One of the top trends we've seen in 2016 has been the growth in influencer marketing across mobile and social platforms. You can't miss these influencers on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat; many with followings that rival traditional celebrities.
Brands have been partnering with these influencers to produce and distribute content that impacts audiences in ways that traditional advertising just can't. While brands like Anheuser Busch, Marriott, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are aligning with high-profile influencers like Logan Paul, Zack King and Rachel Talbott for their unique perspective and large audiences, many are also discovering that influencers exist across many different audience sizes.
We know that influencer marketing has worked for many brands in the past. However, many of the metrics we use to measure success differ from influencer to influencer or partner to partner as the industry increasingly moves to a scaled approach versus building one-on-one relationships with individual influencers.
As it stands I think we can sort influencers into three categories. Q Score ratings do a good job demonstrating the true value of Tier I and many Tier II influencers for brands. Without Q Scores for social media influencers, I would argue that no one has done a good job at measuring the value of Tier III influencers (as identified below).
Tier I: Most of these "A" listers are managed by big talent companies. While the line is blurring here between celebrities and true influencers it can range from the likes of Pew Die Pie on YouTube to the Kardashians or author Hank Green. The value they bring can be readily measured through Q Scores.
Tier II: Though they may not have follower counts in the millions or show up on Q scores, this big swath of influencers is arguably more impactful within their area of expertise -- be it herb gardening, single mom-dom or healthy living. They can often be activated through a third-party partner. The best partners are able to quantify the science of who the influencer's audiences are while demonstrating the art of what's unique about the influencer's POV. Often a Tier II influencer can have a huge impact on highly specific topics such as do-it-yourself enthusiasts or locavore food fans.
Tier III: This is the nascent long-tail of influencer -- the person in their "friends circle" who everyone turns to when they are shopping for a new car or a new pair of headphones or a home remedy. Often, they can be activated by the same third-party partners that work with Tier II influencers and be a cost-effective way to reach highly localized or specific audiences. As with Tier II ideally, we are able to understand not just who the influencers are but who their audience is. Often that's not the case.
In all three of these tiers though, what is missing all too often are the hard business metrics that tell us whether the work was successful or not. Running brand recall studies post-exposure to influencer content is still by far the exception to the rule. All too often results are measured in proxy metrics like "engagement" that tell you how many shares or likes or comments were generated. What was product recall? Did exposure translate into sales?
The truth is that we can do better on behalf of clients. We should be looking at brand awareness and preference and even product sales growth. It's time to compare apples to apples and demystify many of the questions that still surround the true value of working with digital influencers.
What I do know is that our internal social leads in the United States, across the U.K. and in Europe are ready to move beyond measuring views, engagements and clicks only, without diving more deeply into the business impact that influencers can have.
With the intense focus in our industry on ROI, the risk is great that the influencer boom could become a bubble and the question will simply be whether the air leaks out slowly or whether the bubble bursts all at once.
To be clear, my challenge is both to us on the agency side and to our partners in the influencer space to help us all to go beyond surface measures and really prove out the business efficacy of influencer-driven content and brand communication. Onward together.
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