More companies are embracing influencer marketing, and those already in the act are increasing their budgets and employing the strategy more frequently.
According to the State of Influencer Marketing report from Linqia.39% of marketers with a digital marketing budget above $500,000 plan to increase their influencer marketing budget this year. In addition, influencer marketing is transitioning from a once or twice a year tactic to a strategy used throughout the year – often to an “always on” influencer strategy.
However, influencer marketing faces several obstacles:
It can be expensive. Kim Kardashian charges $300,000 to $500,00 for a single sponsored Instagram post. While few brands pay such prices, other mega-influencers aren’t inexpensive.
It’s difficult to scale. Advertisers can buy more influencer mentions or add influencers to scale up – but that’s not easy. Influencer marketing is more labor intensive and more difficult to automate, although many platforms are trying.
Marketers and influencers can commit mistakes. “Trying to scale influencer marketing sometimes leads marketers to take shortcuts, like going after celebs with millions of followers but no affinity for the brand or scruples about divulging their endorsements,” points out CMO contributing writer Todd Wasserman. Influencers can also make mistakes themselves. Scott Disick, an influencer by virtue of his Kardashian connections, accidentally included his Instagram advertising directions from Skinny Tea with his post.
It’s become too popular for its own good. If every celebrity and influencer accepts promotions, consumers may develop an aversion and ignore their endorsements just as they now ignore banner ads.
Measurement poses challenges. Half of the marketers Linqia surveyed say measuring ROI of influencer marketing continues to be the biggest pain point. Many marketers focus on top-of-the-funnel brand awareness, impressions and engagement, while relatively few track the impact on sales. “The question of measurement remains a marketer’s single biggest challenge to increasing influencer investment. Unless brands can make meaningful comparisons between influencer investment and other media, the industry will not move from test-and-learn to a firm line item on a media plan,” said Ian Samuel, chief commercial officer at Buzzoole.
Meaningless numbers proliferate in influencer marketing measurement, says PR measurement expert Katie Paine, CEO of Paine Publishing. Brands routinely brag about earned media value, a bogus metric comparable to advertising equivalency value. Even worse, they confuse earned media value with revenue.
Bots are common. Brands pay more to influencers with large followings, but some – and sometimes many — of those followers are bots. Some “influencers” buy fake followers in order to obtain higher prices for sponsored posts.
They require disclosures. Disclosures, or lack of them, can prompt complaints from the FCC and consumer groups. Having issued warnings, the FCC is increasingly assertive in insisting that influencers reveal if posts are paid for. Brands that fail to include proper disclosures risk FCC fines and reputational damage.
Influencer Marketing Solutions
These are some possible solutions to those issues.
Micro-influencers & nano-influencers. Some brands have found that influencers with smaller followings, or micro-influencers, enjoy higher engagement levels, greater trust and relatively fewer fake followers than celebrity influencers. Their followers are more likely to heed their product recommendations. They’re also more affordable. Some may mention or endorse products for free samples.
Research shows that engagement tends to decline as the number of followers increases. Some say nano-influencers, or social media users with 1,000 to 10,000 followers, offer the best PR and marketing opportunity. Influencers with fewer followers tend to have more fans who know them personally and trust their recommendations.
Social media measurement. A social media analytics tool can determine the value of your influencer marketing and demonstrate its value to management. While influencer marketing is a common PR and marketing strategy, some experts warn that it may fall out of favor due to lack of measurement. A social media monitoring tool can also help identify the best influencers in your organization’s niche.
The main steps to proper influencer marketing measurement, Paine explains, include: agree on objectives based on business goals, agree on benchmarks, define metrics, and analyze results and draw conclusions. “Start by looking at the lowest-performing campaigns or influencers and figure out what went wrong,” Paine advises.
Scrutinize followers. Increased scrutiny of influencers’ followers can reveal potential imposter influencers and their fake followers. Some red flags include abnormally low or high likes-to-follow ratios. Unless an influencer was previously a celebrity, like a pro ball player, professional model, well-known writer or chef, quickly obtaining a million followers is extremely questionable.
Embrace the earned media approach. When done in isolation, paid influencer placements will probably not “move the needle,” especially if they aren’t compelling and not clearly aligned with the influencer’s persona, experts warn. PR pros can offer free content, product samples, company tours or other special services in return for brand mentions. The traditional PR approach of seeking earned media mentions can improve the effectivities of influencer marketing campaigns.
“It is true there is an organic and a paid approach to working with influencers just like anything else from search to social to content. The myth here is that you always need to pay influencers and that just isn’t true, writes Lee Odden at the TopRank Marketing blog.
Bottom Line: Influencer marketing faces pitfalls as more brands turn to the tactic. Some of its disadvantages are due to the tactic’s newfound popularity. However, organizations can overcome those hurdles with the right techniques.
This article was first published on Feb. 13, 2017, and updated on May 15, 2019.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.