Influencer fraud is good for the industry. It pushes the discipline forward away from measuring vanity metrics toward measuring impact.
Influencer fraud is the influencer marketing watchword of 2018.
- 1-in-8 UK-based Instagram influencers has shown signs of having bought fake followers.
- 1-in-4 of influencers from a 10,000 sample has shown signs of having bought fake engagement.
- Influencer marketing platform InfluencerDB puts the cost of influencer fraud at $500m.
Influencer Fraud is a thing. It’s a big thing. It’s not a new thing, though. Products like Twitter Auditor have been around since 2012. Last year I wrote an article titled: Influencer marketing is gaming itself to death. Here’s how to stop it
But it was when The New York Times ran its The Follower Factory story back in January that the subject became mass media news. The groundswell of interest picked up further in June when Unilever CMO Keith Weed made three commitments:
- Unilever won’t work with influencers who buy followers
- Unilever has promised its own brands will never buy followers
- The business will prioritise partners who increase their transparency and work to eradicate nefarious practices throughout the digital ecosystem
Influencer fraud is good for the industry
Influencer fraud is good for the industry. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Drawing wider attention to these unethical practices pushes the discipline forward.
Influencer marketers used to lionise reach. Audience size aka theoretical reach was the bellwether key performance indicator.
The result? Unscrupulous influencers gamed their reach with bots automatically following other users one day - then unfollowing them the next. They gamed the reach through buying fake users. They gamed it with ‘follow-for-follow’ tactics.
Then, one day, brands and marketers had an epiphany. An epiphany helped by Instagram’s change in algorithm. If they couldn’t trust reach as a reliable metric, they should measure resonance instead.
Suddenly it wasn’t JUST about an influencer’s audience size. It was about the level of engagement they earned, too. Influencer marketing measurement had now been nudged forward - albeit fractionally.
So, influencers started to game the level of engagement on their posts. Unethical influencers gamed engagement with click farms, they gamed engagement via Insta pods.
You manage what you measure - so make sure you measure what is important. The industry’s reaction to influencers buying fake followers pushed influencer marketing forward away from placing so much stock on measuring influencer reach. Fake engagement will have the same positive effect. Influencer marketers will be forced to place effective measurement at the forefront of the planning and evaluation stages of their workflow. They'll measure with impact metrics rather than vanity metrics.
With increased influencer marketing spend comes a greater need to demonstrate value return on investment (ROI). Accurate data and robust, independent campaign performance evaluation, along with industry benchmarking, will become a fundamental part of the influencer marketing campaign planning process.
Leading with measurement
The influencer marketing industry should lead with measurement. A new report by Traackr & Altimeter explains “metrics evolve as a result of programs that start to focus on business impact. As such, strategies, teams and workflows adapt to perform against these desired metrics … . As influencer marketing matures, challenges to measure performance decline. As brands see the impact of influencer marketing initiatives throughout the customer journey, the pressure is on to develop sophisticated, measurable programs capable of supporting large-scale strategies.
“The challenge facing organizations is to develop an influencer marketing practice that aligns with overarching business strategy while ensuring leadership has the data and reporting framework required to evaluate success and prioritize spending” [page 41: The 2018 State of Influence report].
Planning starts with knowing who you are talking to (the audience). What the client wants to achieve. And how this work fits into your client’s bigger communications and business strategy.
During the planning phase, you determine what the campaign key performance indicators are and how you intend to evaluate success.
In Platinum, the newly launched book by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ celebrating its first 70 years, I wrote that engagement metrics should be superseded by intent and decision metrics. Communicators should be interested more in what happens after the viewer has engaged with the branded content. These are the outcomes of the programme. For example, did the viewer:
- Search for more information?
- Look for reviews?
- Talk to friends/family about the product?
- Follow the brand on social media?
Outcomes are the effects your influencer marketing programme caused for your target publics that align to your objectives. The intent to form a relationship with your firm measured through the increased number of inquiries, registrations, product trials, for example.
Ultimate goal of better measurement is organisational impact
Impact is the ultimate indicator demonstrating that your influencer marketing programme has moved the needle at an organisational level.
Measurement of impact might include increased sales revenue or improved long-term reputation with your targeted publics.
The Association for Evaluation of Measurement and Communication (AMEC) has set out a robust methodology for planning and measuring a campaign.
Every conversation about influencer marketing measurement should start with AMEC's Integrated Evaluation Framework.
Effective measurement and evaluation are core tools for PR practitioners as influencer marketing moves centre stage. This is true both to satisfy our clients and to demonstrate leadership of other marketing disciplines attempting to take ownership of influencer marketing.
Change is slow
Change is slow. Principle KPIs being used to assess influencer activity continue to be reach and views (96%) and engagement (80%) according to the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) research from July. A poor tradesman always blames his tools runs the cliche. Perhaps poor results from ill-planned influencer campaigns are behind the 12% influencer outreach budget drop reported in the recent PRCA annual survey.