Are the golden days of influencer marketing at an end?
A recent Wall Street Journal article made that claim, citing reduced engagement and interviewing several brand marketers who are disappointed with their return on influencer investment. The article pointed to influencer fraud—inflating follower numbers with fake accounts, for instance—as well as consumers' increasing cynicism when they see a product or service promoted by an influencer on social media. Brands who have pulled back their influencer programs said they are putting a renewed focus on user-generated content, converting fans and customers into nano-influencers.
Still, most brands are not giving up the ship just yet—the article cited the statistic that "companies will spend between $4.1 billion and $8.2 billion globally in 2019 on influencers," hinting that many brands are still seeing business benefits from employing influencers.
Danica Kombol, CEO of the influencer marketing firm Everywhere Agency, takes issue with the article's focus on fraud, which she says the marketing world is already working hard to combat. "One or two bad apples don’t discredit an entire industry," she argues.
The recently launched Influencer Marketing Association, of which Kombol is a founding board member, aims to take a stand against fake followers and to protect the ethics of the industry. "I wish the Wall Street Journal had interviewed the hundreds of brands who are wisely and effectively engaging influencers to help tell authentic, real stories about them," she says.
Some communicators feel brands' increasing wariness around influencers is good for marketers, helping them to set more realistic expectations around influencer programs. Justin Buchbinder, social media director of the global agency Finn Partners, says, "this helps to lessen the 'silver bullet' halo that's surrounded influencer campaigns. Too often, people jump to assuming that one particular strategy is the be-all end-all...influencer marketing should [only] be a slice of your pie."
Buchbinder does, however, refute the Wall Street Journal's claim that influencer marketing offers "no way to measure sales or verify how many people even see the ads." He says digital communicators should be boosting influencer content with their own out-of-pocket funds, noting that Instagram now lets you do so. "Then you'll know exactly who's seeing it and what they're doing, inflated metrics be damned."
Given the multi-billion dollar projections for the influencer marketing industry, it's not likely to go away anytime soon. Still, marketers would do well to deploy other tactics at the same time as their influencer marketing campaigns, says Buchbinder: "Influencers are an answer. They were never the answer."
Kombol argues that the main function of influencers is nothing new; rather, it is a longtime digital communications tenet in a new package. "At its core, [influencer marketing] is based on word of mouth. The only difference today is that word of mouth is happening on social channels. Good influencer marketing, which abounds, features real people talking about brands they love, to real audiences."
Follow Sophie: @SophieMaerowitz
Follow Danica: @DanicaKombol
Connect with Justin on LinkedIn.