Marketers and agencies need to better represent the business impact of influencers, argues Lewis Shields, social media strategist at comms agency N2N Communications, in this opinion piece.
Agencies of all sorts have been quick to jump on the increased appetite of clients to include influencers as part of their campaigns. This free-for-all, which has really come to a head over the last 12 months, is producing some really interesting methodologies of best and not-so-best practice.
What’s interesting to see is that, although agencies are absolutely taking on these learnings and evolving their practices, for the large part we’re not seeing influencers develop more sophisticated approaches for how they work with brands – and ultimately it could screw up their opportunity.
Before I go on, I want to clarify two points straight up. First, I don’t claim influencers should have the marketing acumen to independently deliver insightful analytics and campaign reports (and many influencers do provide good campaign insights). Second, I’m not suggesting marketing colonises influencers, to bastardise their existing content to satisfy the requirements of their clients.
What I do believe is that both marketers and influencers must collaborate more closely to develop meaningful ways of analysing the communities clients are paying them to influence. Failure to do so creates risk that the market will move on as clients want to know that what they’re paying for works.
Do influencers need to back it up?
In 2015, can any marketer worth their salt really recommend their client invest money in a channel based on casual observations? “They dress well, have x thousand followers and their Instagram regularly gets hundreds of likes” is about the level of justification some agencies are putting up for big ticket activities. But unfortunately the truth is, at times, these observations are all agencies have to work with because many influencers aren’t capable of providing the level of audience insight we’ve come to expect from working with media and social.
As more tweens realise their aspirations of becoming ‘insta-famous’, the fickle nature of this digital fame gives rise to more opportunity for brands to engage influencers across the board. The Australian market is stand-out, in that influencers of all levels are incredibly commercially savvy when it comes to working with brands. What lacks, for the large part, is their savviness in backing this up with why they’re worth the cost – outside of likes and reach.
And here lies our problem – how can this influencer boom be sustainable if the majority of the individuals can’t effectively define nor evaluate their audiences in a meaningful way. The answer is they can’t – but is that really their problem?
Is it our agenda or theirs?
Preserving the integrity of the channel is a topic I do love to harp on about – but it’s especially true for influencers, because it’s people, not social posts or technology we compromise. For many, their passion for their area of interest is self-satisfying. Some don’t know the audience break down of their Facebook page, some don’t even have website analytics – but should they care?
In short, yes. If they want brands and marketers to engage them over a sustained period of time to support commercial activity – they need to give us the data for us to hold them up as a success.
But it’s not all on them.
We need to represent
Marketers must be more attune to the fact they need to give influencers the tools to succeed and demonstrate their worth. Without a doubt there are influencers who can represent themselves – and make a decent living by being an influencer. But there are others, who aren’t naive – they’re just less fazed – and don’t want to productises their passion project.
Regardless, if influencer marketing is going to be sustainable we need to define and implement ways of measuring which make it easy for influencers and meaningful for clients. The best approach to this analysis is actually emerging from the agency village scrum. Messaging insights from PR, earned chatter through social, referral traffic and conversion from digital and brand perceptions from ad land have the potential to turn influencer marketing into one the most sophisticated channels outright.
So while marketers develop the sophistication of their campaigns, we must also work to better educate influencers on our expectations on them to demonstrate the tangibility of their outputs, and broader commercial impact. However, humanising this approach is key – these are people, and we need to be responsible in balancing expectations with what’s acceptable. Ultimately, it’s up to agencies to support influencers and not screw up the value they create – otherwise no one wins.