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Bonfire of the vanity metrics: how influencer measurement is getting smarter

Influencer marketing spend shot up during the last year, but with more budget allocated to the channel, brands are demanding greater scrutiny. We explore how tech providers and agencies are making influencer media more accountable.

The shift of advertising spend from traditional media channels into influencer media has been one of the defining marketing stories of the pandemic.

As consumers spent more time on social media – Facebook recorded a 12% growth in its monthly user base in January, while challenger TikTok has seen an 800% growth on its US userbase since 201873% of marketers have allocated more of their budgets to this sector, even as they’ve dialled back spend overall.

But with more cash being splashed around online, the need for scrutiny has increased. Harvey Cossell, group head of strategy at influencer marketing agency We Are Social, concedes influencer marketing attribution ”can be problematic”, especially when compared to other channels.

”When looking at CPA, an influencer post is always going to be far more expensive than a straight media buy as you are using a third party to try and drive a tangible outcome,” he says. ”You need to ensure you aren’t comparing apples with pears.”

Dafydd Woodward, global managing director of Inca, GroupM’s influencer and content marketing measurement unit, tells The Drum: “Ultimately, we are looking to be able to compare influencers versus other types of media channels so that we can we can justify their place on the plan.“

Finer details

Measuring the impact of influencer marketing has been a challenge for the sector since its inception. Most social networks' native user tools – for example likes, retweets or comments – provide evidence of engagement that’s absent from established media channels like out-of-home, but clients are wary of these so-called vanity metrics.

Rahul Titus, head of influence at Ogilvy UK, says: ”I’ve never had a conversation with a senior marketer that cared about vanity metrics. People want something that actually delivers for their business. It could be sales, it could be leads, it could be brand awareness. You just have to be able to map everything back up.”

Woodward concurs. “About four or five years ago, what measurement would there have been for an influencer campaign? I’d wager very little. There weren’t any specific outcomes or guaranteed metrics behind the spend from an influencer campaign.“

He says regular reporting metrics have moved on from “followers, to impressions to reach to engagement, and now to mid to lower funnel metrics as well and even potentially sales.“

Increasingly, specialist social agencies are building their own platforms to measure the effectiveness of influencer marketing, and in turn, client spend.

London-based marketing solutions provider Influencer.com is a prime example. After two years of development in close partnership with agency clients WPP and Omnicom, and brands such as Ocado and Alibaba, it’s launched a platform which helps manage influencer campaigns from planning, through to activation and measurement.

Understanding ROI on influencer spend is one of the biggest problems facing marketers in the sector, according to chief executive officer and co-founder Ben Jeffries.

He says Influencer.com’s solution, ”essentially offers brands end-to-end data transparency achieved through real time campaign data and insights set against key performance targets.”

The platform is designed to be used by both creators and marketers, enabling them to manage content approval processes together, but also assigns influencers an ’impact score’, an aggregate metric that combines and weights different types of engagement (such as the number of likes or saved posts) together.

”It weights each of these engagement metrics, not by number but by the value we’ve interpreted against them. So a save, for example, is worth 15 points, whereas a like is only worth one,” Jeffries explains. ”It means you can see how much impact a post has actually got by those deeper important engagement metrics, which helps to understand the return of investment.”

Waves is connected to the APIs of each of the major social media platforms, enabling Influencer’s data to be compiled in real time. That impact score can be used to tell marketers how effective each influencer is at delivering their specific campaign objectives.

”You can basically compare creators by how impactful they’ve been on a campaign, because you’re comparing what impact they’ve got, [relative] to their reach. You can see who’s driven the most conversions further down the marketing funnel.”

At Ogilvy, Titus explains how his team has incorporated Waves into its own campaign management product, InfluenceO, which hosts over a billion influencers across 60,000 categories. Waves is one of 22 products in the tech stack behind InfluenceO, one that helps underpin what Titus calls "outcome-based planning.”

”We spend a lot of time planning with our clients, really figuring out what they're trying to achieve from influencer marketing. It’s not about somebody holding a product – nobody wants that. And having the right technology means that you can measure influence consistently across all the markets based on various KPIs,” he explains.

”We went with Influencer and Waves because of their technology; there’s not a lot of people in the marketplace who can do this. We use them quite a bit to do multi-market campaigns for our clients.”

Ogilvy’s influencer measurement strategies have changed over recent years, as its clients’ needs have shifted. Titus says: ”We’re looking at influencer marketing as a holistic channel that can really deliver marketing actions for our clients, online and offline. A lot of our influencer marketing campaigns are now measured on outcome-based KPIs, rather than output-based KPIs.

”That could mean who much footfall we can drive to a Boots store during Christmas using influencers – or how many more bottles we can get in people's hands for Bacardi using Deliveroo.”

The holistic approach works for the agency’s clients especially well, Titus says, when they combine influencer tactics with other comms efforts. ”We did a study last year that found every time we added influencer marketing to the wider marketing mix, the ROI went up 33%. If you're going to be working with an influencer anyway, why not put them in your TV ad and follow the journey down?”

Future intent

Influencer’s competitor, Publicis-owned MSL, has developed its own end-to-end platform, Fluency. Cadence Ely-Mooney, digital account supervisor, says the platform is ”the most sophisticated influencer engagement and management platform in the world.”

Like Waves, it incorporates a content approval workflow, an aggregate social metric – MSL call theirs ”social media value” – and pulls through data directly from social media platforms. Ely-Mooney explains that Fluency also tracks sales through affiliate links, integrations with Shopify and MikMak, and feeds into retargeting methods by integrating with Epsilon. She says: ”While we previously used most of the most popular software programs and vendor management services, Fluency has been a gamechanger.

”We can focus on scaling programs and optimizing strategically to deliver the best possible performance for our clients. We combine human intelligence and relationship development with our best in class software to create work that truly delivers influence and impact.”

As Woodward notes, brands are unlikely to reverse the spend they've moved into influencer channels during the pandemic. “People are finding new ways to shop, new ways to buy, and platforms are becoming a lot more interactive and shoppable. Habits will continue to evolve and people spend more time on social platforms,“ he predicts. “Using creators and influencers in this space is a is an ideal way for brands to reach consumers.“

Looking beyond 2020 and 2021’s influencer boom, Ely-Mooney says MSL is working to link purchase intent to its measurement efforts. ”It depends on your KPIs, but most methods to calculate ROI over the past decade have improved. We are able to easily evaluate influencer sales, channel performance, and increases in site traffic and provide an analysis of how influencers impacted these efforts. In addition, we are currently exploring ways to calculate ROI by determining purchase intent, instead of analyzing comments to see if consumers are intending to buy the product.”

‘Cultural shift’

Cossell echoes Titus’ statement that influencer channels are most effective when combined with a wider plan. ”We only work with influencers when appropriate for a brand. Influencer marketing is not a strategy in itself, but actually part of a broader communication strategy. Modern brand thinking needs to be culture-first and then look at how to bridge consumers back towards the sale of a brand, product or service.”

Even as methodologies get more advanced, he still advises caution and a focus on the bigger picture. ”If brands are working with influencers purely for reach, they’re going to struggle to derive direct attribution. The scale just isn’t there yet and other media spend is markedly more effective.

”However, I’d argue this is the wrong way to be looking at influencer marketing. It’s about building partnerships, collaborating creatively and looking for long-term relationships built on trust over time with both the talent and their communities.”

The development more intelligent and more accurate measurement, combined with a greater acceptance of influencer marketing’s place in the mix across, means demand for greater accountability will only increase.

”We need to hold influencer marketing to highest standards across the board,” says Titus. vThe pandemic was a real cultural shift for influencer marketing... 2020 was the year influencer marketing grew up.”

”Spend has gone up significantly. Clients have really started taking it seriously, and they’ve started taking a global point of view on influencers.”

Today, he argues, ”influencer marketing is one of the better channels to invest in because you get immediate feedback. That’s really powerful.”