It’s no secret that social media is big business these days. Not only are companies like Facebook showing how lucrative their platform can be for advertisers but their users are also finding ways to monetize their followings. Enter influencer marketing — one of the fastest-growing trends in brand promotion.
Influencer marketing differs from regular social media marketing in that, instead of your brand posting content from its own account, you partner with celebrities and other popular social users to help spread your message. This form of advertising has grown tremendously in recent years, with nearly half of businesses surveyed saying they planned to increase the amount of money spent on influencer marketing this year. More importantly, 88% of marketers say the practice has proven effective for raising awareness of a brand while 87% say it’s at least “somewhat effective” for driving sales.
Like with any type of marketing, influencer marketing is a vast subject with lots to know before jumping in. That said, let’s take a brief look at some of the basics, including how to find influencers to partner with, the concern over influencer fraud, and why the FTC is now paying special attention to this form of marketing.
There are many different ways to find influencers ranging from doing your own searches on various social platforms to working with third-party firms that can connect you with influencers that fit your brand. Additionally, there are now a number of free and paid tools that can help you find and evaluate potential influencer partners. In some cases, these tool will merely highlight basic details like follower count, which (as you’ll see in the next section) is far from the only factor you’ll want to consider.
The key is to find influencers that fit well with your brand. This means not only looking at the content they’re posting but also what else they might be posting that may prove problematic or in contrast with your brand’s values. You’ll also want to look at the followers that engage with each influencer and determine if they match the demographic you’re hoping to target.
Another aspect of influencer marketing you’ll want to consider is the type of content you want to share and how it’ll get your message across. For example, users often interact differently with YouTube stars than they do with Instagram influencers. As a result, you may want to start by determining your ideal platform before drilling down to finding the right influencers.
Speaking of content, it’s often a good idea to be collaborative with your selected influencer and let them offer feedback on what types of promotion you do together. After all, they’re more likely to truly understand their audience and know the best ways to reach them. These are the types of conversations you’ll want to have with potential influencers when determining if they’re really the right fit for your business.
Thanks in part to the increasingly massive amount of cash being paid to influencers, there’s also been a recent rise in influencer fraud. In short, some so-called influencers have discovered ways to game the system in terms of followers and engagements and use these stats to mislead brands about their actual influence. One of the most popular ways of doing this is by using bots. In fact, as social influencer agency Viral Nation told Digiday, approximately 20 to 30% of the applications they receive from potential influencers are found to have used bots to inflate their following.
While it can be difficult to discern when a user has purchased followers or employed some tricks to boost their engagement, a little due diligence can go a long way. This can involve monitoring a user’s follower growth, looking through comments to identify spam, and even doing a reverse image search on photos used — a recent experiment by Mediakix found the company creating an “influencer” account that posted only stock photos and still found sponsorship deals! Of course, if you’re working with an influencer marketing firm, they’ll likely have analytics at work that can also help you avoid wasting money on fraudulent accounts.
Just as some so-called influencers have taken advantage of advertisers, some brands and influencers have been accused of misleading the public. By not properly disclosing what posts are sponsored, influencers may be running afoul of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). How big is the problem? A recent study by Mediakix found that a mere 7% of posts from top celebrities were likely FTC compliant. Additionally, brands like Lord & Taylor and Warner Bros. have been charged with deceiving the public about influencer posts. When WB settled those charges with the FTC, the director of the Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protections, Jessica Rich, said, “Consumers have the right to know if reviewers are providing their own opinions or paid sales pitches. Companies like Warner Brothers need to be straight with consumers in their online ad campaigns.”
To be fair, the FTC guidelines can be a bit vague at times, leading to some confusion about what is and what is not compliant. For example, the Commission says disclosures need to be “clear and conspicuous” and must make sure “people get the information they need to evaluate sponsored statements.” As a result, they suggest using terms like “Sponsored” or “Promotion” in paid posts. In terms of social media and hashtags, they also note that #Ad is preferred to #Sp or other abbreviations that may not be clear to all users. Another important lesson learned from the WB case is that the FTC does not find disclosures made in YouTube description boxes to be adequate since embedded posts do not show this information. Thus, video influencers must disclose their affiliation with your brand in the content itself.
Bottom line: if your company chooses to participate in influencer marketing, it’s paramount that you and your partners follow these FTC guidelines. Otherwise, you could end up getting a call from the Commission, which could reflect poorly on your brand overall.
Despite a handful of hiccups like follower fraud and a few run-ins with the FTC, the practice of influencer marketing continues to grow. That’s because, whether you’re a new business or an established one, partnering with popular social media users can help you reach new customers and raise awareness for your brand. For those reasons, now may be the time to diversify your marketing efforts and jump on the influencer bandwagon.