Sephora grapples with fake influencer engagement daily as it seeks to redefine the channel's value

The brand has spotted an opportunity around “authentic” content co-creation

Despite having to contend with issues like artificially inflated engagement metrics daily, Sephora’s vice-president of marketing and e-commerce for South East Asia has revealed that the brand is in it for the long-haul, as it mulls over how best to deepen the creative relationship between itself and its most popular influencers.

Speaking to The Drum, Nandini Joshi, who oversees eight markets in the region, hinted that the beauty brand has spotted an opportunity around “authentic” content co-creation. Some of its top-tier talent has expressed interest in creative director-stye roles, but her team has recongised the care with which it has to handle this process.

"It's a challenge for brands: how do you work with influencers in a way where you are nurturing creative talent? Just like any other talent, you have to believe in the authentic voice that they have and see whether that fits with your audience or not and work with them in a trustful manner.

"However, you can't turn them into employees; it’s a fine line that brands continue to grapple with, but in the end you have to respect the creative processes they bring."

Her comments come as Samsung's top US marketer implied that creative agencies should be scared of influencers, however it's clear that away from this Sephora's focus for now remains firmly fixed on getting the best value – for itself and consumers – out of influencers it currently works with on the likes of Instagram and YouTube.

Redefining engagement

“Engagement can be manipulated today and it's definitely something we try to overcome on a daily basis," said Joshi.

To overcome this challenge, Sephora has moved away from short-tail click attribution models to one that is a little more holistic. This has included redefining how it measures engagement, which not only includes a step towards more sophisticated data via external social listening tools which analyse influencers’ user growth on a regular basis, but also a shift in the way it handles its data like social sentiment.

“We have moved away from a very siloed way of looking at the metrics. Around two years ago it was how much traffic was provided by influencer marketing, but now it’s more around the brand equity influencers bring, how we measure positive social sentiment and whether that is on an upward trend.”

While she was coy on the specifics, Joshi noted that this applies to data gleaned from the influencer side too; meaning that for Sephora trust on both sides will be vital as it continues to rely on influencers to provide it with a snapshot of private campaign or account metrics.

This practice in itself has come under scrunity from both brands and agencies for a lack of transparency. Combine this with 'comment pods' – groups of influencers which congregate online and promise to like or remark on one another's posts – and inflated user numbers from the platforms themselves as well as confusion around how fees are calculated, and it's making influencer engagement a tricky space to navigate for brands.

“As time goes on and relationships strengthen, the impact of an influencer relative to the cost flips. We have always believed in building long-term relations with our influencer network. It isn’t about getting one post out – it’s about building a story.”

Transparency

Her comments come amid fresh findings from influencer relationship platform Traackr and Talk PR which interviewed household beauty brands and undertook trend analysis of the most popular 1000 influencers in the space.

Along with concerns around disingenuous engagement metrics, another big talking point in 2017 has been how to signpost when content is paid for and Traackr and Talk PR found that overall the use of hashtags like #ad and #spon has increased by 54% over the last year, and engagement with these posts has almost quadrupled; showing that transparency is rewarded.

When executed poorly, like when an #ad is hidden among other hashtags, a post will see 50% to 80% less engagement than influencers' organic posts.

A study from the UK's committee of advertising practice in 2016 found that over a third of marketers actively choose not to adhere to rules around this due to a lack of understanding or a reluctance to be transparent about paid-for content.

In Australia, a market that falls under Joshi's remit, the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) introduced new guidelines stipulating that paid-for content should be labeled as such.

Separately, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has the right to impose hefty fines on influencers – a maximum fine of $220,000 per post for an influencer, and $1.1m for a brand – if legal action is taken over misleading posts.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.