Just How Social Is That Social Media Influencer?

Just How Social Is That Social Media Influencer?
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Brands are being seduced by coverage about the appeal of influencers, and Thomas Hutley, head of OMD Word, is worried brands are going in too deep too quickly.

Over the last 12 months I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read articles on the ‘rise of social influencers’ or it being ‘the year of influencer marketing’. Yes we’ve seen huge growth, but with this growth comes opportunism and as brands race to compete, they’re breeding a new form of not-so-social influencers.

Now don’t get me wrong, I see the value in influencer outreach and have implemented a number of campaigns for clients over the past few years. There are some clear leaders in this space delivering genuine results for brands. Matching the right influencer with the right brand can deliver highly engaging content that shifts perception and ultimately drives significant brand awareness.

Tom Hutley

Tom Hutley

Yet, influence doesn’t happen overnight and I’m seeing too many brands become seduced by follower numbers that really don’t mean very much.

According to a recent study from Brand Data – a daily ranking index of digital and social media identities and 5,000 brands – Australia’s top six influencers now have a larger combined audience than the highest-selling magazine, newspaper and TV program collectively.

Now this doesn’t surprise me. Social media usage is continuing to grow and active users are on the rise. The screen in our pockets is the fundamental reason for this with 1 out of every 3 minutes on mobile now spent on either Facebook or Instagram.

However, the success stories of the influencers spending years to grow and nurture their following have inspired a new breed of social media influencers looking to make a quick buck and take a big shortcut to perceived success.

Today you can buy followers across any social network and searching Google, you’ll find hundreds of websites offering this service. Looking specifically at Instagram, in a couple of clicks it’s possible to buy 1,000 followers for just $1.

Suddenly this channel has become awash with self-proclaimed ‘social influencers’ offering to spruik your product for anywhere from $100 – $1000 per post. Many of these are now even represented by ‘influencer’ agencies employed to engage with brands on their behalf.

It didn’t take long for anyone working in social media to spot a fraud as profiles with followers boasting 50,000+ would feature content with little to no engagement. However, the same sites offering 100 Instagram followers for $1 have evolved, now offering 500 ‘likes’ for $1 and 100 comments for $1.

It’s suddenly become a lot more difficult to spot a fraud willing to invest and jump start their path to success and fame.

Over the past 12 months, I’ve seeing Instagram become flooded with these so called ‘social influencers’ flogging hundreds of different brands and still can’t quite believe they’re getting away with it.

It’s not even smaller businesses that might not have the adequate marketing support, I’m seeing multinational brands pop up on a weekly basis and the prominence of these frauds increase as other brands take stock.

It’s like all the rules of social advocacy are thrown at the window in order to get a meaningless mention, perceived to achieve mass social reach.

The social networks are responding and just a few months ago, Instagram did a mass cull removing unofficial accounts and it was interesting to see so many ‘social influencers’ followings drop by up to 40 per cent.

However, it’s not just on the social networks responsibility and here are my five tips to avoiding a social influencer fraud:

  1. There many free online tools you can use to identify if a social profile has ‘fake’ followers.
  2. Leverage social listening to see if this influencer has an online presence elsewhere, if they’re legit, it’s realistic they’d be active commentators and engaging across other online sites and blogs.
  3. Review their content. Lots of product spruiks across a broad portfolio should be avoided, how can they be credible if they’re supporting everything from nappies to beer.
  4. Socialise with them. And I mean offline. Any credible influencer will be open to you picking up the phone and speaking with them. This allows you to find out more about their background, interests and whether there is a genuine brand fit.
  5. Avoid anyone that adds ‘Social Media Influencer’ to their bio. The fact that’s the best thing they can say about themselves, suggests there’s not much more to them.

It’s time for clients to stop viewing social influencer outreach with rose tinted spectacles. Agencies representing these brands need to step up, become more accountable and take responsibility to ensure influencer outreach isn’t just ticking a KPI checklist and there is much more rigour to how they are identified, campaigns are implemented and the results presented.

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