If you can’t help but roll your eyes when you hear the word ‘influencer’ then trust me, you’re not alone. Earlier this year, one of the biggest social media influencers in the world told his colleagues to get a real job. So, does this mean the end is nigh for influencer marketing?
While the platform is cluttered with posts promoting gummy bear-shaped vitamins, teeth-whitening products, and laxative tea, Instagram is also home to authentic influencer accounts that pique the interests of a massive array of audiences.
From mainstream travel, lifestyle, and fashion influencers, to those that cater to niche interests such as dogs, baking, or craft – there’s an account for everyone. Instagram’s depth makes it a hugely powerful tool for consumers, brands, and influencers alike.
So, at least for now, it seems the answer is no. Influencers aren’t going anywhere soon.
The fractious relationship between marketers and influencers, however, is at an all-time low. Stories of fraudulent accounts, inauthentic posts, and a general lack of transparency seem to become more frequent every day.
The extent of the problem was made clear by the CMO of Unilever, Keith Weed, who earlier this year stated that influencer marketing needed a clean-up.
Stamping out influencer fraud
The good news is Instagram is slowly but surely reacting to the issue. Last year, in a bid to improve transparency, the platform added the ‘Paid Partnership’ tags to influencer posts that promoted products.
Since then, its promised to use AI to start removing any likes, follows, or comments from accounts that use third-party apps or tools to buy engagement. However, I’m still interested to see how it would deal with accounts that receive fake engagement without the use of those third-party platforms.
I’m also curious as to how Instagram will ensure “real” accounts don’t fall victim to new updates. For example, earlier this year Instagram updated its algorithm so the more engagement a post receives in the first 10 minutes of being shared, the more the post will be showed to the influencer’s audience.
This resulted in influencers complaining that their content doesn’t appear in feeds until days after posting. In fact, for some, this move was so damaging they gave up on the platform altogether. This seems to me like the exact opposite of what the update was meant to achieve. Instagram needs to do a much better job of protecting accounts with quality and creative content.
Brand and influencer relationships
So, from the above, it’s evident Instagram is clearly making some headway in tackling fraud. But in the meantime, what can brands do to survive the wild west of Instagram influencer marketing?
Audiences can spot inauthenticity faster than you can say “#ad.” Brands need to enhance their influencer fraud detective skills – either upskilling internal staff or collaborating with external agencies to sieve out the influencers that may not be built on credible and authentic interactions.
Once you’ve found an influencer that can communicate effectively with your audience, make sure you work with them instead of assuming you need to give them direction. These influencers not only know your audience, they are your audience – and they’re more than happy to help you understand them better.
I’ve always found the best influencer campaigns are the ones that don’t include the “here’s-a-picture-please-upload-it-at-12-pm-with-this-caption” type of posts that lack authenticity and personality.
Campaigns must reflect true synergy between brand and influencer. This synergy can be found in giving the influencer free rein to promote a product in a way that aligns with their existing content and themes.
This ensures the content is organic, the product isn’t forced upon your audience, and you get genuine insights, too. A win-win for everyone.
Authenticity is the key
Influencers also need to be aware of fake engagement pitfalls. Sure, high follower numbers and strong engagement are a good look at first glance. But getting fined or even removed over fraud is not.
Not only will this damage your reputation as a credible influencer, it will also lead to increasing skepticism among audiences and brands that influencer marketing isn’t worthwhile.
Instead, consider your “colleagues.” Earlier this year, In the Frow blogger Victoria wrote a lengthy piece on why authenticity is essential – not only for brands and audiences, but more importantly, for her fellow-influencers.
Many now rely on being an influencer as their main source of income and sole career choice – to damage the credibility of the platform will have a ripple effect on many authentic Instagrammers that are already abiding by the rules.
Irrespective of follower numbers and engagement levels, every influencer should strive for real engagement, with real communities, through real content.
Ultimately, for influencers to remain respected by brands and audiences alike they need to take on projects that are a natural fit and don’t lead to fraudulent activity. Authenticity is the new black!
Gearing up to 2019 and beyond
2019 is going to be an interesting year for influencers, brands and Instagram alike. While it remains uncertain how much of a difference these promises outlined by Instagram will have on cleaning up the platform, one thing is sure: influencer marketing will only continue to evolve, and the people that master how to use it will gain maximum benefits.
If platforms, brands, and influencers play by the rules, influencer marketing will become a huge driving force in creating valuable relationships. Just like any relationship, influencer marketing takes time and needs work – it’s a marathon, not a sprint.