Proving the value of influencer marketing

As advertising accountability becomes more critical, questions around the return on investment from influencer marketing has marketers desperate to demonstrate its true worth

Despite questions over fraud, backlash over trips to Dubai and the coronavirus pandemic hitting advertising hard, influencer marketing continues to grow. According to influencer marketing agency Mediakix, an industry that was worth just $500 million in 2015 could see spend of $15 billion by 2022, if its higher forecast for investment proves true. 

Yet this is an industry beset by problems for the brands that are investing. Ebiquity estimates that more than $1 billion has been lost to fraud, while there are issues around unwanted brand exposure and public relations disasters when things go wrong, as they have on a number of occasions. 

“Brands need to do due diligence for influencer marketing as they do across other media,” says Angus McLean, director at Ebiquity. That involves having the right contracts and service level agreements, as well as doing due diligence on the background of the people they work with. “The threat of an audit or someone checking can make a huge difference to outcomes,” advises McLean. 

Rahul Titus, Ogilvy UK’s head of influence, agrees. “Our studies show one in four influencers in the UK have engaged in fraud against brands. We work to ensure we don’t work with anyone who has engaged in any fraud over the past five years. When we work with influencers, we need to ensure they’re brand safe,” he says.

Brand safety is important, but so too is relevance. Market research company GlobalWebIndex’s research indicates 68 per cent of consumers following influencers intend to keep following them to the same extent after the pandemic ends. But there has been a backlash against those posting what was deemed inappropriate during a crisis.

“If COVID-19 has taught us something, it’s that people want aspirational content which is in reach. If there are trips to Dubai when travel is not allowed, then you’re not in tune with what the country needs. There are influencers who’ve made mistakes, but that’s the advantage of influencer marketing, your feedback loop is immediate. Aspirational content absolutely works, but aspirational content which isn’t achievable is definitely cancelled,” says Titus. 

This is a challenge some marketers are all too familiar with, including Darain Faraz, EMEA director of brand marketing at LinkedIn, who recognises how influencer marketing can be seen negatively. However, with its “Changemaker” campaign, LinkedIn wanted to find influencers making a positive impact.

“We wanted to shine a light on a series of individuals with some of the most talked about issues affecting the world of work. We identified topics that had virality on LinkedIn and other social platforms in the UK and set out to find these influencers,” says Faraz. 

“These people stood for a noteworthy cause and we saw they were migrating to LinkedIn from other platforms and wanted these meaningful conversations and didn’t want to be trolled. People weren’t there to find fame or there to create a living. What we found were people who had causes they were passionate about.”

Given the possible downsides, it is more important than ever for marketers to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) across their spend, including influencer marketing. At the most basic level, brands can measure engagement, follows, likes, reach or shares. But linking this back to business performance is key. 

Liisa Ennuste, influencer marketing manager at delivery company Bolt, uses a performance-driven approach. “We track and measure everything and benchmark influencer marketing against other acquisition channels, Facebook ads for example. Of course these channels are not entirely comparable, but you need to have a solid cost-per-acquisition benchmark to be able to scale and see if it makes sense for the business,” she says. 

Ensuring it makes sense for the business is key. Ennuste adds: “What tends to happen in marketing is a new trend, or a new platform, takes over and everyone jumps on a bandwagon without thinking of the real measurable benefit. By looking at hard metrics, we try to avoid that.”

Ogilvy UK’s Titus points to a growing need for marketers to see the role of influencer marketing across the sales funnel. “A lot of brands look at influencer marketing as upper funnel. They think of it as awareness and consideration; it can be thought of as fluffy. The brands that are getting it right are using influencer marketing across the whole funnel,” he says. 

LinkedIn’s influencer campaign success

While influencer marketing might conjure up images of “famous” reality stars trying to flog sunglasses, it has also taken hold in the business-to-business sector. LinkedIn’s Changemakers campaign used influencers to address issues including mental health, work-life balance and diversity, all of which were heightened by the pandemic. 

LinkedIn’s Faraz explains the approach to selection: “Established against authenticity and engagement criteria based on the campaign objectives with LinkedIn, Changemakers’ channels were analysed across the LinkedIn platform and other social channels. It was important Changemakers had personal stories they could bring to the causes and campaign.”

It has been a real success story for the company. Its hero campaign ad, plus the seven individual ads based on each influencer, have reached more than 2.5 million views. The launch activity over a four-week period drove a 148 per cent cumulative increase in Changemakers’ followers on LinkedIn. 

And for the business, the launch drove statistically significant lifts in brand awareness around “community”, up nine points, and brand perceptions around “trust”, which grew by 13 to 20 points. Among those who saw the campaign, on-platform activity increased, with engaged feed sessions up 13 per cent and engagements rising by 21 per cent.