Opinion: About that article calling influencers 'dishonest' and 'wasteful'
Last week, Ad Age published a contributed article by Kevin Twomey calling the influencer marketing industry “dishonest” and “wasteful.” Kevin got it all wrong, but he isn’t the first to claim that influencer marketing is fraudulent and ineffective.
The influencer industry has been taking a beating for years. From Fyre Festival to fake wedding engagements and purchased followers, there has been an intense focus on the negativity and outliers in our space, instead of the reality. Traditional advertisers don’t really understand the work of this fast-rising sector that’s changed the industry, so they cling to one-off stories and falsities in hopes of disproving its effectiveness.
So let’s discuss some of the issues that the article called into question and the confusion caused mostly by people who know little about what we do.
Is Influencer Marketing trackable or is it “unproven”?
Influencer marketing is highly trackable if you know what to look for and what to measure. We work almost entirely with direct-to-consumer brands, and, through codes and affiliate programming, we track conversions for the large majority of our 50,000-plus posts each year. We measure the cost of acquisition and return on ad spend, not just impressions and engagement—but actual conversions. Yes, there is clear brand value from the exposure, but it is also more trackable than most forms of traditional advertising. As a bonus, you can also track more-nuanced feedback about brands through comments and dialogue between an influencer and their followers.
As far as “unproven,” I have worked in just about every corner of advertising and I have never seen anything more effective than a great influencer partnership for both building a brand and driving sales. That’s why the space is seeing compounding growth, despite its disproportionate criticism. But don’t just take my word for it.
“Influencer marketing has been around as long as marketing itself," says Scott Tannen, founder of Boll & Branch. "Just think of Jordan and Nike. It's been a huge part of our mix, driving a significant and measurable lift to our sales. Social media enables us to have two-way conversations with customers through their own social networks, pushing the value of our relationships with our influencers higher and higher.”
Anu Verma, VP of marketing at Care/of, has also seen how influencers can drive behavior. "The results of influencer marketing can be incredibly good. Many influencers have truly deep connections with their followers and are very much able to shape people's perceptions of brands and their purchasing behavior.”
Can Influencers be trusted?
Calling millions of influencers "untrustworthy" is not only a broad generalization, it’s ignorant. Are all influencers trustworthy? No, of course not. Just as there can be founders, investors and politicians with misaligned incentives, there can be untrustworthy influencers. But consumers are smart—they can decipher which influencers to trust. Are there enough high-integrity and effective influencers to warrant a $25 billion dollar industry? Yes, absolutely.
Influencers are real people with real jobs. They are excellent content creators, storytellers and product curators. Influencers are experts in certain product categories, often trying multiple products before picking the one they recommend—and they say “no” all the time. “No, I won’t post this product.” “No, my followers wouldn’t care about this.” “No, this brand isn’t up to my standards.” Influencers’ livelihood is their relationship with their followers and they would never jeopardize that trust for a sponsorship.
But don’t they buy fake followers?
It’s not 2016—we don’t care about follower count. We look at other more telling metrics, like video views, swipe-ups, sticker taps and conversions. So, unless real influencers are faking real sales for real brands, this is a moot point.
Why does influencer marketing work?
What’s missing from the common critique of influencers, is a recognition of community-building and trust. When you hear @marylauren or @hilariabaldwin speak about their miscarriages, it’s not for money. It’s so that other women, like myself, have someone to relate to when we go through the same thing. It’s not just about lipstick, bronzer and heels—it’s about the real life experiences shared through content, sponsored or not.
Consumers are forming their own opinions about brands from the content shared by influencers, press, consumer reviews, even employee Slack channels (see Away’s debacle). What the brand says about itself is secondary to the perception a consumer gathers from external sources. The opinions of others will continue to dictate our purchase decisions, as consumers demand transparency into brands’ products, values and business practices. That means influencers aren’t going anywhere.
To circle back to Kevin’s Ad Age piece, I’d be remiss not to mention that what is truly “lazy and negligent” is writing a misinformed article based on a reductive view of the industry. Instead of “saying goodbye to influencers” in order to “go back to the fundamentals of advertising,” let’s continue to innovate, progress forward and work with some of the most talented entrepreneurs of the 21st century: influencers.