"Influence" has taken on a new meaning in the PR and advertising industries. Prior to social media, having influence meant writing scholarly articles on a subject or being the go-to expert in a field. Today, we have 13-year old YouTube celebrities who command influence by recording "reaction videos" to popular music videos. Having influence is no longer just about your expertise in one subject, but the absolute number of followers, fans, and subscribers you have. The most trusted "experts" are now your neighbors and the 13-year old kid who likes watching music videos.
Now that there is a deluge of new online personalities and voices, numerous influencer networks and platforms sprung up last year to cobble everyone together to sell packaged influence to brands and agencies. Popular YouTube celebrities and Instagram influencers are constantly bombarded with branded content requests, so these networks act as the clearinghouse to funnel all the brand's campaign requests to the content creators in an organized manner.
If you are reading this story, chances are you believe in the power influencers have on social media and other platforms. You are probably aware that influencer marketing generates twice the sales of paid advertising. You know influencer marketing is right for your business, but how do you decide which influencer platform will give your business the buzz it needs? Here are some criteria for helping you make that decision:
1) Balance between branded and organic content
Some influencers take on so many branded content requests, that their entire social media presence is one big rolling commercial. We can't blame them, they want to make money and if brands are willing to pay top dollar for their services, why not? There is a fine line between authenticity and, for lack of a better phrase, selling out. Organic posts and stories should make up a majority of the influencer's blog and social media timeline, since these are the stories that helped the influencer build his or her loyal following in the first place. If the influencer is constantly sending promoted Tweets and sponsored posts, chances are their audience (no matter how large) has become blind to their updates.
2) Metrics must align with your digital marketing and business goals
Measurement of "influence" is not a perfect science. Many influencer networks try to show metrics similar to what you might see from a display advertising campaign (think CTR, CPM, impressions). Whatever the metrics the network presents, make sure they align with your marketing goals whether it's generating awareness or downloads of a white paper. Influencer networks vary in terms of the results they can achieve for your business, so having a clear understanding of the metrics the network provides will make it easier for you to select the right network.
3) Demand metrics (if they don't exist) and measurable results
What if the influencer network does not have the metrics you are looking for? Demand it! Influencer marketing is still paid marketing, so you should demand the metrics and reporting that will help you with your goals. Investing marketing budget on Facebook ads or a billboard on the highway means you are guaranteed an audience for your investment. Whether its impressions in front of a targeted audience or preferred placement on the interstate, there is a clear deliverable and the influencer network you work with should provide tangible results before you begin a relationship with the influencer network.
4) Clear disclosure
Consumers are already confused about what sponsored content is, and believe that news sites lose credibility when brands pay for content. An easy method of determining an influencer network's reputation is the standard which the network established around sponsorship disclosure. When you pay an influencer to push something out on their channels (even if it's their own opinion), this is a form of paid marketing. As such, the FTC requires a disclosure that this content is indeed "sponsored" or "paid by" the advertiser. Influencer networks that claim the content is "earned" and does not need disclosure are swimming in murky waters. Of course, having influencers speaking organically about your brand is ideal, but the minute money has changed hands, the disclosures must be put up. Networks who tell you otherwise are dabbling in an unethical practice no matter how they pitch their business models.
5) Standards and guidelines within the network
The reason why marketplaces like Airbnb, Uber, and eBay work seamlessly is because the behaviors and expectations on these platforms are standardized. Airbnb hosts are vetted, Uber drivers are put through background checks, and eBay sellers have reputations to uphold. Working with an influencer network is no different. How does the platform ensure the influencers publish their stories on time? How does the network protect you from negative content about your brand? Since you are dealing with individual people who are helping you promote a message, the network must be able to protect you if there are ever disputes with the influencers.
Working with an influencer marketing platform means you are paying for scale, efficiency, and convenience. Working with each influencer on a one-on-one basis means you can establish more personal and long-term relationships, but this is only scalable if you work with a handful of extremely large influencers (think Kim Kardashian). People have a mechanism to provide non-stop content and working with an influencer marketing platform is the only way to ensure your message is delivered in a consistent and predictable way.
We believe the market is still a wild west, but with increased competition among all the networks and platforms, the marketer ultimately benefits through better products and results. Instead of trying to fit an influencer network within the online advertising paradigm, marketers will establish new standards and metrics to measure performance and reputation of these platforms.