There is no standard definition of influence and no generally accepted benchmarks to calibrate the influence of influencers. Maybe it’s because influence is nuanced and fungible. Yet, B2C and B2B marketers are leveraging the persuasive power of people with substantial social media followings who are experts, trendsetters or opinion leaders.
Influence is a by-product of a trusted relationship. Influence can be fleeting, categorical or contingent. In many cases, influence happens in context -- and in the moment -- and can wax or wane over time. External factors can heighten or lessen influence without warning. These factors can distinguish temporarily employed influencers from brand spokespersons or paid brand advocates.
In creating content, especially videos, brands have to choose between a full-on shill approach and the soft sell. Most offset a traditional advertising approach by aligning with the persona of the influencer. Being funny, relatable and emotional are key ingredients for making audiences feel positive about a brand.
Celebrities, YouTube stars, hotshot bloggers and subject matter experts offer the promise of added reach and an implied or explicit endorsement, even though most of them bridle at being told what to say or how to say it. The role of influencer marketing is understood as building a personal connection between a brand and its prospects and offering up something other than the company line.
There is emerging evidence that micro-influencers, those with less than 10,000 followers, are more impactful and persuasive than Rent-a-Kardashians. The argument is that these people are specialists with deep understanding, insight and connections to their subject matter and to the people interested in their topics. The combination of alignment with a built-in audience plus “authenticity” supposedly yields greater believability and persuasiveness.
The biggest unknown in influencer marketing is the pay-off – the ROI. Most marketers can’t figure out ROI. Many measure clicks or pageviews as engagement. Others measure the number of followers considered reach or count Instagram or blog traffic. Still others count downloads, clicks to secondary links or track direct sales. Most aren’t sure if they got value or impact for money.
Influencers are seeing significant paydays while influence remains difficult to measure accurately. Big data, artificial intelligence and the increasing sophistication of tracking tools represent our best shot at measuring the value of influencers. In the interim, approach influencer marketing with a healthy skepticism.
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.
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