NY Times article about fake followers

In my post on January 22d, I noted that there was at least one article about influencer marketing every day, often more.

This week was no different, except for a change, the articles weren’t only in industry press. They also were in the papers that many consider the newspapers of record of the United States, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

New York Times “discovers” influencer fraud

This is not news. We’ve long known that the social platforms are chock full of fake accounts. ALL OF THEM. But most especially Twitter, the subject of the NYT story last weekend and follow-up posted on Thursday.

What is news is that it made it to the front page of a paper of record.

The NYT article dug into the business practices of Devumi, a firm used by celebrities, politicians, athletes and other prominent Twitter users to boost their followers. Long story short: lots of fake followers, often based on the identities of real people, artificial scale at best, fraud at worst.

The follow-up article reported that in the days after the original piece, many fraudulent accounts just vanished. Oh, and the company moved OUT of Florida, where it was about to be the focus of an investigation, reportedly to Colorado.

Lots to unpack in this, from the responsibility of the social platforms to better secure their systems to the imperative of scale to prove influence. The latter is what interests me for the purposes of today’s post, although I expect I will comment on the responsibility issue at some future point.

Certainly, there are celebrity influencers with huge Twitter followings on the roster of the companies that sell fake followers. It stands to reason that in the search for scale, some took a shortcut. Not news. Influencer marketing agencies and platforms know this, and have taken what steps they can to guard against it, as reported in Digiday.

From my perspective, this news is one large exclamation point to the value of quality over quantity when it comes to influencer marketing. Don’t get trapped into a numbers game that is easily gamed. Focus on building real relationships with the influencers who are your customers, your fans, your advocates. Less is more.

Advertising is and always will be about scale. It’s job is to cost effectively reach the largest number of interested people with your message in the shortest amount of time.

But influencer marketing is a different animal. Solid influencer marketing builds on relationships with influential customers who choose to advocate for your brand to reach other customers in authentic ways. Too much focus on scale perverts the fundamental nature of social influence. Not that scale isn’t important. But not at the cost of everything else that makes social influence effective.

Perhaps now the demand for scale will be tempered a little bit with an understanding that scale does not necessarily equal quality. My hope is that more folks will be receptive to this approach and stop chasing BIG follower numbers, choosing instead to match their influencer approach to their marketing objectives. When scale makes sense, such as launching a new product, and you need to raise awareness, turn to microinfluencers or celebrities to spread the word fast to many. But your bread and butter influencer strategy should be grounded in your true advocates, of any size, whose passion for your brand has real influence, and convinces others to try, buy, believe.

I am the eternal optimist.

WaPo columnist laments the changes in online mom influence

I feel like I have read this piece before. That’s not true, of course, but I have read so many like it in the past 15 years. From the fears of the longtime netizens when the web first began to commercialize to the circa 2008/2009 lamentations about the commercialization of blogs (which BTW led to the creation of Blog With Integrity,) and regularly since then, the constant refrain is that somehow sponsored content must be less authentic than spontaneous endorsement because it is solicited and curated.

In this article, the author misses the good old days of mom blogs, which she recalls as the authentic stories of parenting challenges, and bemoans the careful polish of today’s sponsored Instagram posts. Fair enough, and everyone is entitled to an opinion, But here’s the thing: the good old days always look better than today in the rosy glow of history. Some day, today will be the good old days.

The reality? There was good sponsored content and bad sponsored content “back then” and mom bloggers didn’t necessarily share everything even if it appeared more raw. The social currency was then and will always be the trust of your audience and the care which the endorser takes to ground her endorsement in a context that resonates for her readers.

There is no single perfect social platform, only the one where your customers are. “Back then,” blogs were the logical successor to forums and chat rooms, where many of the early parenting communities took root. Today, 15 years later, the new parent is likely from a completely different generational cohort. One that largely grew up digital, mobile phone in hand. Bottom line, if you are trying to reach millennial parents, visual formats like Instagram, Snapchat and video are a good bet for your marketing message.

That doesn’t mean that long-form is dead, or that no one is writing blogs anymore, or that Instagram has simply become a product billboard. Your social experience is what you make it. There is plenty of good writing, video and podcasting out there, if you want to find it. It may be advertiser supported, or part of a more traditional media property, or even behind a paywall, but it’s there, in parenting and any other vertical you care to name. There will ALWAYS be people who want to tell stories.

The question you have to ask yourself as a reader, is how do you want to support those storytellers? If you are getting the content for free, whether through Instagram, a podcast or a blog, you need to accept a certain amount of advertising with your content. You can decide how MUCH you want, but it isn’t fair to deny the storyteller fair compensation.

For their part, marketers need to be honest with themselves. Very little endorsement is truly spontaneous. Very few brands can generate unsolicited endorsement at scale. You need to pay to play somewhere. Isn’t it great that we can direct some of those dollars right back to our customers? I think so.

eMarketer is bullish on Instagram

eMarketer reports that Instagram is the most popular influencer platform, per research by influencer platform Zine.

Of course it is popular. It is easy to do, for the brands and the influencers, perfect for fashion, beauty and food, fast (no waiting 6 months to see uptake like with Pinterest) and the metrics are still squishy enough that “engagement” still counts as success. There are more Instagram influencer agencies, networks and platforms than I can even count any more, and new ones every day. All vying of course to be acquired by a bigger fish. Maybe even the biggest fish, Instagram/Facebook itself.

But it isn’t the only way to engage your influential customers as online advocates and evangelists. Blogs, Facebook, YouTube, bespoke online communities, your own website, media sites, even Reddit, Twitter and Pinterest, all have something to offer to the influencer marketing mix, depending on your objectives, your product, your timeframe, your customers themselves.

So use caution when faced with data showing Instagram as the winner in the sponsored content stakes or as doubling in size from 2016 to 2017, as one recent study from Klear touted. Of course the use of Instagram for sponsored posts grew significantly year on year, but Klear measured based on the presence of a disclosure hashtag, either #ad or #sponsored. This leads to a faulty analysis. You can’t compare the market in the (relative) wild west of 2016 , when many were largely still ignoring FTC rules, to 2017, when the FTC regularly issued warnings to influencers about poor disclosure and people started cleaning up their game.

Increase, yes. Double? Doubtful. There are probably a whole lotta posts in 2016 going uncounted. But, yay for better disclosure practices in 2017. Better disclosure is a good thing for consumers and for the social marketing industry, and about time.

Facebook changes the rules. Again.

Facebook has narrowed the acceptable uses of its branded content tool. In a nutshell, the person or entity POSTING the item must be the creator of or significantly featured in the content being promoted. You can post a sponsored video you created or star in but you can’t post a video for the sponsor in which you did not participate. Effectively making ads the default solution for most current video distribution.

In my opinion, this will translate into a short term decrease in opportunity for influencers who use their Facebook page for sponsored content, but a long term gain, as brands return to using more influencer generated/featured content in their marketing programs.

Wanna hear me talk about all this?

I was a guest on This Week in Digital Media, a Facebook Live show hosted by Chloe DiVita , and we discussed all these topics at some length. Watch here: https://www.facebook.com/PerceptivePresence/videos/182048805886795/

Photo credit: Matt Britton

So far, so good.

One of my key recommendations for digital success in 2018 was to diversify your content distribution strategy and focus on building a loyal audience that regularly returns for your content.

January isn’t over yet, and Facebook has demonstrated the critical importance of this. Its pending algorithm changes are forcing publishers to shift their strategies. As reported in Digiday:

“Some are returning to old standbys like search and email; others are putting more resources into different platform products. […] In most cases, the goal is to build sustained engagement with publishers’ content, rather than chasing the flyby traffic that Facebook sometimes drove.”

Another recommendation was the critical importance of your editorial voice. Dan Greenberg, co-founder and CEO of Sharethrough, agrees. Discussing brand safety concerns in an interview with eMarketer, Greenberg said

“brands are shifting back to buying from premium, curated, real publishers that have an editorial voice, instead of just putting a box on the corner of a random webpage.”

I am batting 1000, so figured I’d drop one more on you. The influencer marketing industry will see significant consolidation by the end of 2018. It’s already started, with the acquisition of Whosay by Viacom earlier this month.

Every day, I read at least one, and sometimes two or three, articles announcing that 2018 will be the year of influencer marketing. Influencer marketing as a marketing practice has been around for a decade or so, since the very first blogger relations programs circa 2007/2008. Customer centric marketing, as a buzzword if not in practice, has been around even longer. The idea of using your customer as an evangelist, as an advocate, is not news.

What IS news is that it is now an important element in the marketing plan for many brands. A must-do, not just a nice-to-have.

This trend has been developing over the past couple years. You can almost follow its growth by tracking the growth of influencer marketing agencies, platforms and networks. Ten years ago, it was a handful of companies. Now, there are countless specialized agencies and technology platforms, nearly every consumer publisher has some influencer offering and the integrated agencies, not to be left out, have both practices and products to offer their clients.

As Digiday reported this morning, brands are also increasingly bringing all or part of their influencer marketing in-house, using a combination of internal staff, agencies and technology platforms/tools.

While there is plenty of work to go around, I predict significant consolidation. Here’s why.

You shouldn’t build your business on someone else’s platform. As influencer marketing increases its importance in the marketing plan, it will be critical to protect the investment. That is certainly why Viacom bought Whosay rather than continue to work with it as a vendor. Bonus — acquiring the platform you use removes it as an option for your competitors, another common reason for mergers.

As a result, the most promising small companies will be acquired, by media companies, agencies and larger more established competitors that can extend the platform (and the acquisition costs) across multiple advertisers. Some of the big consumer brands are possibly also in the mix as acquirers, but I think that less likely overall.

All these companies could develop their own solutions from scratch, but honestly, there are so many start-ups in the space, it is a far smarter business decision to buy, not build.

Not every brand that wants to use influencer marketing as part of its strategy will have the means or interest to acquire a platform in-house. There will still be need for independent software companies and agencies that sell various combinations of platform, services and influencer access.

But consolidation will reduce the industry back down to a reasonable number of tech companies, some of which will focus on small and mid-sized business, and others that will operate on the scale, enterprise level. Much like any other SaaS product. It is an inevitable right-sizing. Some firms (see above) will be acquired, some will acquire smaller competitors, and some will close their doors.

The key for brands that choose to use outside platforms will be to protect their data. To retain control over their results and the influencer relationships they nurture. This means making sure that they can capture and keep the data about the influencers they work with, and the results of the campaigns they do. Otherwise, they risk becoming hostage to a technology platform. You want to make absolutely sure that your information is stored to be portable to another platform, and that you are contractually permitted to do so. You need that fail-safe, because, I repeat, you shouldn’t build your business on someone else’s platform.

Who will be the winners? It’s anybody’s guess about the tech platforms (although I have a few,) but no matter what, the customer is a winner. Those that have nurtured their social influence, whether big or small, are getting a piece of the advertising pie. And for all of us, sponsored influencer content is better, more authentic, more engaging advertising.

Facebook changes algorithm, but nothing really changes for brands. It’s a pay for play world.

January 16, 2018

Facebook announced last week that it was changing the algorithm to favor posts from friends and family over those from brands. It also recently gave users access to the SEE FIRST button for personal profiles as well as brand pages, allowing users to note whose updates they wanted to see first. This is great news […]

Read the full article →

11 ingredients for digital success in 2018

December 31, 2017

The past 6 months have seen tremendous upheaval in digital media. Companies that were once high flyers — Mashable, Rolling Stone, Time — sold for a fraction of their former (perceived) value. Whether you think this is massive disruption or simply inevitable course correction, the ingredients for digital success have evolved. It’s not enough to […]

Read the full article →

The Myth of Organic Scale

November 21, 2017

Massive organic scale for branded content, whether sponsored video, editorial or influencer posts, is a myth. A pretty, shiny, elusive myth. It was always something of a pipe dream. Those of us in the business learned quickly that we need to use amplification media to reach large numbers of consumers with our messages. No matter […]

Read the full article →

Predictions for 2018 – Podcasts, Newsletters and Targeted Content

November 10, 2017

In my post earlier this week, I predicted three types of digital content would be central to advertiser efforts in 2018. Newsletters What’s old is new again. Newsletters are super valuable because they are permission-based; your customer has opted into the sales process by subscribing. Our top of funnel marketing activity logically should focus on […]

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Read the full article →