Influencer marketing is big business. Now there’s a statement nobody can disagree with. It was estimated to be worth a hefty yet conveniently rounded $1 billion in 2017!
A National Advertisers Survey found that 75% of marketers currently work with Influencers. But here’s the catch. That same survey said only 36% of marketers judged their Influencer marketing efforts as effective.
Influencer marketing in its current form is not measurable enough to have its impact on a customer’s purchase journey properly valued alongside the other, more traditional, digital channels.
Proving Value From Influencer Activity Isn't Easy
Most people anecdotally know that Influencer marketing ‘works’. Who hasn’t seen something posted or promoted on a social platform and been compelled to either buy it, visit it or eat it! But this isn’t the 1970s. You can’t just have a hunch that dressing a celebrity in a cowboy outfit is going to make people buy your product! Marketers want integrated journey analysis and cross-channel attribution to a transaction level. None of which currently exists in a meaningful way in Influencer marketing.
Let’s take Instagram as the example. The only way for an Influencer to add a clickable link to Instagram is on their bio. But it isn’t a natural journey in Instagram to view a post and then access a link in the user’s bio. The nature of social media, and particularly Instagram, is that people see something they are interested in, maybe notice a hashtag, and then search for that thing online. It isn’t your standard form of ‘click-out’ online marketing.
The fact that Influencers cannot easily add a clickable link to posts means it is near-impossible for advertisers to make even a loose correlation between Influencer engagement and actual transactions. The fact that many ad networks perpetuate the myth that Influencer marketing can be tied back to transactions only makes the situation worse. Currently, the only meaningful way to use clickable links in Instagram is to have a Business Account and get over 10,000 followers, which then allows clickable links to be placed in Instagram Stories. But again, the nature of Instagram makes clicks away from the platform an unlikely journey.
Unfortunately, Facebook’s unwillingness to make Instagram more open to clickable links has made the product promotion its users, or publishers do, hard to accurately measure (although it has arguably done a lot to enhance usability). Limited information from the user’s page, such as likes and comments, is about as sophisticated as it gets right now to measure the effectiveness of Influencer marketing on its most prominent platform - Instagram. Any tie-back to actual engagement with an advertiser’s brand, or more crucially sales, is either non-existent or underwhelming because the tracking practices don’t accurately reflect how people use the platform.
First Comes The Scandal Then The Clean-Up
The ongoing fallout from Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal will inadvertently make Influencer marketing’s measurement problem worse. Facebook have cracked down on the availability of open APIs. This will make it increasingly difficult to measure Influencer marketing performance, and it has already spelled the end of some Influencer marketing measurement companies. In late August 2018 Deep Social closed its doors after having its access revoked by Facebook.
Of course, Influencer marketing’s other well-documented challenge is fakery. In June, Unilever’s Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed was one of the first to call-out the Influencer industry for not doing enough to clean-up fake activity. Since then, the evidence of fake influencer accounts and falsified engagement has been growing,
Research by Points North Group showed that Ritz-Carlton saw up to 78% of the ‘people’ reached through its influencer programme later outed as fake. Yet despite this research and many big brands calling for the social media giants to provide greater measurement, visibility and transparency around Influencer marketing, so far they are conspicuous only by their silence.
Influencer marketing feels like the Display channel circa 2010 when programmatic bidding had the advertising world eating out of its hand. It took a few years for somebody to stop and say…how are we making sure all these ads are being properly viewed? And then the castle caved in, budgets were slashed and share prices wobbled while the Display industry sought to clean up a very large ad fraud problem.
Calling For Greater Measurability And Transparency
The Influencer marketing train is rolling at full-steam just like the Programmatic Display train was back then. But are we already starting to see the brakes strategically applied to the runaway Influencer train with calls for greater measurability and transparency? Post-Cambridge Analytica its unlikely Facebook will be more open to allow third-parties access to data for measurement purposes. Which means maybe the tracking space is ripe for a solution that can properly measure the contribution and value of Influencer marketing? Without it, online advertising's key USP - measurability - is going backwards.