Don’t hate the player, hate the game: Why the way we measure influencer marketing is broken.

Many articles have been written on the topic of influencer fraud, with much frustration directed at those who seek to artificially inflate their following and number of comments. But what if we as an industry are creating such problems through commercial structures and measurement of success? It hardly seems fair to direct exasperation at those complying and operating within the model we created.

Like many forms of advertising, the outcome delivered will be directly linked to the quality of the brief, so what exactly are we asking influencers to achieve? If we pay for impressions and likes, there will always be the temptation to inflate these ‘engagement’ metrics.

For every account that we strike off our list of potential brand partners, many more will step into their place creating a vicious cycle where we spend more time vetting prospective influencers’ authenticity than delivering positive outcomes for our clients.

When it comes to delivering positive outcomes, we must ask: what role does influencer marketing play in the overall brand marketing strategy? A recent study suggests that, for the majority of marketeers, the main objective when running an influencer marketing campaign is awareness.

Defining campaign objectives will ultimately influence how success is measured and in the case of awareness it’s common to benchmark success based on the campaign’s total reach. Herein lies our problem with influencer marketing; if we’re optimizing towards overall reach then there’s a commercial incentive for influencers to gain more followers by any means necessary. From a marketer’s perspective there is added pressure to work with influencers who have the largest following, potentially to the detriment of quality of audience.

In a recent article I championed a ‘less-is-more’ approach to brand communication, focusing on reaching smaller groups of customers with the most relevant message as opposed to optimizing towards overall engagement numbers. This outcomes-based approach could help solve some of the challenges currently faced, but would require a shift in the way we define the success of influencer marketing campaigns.

So, how can we measure success if not in terms of reach? First we started by conducting a study to understand how consumers respond to influencer marketing by running a survey through the inphota platform to determine common consumer behaviours when engaging with influencer marketing campaigns.

The survey of customers in the UAE highlighted that only 11% take actions that could be considered as awareness with a far greater number of customers taking lower funnel actions, both consideration (44%) and purchase (42%).

Understanding the triggers for such actions we asked respondents to cite their reasons for following influencers with quality of content (20%) and lifestyle aspiration (14%) as the primary factors.

This begs the question: why are we measuring success in terms of reach, or even Earned Media Value (EMV) when some influencers are triggering more valuable, lower funnel actions? The current ‘pay-to-post’ model is heavily weighted towards rewarding quantity over quality and potentially detracting from the value that those with genuine influence can offer to a brand.

So how do we quantify influencer performance if not through total number of followers or reach? Sales conversion cycles will range from brand to brand so a great way to start would be to look at consideration metrics such as referral traffic. In terms of commercial agreements this begins to shift focus towards a cost per click model which could facilitate benchmarking of results against digital media and affiliate marketing.

Rewarding referral traffic as opposed to sales ensures that the model applies to a number of possible outcomes, rewarding the influencer for generating interest in a brand’s product or service, applicable also when online transactions are not part of the brands sales process. Monitoring referral traffic also steps away from discount-led tracking metrics such as sale redemption codes which could devalue the product.

The value of a click will vary depending on location and product category, however, a shift to a more outcome based commercial model can enable brands to take a ‘quality over quantity’ approach, allowing those with genuine influence to prosper and removing the incentives to inflate followers and engagement.

Founder, Consultant, Analytical Marketer. Specializing in Digital Strategy | Performance Marketing | Customer Insight I Marketing Technology | Growth 🚀