Welcome to The Influencer Marketing Sh*t Show

Influencer marketing. Arguably one of the hottest areas of media & advertising these days. Also, a complete sh*t show.

I have empathy for brand marketers trying to navigate through this sh*t show, so I decided to write the below*.

*Each paragraph has a TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) version at the end for those millennials out there (like me).

The Rise

Back in December 2015, Amy Callahan of Collective Bias wrote that “2016 will be the year influencer marketing emerges as the industry’s top dog” (emphasis mine). Turns out Amy was right, just take a look at Google’s popularity for the search term “influencer marketing”:

That influencer marketing, so hot right now

The problem is that with this “top dog” status there also comes incredible amounts of competition, saturation, and ultimately — market confusion. I’m here to contend that while 2016 may be the year influencer marketing gains real traction, 2017 is the year where real value will actually be extracted. I’m also here to help you sift through the seemingly endless noise.

TL;DR: There is immense value in influencer marketing, but as with any space that has value A LOT of pretenders are popping up. The current landscape is a future graveyard where only the true performers will rise to the top, ready to help your brand now and moving forward in 2017 and beyond.

The players

Right now, everyone and their mother is starting an influencer marketing agency, platform, network, or some other business to help brands harness the power of influencers. When I lead off calls with clients I typically joke that my barber is quitting next week to launch his own influencer agency. I bet one of these days he actually might.

For the most part, the founding teams of these influencer marketing companies fall into one of two categories:

Data nerds who noticed an opportunity and want to layer on technology and data to help bring scale and measurability to the space.

This is great in principal, but once you realize that influencers are people too you run into the issue of having great insights on people that you 1) can’t even get on the phone, let alone activate on behalf of a brand or 2) you haven’t run campaigns with them (or any influencers), so you don’t know how to manage them, enable them to maintain their own voice in an authentic integration, and build that ever-important relationship.

The other category of companies is often a group of people who have great (and very real) relationships with influencers — but they don’t really have any insights they can provide on why this particular influencer is a fit.

Does this person actually reach my audience? Will they be engaged? How much do we pay them to be a brand partner? These guys’ lack of data means they can’t do this and if they try to the information will most likely be based on speculation. Speculation…not how I want to invest my marketing dollars.

TL;DR: Question experience and structure of the company, it matters. Are they genius nerds or BFF with influencers? You want and deserve both.

What are you doing back there

All of these companies do different things. Some of them are self-serve databases to help you find influencers and contact them on your own (this is a full-time job). Others will connect you with influencers and help actually launch the campaign and measure results. Some have influencers who signed up in a network, while others just scrape the web for publicly available information. Then, when it comes to data — sometimes this is gleaned from an extensive platform and APIs, while other times it’s merely self-reported by influencers (please, please, please don’t trust this method).

TL;DR: Based on your use-case determine if you want a SaaS parter that someone can run internally, or a managed service to take you from start to finish. Also make sure you know what proprietary tech and data they have (if any), and how their network is comprised (proactively signed up or just randos scraped from the web).

For the low, low price

$20,000 for a tweet? No, thanks.

And now, let’s take a moment to discuss influencer pricing. What is it based on? It seems pretty arbitrary and mostly tied to an influencer’s perceived value. But ask yourself, would you buy anything else using the same model? I hope you said no.

You buy things based on the established marketplace value — in our world, this is typically reach and/or performance. Influencers should be compensated for their ability to reach AND engage with your target audience. A tweet sent out to 5,000,000 followers, with less than half of one-percent engaging is not worth paying for.

There are so many variables that go into influencer pricing that it’s often difficult to feel confident you paid the right price:

  • Reach
  • Engagement
  • Scarcity of influencer type
  • Influencer perceived value
  • Social platform(s)
  • Timing
  • Content ask
  • Etc.

What you really want to look at is where does this influencer index within my target audience and what types of engagement (social action) are they driving. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if they’re the coolest girl in LA right now or the star of a new hit TV show — if they don’t reach and resonate with YOUR specific audience, they’re not for you.

TL;DR: Pay a reasonable price based on what the influencer is achieving for you as far as marketing KPIs. Do not pay for the ‘cool factor’.

This brings me to another point…

Influencer vs. Spokesperson

Influencers are not representatives of your brand, at least not like a Sofia Vergara for Pepsi or a Jennifer Aniston for SmartWater.

Influencers are individuals who (hopefully) have an affinity for your product, and can tie that into their unique social voice to engage with an eager audience. Hiring a household name might work wonders to drive some positive PR or brand association, but hiring a targeted influencer will do wonders to drive engagement and action with those people that matter most to your brand.

TL;DR: When you hire a spokesperson you hire an image, when you hire an influencer you gain access to their audience. That’s it.

In Conclusion

Yes, the influencer marketing space is here to stay. It’s value has been proven. It’s now your duty as a marketer to understand when it makes sense to tap into, and how to go about doing so. Make sure you fully understand why you’re using influencers, how you’re vetting them and what you can expect. Once you know that information, ask questions to eliminate the pretenders on the scene. Armed with the right information, you can navigate your way through this sh*t show.

Here’s to a clearer field in 2017.

If you have any questions, opinions, or mean things to say you can hit me up on Twitter (ScottWheaton) or via e-mail: scott@speakr.com.