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How to make influencers truly influential

Instascreener’s research revealing that a significant portion of influencer media spend is not reaching real consumers should come as little surprise to most industry analysists and watchers. What is a surprise is the scale of the problem, and that major global household brands are among those being affected.

Brands clearly believe that influencer marketing can deliver return-on-investment if executed well. Instagram remains the platform of choice, with some four out of five brands using Instagram as the platform of choice for influencer campaigns. Love it or hate it, influencer marketing is here to stay and growing rapidly, and some estimates suggest it is now an $8bn industry globally.

But following the Instascreener report, amongst others citing fake followers, it appears to be treading on thin ice. Money and time are being leaked, contracts could be in breach, and the general credibility of digital advertising activities could yet again be at risk within brand organisations. If trust issues continue, Keith Weed’s call for “urgent action now to rebuild trust before it’s gone forever” before he stepped down as CMO at Unilever may be too little too late.

Fake followers will likely always be a challenge. After all, nothing is 100% perfect. But the extent of media spend lost due to fake followers continues to be a real concern.

In six months between October 2018 and March 2019 Facebook announced it had removed 3.4bn fake accounts, more than double the same period the year before, so they are clearly taking action and trying to make progress in this area. According to the company, most are removed prior to ads being served, however at this point, those numbers aren’t independently verifiable.

Of greater concern to brands is the loss of control over brand messaging as the brand becomes intertwined with the influencer, and vice versa. Research, released late last week by Grey and YouGov, revealed that influencer marketing is the least trusted form of social media marketing. Only 4% of people surveyed admitted they trusted influencers, with 18% saying they trusted brands on social media more than influencers.

These issues ultimately point to questions around influencer marketing effectiveness. Influencers, with their millions of followers, often compete for eyeballs in crowded, low-attention environments.

Yet there are some key ways in which brands can begin to tackle the ongoing issues facing influencer marketing.

Firstly, there is equally a role for brands to play in ensuring they’re properly auditing and vetting the influencers - and their followers - with whom they choose to work. As the saying goes, ‘trust but verify’.

As with any other media channel, brands should ensure proper measurement practices are in place and start by measuring outcomes. Robust measurement techniques, such as geo-testing, can be applied to the influencer market to understand uplift and effect, which is a good starting point for brands wanting to spend significant budgets on influencer marketing.

Ultimately brands should take responsibility for their own media spend. This starts with understanding who is making money and how they are making it. It also means demanding access to data and independent verification solutions so brands can hold influencers and the platforms to higher account. Using impartial data and analysis, marketers should be able to decide if this channel is right for the brand when weighed up against other media options.

In today’s fragmented and complicated media ecosystem, this is all easier said than done, yet brands and the industry as a whole can make a start with these practical steps to move towards greater accountability and better outcomes in the influencer space.

Angus McLean is director of Ebiquity.

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