If Your Brand’s Influencer Seems Too Good to Be True, Watch Out

And other insights from Adweek's Elevate: Influencers conference

Henkel's Alexandra Kirsch spoke with Collective Bias's Leah Logan during a fireside chat dubbed "Combating Fraud in Influencer Marketing: It's Complicated." Kyle Espeleta Photography
Headshot of T.L. Stanley

What’s wrong with this picture: The influencer your brand is working with has shown some dramatic spikes in growth recently and—though she lives in Kansas—has pods of followers in Russia, the Middle East and China.

“That’s cause for concern,” Alexandra Kirsch, manager of social media for Henkel, said during Adweek’s Elevate: Influencers conference Thursday in downtown Los Angeles, which also featured viral star Zach King and panelists from Funny or Die, Parachute and R/GA. “If the data seems too good to be true, it just may be. It’s suspicious.”

Kirsch—who spoke during a fireside chat dubbed “Combating Fraud in Influencer Marketing: It’s Complicated” with Leah Logan, vp, media products and community growth at Collective Bias—added that it’s incumbent on marketers to “be vigilant” about fake followers, bots and fraud.

“If the data seems too good to be true, it just may be. It’s suspicious.”
-Alexandra Kirsch, manager of social media, Henkel

“You have to stay on top of it,” she said during the discussion. “You’ve made your brand vulnerable if you don’t.”

That isn’t the only risk in collaborating with digital stars, with the execs noting that general brand safety is a continuing hot-button topic. Even small errors in creative direction, Logan said, can trigger lawsuits or cease-and-desist orders.

That’s where the brand’s checks and balances come into play.

“They’re investing in this influencer for a reason, for the audience and for the voice,” Kirsch said. “But brands have to be able to review the content.”

She doesn’t recommend activating influencers as a strategy, Kirsch said, but rather using them “as a tactic, [as] part of an overall media plan.”

And the desirable digital personalities aren’t just the ones with the most followers, she said, but those “with a community that cares and an audience that’s authentically engaged.”

For that reason, she suggested that marketers aiming for scale once they’ve seen some success should activate different tiers of influencers (traffic drivers, awareness builders) and mix up the media platforms.

“Take the learnings and elevate them,” she said, noting that it doesn’t necessarily mean the brand has to “double down” on its influencer media budget.

As for matching the right influencer with a brand, Kirsch said AI and machine learning are indispensable but that “it’s really important to have that human connection.”

A panel on leveraging influencers, called “I’m With the Brand,” dove deeper into ways that marketers can make the most of influencer relationships, which need to be long-term and passion-driven, execs said.

They should also span demographics, added Luke Droulez, CMO of Parachute, a premium home goods brand that’s expanding from DTC-only further into its own retail outlets.

"We need to look outside the coastal elites, and it's an interesting journey to find people who represent their communities and align with our brand."
-Luke Droulez, CMO of Parachute, on finding the right influencers

“It’s hard for us not to just have people who do yoga and drink pressed juice and live extravagant lifestyles on Instagram,” he said. “We need to look outside the coastal elites, and it’s an interesting journey to find people who represent their communities and align with our brand.”

R/GA’s strategy director, Hannah Forbes, said she’s glad to see that influencers are “finally being respected,” but that marketers still need to give them more insight into the overall brand strategy because “they can help craft the creative brief.”

Brian Toombs, vp, digital at Funny or Die, still sometimes finds a disconnect between creative vision and KPI, but said we’re “living in a golden era of the collision of advertising and entertainment.”

Because influencers are beginning to make money in numerous ways via branded merchandise, books, events, TV and OTT deals, Ricky Ray Butler, CEO of Branded Entertainment Network, sees them building their own empires.

“Creators will be the future studios,” he said. “They’re the next media moguls.”

@TLStanleyLA terry.stanley@adweek.com T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.