For the last few years influencer marketing has been many things for many brands and agencies – a buzz word, a dirty word, an overused word. All too frequently influencer marketing is thrown around to bolster campaign metrics and increase visibility. It isn’t that these reasons don’t have a place in the conversation – surely we all want impressive numbers – but there is sometimes, perhaps even often, a lack of strategy and creativity when it comes to work with influencers which needs to be addressed.
When the concept first emerged, agency partners talked about ‘authentic referral’ and the power of recommendation from those individuals our consumer base choose to follow. Over time, we’ve seen influencer work get, for lack of a better word, lazy and degrade into pure visibility and promotion. This cookie cutter approach of using influencers merely as amplifiers is forcing brands, and subsequently agencies, to answer hard questions about the ROI of influencer marketing compared to that of paid advertising. These activities are not the same, and should not be compared like for like – but if your agency partner isn’t evolving their approach, they aren’t doing your brand proud. It is time to stop asking agency partners to validate influencer marketing work with advertising metrics and instead challenge them to return to authentic, real and ultimately meaningful influencer comms.
And while there has been a tangible shift in the use of influencers and their position in social media does not mean it is time to step away or step back. In fact, influencer marketing is expected to grow in value as an industry to $15 billion by 2022 with more than half of marketers claiming to be putting at least 20% of their budget into the activity. Brands that fail to jump on influencer marketing in a strategic and integrated manner, are going to be left in the dust of those investing properly and putting the time and effort into this work. This investment includes researched consideration of influencer type, channel and format to drive optimal engagement – with the broader knowledge that TikTok content in particular is travelling off platform and into media at incredible pace. If your agency is coming to you with follower numbers and projected reach figures alone, they aren’t moving with the times.
The overarching benefit of influencers over advertising is both the depth of messaging and the sense of referral, and while you will often find that that the larger the influencer the more limited the messaging, it will almost always surpass brand led advertising in delivering key narratives, emotions, challenging perceptions or driving reappraisal. The value of influencers, however, doesn’t stop at messaging and perception. They are powerful action drivers for brands and can help to move consumers down the funnel in extremely cost-efficient ways. As e-commerce and social media continue to converge, and platforms move to become more and more shoppable, influencers become increasingly important, acting as intermediaries that connect the brand with the path to purchase, delivering immediate returns. Better ROI than the generic swipe up ad on Instagram Stories? Most definitely.
As you develop your influencer strategy with your agency, challenge them on your audience and the best way to drive active engagement with them via format and platform. If generic plans containing ‘a feed post and two stories on Instagram’ are all you are getting, it is time to push harder. As agency leads we (should) know that TikTok prioritises Live Stream content – so an influencer strategy for this platform should consider this, while Facebook prioritises Groups and Instagram prioritises Reels. As functionalities are released, the platforms push their visibility in the algorithm to gain traction. Your influencer strategy, and your agency, should be leveraging this alongside careful messaging and the ability to act.
Ultimately, a brand’s work with influencers should create emotional connections, drive behaviour and build a narrative amongst key audience groups – whether you are working with macro influencers on a global scale or nano influencers for localised content creation – it should be done with strategic consideration and measurable outputs that are unique to your campaign objectives, not simply parroting advertising metrics. Wherever you want your audience to fall on the pyramid of influence – from “I Know It” all the way up to “I Live It” – there is not only a purpose and space for influencer marketing when done properly, there is a genuine need. Let it do what it was intended to do and leave the amplification ROI to the media agencies. We’re here to tell stories, not to broadcast.