Ensure any paid influencer activity fits with other marketing activity and the overarching strategy
  • #8 – Identify how often does the influencer post other brand / influencer strategy posts?
    • The more they do it, the more diluted your message may be
  • #9 – Does the influencer manage their own social media accounts?
  • #10 – Define an engaging influencer outreach plan that has a clear ask and states the benefits to the prospective influencers
  • #11 – If you don’t ask you don’t get – depending on your business, sometimes all you need to do is ask and if you are lucky at no cost. E.g. if you are a non-for-profit
  • #12 – Undertake a risk analysis of the influencer themselves and their involvement with your brand

Who has done influencer marketing well?

I was going to write about this but then I found a quality blog post from ninjaoutreach.com that has a ton of recent influencer marketing case studies so have a read of that.

Further Reading:

Thanks for reading and as always I very much welcome your thoughts


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