It’s Time for a Reboot of Influencer Marketing

Opinion: Paying for follower counts isn't going to cut it anymore

Time to reboot? oonal/iStock

All that Twitters is not gold: That’s the takeaway from a recent blockbuster New York Times report  that revealed that celebrities often buy fake followers to boost their Twitter profiles.

Actor John Leguizamo, business icon Michael Dell and film critic Richard Roeper were all caught buying fake followers. A firm called Devumo will sell anyone 25,000 Twitter followers for $225.

That news, on the heels of some high-profile flameouts among YouTube influencers, should make anyone think twice about picking their next influencer.

Until recently, brands hadn’t calculated fake followers and the instability of YouTube influencers into their influencer marketing plans. That’s why we’re going to see a reboot of influencer marketing in 2018. Successful influencer marketing means finding the right people to represent your brand. Paying for follower counts isn’t going to cut it anymore.

More control needed

Aligning with an influencer will get your brand in front of more people. But the downside is that you lose control of the message. Maybe your influencer isn’t an outright sociopath or liar, but there’s a decent chance that they’ll telegraph that their endorsement is transactional.

Legally mandated disclosures underscore that an endorsement is paid. But influencers can undercut the credibility of the endorsement by signifying that they don’t really believe in the product.

The classic example is Scott Disick, who merely cut and pasted directions from his marketing lead on Instagram (“Here you go. At 4 p.m., write the below …”). In other cases, influencers have been inept at disclosure.

This is what happens when brands wantonly throw money at influencers. As one unnamed social media exec told Digiday, influencers “no longer value their art.” But they’re scooping up thousands of dollars anyway.

The smart way forward

Realizing that treating follower counts as “media” is misguided, some marketers have gotten wise. Bringing influencer marketing in-house is the latest trend. Hello Fresh, L’Occitane and Nike are all looking for in-house influencer marketing experts.

Building the right in-house team to manage the influencer campaign is key. The team needs to truly understand the influencers not just for their numbers, but for why their content resonates. There also needs to be a dialogue between the brand and influencer that goes past the financial commitment.

It is the same as in any collaboration or with any concept of team. A true partnership between brand and influencer that includes an exchange of ideas will play in the brand’s favor.

In addition, brands should use technology that lets them organize and execute influencer campaigns. Options include Insightpool, Klear and BuzzStream.

Finally, because there may not be clear return on investment with these campaigns, it’s important to develop an analytical methodology that makes sense. Use a methodology that you can track and benchmark against.

Smart brands are also seeking long-term relationships with influencers rather than one-offs. The move mirrors brands’ new appreciation for name-brand publishers over scattershot long-tail placements.

Ideally, brands should view influencers the way they view celebrity spokespeople. Although there’s a chance that anyone you link with will go off the rails (we’ve seen a lot of this lately), you place your bets as best you can. Since the lazy way of prioritizing follower count has its pitfalls, brands need to take a more active role.

Choosing the right influencer is a brand-level decision that shouldn’t be outsourced. It’s more work than you think and always fraught with some risk. Choosing the right influencer is hard work, but look what happens if you choose the wrong one.

Lux Narayan is CEO of social media analytics provider Unmetric.