Earlier this month, influencer marketing company MediaKix released How Anyone Can Get Paid To Be An Instagram Influencer With $300 (or Less) Overnight, a project it undertook to prove whether was possible to game the system of influencer engagement on Instagram. In short, how easy is it to create fake Instagram profiles, purchase followers and then get offered sponsored content opportunities by the major influencer marketing platforms?

Turns out, pretty easy, at least for the two profiles the firm created – one focused on beauty, and the other on travel, not coincidentally I am certain, two content areas where Instagram is particularly strong, and the demand high for influencers with scale.

This has spawned a great deal of coverage in the industry trades over the past week, including AdWeek, PR giant Edelman  and Digiday. All bemoaning the fact that it is possible to game a social network and artificially inflate followers and engagement.

I’m mostly surprised that anyone IS surprised. The demand for volume, for more, more, more – bigger reach, more likes, more clicks — is bound to lead to both fraud and waste. It did in advertising, in search of the almighty click, and it has in social, in search of likes, comments, shares AND clicks.

Let’s take the two problems separately. Fraud is the intent to deceive by artificially inflating numbers, whether buying followers or engagements. Waste is the natural by-product of scale. Not every legitimate viewer/reader of a message is the target, no matter how good our demographic and behavioral targeting. Even today, with the phenomenal matching made possible by programmatic advertising, there will be waste, and targeting on social is a mixed bag. You can do it within a social platform like Facebook, but not across platforms.

In my opinion, the platforms are responsible for posting the first level of defense against fraud in influencer marketing. The social platforms, to police the activity and manage fraudulent accounts effectively. The influencer platforms, to build similar checks and balances into their technology so brands can trust their influencer recommendations.

Managing the impact of waste, however, is part of the influencer marketing strategy. Our best offense is to put scale in its proper place in the strategy. Quantity – followers, likes, comments, shares, clicks – is not the only metric that matters. Quality of engagement is just as important. In the long run, perhaps more important. That means balancing your strategy, and including tactics that lead to deeper engagements with your current and potential customers as well as broader, more volume-centric microinfluencer tactics.

Remember: the influencer who matters is your customer. Always. That’s why influencer marketing works.

Continuing my series about the trends in influencer marketing: The rise of ROI.

In the early days, when blogs and social were new and shiny, return on investment was “squishy.” As influencer marketing matures, so too do the expectations, and the measurement models.

Measurement models are shifting from soft “potential reach” to firmer engagement models, and a better understanding of true awareness (eyeballs, lift) across all platforms, not just the easier-to-measure website ad impressions and content views. The best predictive models look at both awareness and engagement, to provide the necessary context for brands trying to decide which type of content will best deliver to the marketing plan.

How many people see the content across all opportunities – native, social, pageviews. defines REACH or AWARENESS. How many people act on it (clicks, likes, shares) is ENGAGEMENT.

Engagement rates will continue to be important, especially as we are increasingly able to link social actions with purchases through longitudinal studies like Nielsen Catalina, and foot traffic studies that can link a social visitor with a real life visitor, but these are expensive, and more likely to be used by large CPG and retail advertisers with big budgets. Not universal. Yet.

In the meantime, while we wait for the nirvana of proving engagement drove purchase — knowing whether someone who read that blog post last year, purchased it this year, we will rely on brand lift studies from Nielsen, Millward Brown and others, and first party reporting combined with original research. OpenUp is a start-up doing interesting work in the space of linking digital engagement with content to eventual purchase.

Advertisers want to understand the return on branded content, including influencer marketing, in the same way they evaluate their other advertising activities. Cost Per View is emerging as an AWARENESS metric alongside the click-through rate and the effective CPM that advertisers use to evaluate the overall efficiency of a media plan.

Re-visioning Measurement: A model for digital content marketing 

When a marketing tactic is new, we tend to be a little forgiving when it comes to measurement. It is simply not possible to be first to market, and also have a case study to evaluate before you make your decision. We operate on gut, on past experiences that are similar, out of a desire to experiment with the new tactic. We monitor and measure, but it is to establish a benchmark, not against a benchmark.

As the tactic evolves and matures, however, a body of work begins to emerge. Successes and failures, near misses and home runs, all combine to give some indication of what works. And what doesn’t. We are at that inflection point with content marketing, and particularly with influencer marketing. Benchmarks are emerging left, right and center.

Problem is — many of these benchmarks are either the very simple pageview and click-through-rate (CTR) we started with or defined by the different technology platforms people are using, thus hard to compare with each other. In some cases, they measure things because they can, not because the measure is useful or relevant, a criticism I have oft levied at Google Analytics.

In addition to CTRs, content program benchmarks tend to rely on views (page, video, slide) to show reach, and comments and earned social to demonstrate engagement. At publishers that scale content through native, native CTRs get added to the mix. This is a good start, but volume based measurements don’t allow you to compare tactics with different budgets. More budget nearly always delivers more volume.

Adding to the complexity, Facebook and the other social platforms report in the context of their platform – likes, comments, shares – and are more than a little opaque unless you are the account owner. This makes it challenging for advertisers trying to understand their earned media. We can count it, we just have a harder time understanding the person who shared it.

Plus things change. Not every day but it feels like it.

We need to simplify to make the data we collect useful to marketers. Capture key points that let us understand the success of a particular campaign and the component tactics AND compare the campaign to other campaigns, the tactics to other tactics.

Simplify. Standardize.

Every marketing tactic we use has an awareness and an engagement component. We want you to pay attention and then do something. Isolate those and look at them separately to understand the performance of each tactic against its goals. You can also aggregate each measure to understand how the overall campaign performed.

Views — Awareness
While reach will always be important as a general gauge for awareness — the potential or available audience for a message — we need to move past who MIGHT see something, and evaluate our campaigns based on who actually did. To standardize across all platforms, we use views and actions as proxies to estimate the engaged audience of digital content.

Actions — Engagement
Absolute numbers are great to understand the VOLUME of your social engagement, but if you want to compare tactics, you need to use rates. This corrects for size. Our old friend the Click-Through-Rate is still strong here, and lets us compare all our tactics against a single measure. But, it isn’t the only useful RATE we can calculate.

We can also look at an overall engagement rate for a campaign, defined as Total Engagements/Total Reach.

For content, look at the content engagement rate. Of the people who read something, how many shared it with others? Or simply commented.

Content Engagement Rate = Actions/Views

For video, the video completion rate (completed views/total views) remains an important measure, but it underestimates the success of the content. Looking at the ratio of viewers who watched at least 25% of the video (or more than 10 seconds on Facebook) gives a more accurate measure of the video success. You can also look at content engagement rates for video.

Social is a bit more squirrely when it comes to standardized measurements across platforms. We have reach and engagements, but we don’t always have access to actual viewers of a social action due to platform and cost barriers. If we own the channel, we have better data, but influencer data depends on whether the platform allows third-party access, and if so, how much it costs to get and use it.

Right now, I am intrigued by content and sentiment analysis as the path to understanding message penetration on social. Because both paths — audience and content analysis — are on the pricey side, we collectively tend to rely on engagement metrics to understand results on social. We have the data, and we can efficiently compare across platforms.

I recommend looking at two measurements here:

  • Engagements:Followers
  • The ratio of earned:paid.

 

SUMMARY TABLE: CONTENT MARKETING BENCHMARKS

Summary Table, Content Marketing Benchmarks

 

Cost Per View: Quantifying Awareness
Finally, even though we don’t have visibility into every view of our messages on social due to the walled gardens created by the social platforms, we can get to a very conservative estimate of how many people saw our message, and calculate a Cost Per View.

Cost Per View = Budget/Views

What’s a view? What goes into that side of the equation?

  • Pageviews, slide views, video views
  • Viewable native ad impressions. Regardless of clicks.
  • Viewable content amplification ad impressions. Regardless of clicks.
  • Earned social engagements. This is a PROXY for viewers that we can apply across all social platforms. If someone shared or liked or commented, we know they saw it. This will undercount, but it is a start.

Important: Evaluate Cost Per View against your overall content marketing campaign: Native Ads plus Content Amplification Ads plus Branded Content plus Influencer Content plus Social Promotion. Some tactics are more efficient at views than others, while others are stronger down funnel. Content creation will always be more expensive than promotion, but you need the content to promote. And so on.

Where do we go from here?
No single metric is the silver bullet. A tactic with a high cost per view can generate amazing engagement or be the perfect content base for a scale promotion. Or both. We also need to look at these measurements side by side with third party research that measures brand lift or foot traffic or message penetration, and layer in our actual sales results to get the full picture. But the important first step is to begin standardizing our metrics so we can compare campaign performance month to month, year to year, and isolate the tactics that are both efficient and effective.

More of what works, less of what doesn’t.

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August 1, 2017

Could “fake news” harm your brand? Some advertisers seem to think so — including P&G which recently cut $140MM in digital ad spend due to brand safety concerns. But how widespread is the concern? Do marketers in general understand the potential damage to their brand if their ads are adjacent to dubiously sourced or out […]

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Disclosing sponsored content: Celebrities, Instagram and the FTC

May 26, 2017

Last month, the FTC sent letters to a bunch of celebrities, reportedly chastising them for improper disclosures. Here’s what this means for marketers and influencers creating sponsored content. First things first. There are no new FTC Guidelines for Advertising Disclosures. Still the same basic rules we’ve been working with for years: Disclose material relationships. If […]

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The Future of Influencer Marketing @ BConnected Conference

April 28, 2017

Last weekend, I had the privilege of being the Breakfast Keynote speaker at the BConnected Conference in Toronto.  I promised attendees that I would upload my presentation by the end of the week. The Future of Influencer Marketing (BConnected Conference). With all my thanks to a wonderful audience.

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Influencer Marketing Landscape 2017

April 18, 2017

Let’s take a look at influencer marketing landscape for 2017. What exactly are all these marketers investing in? To say sponsored content is to oversimplify the social ecosystem of influence. First and foremost, influence is not simply writing a blog post or sharing an item on a social platform. While 68% of Americans use Facebook […]

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