Pay Attention: Influencer Marketing
Updated: Sep 8, 2023
I don’t like to talk or write about topics that have been heavily discussed unless I have original value to add to the conversation. The term ‘influencer marketing’ wasn’t formed when Facebook or Instagram became popular. If you look at the modern era, it dates back to the 1930s, but the marketing methods can be traced even further back to the days of the Romans where Gladiators were endorsing products. But you probably already learned that from your history classes if you paid attention.
Influencer marketing has changed a lot in recent years and many businesses are seeing a strong decline in performance. It’s making them question whether or not they should continue to invest in it, or if they should look for other marketing channels. So let’s dig in for a minute to understand what’s going on:
Influencer marketing as a marketing strategy has one large advantage over paid advertising:
it uses people with pre-existing social influence to create a connection between a product, a person, a brand, lifestyle, and an audience. Not only that, it remains an extremely powerful source of marketing creatives for businesses. When you collaborate with an influencer, in most cases you get access to their reach (their followers) but you also benefit from the content that they create for you that you can later use for other promotional purposes as well.
Comparing influencer marketing to paid advertising is like comparing fruits to veggies; they are very different. While paid advertising platforms are performance-driven advertising solutions, influencer marketing is more commonly associated with brand building, awareness, and long-term performance marketing strategy. I like to use the analogy of renting a house vs buying land and developing a property. If paid advertising was similar to renting a house where you move right into a move-in ready house, the minute you stop paying you, get kicked out to the street. Whereas influencer marketing, you are the real estate developer, you are building digital assets that over time will deliver a return in the form of website traffic, online presence, and eventually revenue. These strategies are very different and by design, they work in different ways. Influencer marketing builds a long-term marketing foundation while paid advertising is intended to drive your results in the short term.
Like any form of marketing, influencer marketing has changed and will continue to change in ways that will make certain areas more competitive and open opportunities that have been hard to leverage previously. The need to diversify and lower the dependence on paid advertising remains a priority in my opinion so it’s important to understand the current challenges of influencer marketing, but also understand how you can capitalize your influencer marketing to maximize profits.
Organic reach is the fuel for influencers marketing.
One of the main problems of influencer marketing is that it feeds off and is based completely on organic reach. Organic reach is the number of users a post reaches for free. It includes all types of creative formats and can include reaching your followers or just random reach on the platform.
In order for an influencer to be able to provide value to the business or brand that he partners with, he needs to rely on the fact that the promotional post that he will publish will reach a high amount of his followers at no cost. It’s a simple economic model that the business pays the influencer for that reach instead of paying directly to the platform in an ad that makes this partnership possible. The issue is that organic reach has been on the decline for influencers and has become a big reason for concern.
Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Tiktok emphasize that their creators (users with a large following that upload unique content) will continue to reach a high amount of their followers without having to advertise to reach them, but the reality is that organic reach is in decline. Unlike businesses who have suffered from deadly organic reach cutoffs, influencers have suffered a more moderate but consistent drop as well. This signals the commitment of social media platforms to favor paid advertising posts over giving away organic reach to generate more revenue from ads. This is especially true when a post gets flagged as promotional content and gets penalized with extremely limited reach. That’s why platforms like Facebook launched a platform to manage collaboration between influencers and businesses to make sure that they can control and monitor the collaborations and push businesses to sponsor these promotions with extra paid promotions. Organic reach is expected to continue to decline over time. When influencers are extremely dependent on their organic reach, it creates a very uncertain future for their business model that results in a heavy drop in marketing performance for businesses that collaborate with influencers.
It’s not about how many followers, it’s about which followers.
One deadly mistake that advertisers make is evaluating the value of the influencer based on how many likes, comments, or views that influencer receives over time. The idea is that influencers with more engagement will generate a greater reach that will drive more sales. It’s important to emphasize that not all likes or comments are created equal. First, just because the audience you are trying to reach is highly engaged with a specific influencer, it doesn’t mean they will love your product. Do a lot of intel work. Identify and create the typical user or customer persona that comments and creates meaningful engagement over time with that influencer and evaluate whether they might be relevant for your product. Investigate the demographics, the geographical location, and the online activity to see if there is a match. In some cases, it might be worth partnering with influencers who have a lot less following but their followers are more likely to be your customers.
Secondly, influencers are aware that advertisers and businesses closely monitor how many likes and comments before they reach out. There is an industry of bots and companies who boost the likes and engagement for each post to make it appear like the level of engagement is higher than it truly is. Also, they use paid advertising to boost their posts to extend beyond their organic reach. It can be a hit or miss. analyze in-depth the level of engagement and quality before deciding to partner with an influencer.
Focus on the quality of content.
Because influencer marketing is a content-based promotion, making sure they produce exceptional content that will positively impact your branding and business is a lot more important than the number of followers they have. You want to leverage the fact that these influencers will create original content for you and select the influencers based on whether or not it’s a good fit for your brand. This content can later be reused on your website, on your social media, and on your ads. That’s why it’s important that you select your influencers based on how you envision their creative style will fit your brand and products.
Promoting your product, not the influencer.
This might be the most important point of this blog post. I can’t count the number of times I see an influencer’s promotional posts in a day that focus almost completely on the influencer and not on the product that he promotes. It’s easy to identify, look through some posts of influencers that tag a brand, and evaluate what’s the main focus on the post, the influencer, or the product. This is common in the product gifting space where influencers are being sent free products in exchange for posting a photo or video of them wearing or featuring them. When the product is not the main focus of the post, it’s very unlikely to produce measurable or meaningful results. Find influencers who will promote your product in a way that the promotional post will be centered and focused around your product, not around them.
Diversify number of influencers to reach a fresh audience
In my opinion, advertisers should limit the frequency of posts or collaboration they do with an influencer as reaching the same audience with repeated promotional posts can have a diminishing effect over time. Yes, it depends on who the influencer is and how large his audience is, but generally speaking, you should search for as much unique reach as you can receive. Using the same influencer over and over will help you create an association between him, his audience, and your brand and will create brand recognition and authority, but you will be reaching the same audience over and over again and the number of potential new prospecting customers will decrease. In addition, more influencers will get you more diversity in terms of the content that’s being created and are more likely to give you a bigger unique reach. Try to find that balance between when it’s effective and when performance starts to drop and remember it’s not marriage, it’s more like a short to the long-term relationship between you and the influencer.
Don’t make it look like ads.
Might sound like common sense to some, but news to others. No one on earth besides marketers likes ads. When you plan your influencer marketing strategy, focus your promotions around your product, but not in a way that would be obvious that it’s an ad. For some niches and products, it might be difficult since it might be obvious, but the more gentle and creative you are, the more you can make it look like a post and not an ad. When it looks like an organic post, it will blend with the other posts uploaded by the influencer and will have a higher level of engagement and reach.
Influencer marketing has seen quite a bit of popularity over the years. Over those same years, influencer marketing has yielded declining results and will likely to continue to decline. That said, influencer marketing is still an effective tool to be used in conjunction with traditional paid advertising. Some things to keep in mind when considering influencer marketing:
Just because an influencer gets a massive amount of likes or views on their post does not mean that a promoted ad will yield the same results. The influencer should fit within the niche of your product and the ad should feel organic and flow naturally with peoples’ timelines. Make sure that the product is at the center of the ad and not the influencer. Far to many times have I seen an influencer make an ad more about them than about the product itself. Lastly, remember to diversify and use different influencers for different ads to reach a broader audience.