Using an influencer is nothing new in advertising but in the past few years the definition of the role has expanded from celebrities to YouTubers, Instagrammers, bloggers and vloggers, and brands have been jumping on the bandwagon to be mentioned in newsfeeds. However, with the online space comes a new set of challenges, from selecting an influencer to measuring results.
Fuse content and brand experience director Holly Lindsey has been working in the influencer marketing space for four years and says it’s grown significantly in that time. Fuse has responded by working to counsel brands looking to add it to their marketing mix.
In doing so, she says it’s built up a collection of case studies that show influencers are a great way to build brand love. However, there’s a graveyard of content out there, and Lindsey says the key to standing out from the crowd and finding success is getting the partnership and content right.
It all starts with identifying the audience the brand wants to engage with and looking at the data surrounding that. That includes the audience demographics, the conversations they’re having, the content they’re engaging in and who’s influencing them.
From there, it builds a strategy that can deliver the business results, and reaches out to the influencers who it’s confident will have an impact on the audience.
“To be successful in this space it is crucial to understand the audience, what content and conversation they are currently engaging in and most importantly who influences them. With this insight, you can identify the right influencers, content angles and themes that will engage your target audience and deliver real results to the business,” she says.
Aiding in this process is a lot of time spent by the Fuse team on social media and using its in-house tools to identify potential influencers and build relationships with them.
“You have to be hands on and know your influencers, what conversations they’re having, what brands they’re talking about, how their audience engages in that conversation, and what questions they are asking,” Lindsey says.
Not included on that list is the number of followers, which although it seems would be an important factor to generate maximum engagement, is not as important as what an influencer is producing, Lindsey says.
“We place value on quality content, not just the metrics, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be shot with a 7D camera, we look for content with substance and positive sentiment," she says.
“Ultimately, it’s only going to be valuable to a brand if it’s engaging the target audience.”
And while she says there’s no certain level of followers it’s looking for in an influencer, she says it’s important for those working the space—be it as an influencer, brand or agency—to be aware of those numbers and where they’re coming from.
Grey areas emerge when looking at how many followers are engaging with influencers and how they’re engaging, Lindsey says, pointing out bots, bought followers and likes, and comment pods that can distort the value of the engagement.
They see the people liking and commenting on the influencer’s content on the influencer’s behalf, fake accounts being created to engage with the influencers and groups of influencers coming together to like and comment on each other’s content.
Those comments from fellow influencers may seem valuable because the commenter is likely to be an influencer with a similar niche. However, Lindsey points out the comments may not be directly related to the content, therefore clouding the performance of a post.
“We’re not saying that any of this activity is right or wrong, but brands need to be aware of what this activity is and what they’re investing in.”
She advises those playing in the space to look out for sudden spikes in likes, comments and followers, as well as followers in strange locations and engagement at all hours of the day, as red flags for fabricated engagement.
She also says the best way to ensure branded posts generate genuine and valuable engagement is to invest in quality content. It might be a slower process but it’s the organic engagement that’s valuable to a brand.
As well as an influencer’s numbers, questions have also been raised about an influencer’s obligation to remain on brand and maintain a sentiment across its profile that fits the brand message in non-branded posts on their platforms.
Earlier this year, Swedish YouTube star Felix Kjellberg, who goes by PewDiePie, was dropped by Disney after posting videos featuring anti-Semitic comments showing how those in the online space now face the same scrutiny as ‘traditional’ stars.
No more is that more apparent than looking at former All Black Dan Carter, who at the same time was being dropped as a brand ambassador for Land Rover after he was caught drink-driving in France.
But while Kjellberg’s videos of swastikas, Hitler speeches and Nazi salutes proved to be much for Disney, in a Tumblr post following the controversy, he pointed out the autonomy he has over his channel.
“I make videos for my audience. I think of the content that I create as entertainment, and not a place for any serious political commentary. I know my audience understand that and that is why they come to my channel. Though this was not my intention, I understand that these jokes were ultimately offensive.”
Fuse works with influencers of all levels from social media stars to celebrities across its campaigns and it’s never had any issues like these of an influencer behaving off brand.
Lindsey acknowledges there are risks involved, but says it has a lot of conversations with influencers in the lead up to a campaign to be clear around what the expectations are. However, in saying this, she adds it’s also careful not to direct people’s opinions or stories.
“We would never push anything, it needs to add value to [the influencer’s] brand as well and be a natural organic fit within their conversation,” she says.