Influencer marketing has become one of the hottest trends in marketing in the past few years. And for good reason: In 2018, 81% of marketers reported that using influencers to bolster their marketing plans was an effective strategy. Given so many marketers are already working with influencers, or are considering it, it is worth delving into what some of the pitfalls are in brand-influencer partnerships. We’ve compiled a list of the 6 dangers in working with influencers, as well as shared the best precautions to take to avoid these issues.
1. Instagram influencer engagement is nearing an all time low
As social media allows for more people to achieve fame and influencer status, social media quickly has become oversaturated with influencers. It is impossible for audiences to keep up with all of the content (especially sponsored content) coming from the influencers they follow. It’s also worth noting that fame, particularly the kind formed on social media, is fleeting. The same influencers that capture audience attention may not be holding onto that attention tomorrow.
When social media audiences are bombarded with sponsored content on their feeds, they are less likely to engage with both influencers and brands, which is reflected in recent studies which reveal an overall decline in instagram engagement. Mobile Marketer reports that “The engagement rate for sponsored posts fell to 2.4% in Q1 2019 from 4% three years earlier, while the rate for non-sponsored posts slid to 1.9% from 4.5% for the comparable periods.”
So how can marketers circumvent this industry-wide issue? Rather than working with influencers who have large followings, consider that “nano-influencers” are able to interact more with their audiences and are able to form more tight-knit communities, thus inspiring higher engagement. The same Mobile Marketer article reports that “the engagement rate for Instagram influencers with at least 10,000 followers is steady at about 3.6% worldwide. Influencers with 5,000 to 10,000 followers have an engagement rate of 6.3% and those with a following of 1,000 to 5,000 have the highest rate at 8.8%, per InfluencerDB.” When choosing which influencers to work with, focus more on engagement than name recognition.
2. Inauthentic partnerships and content
Everyone knows that it’s not always a given that influencers use (or even like) the products or services they endorse on social media. While many brands don’t seem to care if an endorsement comes from a place of true authenticity (however hard that may be to measure), should audiences be able to interpret influencer endorsements as inauthentic or misleading, both the brand and influencer lose credibility. A study from Bazaarvoice reports that 47% of customers are tired of influencer content that appears inauthentic and 62% of customers believe that influencer endorsements take advantage of impressionable audiences.
The best practice would be partnering with influencers who have used and liked your product or service before even entering an endorsement deal, but at the very least, marketers should make sure they partner with influencers who have authentic connections to their brand. For instance, a beauty brand should probably find an influencer who people look to for beauty advice. Makes sense, right?
It is also crucial that marketers give influencers autonomy in creating the copy and images/video for sponsored content. While marketers may be inclined to tighten the leash, influencers know their audience best.
A great example of a brand and influencer partnership is Jonathan Van Ness's Instagram partnership with Lipton. JVN is known as an extremely authentic personality and his audience would probably be very thrown off if they saw a post on his Instagram that didn't reflect his usual quirk and loving flare.
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Honey, the hottest new trend this cold and flu season is staying healthy, so I’m brewing up a cup of @Lipton Daily Support when I’m at home or on-the-go and washing my hands like it’s never going out of style. As much as I love spending time with everyone, this little girl is NOT getting sick. If you want that gorgeous, easy, everyday wellbeing, try my tips, including this really important one: prioritizing your sleep routine higher than your party routine! #liptonpartner
Influencers are also typically the ones curating their non-sponsored content and are consequently able to curate copy for endorsements that reflects their own voice and personal brand, which makes for the kind of content audiences like to see.
3. FTC regulations
In the same vein of authenticity, marketers should now be cognizant of the sanctions they could face should their sponsored content be interpreted as misleading. In April of 2017, the FTC revealed in a release that they sent over 90 letters to influencers, telling recipients that they “should clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationships to brands when promoting or endorsing products through social media.” Mostly this means utilizing the correct hashtags, such as #spon, #ad, or #partner, and now many social media platforms have built-in tools to mark posts as paid, but many influencers aren’t keen on the rules. A 2018 survey of influencers conducted by eMarketer showed that 41% of respondents only label their endorsements with the FTC-mandated hashtags when they’re explicitly asked, while 7% never label their content at all.
Brands and influencers may be hesitant to employ hashtags and other labeling tools to avoid drawing attention to the paid nature of the content, but it’s better to just bite the bullet and abide by the guidelines set out by the FTC. Focus on curating the content in a way that appeals to audiences despite the hashtags and labels rather than getting hit with a FTC citation.
4. Morality conflicts
The name Logan Paul still holds a lot of weight for marketers today. Many remember his infamous suicide forest video that sent brands scrambling to get out of endorsement deals with the influencer.
It feels like every other day there’s a new influencer creating controversy and taking years off of their brand partners’ lives. Influencers are human beings and make mistakes, but marketers should be wary that even if an influencer has an enticing fanbase, certain influencers themselves could prove to be dangerous investments.
Marketers can make sure they’re free to cut ties with a problematic influencer by including a morality clause in any contract with an influencer, allowing them to cut ties easily if an influencer does something that goes against their brand's values. But to an extent, marketers have to be cognizant of who their investing in. Maybe the YouTuber you’re trying to work with has the perfect target audience, but is known for their rambunctious behavior and occasional stint in jail. Ultimately, make sure you do your homework before signing a contract and understand that an influencer who is notoriously wild will probably continue with the same behavior.
5. Follower farms
Social media marketers also have to be wary of influencers who purchase followers or have a high proportion of bots making up their follower count. In an influencer survey conducted by Hit Search, “98% of respondents admitted to having spotted an individual’s Instagram follower count rise in an unnatural manner or over a short period of time, alluding to using bots to grow quickly or having bought a mass number of fake account followers.”
Again, marketers should focus less on follower counts and more on the quality of the engagement. The more followers an influencer has means more opportunities for fake followers. If you’re concerned about a particular influencer, utilize follower analysis tools such as HypeAuditor or IG Audit, that allow you to scan followers for bots.
6. Ethical implications
The ethical implications of influencer labor may be the last thing on a marketer’s mind when they partner with an influencer. But that’s the very problem: influencers being treated more as a commodity than human. As influencers have to concern themselves with striking a balance between making money and not looking like they’re selling out, marketers are able to craft contracts in their favor, pushing FTC compliance, morality restrictions, and exclusivity agreements onto the influencer.
Ultimately, influencers choose the career and take on the obligations and risks that come with it, but marketers should recognize the hard work that influencers do and not take advantage of it as best they can. One of the best ways marketers can make an influencers job easier (while also improving the quality of sponsored content) is by giving influencers creative license when it comes to crafting content. Allowing influencers to do what they know best: create social media content. They’ll be less concerned with upsetting their audience and your content will seem more authentic.
Influencer marketing can be an extremely beneficial tool for marketers, but it is important to note the areas where influencer marketing can go awry. Pay attention to these 6 dangers when working with influencers and make sure to take preventative steps to safeguard your brand.