dangers of influencer marketing

Influencer marketing, the newest shiny thing in digital marketing, took a serious hit this week, despite a slew of articles touting the tactic. For instance,

Influencer marketing is well past its experimental phase. It is now firmly established as an important type of online marketing, and it is for more than just small businesses and startups, who can’t afford traditional advertising fees. Quite a few A-list businesses realize that influencer marketing helps them reach their target audience. It is digital marketing’s next best thing, that is making a huge impact already.

The article goes on the give 10 examples of Fortune 100 companies, like Motorola and Dunkin’ Donuts, using influencer marketing to drive awareness, build brand image, and, ultimately, sell product.

But, is influencer marketing the next big thing in digital marketing, as suggested by several thought leaders in digital?

Let’s explore the hidden danger of using this new tactic.

What is influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing is a type of marketing that focuses on using key leaders to drive your brand’s message to the larger market. Rather than marketing directly to a large group of consumers, you instead inspire / hire / pay influencers to get out the word for you.

In many ways, hiring influencers as spokespeople for your brand isn’t much different than hiring a celebrity for your commercial or giving clothing to celebrities so they’re photographed wearing your clothes.

From a marketing perspective, influence marketing provides two benefits:

  • it helps cut through the clutter to reach more of your target market
  • it offers a tacit endorsement from the influencers to his/her community

Image courtesy of TapInfluence

Using microcelebrities has it’s benefits over using celebrities to endorse your brand.

  1. Celebrities are MUCH more expensive
  2. People look at celebrity endorsement and know it’s just another form of advertising, while the endorsement of microcelebrities seems more REAL
  3. Engagement with these microcelebrities is higher than with celebrities despite the celebrity’s larger community. A recent study showed consumers were 2X as likely to buy based on a recommendation from a blogger than a celebrity.
  4. The appeals of influencers just seem more authentic than those of celebrities since the message is usually crafted in their own words

According to the 2016 Influencer Marketing Report, there’s been a 66% uptick in the use of influencer marketing by brands, including both big and small ones and 50% of brands surveyed said they’re increasing spending for 2017. Trying to capitalize on the popularity, a number of agencies now focus on bringing you influencers, celebrities and microcelebrities, to break through the clutter and convince your target marketing to part with their hard-earned cash.

Sometimes, influencer marketing is relatively subtle. While it’s not exactly traditional word of mouth advertising, which focuses on crafting content likely to go viral, and it’s not as in your face as advocate marketing, where a brand incentivizes loyal customers to advocate for the brand, influencer marketing shares many of the same marketing benefits.

First, you find influencers who have a large following among your target market. Next, you market heavily to the influencer in hopes he/she will share your content with their massive following.

As brands got more aggressive about influencer marketing, brands went beyond just marketing to influencers, they began supporting them with traditional sponsorships or by buying advertising on their platforms, such as buying ads on their YouTube channel or paying them for mentioning/ reviewing the brand.

The dangers of influencer marketing

brand strategyJust as with celebrities, your influencers might totally embarrass your brand with their behavior. For instance, many brands stopped using Tiger Woods to endorse their brands after reports of his massive infidelities hit the press. In other cases, like with Taylor Swift, you get access to her fans and your brand takes on some of her wholesome personality.

It’s the same when you hire an influencer. And, Ad Week contends that these microcelebrities are less likely to do something totally embarrassing than celebrities, who tend to slip up with some regularity.

But, recent events suggest brands need more due diligence before they decide to throw in their lot with an influencer. Case in point, PewDiePie.

Here’s what an article in this week’s Ad Week said right after Disney and YouTube dropped support for PewDiePie, a controversial and outlandish YouTube sensation with over 53 million followers, for anti-semitic videos.

Influencers become inextricably tied to brands that advertise with them,”Wijesinghe said. “Whether or not you work with them for paid marketing or happen to advertise on their videos, the standard of vetting should only be getting higher.”

And, you have more worries about using influencers than just them becoming a loose cannon. For instance. you can’t control how an influencer talks about your brand, which may undo a lot of brand equity with your existing market or damage efforts to generate a cohesive brand image.

And, despite the ROI of influencer marketing, it’s nowhere near as good as word of mouth.

Influencer marketing certainly does pay off. For every dollar spent, you have a return of $6.50 in additional earned media on top of it. However, it still only generates half the sales of true word-of-mouth. So it boils down to what your company is looking for.

Some experts believe that influencer marketing is about to come crashing down on the brands out there thinking they’ve found the magic bullet for selling to their target market. Their efforts to work with influencers is creating a system which reduces their ability to influence sales. Brands have no relationship with the influencers, in most cases, and no control over messages shared by them, in all cases. Messages shared by the influencer run the gambit from off brand to negative, and that’s without consideration of how the actions of the influencer might impact brand image, as with PewDiePie.

This is a recipe for disaster, according the WSJ. The platforms themselves, including Snapchat and Instagram, have serious reservations about influencer marketing, especially as practiced by the new automated platforms for generating influencer marketing, including TapInfluence. They’re afraid that, when influencer marketing fails, as they predict it will, the brands will abandon advertising on the platform all together.

Handling the dangers of influencer marketing

So, unlike the WSJ, I don’t advocate throwing out the baby with the bath water. I feel influencer marketing is a valuable tool with a high ROI potential. But, brands need to do a better job before swallowing this new shiny thing.

Vet influencers

Using automated software to choose your influencers based on the size of their network or other objective facts is a mistake, as Disney found with PewDiePie. And, despite efforts to distance themselves from the video sensation, he’ll likely retain most of his millions of followers, providing the perfect vehicle for revenge against the brands he formerly represented (although he has said nothing to suggest this future course of action).

Instead, brands need to spend time and expend effort to thoroughly vet influencers. Read/ view their content, check their public affiliations, etc to ensure their values match those of your brand and your target audience. Make sure influencers clearly understand your brand’s personality and what is (or isn’t) acceptable.

Build relationships

Treat influencers as a member of your team, don’t just pay them for doing your messaging. This is a major difference between using celebrities and influencers. Building relationships with influencers helps ensure their messaging stays on point and positive.

Every day I get offers from companies seeking mention in this blog. Because I don’t have millions of followers, none of them are offering me $1 million for the favor, but they do offer access to information and executives within the company, infographics, and the like. But none of them have tried to build a relationship that would both increase my desire to include their content or ensure I cover their brand appropriately. More disturbing, several attempt to curry favor by implying that such a relationship does exist. Almost all of these end up in the trash, even ones offering money for a mention of their brand.

Just as a brand needs to be careful of its influencers, and influencer needs to be careful of the brands it endorses. Hence, building a relationship with the influencer means attracting a higher quality influencer who likely has built trust with their followers, which likely translates into sales.