Influencer Marketing: 4 Questions We Should Be Asking

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TL;DR: We’re fed up with tired conversations about influencer marketing. It’s time for brands to start asking tougher questions in order to propel the industry forward with greater quality and innovation.

If you attended any marketing, advertising or social media conference this past year, you’re likely to have heard someone speak about influencers. New York’s recent Advertising Week was no different — multiple influencer marketing sessions promised in-depth discussions on debunking the hype, tips for creating better stories, and keys to authenticity.

Instead of cutting-edge conversation, this high-profile conference approached the oft-discussed topic with recycled arguments for why influencer marketing is effective.

Influencer marketing works. We get it. Advertising Week’s massive, missed opportunity was not probing deeper into the topic of influencers and asking not, “does it work?” but, “what comes next?”

Here are four tough questions moderators (and brands) should be asking:

How do we validate authenticity?

The buzzword around influencer marketing is authenticity. Influencers are more impactful with audiences because they tell “real stories” about products or brands that they truly use and love. All influencer marketing panels feature an influencer expounding that wisdom. But with rampant spam accounts and follower bots, what we should be asking is, “How do we validate authenticity?”

With the validity of data and ad insights a current hot button issue, influencer data validation must be added to that mix. If you’re not measuring engagement rate and examining the quality of an influencer’s interaction with their audience, you’re already starting off on the wrong foot. But as an industry, we need to take this one step further and begin imposing benchmarks, using third-party validation tools and asking influencers to provide a breakdown of organic versus paid engagement to make sure marketing dollars are being spent on true, quality interactions.

Are we paying too much?

In a 2016 article from Digiday, a social media executive admitted that influencer payment had spiraled out of control mostly because agency heads threw money at a tactic without knowing how much a post or partnership was really worth. A year later, we’re seeing the rise of the micro-influencer not just because of their higher, organic engagement rates but really because they’re a lot more affordable. It’s time for influencer marketing to standardize a new payment model that moves beyond engagement rate and breaks down price based on three tiers: content creation, distribution and engagement.

Who is accountable for ethics in influencer marketing?

Hashtag “sponsored” or hashtag “ad” are becoming more ubiquitous thanks to FTC guidelines regulating how influencers and brands disclose paid partnerships. But disclosures are not enough. Agencies, brands and influencers together must hold each other more accountable for ethics in influencer marketing.

It starts with the disclosure but goes beyond that to examine what impact the product amplification will have on a person or, particularly in the travel space, a destination. As DMOs face a rapidly escalating issue of oversaturation, influencer marketing must do more to showcase the truth behind the screen and avoid pushing crowds to places that can’t handle an influx of visitors.

Are we hitting a tipping point? Or in other words, what comes next?

One interesting takeaway from AdWeek’s influencer sessions was the lack of mentions of specific platforms. Influencer marketing is becoming synonymous with Instagram as it’s one of the last few places where organic reach still exists (YouTube the one exception). But as influencers continue to face the challenge of dwindling organic reach, they must find another value proposition for brands. A short-term solution might be found in emerging trends—micro-influencers, long-term brand partnerships, and crossover from social to other platforms and mediums.

On next year’s Advertising Week stage, let’s stop talking about the effectiveness of influencer marketing and instead highlight the ways we’ve propelled the industry forward by raising the stakes and finding innovative solutions to these tough questions.