Quantity of Eyeballs or Quality of Endorsement?

An insider’s view on influencer strategy.

By Clemmie Cuthbertson.

In the last two or three years, the influencer marketing sector has increased in size rapidly – and many believe it still has room to grow. According to the Association of National Advertisers, “75% of marketers currently work with influencers and of that, 43% plan to increase spending in the next year. Of those who are not currently using influencer marketing, 27% indicated they plan to do so in the next 12 months,” (The Drum, 2018). But all this intent does not necessarily make influencer marketing effective. Enthusiasm and effectiveness are not the same.

I am in the rare position of being both a social media influencer and an employee at an agency that delivers social solutions for its clients, often involving influencers. So I see the industry from two very different perspectives.

On the one hand, brands often contact me, asking where to send free samples of their latest low-calorie, additive-free alcopop or hottest make-up creation, in the hope that I’ll post images of their products to my profile. It means I’ve had to make a decision: will I take money for this and become an influencer for hire, or will I use and post only the products I genuinely think are good, refusing financial payment?

As an influencer with a day job – and admittedly, not quite a Kardashian-sized following – I chose the latter. But it’s not just influencers who need to weigh this decision. Brands who engage with influencers must factor it into their strategy, too.

Not all influencers are created equal
Influencers who take money to publicise a brand are, in essence, advertisements in human form. Consequently, social media etiquette demands that they append the tag ‘#Ad’ or ‘#Spon’ to any posts that feature a product they have been paid to publicise. For brands, this can be a great way to reach large and otherwise hard-to-reach audiences. But everyone knows it’s an ad – so although its reach might be great, the persuasive power of this kind of post will be minimal.
If, on the other hand, you see a brand or product featured on my profile, you’ll know I genuinely like it. This position has greater potential to persuade, but influencers like me rarely deliver huge audiences.

So for brands, there is a choice to make: quantity of eyeballs or quality of endorsement. And like so much in marketing, there is no right answer. Which one you choose for your brand (or what combination) depends, on what you want to achieve – or more specifically, where you are in the funnel.

Use the funnel
There are many variants of the sales funnel model, but the one we tend to use here at Keko London is the tried and tested AIDAR: Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action and Retention.
If your focus is at the top of the funnel – if you are simply trying to alert your audience to the arrival of a new product or your brand’s entry into a new market, for example – then the paid influencer route might be a sensible option. You can think of it in the same way as buying a poster, an ad at the side of a football pitch or space for your logo on a Formula 1 car. It will get your brand seen, but that will be about it.

You also need to consider the phenomenon of fake followers. The purchase of fake followers (and fake likes and fake comments) is more widespread than you might think – especially among ‘macro-influencers’ with more than 100,000 followers.

This has come about because, as an influencer, the more followers you have, the more brands will pay you. There’s even a formula for how much you can charge, based on the size of your following.

If I were to charge, for example, I could earn £0.015 x my number of followers – currently around 18,000. Which means a brand could buy a post for £270.00.

Naturally, people who depend on these fees for a living want to earn as much as they can – so they buy followers to increase the price they can charge per post.

So how can you tell if an influencer’s following is authentic? Engagement levels are a good indicator. On average, Influencers should reach at least half their followers’ accounts every week. If someone has a million followers but they only reach 1,500 per week, then you know not to use them. Likes are worth looking at, too. Your influencers should aim to have between 6% and 10% of their followers like their photos, if not more.

As mentioned above, however, even engagement can now be faked. So if it’s mass awareness you’re looking for, the fact that not all those eyeballs are real is something you’ll have to accept. As Lord Leverhulme might have said: “I know that half the money I spend on macro-influencers is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Beyond the numbers game
Using macro-influencers for awareness is a numbers game – and only by crunching the numbers like this can you decide whether you’re doing the right thing or you’d be better off buying paid media and controlling the message yourself.

But that doesn’t mean there are no pitfalls further down the funnel. Here, you’re trying to really persuade people of something – be it the quality of your product or some specific capability or benefit. It’s an opportunity to have an influencer talk about your product in more detailed way – so make sure you arm them with all the information they need – not just the snippet a macro-influencer would post.

Measurement is possible, too. When working with a micro-influencer at this level, one way to track effectiveness is to make sure they put a call to action in their post, e.g. ‘Use code Clemmie10 for 10% off NutriBuddy’s latest health shake’. Then you can see how many people redeem.

Part of a bigger picture
In the longer term, think about your influencers (micro or macro) as storytellers, rather than just a conduit to consumers. Each one has a little part of your narrative to impart to their own audience. Many consumers today are more likely to look at social media than look at your website, so it makes sense to develop a base of influencers who can be relied on to deliver at whatever part of the funnel they are best suited for. Paid or not, influencers will work best for you when they are part of something bigger – and not just a one-off transaction.

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