Does influencer marketing work? Of course word of mouth marketing works. It always has and always will. The endorsement of a consumer like you (or whom you aspire to be like) has always had power.
What makes social media marketing work is the social. The connection and conversation between and among humans. Respect, trust and drive toward community (homo sapiens expression of the pack instinct.) Digital media is simply the delivery mechanism that allows our communities to discard geographical considerations and allows us to replace, when we choose, the proxies offered by mass advertising with other consumers.
In the early days of influencer marketing, when it was small dollars and called blogger relations, we were perhaps collectively sloppy about the metrics. Potential reach as an example. Which is fair enough when you’re experimenting with a new tactic, but a non-starter as the tactic matures and acquires increasingly larger budgets.
To prove influencer marketing works, we have to address expectations, objectives and investment, and we just can’t show that it works. We have to demonstrate that it works BETTER than another tactic. That’s the RETURN on investment part. We also have to design our program for success. Good results from an influencer marketing program aren’t happy accidents. They are the result of solid planning that matches the tactic to the KPI and defines a clear, measurable and realistic objective.
Recently, the business press in our little corner of the world was full of headlines about @arii, an Instagrammer who unfortunately failed to sell the minimum number of products required in her test launch, and then complained, including about folks who got press kits and didn’t post.
Her Instagram complaint spawned a social media field day. Pundits wondered if influence was dead. Others pointed out the serious flaws in her business plan. For myself, I wondered why you would fail so spectacularly and then tell everyone.
Clearly, she didn’t have the influence she imagined, with her 2.6 million followers, or a solid business plan. It’s nice to have both, but it’s the solid business plan that is absolutely necessary. With a better plan, that she personally didn’t have the audience she needed for her product, might not have mattered.
Here are three influencer marketing lessons we can take away from her unfortunate tale.
- Know your audience. Research your influencers. Does the audience generally engage on similar topics or like/share items similar to the one you plan to promote? Likewise, with anyone you identify as a potential influencer? Influence is that moment where endorsement sparks action. Without action, there is no influence. This action doesn’t need to be a digital action, but it is far easier (and cheaper) to quantify based on digital history. When the stakes are high, we also do consumer research that can quantify the full social impact, not just the social media impact. From her results, we can guess that she didn’t do rigorous due diligence about the audience, or the folks she identified as influencers (those who got press kits), and just assumed that her followers would buy and post about anything she presented them with. Hard no.
- Consult qualified experts. We don’t know if she had advisors, but it certainly sounds like she did not. Your business plan and your marketing strategy will always benefit from seeking advice. Even if you decide to stick with your original plan, the process of talking it through will expose its weaknesses, giving you the opportunity to fix before, not after, launch. Don’t fall so in love with your idea that you aren’t receptive to criticism or alternative approaches.
- Be honest about weaknesses and threats. We are generally great at identifying the strengths and opportunities in our idea. Not so much the weaknesses and threats. There were likely many weaknesses in this plan, but I want to focus on one: the belief that her follower number on Instagram translated into real reach. Some percentage of a following that large is bound to be bots even for influencers that have never purchased a single follower. An even larger number is lurkers. At SHE Media, we use a REACH RATE to understand the percentage of an audience that is actually viewing the content: IMPRESSIONS or VIEWS/FOLLOWERS. Likewise, ENGAGEMENT RATE looks at the engagements in the context of the views, not numbers of followers. ENGAGEMENTS/ IMPRESSIONS or VIEWS.
I’ve been doing social media marketing for 15 years and marketing for even longer, and no matter what the tactic or communication vehicle, the fundamentals always matter. Digital and the rise of social media have changed how we execute against our goals – all the stuff in the middle – but the start and the end are still and always the same.
At the start, you identify your unique value and the audience for that value, analyze your SWOT (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats) and determine key objectives (awareness, purchase etc.) At the end, you evaluate your performance against the objectives. Applaud your successes, fix the things that didn’t work and do it all over again.
From a recent post on her Instagram, @arii seems to have taken the lessons of her failure on board. That is a great start for her next endeavor and I wish her the best of luck!