Today, Digiday published the confessions of a former influencer describing widespread fraud in the influencer marketing space, focusing largely on bought followers on Instagram, where influencers regularly amassed followers literally overnight in order to compete for coveted fashion and beauty deals. All to meet the demand of advertisers and their agencies for scale. Reach was the de facto result. This is absolutely 100% true, I have no doubt.
It’s also not influencer marketing. We have to be REALLY careful to not throw the baby out with this admittedly nasty AF bath water.
As I wrote last week, this fraud — and it is fraud — stems from the ad industry’s relentless pursuit of scale without a similar commitment to authenticity and performance metrics.
Influencer marketing works because it is human-centered, and humans beings don’t scale neatly with algorithmic and predictable precision.
In the 90s, anthropologist Robin Dunbar theorized that humans can only sustain a limited number of stable social relationships; 150 is commonly cited as the upper limit. While modern communication has changed how this dynamic works, as we are able to move more fluidly from group to group, online and off, and may participate in multiple networks of people with whom we share common interests, we should always keep Dunbar’s number in mind when thinking about how influence works. The ripple effect of a recommendation matters just as much as the initial impact. Much harder to measure of course, but just because something is hard doesn’t mean we should not strive to do it.
Influencer marketing done right is building relationships with customers over time, who serve as the advocates for your brand to their friends, fans and followers. You know and trust them. Their audience knows and trusts them. You work together to achieve a common goal. Kumbaya and all.
Influencer marketing works because we do move in and out of different groups online, and when we share a recommendation from one into another, we form a ripple on the pond. What’s been missing is way to independently assess the audience of influencers to verify that they do have the right audience. Independent of and across the platforms, independent of the agencies. It’s challenging, and even more so if you respect individual privacy rights. I’m working on some things in this space. More to come.
In the meantime, the best approach is to understand that the best results from influencer marketing don’t come from scale. They come from trusted relationships over time.
The other issue exposed in the Digiday Confession is poor measurement practices.
Reach is a delivery metric. It tells us whether we executed our social tactic successfully. It is not a performance metric. Performance is engagement with content, and your objectives dictate whether you are working toward likes, shares and comments, or driving all the way down the funnel to conversion. Reach is not a result.
The Digiday piece also shared that boosting posts, at least in this confessor’s situation, was just as fraudulent, reaching folks not even remotely in the audience target purely to shore up the numbers. This is just straight up bad practice. Boosting posts simply to increase the reach is a waste of money. You should ONLY boost your best-performing content, the content that is getting verified engagement, to expose it to a larger or different audience. Do not boost your turkeys. Let them fade away.
What about the BOTS?
The other article that caught my attention this morning was a piece on CNN about Lil Miquela, an influential CGI (computer generated image) that amassed quite a following before it was revealed that she was a CGI.
My opinion? If CGIs advocate for brands and someone is compensated for the endorsement, it is advertising, straight up, and should be disclosed. Ethically, I think it should be disclosed even if they are not doing brand or cause related work, because they are a construct, and consumers should know.
Personally, I’m not sure I love the idea of people modeling themselves after, being influenced by, robots, but as long as it is fully disclosed as CGI advertising, I don’t see why brands shouldn’t have the option to use CGI tools to deliver their message. They can dictate the message and don’t have to worry about the opinion of the CGI. Likewise if they use BOT accounts to manage message flow or respond for the brand in place of human CSRs. It’s okay as long as you tell people they are engaging with a BOT.
But CGIs and BOTs are not influencer marketing. They are simply innovations in advertising.