A new report out of an influencer marketing technology vendor claims that the march toward the technique will only get more determined, with influencer marketing program spending doubling from between $25,000 and $50,000 in 2016 to an expected $50,000 to $100,000 next year. However, there's strong evidence that many influencers don't have authentic traffic. Rather, they buy followers in hopes of pumping up their perceived importance. The result can be wasted money.
According to the vendor, Linqia, its survey was of 170 people that it classified as a "random sample of marketers and agencies who we've engaged with in the past but are not necessarily our customers." That's not a random survey in a true statistical sense, so chances are that it's not representative of all marketers. Also, as three-quarters had fewer than 1,000 employees, so they leaned toward anything from a small business to the lower end of a mid-sized company.
Still, apparently someone is putting money into the activity. About 89 percent said they worked with influencers to "create authentic content about my brand," which seems more like a goal for earned media, not sponsored. Seventy-seven percent wanted to drive engagement around their product or brand, while 56 percent wanted to drive traffic to their website or landing page. Of the marketers, 43 percent wanted cost-effective content generation and another 43 percent slice wanted to "reach younger generations who don't trust traditional advertising."
All that is well and good, but as we're talking about smaller companies, there may be either a lack of sophistication about metrics and analysis or a lack of resources to undertake the latter. As I mentioned in September, there are many problems with intentional and unconscious fraud among would-be influencers.
For example, major names in entertainment have been found with large percentages of fake followers on Twitter. Many lesser known people on social media also have questionable followings that can't easily be detected on the surface. Lena Katz, a branded content strategist, ran an experiment for me, creating an account on Twitter and Instagram of a picture of a potato. Purchasing fake followers, with software that let her post comments and likes through the accounts as though they were real, let her build an audience of 10,000 in two weeks. According to one audit, 87 percent of her Twitter followers were assumed real. That's a far better percentage than some major celebrities.
People purchase fake followers for a variety of reasons, including ego and the sad need to show a pre-existing audience as a career move. Too many publications, video producers, and others hire people in large part based on social media followings. They hope these people will have real fans who will help expand the audience of the media businesses. It doesn't happen. Most consumers don't chase after every appearance of celebrities like a loyal Grateful Dead follower traveling from one city to the next. And when the fan base is largely faked, the hope of a transfer of affection becomes wishful thinking.
This isn't to say that influencer marketing can't work. But brands have to be intelligent. If you want good writing, videos, and graphics, find people who know your area and are capable of developing it. Get screen shots of the relevant system analytics for whatever social network influencer account you're considering so you can see data that might show more about engagement. Specify which campaign and posts you want data for so someone doesn't send over a cherry-picked example. (I'd also check file data to compare creation and modification date and time to be sure someone didn't edit the results.) Also, run a small test and measure the response. Did it meet the goals you had sent?
When you're going to spend real money, make sure you're putting in the real effort necessary to be sure that you get real results.