The common assumption is that influencer marketing works. But, how do we know? I mean the term has been around for a long time. Even before the age of social media, companies used celebrities in their advertising and even gave away millions of products in hopes that consumers would buy their product based on recommendations from a celebrity. Is it the fact that businesses keep doing it evidence that it works?
Thus, there’s anecdotal evidence to suggest influencer marketing works, but I’m talking about real data, not stories.
So, let’s explore the unanswered question: Does influencer marketing work?
And, here I’m not talking about anecdotal evidence. I’m talking cold, hard facts.
I first questioned the impact of influencer marketing on sales earlier this year in this article, entitled the “Hidden Dangers of Influencer Marketing“. In this article, I made the case that influencer marketing doesn’t work. Let’s dig deeper to see if my contention is really true.
What are influencers?
First, let’s talk about what we mean by an “influencer”.
This simple starting point gets a little murky because some definitions include the outcome — influences massive purchases — which makes our task impossible.
So, let’s stick with a definition that only includes the characteristics of an influencer, not their outcomes. Here’s one from Dictionary.com:
They also state the first use of the word in this context was back in 1660-1670. Hence, a long time ago, so only the social media part of this is modern.
Based on this definition, we would consider people who have a large, dedicated following as influencers. And, I agree that people who have a large following might be influencers. But, let’s explore this a little deeper.
Does influencer marketing work?
First, let’s look at the numbers.
The assumption that influencer marketing works creates dreams that their social shares will quickly fill your sales funnel in a manner similar to this graph:
My assumption was that the influencer had 2 million connections across social media and that 20% of them Liked, RT, or performed some other action that cause the message spread.
But, is that what happens?
First, let’s take another look at our graph. Notice the influencer is responsible for increasing the reach of the company’s message from 2 million to 100 million users. That’s great. Let’s do influencer marketing.
But wait a minute. We’re not done with the graph. In decided does influencer marketing work, notice what happens after the influencer makes his/her initial post? It’s those who spread the influencer’s message that move the message from a reach of 100 million to 5 billion (obviously this isn’t unique reach, which is even better. We know that a message must reach a frequency approaching 5-7 before it impacts most consumers). And those 5 billion continue sharing the message every time they interact with it — Liking, commenting, sharing, etc. Soon that 5 billion becomes 100 billion and so it continues.
Hence, it’s the interactions among those easily influenced that magnifies reach to astronomical proportions.
Don’t believe my numbers?
Take a look at the Russian ads on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Whether you believe the US President is responsible for collusion with Russia, it’s undeniable that the Russians tried to influence the election (and likely did) using these ads. And, they didn’t use influencers. Their ads (for which they paid very little) reached people who had demographic, geographic, and psychographic characteristics that suggested the message they were sharing would resonate with the user.
And that’s exactly what happened. These users “Liked” the posts, which allowed them to show up in their newsfeed as an endorsement of the message. Because most users have connections that are similar to themselves, the messages shown on their newsfeeds motivated more “Likes” from their friends who now tacitly endorsed the message on their own newsfeed. Wash, rinse, repeat and soon you’ve reached millions of American voters. And, swayed the election.
Does influencer marketing work? Evidence
OK, still unconvinced? Here’s an experiment by a content marketer at Hubspot.
The author did 3 experiments to test whether influencer marketing worked. The result: influencer marketing increased traffic, but the results were nothing to write home about. And, the amount of work involved was greater than the reward achieved through the experiments. The writer’s advice is to focus on creating great content and don’t worry about influencers.
Here’s another site that questions whether influencer marketing works. He argues that consumers aren’t so uneducated as to believe everything they hear, especially from celebrities. They know these folks get paid to say whatever the company wants and that this doesn’t reflect their true feelings about the brand. Even microcelebrities lose their influence if followers think they received any slight payment for recommending the brand–even one as minor as getting a free product to test [citation]. A bigger problem is that these influencer marketing efforts might be great for creating awareness, but they don’t generate the kind of engagement that translates into sales.
Problems with influencer marketing
In fact, influencer marketing might backfire.
Consider the situation with PewDiePie, an influential YouTube microcelebrity with a massive following. After posting some decidedly unsavory comments, he embarrassed sponsors who quickly moved to disassociate themselves from his brand. But, the damage was done.
Also, consider a situation where the influencer doesn’t care for your brand or, worse, actually dislikes your brand. Your outreach efforts might set off a tirade to their followers on social media that does more damage than any good that might have come from reaching out.
Does influencer marketing work? Maybe a little. The key is to husband your time and money (new companies are making a fortune on your efforts to engage in influencer marketing) for tactics with the highest return for your investment.
- I see nothing wrong in creating great content and including links to influencers. You can then reach out and ask them to share your content. It’s great content marketing and you might get some boost from influencers with minimal effort. Content first, though. Don’t waste time on large influencer marketing efforts
- Carefully select who to target as an influencer. There should be a match between the influencer’s following and your target market.
- Also, recognize that “big” influencers have lots of people using this strategy to reach them. Unless you’re a major player in your market, you’ll likely get more traction from reaching what I call “lateral influencers” or influencers at the same level as your company. For instance, in my book marketing efforts (check out my novels on Amazon), I interact with other authors who are in my same situation–with 100 or so reviews and likely a couple hundred sales a month, not big names like Stephen King or Dan Brown.
- Focus attention on building authentic relationships with top influencers rather than engaging in one-time outreach efforts.
- Vette your influencers to ensure there isn’t something hiding in their closet that’ll come back to bite you in the butt later.
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