This week in influencer marketing: New York Times “discovers” Influencer fraud; Washington Post columnist laments changes in online mom influencers; Facebook changes the rules. Again.

by Susan Getgood on February 3, 2018 · 0 comments

in Blog with Integrity,Blogging,Digital,Facebook,Influencer Marketing,Instagram,The Marketing Economy

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:

Photo credit: Matt Britton

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