The early news out of Cannes, where the glitterati of the advertising world have gathered to rub shoulders, quaff rosé, do deals (or at least talk about doing deals) and generally celebrate their own creativity and business acumen in the hopes of snagging business from the legion of CMOs taking advantage of what has to be the best boondoggle on the planet, is that a marketer backlash against influencers is growing. At least according to Digiday’s piece on June 20th.
The basis for the argument is the announcement by Unilever CMO Keith Weed on Monday that the company is pushing for greater transparency in influencer marketing to combat fraud, create better consumer experiences and improve measurement.
In a prepared statement, Weed committed the company to not working with influencers who buy followers, to never buy followers itself and to prioritize partners committed to increased transparency and eradicating bad practices. He dramatically concluded with:
The key to improving the situation is three-fold: cleaning up the influencer ecosystem by removing misleading engagement; making brands and influencers more aware of the use of dishonest practices; and improving transparency from social platforms to help brands measure impact. We need to take urgent action now to rebuild trust before it’s gone forever.”
This is noble, and I commend Unilever for taking a position.
I take exception to the idea that we can have backlash against our customers. Influencers, true influencers, are our customers. People who love our products and want to share their opinions with their friends, family and fans.
So let’s reframe this accusation before we go too far.
What we are reacting to is fraud, perpetrated largely by automated systems in the search for scale. Yes, people bought followers to make their numbers look better. But the root cause — and this is true for many digital fraud issues —is the holy grail of scale over all else. Reach as many people as you can at the least possible cost. The volume ensures a certain percentage of buyers. Except at some point, the volume becomes the goal, not just the means to the goal.
We’ve been seduced by delivery metrics, taking shortcuts that promise to deliver more, for less. It’s a cycle of inflation that “looks good” but doesn’t actually deliver to our objective.
Why are we always so surprised when the shortcut turns out to be a dead end?
The problem isn’t influencers, who are, after all, your customers. It’s the never ending search for scale without a similar commitment to authenticity and performance metrics.
I suggest (and have for years) that we think about consumer to consumer marketing differently.
Ground your influencer marketing strategy in authentic relationships with customers who want to advocate for your brand. Don’t neglect those with smaller follower numbers; sometimes they are your most effective evangelists.
A good influencer marketing strategy activates customers with all degrees of influence, using tactics that take best advantage of both the customer’s passion and her platform.
The performance that matters is conversions. Everything else is a delivery metric. Even engagement. Although it can be a conversion metric for some objectives, for the most part, it too is simply a way to measure the delivery of a program.
Make sure your program has a conversion metric, and a way to get there. You can’t convert without a call to action.
Link back to sales. You can be super sophisticated using modern marketing platforms. Or you know, simply start tracking sales over time against marketing activity, including influencer.
How de we avoid fraud in influencer marketing?
- Stop chasing scale and start working with your friends.
- Measure what matters, not everything that moves.