You see the posts on Instagram all the time – the ones where someone famous is holding up a cup of coffee with its logo front and center. The same posts that are always accompanied by hashtags like #spon, #partner or #ad. This type of promotion can also be heard on almost every YouTube video. Vloggers adding, “Thank you to Audible for sponsoring this video!” or “This wouldn’t have been possible without SeatGeek!” wherever it fits best into their content.
Sponsored posts like these aren’t coming to an end anytime soon. In fact, according to Business Insider Intelligence, influencer marketing is predicted to be a $15 billion industry by 2022. Companies are relying more and more heavily on influencers to spearhead conversations with their audiences in order to spark interest in their brands.
However, influencer marketing doesn’t come without its caveats. It’s important to understand the risk associated with depending on an individual to push out a brand’s message. Humans are prone to mistakes, but the unfortunate reality is that these mistakes tend to be louder when somebody has a larger following. Bad publicity for an influencer can easily become bad publicity for their corporate partners as well.
For effective influencer marketing, preliminary in-depth research becomes a necessity. Before signing on that dotted line, there needs to be a true understanding of the person you are electing as the face of your brand. An Instagrammer may have 100,000 followers, but they can also come with a long list of scandals tied to their name. For example, back in 2018, YouTube beauty guru and makeup artist Laura Lee was dropped by major sponsorships including Ulta Beauty, Boxycharm, and Morphe once her racist tweets were discovered. Lee had 5 million subscribers at the time. Though her racist remarks were made back in 2012, they were very much still visible and linked to her Twitter page - all somebody needed to do was scroll far enough back to find them. Being associated with these types of scandals can usually be avoided with a Google search and a deep-dive into the influencer’s posting history.
Yet, scandals are just the starting point. It’s also important to understand an influencer’s interests- learn what the focus of their page is, the viewpoints they hold, what they do in their spare time and the typical type of products they use. Scandals aside, even if an influencer comes with a clean slate and a large following, they still may not be the right fit for your brand. Great influencer marketing hinges on authenticity and relationship building. A message will come across as fake and uninspired if it’s attached to an influencer who has little to no interest in the brand they’re promoting.
Once it’s clear that an influencer aligns with your brand, it’s also crucial to closely examine their followers. The number of followers listed on their account is not as important as the engagement of these followers. While it may seem like some accounts have a huge audience, companies will lose money if they partner with an influencer who is only sharing content with “fake” followers. Unfortunately, there are many services out there that create empty accounts to increase followership on the pages of people who simply sign up for the service. The engagement of followers (comments, likes, and shares of each post) needs to be monitored and measured closely. There is no return to be made for companies who are promoting to empty accounts, especially considering the costs associated with this type of marketing.
Influencer marketing can be expensive - just look at Kylie Jenner, who charges a jaw-dropping $1M per Instagram post. While Jenner is definitely an extreme example, even for a single sponsored post, companies can still expect to pay close to $1,000 on Instagram and $2,000 on YouTube for every 100,000 followers an influencer has. Along with this price tag, it’s also imperative to keep in mind that there may not be immediate payoff upfront. Rather, the point of influencer marketing is to get the conversation started - spreading brand awareness and establishing a better reputation will lead to bigger rewards down the road.
If done right, influencer marketing is absolutely worth the cost and the risk. These people are called influencers for a reason. They have already formed a personal connection with their audience that will enhance a brand’s message to make it more impactful and personal. The influencer marketing industry continues to grow because companies are actually experiencing results. However, these results are only achieved by investing in a campaign that is genuinely honest, strategic and backed by comprehensive research.