We’ve written before at Converse Digital about choosing the right influencer and the difference between “influence marketing” and “influenceR marketing.” There’s a lot of weight in that one little “r.” An influencer not only possesses the “influence” (ie: audience), but they wield it effectively. They don’t just know the right people, they know how to talk to them, what to say, and they actually do it.
But knowing whether you have a true “influencer” or not can be a bit tricky. And often, at the end of an influencer campaign, the results are a bit muddled and uncertain—did we actually drive sales with this thing? Or did we just spend a lot of money to make a little bit of noise with the wrong band?
So how do you choose the right influencer for your brand? Let’s walk through a quick hypothetical situation: say we’re in the market to do some marketing, and an influencer campaign seems like just the ticket to meaningfully connect with our audience. So we start doing a bit of research, license some software, maybe even hire an agency to help us out.
But, tracking down real influencers can actually be quite the challenge, especially if your standards are high (and at the going rate for an influencer marketing agency, they sure as hell better be). So, what ends up happening?
We settle. We choose an influencer with a large audience, decent engagement metrics, standard content, and we hand them our product samples and a budget. We tell them to go forth and spread the message, and the strategy pretty much ends there. Everything from that point on is entirely in the hands of the influencer, their charisma, and their mastery of their craft. We set out to partner with an Influencer Marketer, but instead we’ve just hired an Influencer Advertiser.
How did we get here? Well, for starters, let’s cut ourselves a bit of slack—this is a rapidly evolving corner of the industry, whose growth pace has only accelerated in the COVID years. The marketplace surely hasn’t done us any favors, nor has the frothing hype around the rise of Tik Tok and it’s promises of easy replicable viral content marketing.
Really, though, the reason we ended up with an Influencer Advertiser is due to a few confusions of terms—and these distinctions are key to avoiding the pitfalls of hiring the wrong influencer.
Here are three key distinctions to consider when building your influencer marketing campaign:
Celebrity Endorsement vs Influencer Recommendation
Here’s a bit of backwards logic: if your influencer is too famous it might actually hurt their influence. A survey of 14,000 U.S. adults conducted by Collective Bias found that just “3% of consumers would consider buying a product at retail if it was endorsed by a celebrity influencer.” Conversely, the report indicates that 30% of U.S. adults were “more likely to purchase a product endorsed by a non-celebrity blogger than a celebrity influencer.” Influencer Marketing Academy backs this up, saying that “92% of consumers trust an influencer more than they trust a celebrity.” It turns out that in the internet age, we still make buying decisions largely the same way we did 20 years ago—based on the opinions and suggestions of people we trust. And apparently we don’t trust people who are too famous.
The brilliance of the successful influencer marketer is in their ability to sell themselves as a friend and trusted source, giving a recommendation to their friends online. “Micro” influencers who position their content as small-scale, local, friendly, and above all trustworthy are often the ones who are most effectively wielding their influence. Bigger is not always better when it comes to trust, and these days trust online is everything.
Influencer Selling instead of Influencer Marketing
A key factor in measuring trust online is “authenticity.” We’ve probably all heard the statistics about Gen Z and their thirst for authenticity in content (and if you haven’t, then here’s a great reference). While it might be easy to pass this off as just one generation’s preference, the Gen Z search for truth in advertising is actually a serious bellwether in the world of internet content. In fact, Forbes named it one of the six most important trends in influencer marketing to watch for this year. It would seem that in the age of endless content, the “bullshit meter” has gone into high alert, and as a whole we are much more wary of the sleazy used car salesman than ever before. The modern consumer is easily skeptical of content that’s overly “salesy“ or features obvious product-heavy upfront messaging. We know when an influencer product placement feels “fake,” and we rarely react positively to it.
BUT, we also are generally receptive to branded content from influencers when it “fits the feed,” and when their support is obviously genuine. The influencers who drive the best conversions are the ones who offer authentic support of your brand. This means choosing the right influencers who are fans of your brand regardless of whether or not you are paying them or giving them free stuff… and in some cases that might mean sending them samples with no strings attached, just to introduce them to the brand and ask for their thoughts. Thinking of these creators less as advertisers, and more as brand ambassadors is the way to win the influencer marketing game—we just have to be willing to let go of the traditional ad mentality and metrics, which brings us to our final distinction…
Vanity Metrics vs Actionable Insights
In the influencer marketing world, we hear a lot about reach. And to be fair—your influencer needs to have it, or else who exactly are they going to influence? But in our ROI-driven world “vanity metrics” like reach, likes, even comments are increasingly proving to be an ineffective measure of influencer success. These “output-based KPIs” are a nice measure of an advertisement, but we don’t hire influencers to do that—we hire them to persuade, and for that we want “outcome-based KPIs.”
Outcome-based KPI’s measure the down-funnel effects of your influencer’s campaign. For products sold online, the absolute best way to do this is through affiliate links, dedicated UTM-tagged URLs, unique promo codes, dedicated landing pages, swipe-up features, etc.—any measure that can show that this influencer’s recommendation led to a sale. And if your product isn’t sold online or you can’t track sales this way, then the next best thing is tracking intent-to-purchase. Saves are a great example of this. Sure, a user saving your influencer’s post might just mean they thought it was funny and want to see it again later. But it also means that something about the message stuck with them enough to tuck it away to digest again in a different setting. Similarly, shares and tagging other users are a great measure of how the influencer’s content is faring with their audience. Nobody is going to send a post to their friends unless they think it says something worth sharing. Sharing is spreading the word, and that’s a whole lot more powerful of a conversion metric than liking the post.
To be sure, a focus on outcome-based KPIs means you won’t see any more of those big explosive numbers we’ve become accustomed to with influencer post likes and comments. But if you think beyond the sexy stats, choosing the right influencer is a no-brainer. Get into the nitty gritty of actual conversion metrics, and you’ll quickly find out who is really marketing your product well, and who is a glorified Instagram ad with a selfie camera and a ring light.
Ready to pump up that ROI and find your own Influencer Marketing Partner?
So, which one are you currently running in your agency? An influencer marketing strategy, or an influencer advertising campaign? Or, maybe neither? If you’d like help choosing the right influencer, evaluating your current strategy, or building one from scratch, we know a thing or two about that, and would love to help you out. Just drop us a line below, and we’ll help you find the right influencer marketers for your brand.