Three things you need to know right now about influencer marketing

Kieley Taylor is the global head of social for M Platform (part of GroupM). Her focus is in streamlining operations, disseminating thought leadership, training, best practices, and advocating on behalf of client interests with key publishing partners. She is the lead subject matter expert within social for GroupM clients.

In her current role she evangelizes an audience-first approach to integrated planning and buying.

Three things you need to know right now about influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is one of the most promising tactics brands have in their toolbox today, and there’s little wonder why. It has proven to be a uniquely effective way for advertisers to harness the power of social media and foster real engagement with their core audiences in an age of proliferating media options, unprecedented consumer distraction and rampant ad avoidance. Identifying and working with credible influencers can generate favorable borrowed interest, bring exposure to your brand from a new prospective customer base, and augment creative needs for every stage of the customer journey.

While still amounting to a relatively small share of the total ad pie (for the majority of marketers in the US and UK, it accounts for less than 10% of their media budget, per eMarketer), more and more marketers are getting in the game, and overall investment in influencers is on the upswing. Yet, despite the promise that comes with aligning with a social media personality, peril could be lurking just around the corner.

Influencer programs are not immune to fraud, the rise of bots and a rash of fake followers are a problem in the influencer world, rightly leading to heightened skepticism and scrutiny by marketers, consumers and regulators alike. A wave of recent headline-making scandals involving influencers — from the ill-fated Fyre Festival infamously promoted by social media stars such as Kendall Jenner, to the college-admissions controversy that tripped up one-time Sephora partner and Lori Loughlin’s daughter, Olivia Jade Giannulli, has further tarnished the practice.

Here are three things you need to know right now to make influencer marketing work for your brand.

Influencer marketing is on fire — so are the results

In spite of the alarming headlines about influencer marketing, the reason for its growing popularity among brands is clear: it works.

That’s why, although still a relatively small part of brands’ budgets, more than 30% of companies surveyed said they had increased their focus on influencers as part of their marketing mix, edging out another medium that’s also soared in popularity, digital video, eMarketer notes in its report “Global Influencer Marketing 2019.” All told, 48% of brand social media managers said they had either forged relationships with influencers or planned to.

It is a truly global phenomenon, too. Two-thirds of retailers in North America said they employed or planned to enlist brand ambassadors and/or celebrity endorsers, according to the report, while in China influencer marketing was ranked as the number one trend that advertisers would keep their eye on this year—outpacing video, livestreaming, and social e-commerce and CRM.

While it’s a universal opportunity, global scale with influencer selection would mean significantly diminished impact. For this reason, scale is secondary to relevance for the most successful influencer programme. This means rolling up your sleeves around the world and applying universal standards to rigorously review the influencer landscape at a market and local language level for maximum relevance.

Influencer-based campaigns have a record of delivering measurable results for marketers, notably beauty and luxury brands. For example, beauty brand Avon, using GroupM’s influencer content and amplification solution INCA, partnered with 46 relevant influencers with a combined reach of 17 million consumers on a campaign whose target was 757,000 engagements but that ended up delivering 1.9 million engagements. That's two and a half times the initial target.

Those consumers are opening up their wallets, with 72% of those surveyed reporting that they had made a fashion, beauty or style purchase after seeing something promoted via Instagram, according to Hootsuite.

It’s no mystery why more brands are seeing influencer marketing as a beautiful thing.

And yet … not all influencers or platforms are created equal

Art and science — and naturally, a fair amount of marketing know-how — come into play when choosing the right social media influencer and platform with which to partner.

Not only the biggest celebrities or those with the greatest number of followers on Instagram or Facebook are always your best bet. Consider: influencer marketing firm Traackr determined that 3% of people generate 90% of the impact online, as Meltwater reports.

If you are having difficulty wrapping your arms around the right influencer strategy, you’re not alone. Finding the right social media personality with which to partner is identified as a major challenge for 40% of marketers, according to influencer marketing firm Relatable in its State of Influencer Marketing 2019 report.

Finding an influencer who is seen by your target audience as a real, reliable and relatable resource, whose valued assessment of your product will lead to consumer goodwill and investment, carries far more weight than mere megawatt celebrity status. In fact, 65% of consumers surveyed said the influencer’s standing as an expert would lead them to trust that individual, versus 9% who were swayed by the number of followers he or she had amassed, according to eMarketer. Just 4% identified celebrity status as a factor.

And if you think Instagram is the only place to be, think again. It’s a fact that the photo and video-sharing site, with its Stories and swipe-up features, remains by far the most popular platform for influencers globally, with 78% saying it is their leading means of collaborating with brand marketers, Hootsuite reports. But while it is the preferred channel for many fashion, travel, retail, beauty and luxury marketers and in countries such as India and Japan, Facebook remains by far the most likely place for consumers to interact with influencers in the U.S., while consumers in Germany are most likely to turn to a combination of YouTube and Facebook, according to eMarketer. All the while, newer channels like TikTok and Twitch continue to emerge.

Tapping into people who are influential on emerging platforms can have a double benefit. Your brand will be presented in an authentic way to people on the app or site while you’ll have a low-risk way of understanding if the emerging partner is worth scaling media and production investment.

The right third-party partner can be your Sherpa through the minefield of influencer marketing

As noted, the proliferation of bad actors, scandals and damning headlines have led to a crackdown by authorities such as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which regulates advertising in the UK, as Econsultancy reports, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US, according to Hootsuite.

CMS Wire reported that of 10,000 social media influencers studied, 25% had participated in false engagement activities, with well-known brands potentially falling victim to less-than-reputable influencers.

Therefore, brands must remain vigilant about partnering with brand-safety experts who can offer third-party verification and validate the authenticity of influencers and their followers.

That’s why GroupM is working with industry leaders around influencer verification to build out better solutions for advertisers’ influencer activation. Verification best practices include an approach where an independent third party such as Sylo, which is not connected to media distribution, serves as an agnostic validator of influencer’s quality. And when influencer content is distributed further as digital ads OpenSlate, DoubleVerify and Moat are examples of third-party vendors that provide agencies with reports before, during and after a brand’s campaign, depending on execution and platform.

Combating fraud remains a major challenge for the advertising industry — and as influencer marketing keeps heating up, the challenges will only grow. Third-party partners will continue to be essential for providing brands with better transparency and more effective outcomes.

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