As one of the fastest growing segments in marketing at present, influencer marketing is being utilised more and more by brands as part of their marketing and media mix.

Some believe peer-to-peer word of mouth has become more effective and powerful than traditional marketing methods. But is there a dark side to it? How are influencers controlled by brands to ensure that they actually fulfil campaign promises and what happens when they post something that actually damages a brand’s reputation?

Right from the get go, let’s make the distinction: There are two types of influencers, those associated with agencies (such as theSalt, Webfluential or CSA) and those who freelance (not attached to any company).

The safer option seems to be those vetted by an agency, as Davin Phillips, communications director for CSA, explains. “We eliminate bad behaviour of influencers through our contracts and that’s why they are so important,” he says.

Pieter Groenewald, CEO of theSALT, concurs with Phillips, revealing a common mistake he has seen across influencer marketing campaigns that have gone wrong.

“Brands try handle it themselves without having the necessary experience. They try to handle influencers themselves, yet they don’t have access to the necessary tech that could assist [them] in avoiding the pitfalls,” he explains.

He adds that some brands believe influencer marketing doesn’t work because they have not seen a return on their investment, but stresses that it does work, it’s just that those brands have been irresponsible in the implementation of their influencer marketing programmes.

Identifying fake influencers

Webfluential has access to a tech platform that to allows the company to go behind the scenes of the audience of influencers. They can tell in what part of the world the audience is, how the audience has been built, and a host of other analytical information, which helps Webfluential identify whether a following has been paid for.

“A basic rule of thumb is that for a social influencer the engagement rate needs to be 1.5% or above to be considered a digital influencer. For musicians and celebrities it needs to be a natural fit, they need to be passionate about the brand and they need to complement each other,” Phillips advises.

Approaching influencers directly

If a brand chooses to approach influencers directly, this can pose a massive risk as they don’t have access to all the background information of that influencer and it is more difficult to judge whether they will be a good fit for the brand.

Groenewald stresses a tech platform is vital for vetting the influencer as it allows brands to find influencers who are a perfect brand match, and align with a player who has experience and a proven track record in influencer marketing.

The system also has a built in feedback system that allows brands to rate influencers, similar to the Uber or Airbnb feedback method. This gives future clients feedback that they can look through, ensuring that influencers are on their best behaviour, otherwise they will receive a negative review.

“Ask the hard questions up front and make sure the campaign expectations and terms are clear from the start,” says Groenewald emphatically.

Managing influencers

“You’ve got to trust the talent. They obviously done something to build up a following and you brief them on the dos and don’ts and then they need to interpret that in terms of their editorial narrative,”  he adds. “In terms of contractual obligations it’s just about nurturing the relationship and reminding them of these.”

Phillips advises that nurturing the relationship with the influencer is very important, as is pre-campaign vetting in choosing the right influencer.

“You have to understand their content, do an audit of what they stand for and the brands they associate with and who their network is. Once you’ve checked all those boxes it makes it a lot easier,” he says.

Asked for his advice for brands about choosing an influencer, Phillips responds, “Make sure the process stays objective and not subjective … Reflect on your brand’s objectives and target market and cast the influencers accurately in terms of who they are, what they stand for and what they’re following.”

In a recent blog post, Jarred Mailer-Lyons, digital media strategist at The MediaShop, commented, “There’s no doubt that influencer marketing has become a very interesting space to watch and that it will escalate in popularity really quickly. But brands shouldn’t forget that the key to influencer marketing is knowing how to develop an integrated strategy that taps into the key drivers of behaviour. We can then use these insights and align them to micro and macro influencers who have greater powers of persuasion through word of mouth recommendations within their communities.”

Having researched this, the biggest takeaway regarding influencer marketing is, don’t just pick an influencer because you know of them and they have an impressive following on social media. Pick someone who has the same values, culture and relationships as your brand, and conduct thorough homework and vetting before making your choice. And contrary to the perception, bigger isn’t always better. Sometimes micro-influencers can be more powerful for your brand, than someone with millions upon millions of followers.

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