Is influencer marketing an over-hyped fad?

By Ross Bethell, Director of Strategy at Cicero & Bernay 

The numbers are all there and they read like front-page headlines. “Influencer marketing delivers 11 times higher return on investment (ROI) than traditional forms of media marketing”, says a 2016 study by TapInfluence and Nielsen Catalina Solutions, while influencer software company Tomoson has found that businesses are on average generating $6.50 in revenue for every $1.00 spent on influencer campaigns.

Not only that but the whole world’s at it, with a recent eMarketer survey revealing that 84% of marketers plan on executing at least one influencer marketing campaign during the next 12 months.

I could go on, as there is an overwhelming cache of statistics to support influencer marketing. Convincing clients of its worth should be a walk in the park, but generating these impressive measurement statistics is what continues to elude marketers and agencies on the whole.

The industry hasn’t yet mastered a blueprint for measuring the value of influencer marketing, but as with all strategies, a measurement method is only of value if we can demonstrate that it produces an acceptable ROI.

With PR and marketing we have established a clear and data-driven set of measurements – think KPIs, message update, share of voice, OTS and the dreaded AVE – to name but a few. So why do we still balk at measuring the impact of influence?

A hard sell

For one thing, influencer marketing can be a slow burner with seemingly vague results. Clients often shy from this and there is an impatience associated with the digital era that can make the long game a hard sell. Influencer campaigns have also focused on nebulous qualities such as ‘loyalty’, ‘awareness’ and ‘engagement’, which do not inspire confidence in clients focused nowadays on the bottom line.

Rather than generating immediate sales and rapid ROI, influencer marketing is more about planting a seed. It takes patience to watch it grow, but while we are we need to learn how to effectively measure, monitor, track and report on influencer campaigns.

From the very outset of the campaign and right through to the cool down period, our focus needs to be on contributing to that growing cache of statistics with our own impressive results.

Setting campaigns up for success

The nebulous qualities I described earlier are proof that when it comes to influencer marketing, we can be our own worst enemies, because we often set out with ill-defined objectives that make it nearly impossible to demonstrate real results. For example, ‘Raise brand awareness’ is not an acceptable objective because it contains no specific target.

By contrast, ‘Increase follower base by 20%’, ‘Introduce 2,000 new people to our products’ or ‘Generate 1,500 downloads for the app’ are objectives that paint a clear picture of what success must look like. The first step of delivering an impactful influencer campaign is to outline measurable objectives.

These objectives will define the measurement methods you put in place at the outset of a campaign, and there are ways to make your life easier in this respect too. By using trackable campaign URLs, conversion pixels, exclusive promo codes or hashtag based strategies you can easily follow and isolate the results generated by your campaign.

Setting up your listening tools is equally important – you may choose to monitor your campaign using your own social media savvy, your influencer’s data and services like Google Anlaytics, but there are also third party agencies that can help lend depth to your data. Think about the results you want to show once the campaign is complete, and implement methods for obtaining them.

You will rely heavily on your influencers throughout your campaign, so it is important to select the correct individuals and ensure they are all completely on board. Your influencers should have access to a desirable target audience that you would otherwise not be able to reach, and be able to demonstrate that they have a significant level of sway over their followers.

Follower numbers are less important than engagement, although the aim should be to find a happy balance between the two. Your influencers will also play a crucial role in data provision, so they must be transparent and conscientious about documenting and sharing data following each and every post and other agreed activity. Make your influencers allies in providing your client with solid results.

Once your campaign is set up for success and activity begins, it is time to bring in the data. There are various layers of an influencer campaign which can be broadly described as ‘Reach’, ‘Reaction’ and ‘Returns’ – each moving closer to achieving those all-important results upon which the client is banking.

Reach

This is the lowest level and basically describes how many eyes have seen your campaign. Reach is defined not only by your influencers’ audience sizes, but also by the audiences’ awareness of the content they post. The key measurements for assessing reach are follower numbers and impressions – hard data that describes exactly how many people have viewed your content as a result of the influencer’s activity.

If one of your campaign objectives is to ‘Get my product in front of 5,000 new people’, then this is an important metric that can add real value to a campaign by heightening brand exposure.

Reaction

‘Reach’ might describe who has seen your content, but it does not gauge their response or their level of engagement. This is where audience engagement and sentiment come into the picture.

Audience engagement is measured by likes, comments, shares, and any other form of response that indicates someone has not just seen your content but also taken the time to actively reply to it. Engagement rate is the number of people who reacted to your post divided by the number of people who saw your post.

However, remember that all reactions are not created equal – consider a likes as a glimpse, comments as a nod and shares as a handshake – and this should be factored into to your measurement matrix.

Audience sentiment goes beyond measuring reactions to describe the nature of the reactions. A simple negative reaction to positive reaction ratio can assess your general brand perception, but third parties like SocialMention can add further data that measures the ‘strength’ and ‘passion’ of your audiences’ reactions.

Listening in to the general tone surrounding your campaign is important as it allows you to assess audience response and adjust your strategy accordingly. The aim is to create content that resonates with your target audience, and if it misses the mark you should be asking why and changing course.

Returns

The returns of your campaign ultimately depend on the goals you outlined at the outset, as well as the financial value you assign to each result.

Examples include social media growth – tracking the increase in your follower base – or attracting a new audience to your website. In this case you will want to use Google Analytics to monitor traffic and identify where it has come from, so you can see exactly how many new visitors your influencer has brought in.

Google Analytics is also applicable if your objective was to encourage downloads of an e-product, as provided you have created trackable campaign URLs, it can show the amount of traffic each influencer has driven to your download page.

One neglected return of influencer campaigns is the rich content that they create for brands. This is valuable because as consumers are becoming increasingly sceptical of branded content, organic content can help your brand to stand out from the deluge of others vying for share of voice online.

It may be hard to pin a value on content creation, but this just highlights the need for agencies to work harder to quantify the more intangible returns of influencer campaigns.

One tangible return is actual sales that have resulted from your influencer campaign. There may be a time lag before you can measure this data, but you can up your chances of capturing it by using exclusive campaign promo codes.

If you provide an influencer with a 20% discount code to share with their followers, you can attribute every purchase made using the promo code to the campaign.

Sales are the final frontier of influencer marketing and as a result the less tangible returns are often ignored; the answer will be for companies to agree on their equivalent financial values and realise that they can be just as valuable over the long term.

A new approach

When attempting to measure the impact of influencer campaigns, many of our failings thus far have come down to lack of proper preparation.

We need to put more emphasis on defining exactly what results we are hoping to achieve, exploring the methods for measuring them, implementing the relevant tracking procedures, and providing reports that confirm campaign objectives are being met.

Without proper measurement strategies in place for influencer campaigns, we are simply engaging in ‘hope for the best’ marketing at its worst. It is time to replace nebulous strategies with a pragmatic, data-driven approach that prioritises measurable objectives and delivers hard facts.

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