To owners of smaller businesses and startups, influencer marketing is starting to look like a nebulous and over-hyped concept which is – possibly deservedly – becoming more controversial.
“Influencer lists” regularly appear in social marketing and e-commerce publications across the internet. Unbeknownst to the general public, most of these lists are based on Twitter data, because Twitter has traditionally boasted the sole commonly available social media platform API.
To muddy the waters further, many marketing companies churn out their own lists based on shockingly under-researched, self-published surveys by their in-house staff.
Let’s talk about Twitter
Pew Research Center has proved that only 22% of the American adults who use Twitter can be regarded as representative of the broader population. Since just 10% percent of all Twitter users generate 80% of all tweets, could large Twitter follower numbers mean that Twitterati regularly reach the broader population? Not so much.
As revealed in a 2018 investigation by the New York Times, we know that Twitter can be easily played. Automation tools are commonly used to simulate follower activity, and followers can be bought by the hundreds of thousands.
Even the “Forbes Top Influencers 2017” list was created with findings entirely based on Twitter data. To their credit, this rider (ignored by most readers) was appended: “(The list) is not a measure of a single individual’s influence; rather, it is an audience-based metric that is a direct reflection of the quality and size of the Twitter audience that has been pulled into following an account or mentioning a keyword @name, hashtag, or URL on Twitter.”
How do you measure when the yardstick keeps changing?
You can analyze Twitter’s data but you can’t analyze Facebook, Instagram, or other social media platform data, because each keeps the information behind a privacy wall. Similarly, getting hard figures for engagement with original, creative content like blogs or podcasts – the primary sources of authority on the web – is almost impossible.
While individual social media platforms do provide ‘management dashboards’ for power users, each uses his own definitions and terms. What does a ‘view’ mean? What is an ‘impression’? Does a re-post mean a higher score than a like or comment? Who determines the score?
Can the same scoring system be applied across all the other social media platforms? If not, “social media metrics” could be considered all but useless.
Multi-platform Social Media Management tools
Multi-platform Social Media Management tools are sprinting to step into the breach, promising to collect reach and engagement statistics across several platforms. But again, how meaningful are these signals when each platform uses its own yardstick to measure success? Are those signals reliable enough to justify management suites like SproutSocial and Hootsuite’s premium-level functions to find influencer candidates?
Even though there is no reliable yardstick for measuring success across multiple social media platforms, influencer rates are based on the traditional model where audience numbers were proof of reach. Just as a newspaper or magazine with a greater circulation has always charged more than smaller competitors, influencer rates are based largely on the number of followers.
Sadly, many wannabes inflate their follower counts, create additional engagement via bots, and take on engagements for products they can’t possibly boost in a meaningful way. They keep their page insights and data under lock and key, often decline to use UTM tags to track website traffic and conversions, and they negotiate their rates based on a bewildering combination of their reach, impressions, or engagement indicators. Again, influencers use yet another self-devised yardstick to measure (and sell) their success.
Let’s stop asking for reach. Start asking for results
Real influence is not in the numbers, and it does not hinge on the size of an audience. It hinges on trust. A real influencer is someone whose followers trust his expertise in a specific field.
A true influencer is someone who says: “I only have 3,000 followers. They’re mostly from Cincinnati, but every one of them trusts my recommendation in restaurants. I can’t make your cafe world-famous, but I can guarantee you several extra customers in the next few months.”
Should we stick to manual sleuthing to vet influencer candidates?
Since the yardstick keeps changing, we don’t yet have fully reliable technology to measure success. Doubtless, the “great leveler of influencer hype” technology is just around the corner, and we’ll finally be able to trust the endless lists and marketing company hype.
Until then, we should stick to vetting influencer candidates the hard way. There currently seems to be no way around scrolling through miles of feed, reading and clicking through their posts, reading the comments to check for bot activity, and checking the authenticity of some of the followers.
Are they legit? For how long have they been legit?
In the long, long scroll ahead, we should examine at least these few issues:
Since many influencers only ‘work’ on specific platforms, there may be ‘non-official’ or private accounts on other platforms where you influencer can let their hair down. Search within each of the platforms using a known name, address, email address, employer, phone number, or any personal details you have, or use social-searcher.com.
Identify each of their social media accounts – including their “private” profiles or social media accounts under different names, perhaps doing a reverse image search on TinEye of selected photos. If you uncover anything that may be controversial, look deeper.
People-search services may provide a shortcut: request a complete profile from a data aggregator that pulls together public data (criminal history, marriage records, etc.) plus additional information from social media accounts. A Nuwber profile will provide sufficient information for cross-checking other information sources.
You’ll be looking for:
- Anything that may be in direct opposition or damaging to your brand.
- On which platforms do they stand out? Most will show a preference for one or the other platform. Will their platform of choice be helpful for your brand?
- How consistent are they in terms of quantity and quality of content and engagement?
- Have they worked with similar – or opposing – brands before? Could their involvement with an unrelated cause, political party, or lifestyle choice be a deal-breaker for your brand?
- Check their follower growth trends over a year or longer. If you spot sudden big jumps in follower counts, look harder! Follower buying is a common problem and continues unabated.
Due Diligence is your right
Your business and your brand are at stake – plus, your research will give you in-depth knowledge of your influencer’s competencies and strengths to formulate a mutually beneficial agreement. Old-school sleuthing is perhaps the best way to vet a micro-influencer. As for macro- and celebrity influencers … there’s a deep need for a yardstick that stays the same length all the time.