The desire to efficiently multiply reach and frequency in social networks and finesse pay gates has led marketers to embrace the “influencers" channel. These celebrities, YouTube stars, hotshot bloggers, and subject matter experts offer the promise of added reach and an implied or explicit endorsement.
If we, or the agencies flogging influencer marketing, can figure out who the influentials are, brands hire them, co-opt them, and leverage their persuasive networks to spread the word with increased credibility at very modest costs. This has been a persistent fantasy since the first PR guy came on the scene.
But how genuinely influential are influencers?
There is no standard definition of influence. There is no consensus on how to measure influence. In some cases we count the number of followers, shares, re-tweets, or other visible signs of reach. In other cases, we hire a random Kardashian and watch units move off the shelves or traffic vector to a website. In still other cases we observe reactions or comments and calculate sentiment or some kind of engagement score. There are no generally accepted benchmarks to calibrate the influence of influencers.
I know we are on a metrics jihad to give social media legitimacy and validity and to justify added spending, but gimme a break! These approaches confuse momentary action with influence in absence of context and timing. They miss the nuances of influence in service to creating a comparative yardstick suitable for merchandizing influencers to brands.
Consider the issues that these types of scoring ignore:
- Influence is a by-product of a trusted relationship
- Influence can be fleeting, categorical, or contingent
- Influence happens in context and in the moment
- Influence waxes and wanes over time
- Influence works both ways and is often weighted by degrees
- Other factors (e.g., urgency) magnify or diminish the impact of influence
- Few people hold sway over others for sustained periods of time
- Influence is mitigated by experience
- Influencers can give bad advice or direction
- Influence can impact awareness and preference but fall short of sales
Influence is an elusive concept that’s difficult to measure accurately. The evolution of big data and artificial intelligence and the increasing sophistication of tracking tools represent our best shot at measuring the value of influencers. And while the jury is still out on the exact methodology, don’t be taken in by the hype.
Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.