A course correction for influence marketing measurement

A course correction for influence marketing measurement

By Mark Schaefer

I recently had a great conversation with Pierre-Loic Assayag of Traackr about the state of the nation on influence marketing. I continue to like the way Traackr has moved forward as a “CRM for influence” and Pierre-Loic and I talked about how the field needs to evolve.

I can’t see any scenario other than influence marketing growing rapidly. One of my university students told me “I hate seeing ads. But I love watching people I trust talk about products they use.” She gave the example of a woman she follows religiously who does demos on YouTube about applying make-up.

That comment nails it. With ad blocking and ad-free streaming television, etc., the opportunities for paid advertising are getting narrower. Content marketing is getting more expensive due to Content Shock. That promotional money has to go somewhere, and I think it will continue to be channeled to powerful online influencers.

The influence frenzy is driving some pretty crazy money. One article documented how a 26-year-old quit her job to do Snapchat for brands full-time. She was recently paid $30,000 for one Snapchat story. I’m not sure that is sustainable, but it’s fun to think that at that rate, this young lady could make nearly a million dollars a year by doing two snaps a month. WHAAAAT?

So let’s talk about where this new marketing channel needs to go … what we are likely to see happening in this dynamic field.

The new influencers

The idea of somebody getting $30,000 for a Snapchat story might seem insane but that is where the world is heading. How many people out there can create that kind of art and command massive Snapchat attention? Very few.

Of course the same thing is happening on Periscope, YouTube and blogs. With the advent of Facebook Instant Articles and live video, a new set of stars will probably emerge on Facebook content channels, too.

So with this tight supply of effective influences and growing demand, we would expect two things to happen.

  1. Becoming an “influencer” is going to be a legitimate and profitable career choice (at least short-term) and we will see increased competition as people jockey to stand out. Although creating snappy YouTube or Periscope content may seem easy to do, it probably requires about the same skill level a successful stand-up comedian, a commercial artist, or a TV news anchor. In other words, it’s not easy to do and those who make it and will be in high demand.
  2. Because of the severe shortage of effective influencers, marketing and ad agencies will have to have contract with the stars and act like a talent agency, connecting content creators with brands.

Who is an influencer?

I have a friend who has the title of “influencer” on his LinkedIn profile. He doesn’t have a degree. He doesn’t blog or create any sort of original content. In fact, he has little business experience at all. But he has a large social media following. Are you an influencer just because you declare it? What makes somebody an influencer?

I did a project in 2014 for a large global ad agency to survey the world of influence marketing. We found that 85 percent of all ad/marketing agencies at that time had a person or department looking after influencer outreach. How did they determine who was an influencer? I pressed the head of one agency to reveal their secret formula and here it is: Klout. In fact, most agencies are still using Klout with a little sugar on top. That’s right. After all these years most influencers are still determined by a free, largely Twitter-centric algorithm.

So the answer is yes. You can be an influencer by the agency definition … and not really do anything except pump out automated tweets all day.

This is going to have to end as the competition heats up and brands demand more accountability for their influence marketing dollars. At some point, brands will have to take more ownership of influence and look under the covers at how this is being determined.

Here’s an example of a “gap” in the influence space. My friend Mitch Joel is among the most influential people I know when it comes to digital marketing. The guy helped build a successful digital agency and now runs Mirum, one of the most successful global digital shops. He is a pioneering podcaster and a prolific blogger. He has written two important books and speaks all over the world. The man has access, routinely visiting Google, TED, and many other mega-brands. He hangs out with Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godin.

But he is rarely on the lists of powerful digital influencers. Why? Because Mitch doesn’t build his social media celebrity by sending out automated tweets all day. None of his significant accomplishments and access to the great and powerful matters as long as influence is determined through algorithmic-based celebrity. And why do we do that? Because it’s easy. We need to move beyond superficial measures of influence and that is starting to happen.

Influence marketing measurement 

I have done some work as a paid influencer for Dell. Dell has done a wonderful job establishing a trusting relationship with me and I have become an authentic advocate for their company and products. By giving me access to experts and insider reports, I have created valuable content for my students, my blog audience, and the readers of my books. It is not uncommon for me to mention Dell in a class, post or speech … not because I have to, but because I want to. I’m not being paid for it. I believe in the company.

I recently featured an interview with a Dell executive in a new content marketing class I’m teaching for Rutgers. This is an awesome example of company-influencer collaboration because my students get to learn from an amazing executive at the top of his field and Dell gets a nice mention in a prestigious college program.

If Dell only looked at a Klout score, they would never see the total value of what I bring to the table. And unfortunately, that is the extent of influencer measurement today for many companies: Tweets and Twitter followers. It’s easy to access this data but let’s face it, Twitter is probably the LEAST powerful influencer channel today.

How do you account for the impact of influence when most of it is occurring offline? We need to go old school. We need to ask them. We need to survey them, or better yet, talk to our influence partners to determine the full extent of how the word is getting out.

Here is some cool data from the Keller Fay Group that shows the relative impact of “influencers” versus other people who leave recommendations:

A course correction for influence marketing measurement

Source Keller Fay Group webinar

Now, this is interesting data. but what is even more compelling is how they got it. They did the work. They went out and talked to people instead of relying on data points pumped through a social media dashboard. Are influencers really creating value for your brand? You’re never going to know until you do the research because MOST influence is happening offline.

The care and nurturing of influencers

“Hell hath no fury like an influencer scorned.” I think Shakespeare said that. Pretty sure of it.

Here is the problem nearly every influence outreach effort has today. They want a blog post, not a relationship. They may not know it, but they really need a relationship to get the full value of what they’re doing.

In my book The Content Code, I have a chapter on influence marketing and the importance of an elite group of people called the Alpha Audience. This is the group truly creating economic benefits for your company because they are sharing your content the most.

Do you know who is sharing your company’s content the most? By name? Most companies don’t.

According to research from Boston Consulting Group shows that one ultra-loyal customer from your Alpha Audience can generate eight times his or her own consumption through word-of-mouth advocacy. And two percent of consumers directly contribute 20 percent of sales. They drive 80 percent of total volume via their recommendations. They deliver over 150 percent of profitability, buying products without a discount and without regard for seasonality.

So before you chase the latest $30,000-per-story Snapchat star for your product launch, why not connect with the amazing people who aren’t on the influencer lists, but driving the greatest value to your business?

Influence marketing will undoubtedly continue to grow, but we need to bring more business discipline and broader measures into consideration to reap the vast potential benefits of these powerful advocates.

If you enjoyed this article, you might benefit from my book Return On Influence, a book the American Library Association characterized as “path-finding.”

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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  • This, right here – “Here is the problem nearly every influence outreach effort has today. They want a blog post, not a relationship. They may not know it, but they really need a relationship to get the full value of what they’re doing.” One of the things that I’ve noticed when I do any influencer campaigns is the lack of participation the brand gives to the influencer. How much stronger would my reach be if the brand actually shared the content that I so carefully create in order to make it as genuine as possible?

    I also cringe every time it comes down to choosing someone for a campaign because they have 20,000 followers on Twitter. Sure.. that’s great, but what kind of engagement does that person have with their audience? I make sure I take the time to interact with my followers who have grown to know and trust me since I won’t do just “any” campaign.

    You’re right as always, Mark.. influencer marketing still has a long way to go.

  • Thanks for sharing your insight Kristen, and for your kind words!

  • Relationships with influencers is where the real magic lies. Once you build trust with them, you can start doing some innovative, creative collaboration around projects. You can also great some great market intelligence as any good influencer is in touch with his/her audience and knows what their pain points are. Unfortunately, some many brands just leave this on the table and pursue the Twitter, Instagram nonsense.

  • Well said sir.

  • Kitty Kilian

    So in short this is an argument for paying attention to your most loyal customers. And not just by measuring easy to get social media metrics.

    I have one minor question. You did some paid influencer work for Dell – what did that comprise? – and doing that you got to like them and now you are doing free influencer work?

    Just curious 😉

  • ? this article Mark. The easyish starting point is to pinpoint and filter out the deceivers who definitely definitely aren’t influencers, then proceed from there. By deceivers I mean bloggers who winkwink “love” anything as long as it’s free.

  • What really matters is whether someone can move the needle – drive whatever goal the brand seeks. That has little to do with how many followers someone has or what their Klout or Kred score is.

    Influencer platforms attempt to measure whether a particular person can actually do that or not – with varying degrees of success.

    A health related bloggers mentioned one of my posts and sent me 700+ visitors from his own blog. THAT is influence. Compare that to the trickle of traffic I get from being mentioned on HuffingtonPost or Forbes.

    Just so you know that wasn’t a fluke, he then mentioned that post on NaturalNews and sent me another 700+ visitors from that site. He has a mailing list of 200,000 people and apparently, they actually read and do what he suggests.

    So what influencers need to work toward is having that kind of influence. The kind that actually generates leads or sales.

    Brands should know by now that one-off mentions aren’t the right way to generate either one. Consistent mentions over time work best which is why they need long-term relationships with brand advocates – not a bunch of one-off posts.

  • A few years ago, Dell paid me to attend some of their conferences, no strings attached. I was pretty blown away by the stuff they were working on and I liked the people I met. They hired me to do some content for them which led to deeper relationships, including sponsorship of The Content Code book among other things. Another word for “free influencer” is “advocate.”

  • A lot of that out there. It’s a weird business, isn’t it?

  • Wow that is a fantastic case study Gail.

  • Kitty Kilian

    Ah yes 😉

  • Antoinette

    In my view for small / bootrapped businesses the biggest ‘Influencer Marketing’ challenges are a) finding the right influencer(s), b) budget if it’s on a paid basis and c) convincing the influencer that you’re ‘the right fit’ (they too have a promise to keep to their audience) .

    We continue to say influencers are important, in high demand and short supply. My guess is the best ones out there know it and they know their value to brands and influence on their tribe. As you’ve put it very eloquently, Mark “Hell hath no fury like an influencer scorned.” From where I’m sitting, Influencer Marketing is an uneven playing field and guess who’s got the short end.

    So, I 100% second your answer to this dilemma: don’t ignore Influencer Marketing, but focus on your “ultra-loyal customer” and fans. They’ve already bought into your brand, they’re already interacting with you and possibly also advocating you. It’s a no-brainer that your time, energy and resources should go towards pursuing low-hanging fruit before shooting for the stars (pun totally intended :).

  • Thanks for sharing your wisdom Antoinette.

  • Thanks for the shout-out. I think it’s a semantic issue. There’s a chasm between a true “influencer” (someone who is connected to people who are connected who can influence an outcome) vs. an online “influencer” (someone who has a lot of followers that is willing to accept money to talk about a product/service) vs. the other type of online “influencers” (someone who has a large number – or blue check mark – next to their name 😉

  • Yes, I think influencer versus advocate but it’s all getting smashed together in the influencer feeding frenzy!

  • Hi Mark! thanks for sharing this article. Using influencers as a social media marketing strategy is really becoming a huge thing. Simply because this strategy works! By the way, I wanna know from your perspective. Which do you think works best. Pitching a few influencer with huge massive following or many influencer with average number of followers? ? Thanks a lot!

  • Neither.

    To really do influence marketing well, you don’t “pitch” them. You build a relationship with them. I get “pitched” many times a day. I never even open the email unless I actually know the person. Get to know people. Befriend them. Value them. Influencers are people too!

    Thanks for your excellent question. Hope this helps.

  • Thanks Mark! Your feedback definitely helps a lot.

  • You’re welcome.

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