Why Authenticity in Influencer Marketing Is Not a Fad

The following is a guest contributed post by Harvey Schwartz, EVP Talent & Founding Partner, WHOSAY

On top of a year of fake news, sketchy festivals, click-bait, and disturbing political drama we’re all clamoring for more truth in our lives…. and especially our social feeds. And if you follow influencers, hopefully you’re entertained by their exciting lives and inspiring messages. And, as such, you hope they maintain some level of honesty on the content they share—as a simple pay-back for following along their social journey.

So If you’re a brand looking to partner with influencers, find the path to keeping it real. Seek… authenticity. It’s the latest buzzword, emphasized for good reason given the pervasive disdain for the fake. Just as you trust a friend telling you to watch a cool show or eat at a great restaurant, you want your audience to trust your brand message as delivered by the influencer.

It sounds easy, but we’re not scripting a TV commercial where actors are being paid to read lines that everyone knows is a marketing message. Influencer marketing is a new format where you have to match the right influencer with your brand and ensure there’s an actual connection to the product and service. This can be achieved by following a rigorous casting process with a commitment to discover common interests, not social reach.

And the good (real) news, there’s plenty of great influencers who genuinely love your brands, who are looking for authentic, creative partnerships. So don’t take a shortcut on vetting or you might find the paycheck is the only connection made.

Authenticity in influencer marketing is all about having or establishing an actual connection between influencer and brand/campaign at the time of activation. For example, if the campaign theme is about mountain climbing and the brand is a wholesome snack the influencer must be an avid mountain climber and if the influencer is not currently a consumer of the brand she must try and enjoy the product before endorsing it. We believe influencers must contractually agree to that admission prior to agreeing to any sponsored deals. That document is defined as a “Statement of Authenticity.”

Authenticity can not be measured in advance. However, one can benchmark organic posts that follow a similar theme to the brand campaign and look to achieve similar results, if one delivers creative that matches. The public ultimately votes in comments and likes. You can then apply an independent sentiment score on all the comments to provide a form of measurement that would have alignment to authenticity.

However, with thousands of influencer options and significant fees to participate there are many influencers who will take any check, as well as those that have bought fake followers to exaggerate their organic reach. The challenge is therefore to apply a rigorous screening process throughout casting.

It’s important to review past social feeds for content that falls in line with the brand theme, as well as look at previous sponsored posts. And the single most important tip is to have an actual call/discussion with the influencer to address any concerns and fully understand if they are the right ambassador for the brand.

As far as formats and the audience’s reaction, it’s easy to gauge responses by analyzing likes and comments on the sponsored posts (which can be pretty harsh if the authenticity is awkward or forced and conversely glowing with praise when everything aligns). Live content is difficult to fake as well as “stories” which tend to be less scripted, therefore follow influencers lives more organically.

Last but not least, though “authenticity” seems to be the buzzword du jour, seeking the truth has never been a fad, therefore authenticity will remain paramount. But beware, authenticity without strong creative storytelling has very little impact. Pursue the best creative path with the foundation of authenticity and great performance will surely follow.