In the past few years, influencer marketing has exploded.
With some surveys finding an average of $7.65 earned media value for every dollar spent, it’s no wonder that businesses are moving full steam ahead with influencer spending. But as a recent New York Times article, “The Follower Factory,” demonstrated, there is a serious danger in faked or amplified influence due to a corresponding rise in social media bots.
The way things currently stand, bloated influencer followings due to bots cause serious problems for the effectiveness of any company’s influencer marketing strategies. An estimated 15% of Twitter users are bots, with similar numbers on other social media platforms.
How do we combat such a systemic bot problem? There answer is: we can’t. Unless, we change how we monetize influencer marketing first.
Reach vs. Engagement
Right now, influencers are largely paid based on their number of followers, or their reach. The more followers an influencer has and the more those followers like, share, and repost influencer content, the more the influencer gets paid. Changing how we monetize influencer marketing not only ensures legal and ethical ways to harness social media, but it can also improve current influencer marketing strategies.
The struggle with how to monetize and determine the success of influencer marketing campaigns is not new. A recent Linqia report on “The State of Influencer Marketing in 2018” found that 76% of companies say determining ROI of influencer marketing programs will be their #1 challenge this year.
Over the past year, businesses have started to realize the problem of overemphasizing reach in determining ROI. According to Linqia’s reports for 2017 and 2018, companies using engagement as a marker of influencer success grew from 81% to 90%. However, in order to really crack down on the bot bloat and simultaneously engage in ethical influencer marketing, we also need to change how we define “engagement.”
Engagement is largely still defined by Cost per Engagement (CPE) pricing models in which an influencer is paid for the number of likes, shares, or reposts they get on branded content. Instead, businesses should adopt a Cost per Click (CPC) payment model. Unlike CPE, CPC focuses on when customers take action through an influencer’s content, such as clicking through to the brand’s website or social media site, using influencer coupons or promo codes, or following branded hashtags.
Bots can’t so easily achieve this type of engagement. Refocusing influencer pricing models on customer conversions and business-focused engagements also emphasizes the actual traffic influencers bring to a company.
Changing the way we monetize influencer marketing and focusing on clicks over reposts may help reduce, perhaps even drastically, the illegal practice of buying bot followers. However, cracking down on bots doesn’t automatically equate to ethical influencer marketing. As the Federal Trade Commission reminded many brands and their influencers this past year, disclosing paid content is crucial to ensuring ethical influencer marketing.
In addition to following these new federal guidelines, businesses also need to work to find a balance between ethical long-term and short-term thinking when it comes to influencer marketing.
On the long-term side, that means building relationships with influencers through researching the audience that businesses want to attract versus an influencer’s followers. Finding an influencer who cares deeply about their specific field and having meaningful engagements with their followers correlates to more engaging branded content (that you also help to craft). It also means a more passionate potential customer who trusts what the influencer posts. That type of trust isn’t built overnight, and your relationship with your influencers shouldn’t be either.
With that in mind, businesses need to build solid relationships with their influencers that amount to more than a handful of posts with #sponsored or #BrandPartner. To ensure quality customer engagement, businesses and influencers need to work together to craft meaningful content that connects with followers. Increasing the quality of branded content also increases the number of conversions influencers are likely to make.
At the same time, businesses also need to use quality data and tracking tools to ensure that increased influencer marketing budgets are being spent on quality content and not on bots. Before hiring influencers, companies should spend time vetting the quality of an influencer’s social media sites. Do they seem to have a significant number of followers that send up bot flags? Not sure how to spot a bot? Check out this recent Medium post on detecting fake Instagram influencers or tools like Followerwonk or SocialBlade.
While this may seem time consuming, consider the amount of money spent on their influence. Is their influence really worth much if most of their social media engagement isn’t coming from real people and thus potential customers?
Once companies hire an influencer, they should track engagement and ROI through the influencer’s posts. Spotting bots before starting an influencer marketing relationship might be too much trouble, but the presence of too many bots becomes readily apparent through the use of influencer tracking tools.
For instance, Sprout Social can identify customers, keywords, and hashtags in order to get a picture of the whole social media marketing strategy, influencers included. Or Linqia which allows businesses to customize data to see conversion rates, website traffic, page visits, etc that moves beyond simple reach metrics.
When using these tools, remember, likes, reposts, and shares don’t generate revenue. Instead, focus on visits to the company website, social media, branded hashtags, or special promo codes. That is the data companies need in order to determine the quality of an influencer’s content.
Only by changing how we monetize influencer marketing to business-focused engagements and maintaining ethical influence practices can we begin to shut down the follower factory. After all, the value of an influencer is not their number of followers or how many of those followers like, share, or repost; it’s the influencer’s ability to convert followers into customers.
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by Victoria Feder, CEO of The Online Marketing Institute