Free-Photos / Pixabay

Influencer marketing is turning the page and entering that awkward age of adolescence.

And like most coming-of-age stories, this one’s filled with conflict and compromise.

Influencers are testing their limits – finding new ways to boost reach and negotiate for better compensation. Brands, on the other hand, are working to lay down ground rules.

Marketers face growing pressure from higher ups to prove ROI as influencer marketing campaigns grow in scale and complexity.

Influencers wrestle with an increasingly saturated landscape. The rise of micro-influencers means competing for partnerships and a share of followers’ limited social feeds.

There’s a need for standardization and we’re already seeing signs of it.

The Rise of Self-Made Influencers

Your neighbor. Your doctor. Your mom. It seems like everyone has built up a following on social media these days. There’s a micro-community for every interest, hobby, and cause.

In all of this noise, some influencers and businesses have turned to using bots as a quick and easy way to give their accounts a boost.

Bot providers help drive likes and followers for anywhere from $9 to $40 a month.

“Influencer attention has been in such high demand that, for brands, any influencer will often suffice regardless of the fit or authenticity,” said Tribe CEO Anthony Svirskis at the MMS Mobile conference.

Research shows that 7.8% of Instagram’s 200 million active accounts are bots or fake accounts.

“The follower count is really completely meaningless,” said Bob Gilbreath, chief executive of Ahalogy to the New York Times. “It’s untrustworthy for the true following, and it’s certainly untrustworthy for the quality of the creative work.”

The problem with bot usage is that it inflates an influencer’s influence, making it hard for brands to predict true reach. Follower count and number of likes – especially those enhanced by bots – don’t always equate to engagement, awareness, or sales. And as bots become smarter, it gets increasingly hard for brands to differentiate bot-grown influence from organic influence.

That’s why it’s important for brands to put together guidelines to help identify the right influencers to partner with.

At Bitly, we look for a few things before partnering with an influencer. We look at how active an influencer is on the platform, we familiarize ourselves with their content to make sure it’s aligned with our brand, and we check to see how the influencer engages with their followers.

Solutions like Fohr Card also help to scan and identify an influencers’ follower health. Fohr Card categorizes accounts into three categories: actives, lurkers, and bots. By analyzing an influencers’ list of followers, the software is able to conclude whether an influencer has bought followers or not.

How Many Likes Is In A Sale?

Influencer marketing budgets now range anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000. But 78% of marketers say that tracking influencer marketing ROI will be their number one challenge this year.

Likes, retweets, and follows are all great but what does that mean for the bottom line?

At Bitly, we’ve seen brands give influencers individual, customized links in order to track performance. This allows marketing teams to see which posts are driving traffic back to the landing page.

This past November, Lucasfilm and HP partnered with Instagram influencers to hype up the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

HP asked their Instagram influencers promote the #AwakenYourForce sweepstakes, which offered followers a chance to win a Star Wars Special Edition notebook and a movie ticket voucher. One of these influencers, musician Rudy Mancusco, shared a remake of the Star Wars theme song, driving over 66.5 likes and 298 comments with just one post!

Tracking influencer marketing results can help you set realistic goals for future campaigns and identify which partnerships are working.

Community First

Influencer marketing’s becoming a big operation for some brands. They have to source a handful of micro-influencers, put together contracts, a project scope, and track KPIs.

It’s no wonder many brands have turned to agencies or have automated parts of the process.

Agencies can be a great way for businesses to scale their efforts and bring in expertise, but it can also backfire when influencers feel there’s a lack of authenticity.

Dove outsources their influencer marketing efforts to a digital marketing agency. The agency identifies, recruits, and manages influencers on behalf of the Dove marketing team.

This past June, Dove’s agency approached influencer Coltrane Curtis about an opportunity to partner together in a Father’s Day campaign.

Coltrane said he found it distasteful that the agency reached out to him to “sell” an aspect of his life that he found very personal: his relationship with his son.

“Influencers are becoming choosier about the brands they work with and will likely refuse to sell out to their audiences if they don’t feel there’s an authentic connection,” Tribe CEO Anthony Svirskis told Digiday. “Brands and agencies should now be approaching the industry with the attitude that the best influencers for your brands are the ones who already consume your brands.”

There’s no exact science to wooing over an influencer, and there’s always a risk of rejection, but sourcing from your own community is always a great place to start. You’ll find influencers who have already been using your product for some time and can speak to their experience with it. Plus, followers will be more likely to buy into the endorsement.

Growing Pains

Both brand and influencer are vying for control.

Brands want to test and optimize influencer marketing as a real marketing channel like they’ve done with email and social. Influencers are thinking about refining their content and building a business as their personal brands mature.

Growth requires structure, but whatever processes are put in place we shouldn’t forget what made influencer marketing so successful in the first place: relationships.