Frankly, it’s easy to dismiss—let alone roll our collective eyes at the mention of—influencer marketing on social media. At a shallow glance, it seems everyone is trying to crack the influencer gold mine, gaining access to exclusive hosted experiences, free products or direct compensation.
A deeper reality, however, shows that social influencer marketing isn’t going anywhere. In fact, already a billion-dollar industry unto itself, it’s only getting started.
The concept of known personalities—celebrities, athletes, musicians, authors, chefs, newsmakers of all walks of life—partnering with major brands or products is nothing new. Remember Michael Jordan for Nike or Hanes? Remember Madonna, Cindy Crawford or Britney Spears for Pepsi? David Beckham for H&M? Or more recently, Oprah Winfrey for everything Weight Watchers, or everything the Kardashians even whisper about? Influencer marketing has been around, in some form, for generations, if not centuries. In today’s fast-paced, digital-minded world, however, we frequently forget this fact, losing sight of the dependable, unavoidable value of influencer marketing when executed correctly as some sort of modern novelty.
It’s absolutely true that with the democratization of our culture, a direct result of social media, anyone with a smartphone can, in theory, develop a personal brand and create content in an effort to join the influencer game.
However, the fact remains: As consumers, we are substantially more likely to make a purchase, or become interested in and aware of a certain product, service or experience, when endorsed or associated with people we pay attention to, whether that happens to be a global celebrity or simply an interesting person we like to follow on Instagram.
Native Research Remains
Not all influencers are the same. And, not everyone who is an influencer is influential in the same way. As agencies, it’s up to us to do the legwork to know these nuances before pitching new partnerships. It’s up to us to understand who might be the best fit for our clients and their products or services.
Though the term “industry standard” as it relates to researching and tracking social influencers remains vague, new tools are finally coming online to help audit and manage your efforts. In particular, paid tools to help better identify audience and engagement authenticity. For searching and organizing relevant influencers, a helpful tool to begin your journey is GroupHigh, and then for deep-dives into individual engagement stats more comprehensively, HypeAuditor can be a great insurance policy. In the age of “growth services” and engagement bots, it’s more critical than ever to vet not only who we consider to be authentic, but their followers, too.
The reality, however, is that many of these tools are still new, and deploying a collection of them in order to achieve the data or insights you need is a must. To ensure you’re pairing the most appropriate influencers with your clients, know it will still require a little extra time, research and legwork on your end. In essence, common sense still applies. Here are some immediate variables to consider when taken in totality as you vet new influencers:
- Ratio of “likes” to total follower count. An average post by an average user should ideally receive engagement of around 2% or higher of their total follower number. If they are receiving substantially lower engagement, and on a consistent basis, this could be one indication that their audience not only isn’t engaged but not what it intends to be.
- After you follow the user, take the time to casually check your “Following” feed activity throughout the day. Your Following feed is essentially a live stream of your followers’ engagement habits. If the particular influencer is following or liking an excessive number of accounts every few seconds (keep refreshing the feed to notice), that’s a clear indication that the account has partnered with a paid growth service, as it’s impossible to engage with that many accounts in such rapid frequency.
- Elbow grease: Also take a few moments to manually check and review some of the accounts who follow or like the user. Bot or fake accounts typically have very few posts (if at all), have only a few followers, and also often have no photo or detailed information listed on their profile. If you’re randomly auditing their followers, and continue to catch profiles who showcase one or more of these observation points, good chance it’s a fake account. And, if by a large number, that’s another red flag.
New Focus: Micro-Influencers
Not every “social influencer” is worth their weight in gold—or in this case, followers. As touched on, followers and engagement remain as easy to purchase as it is to simply create a new Instagram account. From our clients’ perspective, it’s our responsibility to vet the people we partner them with. If a user’s 100k followers are 70-80% inauthentic, what benefit will that be to their outreach and bottom line? Those engagement numbers, even if high, will ultimately mean very little.
That is one reason why micro-influencers have become increasingly relevant to the conversation. True to the term influencer, those who are truly “influential” should themselves be followed by decision-makers, relevant customers, and people who trust their insight and value their opinions, AKA people at the top of the food chain that you want to be influenced.
These micro-influencers should also follow—and be followed—by your ideal audience, relevant to the industry of your client, product or campaign. Example: A food writer or blogger should be followed by established food media and other influential foodies in the region, a fashion blogger should be followed by real brands and boutiques, a local VIP should show ties to the local community by being followed by similar personalities and media. If the user you want to engage with isn’t “connected” in these fundamental ways to begin with, it often means their audience won’t benefit the client—regardless of authenticity.
New Style: Instagram Imperfection
Just as trends in food or apparel evolve, so do styles in content created by social influencers. Commonly referred to as the “Instagram aesthetic”—think bright, colorful and highly-staged content—there’s been a certain visual formula that Instagram’s most popular influencers apply when producing content. And, while beautiful and aspirational, it’s considered increasingly unattainable and unrelatable.
As a growing reaction to this formula, a new trend in visual styling—and storytelling—has been emerging. Think less manufactured and edited, more organic, in-the-moment and realistic content that implies authenticity via relatable flaws, candid behavior, vulnerability, and imperfection. Followers are increasingly showing preference here, as they are able to better identify with influencers who more consistently share this type of content.
Now, don’t get us wrong: A photo of your pasta should still look delicious. However, an over-fussed, over-lit and over-edited bowl of yet-to-be-enjoyed spaghetti and meatballs isn’t the relevant benchmark anymore. Followers want to see you twirling that pasta, enjoying a bite, or maybe passing the half-eaten bowl to friends across a crowded table—a setting that not only draws people in but makes them want to pull up a seat and join you.
As influencer marketing on social media evolves and adapts with the times and technology, new information, tools and insights that we can leverage for client success will continue to present themselves. This will help us establish a more consistent and efficient way to approach, manage and evaluate what success ultimately means for our clients. Influencers aren’t going anywhere, and it’s our job to stay ahead of the game.