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Beware – some professional social media influencers are more aptly described as professional social media advertisers. The distinction is important and can negatively impact your brand.

Influencers interact extensively online and it’s important to understand what they’re saying, to whom and why. If they’re acting in a purely promotional capacity most of the time, a red flag should pop up.

This post is about (and for) them – and for brands finding themselves tangled up with these clever pitch people who may alienate, instead of attract, your target audience.

Authenticity Is Underrated

Social intelligence has evolved to the point where we can actually have something akin to living room conversations with consumers. With NetBase, we can identify target segments and understand their interests to create realistic, authentic, intimate conversations. But people don’t want to have these conversations with a brand or a bot – they want other people.

We’ve seen purchase intent increase well over five times when triggered from influencer related content versus the results brand content captures on Twitter. This happens because people trust other people’s opinions of a brand much more than a brand saying about itself: “Hey, we’re great! Our moms say so!”

Brands need influencers to have conversations about them – conversations that are authentic and create emotional, personal connections with consumers. They want something memorable and amazing; something that is definitely not a sales pitch. In short – both brands and consumers seek authenticity.

But authenticity feels like a buzzword of late. And it’s hard for brands to separate influencers who only post/tweet when being paid from those sharing genuine love of a product and are not being paid for it. In theory (and legally) this should be pretty simple to sort out, but we’ll get to that a bit later.

And does it really matter anyway? Do consumers care whether the influencer is hired gun or not?

Yes. Consumers trust influencers’ thoughts, ideas and recommendations because they are able to live vicariously through these relatable folks. They aspire to be like them and live their lifestyle – and that crucial ingredient is lost when presenting a paid façade.

The right influencers can inspire behavior and drive business decisions. The wrong influencers insult consumers’ intelligence and drive them away.

Influencer Farms: Where The Wrong Influencers Live

There are online influencer agencies out there that specialize in influence. They have a stable of influencers they work with and they market these folks aggressively to brands, touting their effectiveness in generating awareness.

These agencies do a lot of the paperwork for brands to make sure they’re legally compliant, which really is important. Influencers must use appropriate hashtags to identify that they are part of an influencer program (many do not and have gotten in trouble for it). But you can monitor this yourself.

And they also need to make sure that the influencers fulfill their obligations to you – but this is also something you can track on your own, right in a NetBase dashboard, along with:

  • General Summary Metrics, such as post count, sentiment, impressions and total authors involved in the conversation
  • The Most Active Influencers based on mention count
  • General conversation surrounding top terms and hashtags used among influencers

So why would you need an Influencer Farm? You don’t.

We’ve found that brands lose the authenticity of an influencer by using prepackaged influence platforms, because those platforms are pitching everyone for everything they possibly can pitch them for, and those folks sport feeds and social streams riddled with ad upon ad. It’s not a good look for them, and certainly not a brand of influencer that will benefit any place beyond the influence farm peddling it.

The Big Fear

Brands worry they’ll miss out on good opportunities or leave influence on the table for competitors to claim. Here are questions to ask and answers to watch for to confidently rule out influencers you’re scared to lose:

Who has this influencer talked about in the past two years? You can vet the campaigns in your social listening tool to see how effective (or not) they were by evaluating engagement levels.

Are those brands relevant to your niche? Great, if so – they have a relevant base.

Are those brands relevant to who you see the influencer presenting themselves as? If the influencer is a scattershot, his/her influence is as well.

Does the influencer generate comments and real engagement or just lots of likes?

Who are the people s/he is engaging? Followers can be bots offering canned likes too.

Pre-canned influencers are typically offering 25% the engagement level a brand can expect from authentic influencers. We ran a test on this internally and our influencers outperformed by actually five-to-one when compared to influencers of the pre-canned variety.

We would rather spend the extra time and identify genuine influencers that really want to talk about us, because it comes through in their conversations. It comes through in their content. And it comes through where it really counts at the end of the day – conversions.

If someone claims to be a foodie influencer, for example, they should be talking about food – a lot. We do the legwork to see that they are, and it yields tremendous benefit to our clients. And we don’t waste their money. They appreciate that.

So set those pre-canned influencers out to pasture. Or let them graze elsewhere. Stay away from those farms!

Word of Encouragement for Social Media Advertisers

And how will these words help those professional social media advertisers I’ve just told you to avoid like the plague, as it may logic them out of sweet gigs? Some of them are new to the influence game and started out the right way – started out strong even, growing their following by having genuine conversations with people about things they love. But then money got in the way and they lost sight of how important those interactions were. Who can blame them?

They can refocus efforts and recapture that influence simply enough, though it may sting short-term to lose out on those farming jobs. But otherwise, their long-term options will be affected as brands become more aware of the distinction and seek to develop social media influencer opportunities, i.e., mutually beneficial partnerships with authentic change agents. I’ll talk more about that in my next post! Watch for it!

Ted Tagalakis, Vice President, Social Media at Intermark Group. Ted is a highly-motivated digital and social strategist who has consistently assembled and led successful and profitable digital and social departments.