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Influencing influencers— why brands are getting influencer marketing wrong

From Elle Derby to Fyre Festival, you don’t have to look far to find catastrophic examples of influencers gone bad or just plain greedy. Understanding how the vast majority of companies are going wrong with this form of marketing takes closer examination, though.

That’s not to say it’s massively complicated. Put simply, despite widespread reports that influencer marketing budgets are continuing to increase, and will do for the foreseeable future, most of this is being spent recklessly. Basic numbers, such as followers, and household names continue to win out over intelligent targeting that uses big data analysis.

Allow me to explain; let’s say you’re trying to raise social visibility and would like to partner with a key spokesperson relevant to your sector. The most obvious choice is to reach out to publicly recognised figures with strong ties to that industry. The clever move would be to dig deeper and discover who is really being heard in that area. The people that the most prominent faces are listening to for their advice.

These so-called ‘second tier influencers’ are diamonds in the rough to me, and not just because finding them often requires many more hours of research and evaluation because they won’t necessarily be the social accounts with massive follower numbers.

But this demographic do have profiles that regularly achieve high levels of engagement, because they are considered bonafide experts, rather than simply familiar faces. Furthermore, they will be writing and posting about products, brands, services and ideas they are genuinely passionate about.

Their legitimacy has not happened by chance— they have got to where they are, positions of real influence, through dedication to their specialism, transparency of actions, and comprehensive knowledge of a given subject. This can be anything from music to the auto trade, science to fashion.

Celebrities may seem to shout the loudest, but at a time when the very idea of influencer marketing is being called into question because of so many instances where high profile people have been outed for misusing their reach to further careers or simply bring in more money, it pays dividends not to be the magpie.

Shiny things are great when scratching below the surface reveals something solid, rather than cheap materials covered in tasteless gold leaf.

Analogies aside, recent news supports my theory that the only way to do influencer marketing right is carefully. According to a study by promotions agency Prizeology, 87% of UK consumers want to be told when something has been paid for, 57% want a better understanding on how brands are using influencers, and how they are being influenced, while the CMO of Unilever, Keith Weed, has called for ‘urgent action’ to clean up the sector.

What this means is that brands will find increasing problems if they follow the route of least resistance, sidling up to supposed influencers who care less about their long-term reputation and more about earning a quick buck.

Strategic analysis is the only way to really find those who will be of most use to you, and those who will find a relationship with the brand most useful themselves. Ignore this advice and there’s every chance you’ll fail, or, worse still, wind up standing in hot water. And let’s face it, given the current temperatures nobody wants to be in that position.

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