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How much is that influencer worth? The answer may surprise you

By Martin Kihn, Senior vice-president of strategy, marketing cloud

August 31, 2022 | 9 min read

Standards for measuring the impact of influencer content are not created equal, writes Salesforce’s Martin Kihn.

Influencers leaning against green Mercedes in the desert

How much engagement do influencers really produce? / Andre Sebastian

We’re all under the influence.

Influencer marketing is the fastest-growing paid channel this year, after connected television (CTV), resilient even in the face of recession. As companies plateau their use of social media, 75% of US marketers plan to invest in influencers this year – up from 66% in 2020, according to eMarketer.

And it’s not about products-for-posts anymore – it’s big business. Global marketers spent about $14bn on influencers last year, including media. B-listers such as Joanna Gaines and Addison Rae enjoy multi-figure deals, while real-life stars including footballer Cristiano Ronaldo get an estimated $500,000 per post. And there are thousands of creators in niches from travel to beauty to – of course – cats who are paid an average of $100 per 10,000 followers per meow.

In a world where 50 million people call themselves ‘creators,’ there are a lot of options for brands to partner their way into feeds, tweets and videos. Influencers can provide creative content, access to elusive audiences, higher engagement and compelling social proof.

But there’s a problem. Brands using influencers, surveyed by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) in 2020, admitted their top challenge was measurement. The situation is no better now. How do you know if you’re getting a worthwhile return-on-influencer (ROIn)?

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Channels are not created equal

Measuring the impact of an influencer program is notoriously sketchy. It’s an emerging channel without industry standards. Although the Media Rating Council (MRC) has established guidelines for paid social measurement, most of the value of influencers comes from organic engagement – all those likes, shares and comments from followers and friends of friends that turn a snippet of video into cultural cachet.

Challenges with measuring ROIn include:

  1. Data collection: Brands without API access to influencer accounts rely on methods such as emailed screenshots for metrics

  2. Reach: It is difficult (read: impossible) to deduplicate audiences across platforms

  3. Engagement: Different platforms present different options (where TikTok garners likes, Pinterest culls clicks) and define ‘engagement’ in different ways

  4. Consistency: Agency partners often use proprietary roll-up metrics that can be opaque

Earlier this summer, the ANA released the first ‘Influencer Marketing Measurement Guidelines,’ taking a step toward standardizing organic measurement. Developed by the Influencer Marketing Advisory Board – formed in 2020 with reps from brands such as Puma and Target – it was based on meetings with 25 agencies and the eight major platforms (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube).

Brands that have been there will tell you that working with influencers is special – more like hiring an improv troupe than deploying a bot. Companies like control, but creativity is part of influencers‘ charm. So it makes sense to start by asking them how they measure success. A beauty star such as Huda Kattan might value video engagement, while a photo influencer such as Murad Osmann might care more about shares.

Most brands measure ROIn based on ‘engagement,’ a blunt sum of actions divided by exposures, aggregated across all the platforms in the campaign. But this method assumes every creator aims for the same responses, and it ignores the platforms‘ real inconsistencies.

Many roads to the rainbow

Using basic discipline, the hard-working marketer with an influencer program wants some combination of three KPIs:

  1. Awareness: This is driven by reach and frequency, generally available for each platform in isolation, but not across platforms; video views are usually counted here

  2. Engagements: These are measured interactions with the influencers‘ content, including likes and shares – often expressed as an ‘engagement rate’ (ER) or engagements per reach

  3. Conversions: Often the ultimate goal, this is likely undercounted and based on direct clicks through to the brand’s commerce site or other destination

Now, the ANA performs a public service in teasing out the vagaries of the platforms‘ self-reported metrics. Anyone who’s spent time parsing reports from social networks will appreciate this effort. Key differences among the platforms‘ influencer reporting include:

  1. Facebook and Instagram: For Meta-owned platforms, ER is total engagements divided by impressions, not including video views

  2. TikTok: ER is total engagements divided by video views, excluding replays

  3. YouTube: ER is the same as TikTok; however, TikTok counts any video that’s started as a view, while YouTube only counts a view after 30 seconds or 100% for its short-form ‘Shorts‘

  4. Twitter: Twitter is similar to Meta, but quote-tweet counts aren’t available via the API

  5. LinkedIn: ER does not include video views, which are counted after two seconds with 50% viewable

  6. Snapchat: Interestingly, Snap doesn‘t yet provide organic influencer reporting

Understanding the components of the platforms‘ reports unlocks comparisons. Obviously, an autoplay video view on Twitter isn‘t as meaningful as a video view on YouTube, and a retweet on Twitter is not exactly equivalent to a pin on Pinterest.

For awareness and conversion measurement, reach by platform and direct attribution are useful. They aren‘t perfect, since the former misses duplicates and the latter indirect attribution (ie people saw the content and converted later, or offline). But they‘re reasonable baselines.

The problem comes with the most important influencer metric: engagement rate. How can it be improved?

Worth the weight

The answer is by weighting the different components of engagement. Intuitively, we know that a like isn‘t the same as a share or a comment. It‘s easy to like a post – you just tap the heart, right? But sharing to your network is a kind of endorsement, and a comment – with the right sentiment – indicates more visceral involvement.

A principle I used when measuring the impact of social media for brands was one I took from the self-help guru John Bradshaw: “We give time to those things that we love.” Simple enough. Extending it to social platforms, I‘d argue that actions that take more time and effort should count more toward ROIn.

For example, the marketer can create a consistent weighting factor for different actions based on the time they take to complete. Say it takes a second to commit to and tap a like. Even a short, positive comment takes at least five seconds. And a share with a comment might take longer. Typical viewer patterns should be considered, and they will vary considerably based on the influencer and type of campaign.

The ultimate ROIn plan might include breakouts for awareness and conversion, and an approach to ER that considers weighting actions by their level of effort. (The ANA guidelines don‘t address weighting.) Of course, a detailed formula requires access to the platforms‘ API and permission from the influencer. Art, science and some social engineering are required.

But that’s what puts the ‘sure’ in measurement.

Martin Kihn is senior vice-president of strategy, marketing cloud at Salesforce.

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