Thursday 23 January 2020

Influencers need to clean up their act or lose trust

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Stock image

John McGee

Few things in marketing have the potential to divide reasoned and informed opinion into two camps like influencer marketing does. To some seasoned marketers and possibly gnarly cynics like myself, it is just another example of digital marketing running amok yet again, bowing to the latest digital fad and pouring money into an ecosystem that is tainted by fake followers, dubious analytics, bloated egos as well as bot fraud.

Having waded through hundreds of blogs, Instagram posts and YouTube videos over the past few months as part of some wider research into influencer marketing, I can say with honesty and conviction that the quality of the content has veered from the tediously vacuous and the mind-numbingly dull right through to the mildly interesting for those who might be tediously and mind-numbingly vacuous.

These are months of my life which I will never get back and will most likely regret in the moments of clarity that will, hopefully, precede my departure from this world.

But hey, that's a personal opinion and I am possibly too old school to be influenced by a 25-year-old self-appointed arbiter of taste who, most likely doesn't understand the fundamentals of marketing, is living in cloud cuckooland and will, in most cases, plug practically anything he or she is paid to promote.

If only the business of influencing, never mind marketing, was that easy!

In the other camp, however, there are many brands that genuinely believe in the power of influencer marketing and it appears to be working for them. But where the two camps are in unison is on the need for better guidelines and transparency when it comes to dealing with influencers or making influencer marketing part of the wider marketing tool-kit.

This was clearly evident at the recent Cannes Lions festival in the south of France, when a number of leading marketers like Keith Weed of Unilever said they would no longer work with influencers who buy followers, have fake followers, use bots or engage in any other fraudulent practices.

"In February, I said we needed to rebuild trust back into our digital ecosystems and wider society. One of the ways we can do that is to increase integrity and transparency in the influencer space. We need to address this through responsible content, responsible platforms and responsible infrastructure," Weed told an audience of marketers in Cannes.

His views were shared by Dan Salzman, HP's head of global media. HP taps into influencers in the lucrative gaming world to promote its products. Now that influencer marketing has found its way into the mainstream marketing world, Salzman predicts that there would be a "natural shaking-out".

Closer to home, Irish agencies are also looking to weed out dodgy practices. Core, the marketing communications group, has also clamped down on influencers trying to pull a fast one by introducing stricter guidelines according to its chief digital officer Aisling Blake.

Some of the new procedures, she says, include background checks on the influencer, whether or not they have bought followers, the number of genuine followers as well as detailed contracts and post-campaign analytics using the group's Social Performance Index.

"We have reached a stage of maturation of this form of online advertising, so it is timely to rethink how best to use influencers and establish a new way of working with them to ensure that real value is achieved for brands, and that followers can continue to trust they are being transparent in their content.

"The industry on all sides - agencies, industry bodies and influencers - have an appetite now to understand and educate one other, so that all parties can get the best from these relationships," says Blake.

Nobody knows the size of the Irish influencer market mainly because it's not measured nor regulated and the commercial relationships that have developed are managed by a range of vested interests, from public relations firms and media agencies, right through to specialist influencer marketing agencies and, in some cases, directly by brands themselves. But various guesstimates floating around put the total spend on influencer marketing at anything between €4m-€10m a year, while Blake estimates that there's about 50 mainstream influencers of note with dozens of so-called micro-influencers making up the rest of the community.

"We are also seeing a rise in spend with online influencers, albeit from a very low base, with an average of 5pc of our client's total media investment allocated towards influencer marketing over the past 12 months. What is very important to note is the fact that influencer marketing is also feeding into social, online content, video and search, so investment in these areas tends to increase in line," she says.

Perhaps as the influencer market develops, and the shake-out which Salzman predicts comes to pass, I may be open to the idea of being influenced myself. In the meantime, I won't hold my breath.

Sunday Indo Business

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