Exclusive Op-Ed: How To Value Influencers

The following is an exclusive guest contributed post from Johnny Li, VP, Global Sales & Business Development at  Cheetah Mobile.

With 86% of marketers currently using influencer marketing as part of their content marketing strategies, now is a good time to be an influencer. But, from a brand perspective, are influencers really worth the resources? Let’s find out.

If I were to take a quick scroll through my Instagram feed, it would be chock-full of pictures either taken by influencers or featuring them in some capacity, advertising one product or another. There’s an influencer for nearly every industry, from food to fashion to pharmaceuticals. From a marketing perspective, this could be a good thing: whatever product you’re selling, you’ll be able to find an influencer to feature it. On the other hand, the more influencers there are, the less influential each one will be — as paradoxical as that sounds. Customer attention is a finite resource.

Marketers like influencers because they save them from having to make all of their content themselves. Instead of having to expend effort by brainstorming campaigns for each individual social media platform, they can instead outsource the work to people who have more knowledge about the medium they’re engaging in and the audience they speak to. Additionally, hiring an influencer helps guarantee that a select audience will see your product, thus raising awareness of your brand.

That being said, anyone conducting an influencer campaign has to look beyond the number of followers someone has. After all, a fashion influencer might have 10 million followers on Instagram, but if a sponsored post only gets 50,000 views, those millions of followers didn’t really add any advantage. Too often, brands only go for the big name influencers, the Kardashians and Hadids of the world, and not for the people who will best serve their brands. Using influencers that are more relevant to your brand needs is not only better for marketers, it’s also better for the influencers themselves, as they are more likely to engage and retain their followers if they promote products that interest their existing follower base.

Letting influencers be “on-brand” for themselves is crucial. Don’t try and turn them into something that they’re not — otherwise, what’s the point of using them in the first place? Picking the right people is important, and so is making sure that they’re right for the platform you want to advertise on. As with any advertising campaign, an influencer campaign should remain aligned with your brand’s values, but not so much so that it looks like the brand created the content itself.

For any brand looking to use influencers, they should know what the potential return on their investment will be. In one survey, 78% said that determining the ROI for an influencer campaign was “a top challenge in 2017,” a startlingly high figure given how many marketers are currently engaged in influencer campaigns. In another study, 86% of UK marketers said they “weren’t entirely sure how influencer fees are calculated,” and 38% were unable to tell if using influencer campaigns had driven an increase in sales. What these numbers show is that far too many marketers engage in influencer campaigns simply because they see it as the next big trend in marketing, and not because they have a concrete goal in mind.

Any brand can use influencers, but using them well requires an understanding of what a successful influencer campaign looks like. This will vary according to brands: some brands value reach, others engagement; still others might see influencers as a way to get a sales lift. Regardless of the goal, marketers have to be on the ball and make sure that they are the ones dictating the terms of success, not the influencers themselves. If marketers are not able to accurately measure the results of a campaign, then influencers are not being held accountable for their work or the expected ROI.

Despite the promise that using influencers holds for brands, they still represent only one way of reaching out to your target audience. The ideal way to maximize overall reach would be to utilize influencers alongside other forms of media, including branded content and paid media. By diversifying your outreach strategy, you ensure that your content is seen by as many people as possible.

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t be conducting influencer marketing just for the sake of doing influencer marketing. Utilizing influencers whose “brand” aligns with your own will make any content they produce seem more organic, which in turn will encourage their audience to engage with it naturally. Additionally, it only makes sense to have influencers produce content that is line with their own personas, as that’s what made them influential in the first place. Having a more developed strategy for influencer marketing, then, will be better for influencers and the marketing community overall. Both brands and influencers need to get more mature about how they define influencers — otherwise, the bubble of influencer marketing might burst.