Despite challenges, influencer marketing remains poised for growth

The last year has seen a steady stream of negative headlines about influencer marketing—from Logan Paul, to revelations of fake followers and fraud, plus a pair of damning documentaries about the Fyre Festival. But new data from social analytics company Talkwalker suggests influencers will remain part of the marketing landscape for the foreseeable future, albeit with increased scrutiny.

The Talkwalker study, based on interviews with more than 800 PR and marketing professionals, notes an “inevitable maturing” of influencer marketing, and says that brands need to “significantly improve” both the authenticity and evaluation of their investment.

Among the study’s top takeaways:

It’s not going away: Despite the bad press, brands and agencies remain committed to influencer marketing. More than two-thirds (69%) of respondents identified it as either a top or important priority for 2019, while 61% said they plan to increase their budget.

Awareness is the primary objective: Nearly two-thirds (65.8%) of respondents said that making their brand more visible is the primary objective of their influencer marketing programs, while lead generation was a distant second at 16.9%. Other stated objectives include more creative campaigns (10.4%) and increased customer loyalty (4.2%).

Size doesn’t matter: Brands once gravitated towards hugely popular social media personalities, but the size of their following now ranks fourth in order of importance—behind the coherence of posts and brand message, the quality and creativity of content, and engagement. These concerns, the report says, could be linked to potential risks to a brand’s reputation, as well as a continued search for authenticity.

Some brands use a lot of influencers: Nearly 10% of respondents (9.2%) said they use between 100-500 influencers, while 13.5% said they use 50-100. The vast majority of respondents, 41.5%, said they currently work with between 10-50 influencers,

ROI is a challenge: Nearly 40% of respondents indicated that measuring the ROI of influencer campaigns is a “major challenge.” Nearly two-thirds (62.7%) said that they don’t use a tool to detect, manage and measure the performance of their influencer initiatives.

Brands are growing tired of ‘me-first’ influencers: The study notes a “clear frustration” about the lack of professionalism demonstrated by some influencers. These influencers, it says, tend to focus on short-term gratification rather than establishing a long-term partnership with a brand, and have trouble dealing with brands when it comes to submitting a proper partnership offer or reporting on the results of a joint campaign.

Some brands are taking direct aim at influencer culture, from fashion brand Diesel directly mocking them in a recent campaign from Publicis Italy entitled “Be a Follower,” to Unilever CMO Keith Weed saying the CPG giant would stop working with influencers who buy fake followers.

Meanwhile, a recent research post from Gartner L2 entitled “Are Influencers Over?” cited a report from Points North Group suggesting that as many as one-quarter of the followers for Instagram influencers working with Dove last year were fake, compared to an industry average of 14%.

According to Points North, brands spent US$1 billion on influencer marketing in the U.S. and Canada last year, US$774 million of which was directed towards Instagram. Of that, it said, US$102 million was directed towards fake followers.

“Is the world finally fed up with influencers? Flossy clothes and flush followings aside, the latest in brand happenings seem to be pointing towards a bleaker view of internet icons,” said the Gartner report.

—Chris Powell

Chris Powell