Images, videos, infographics, and other visual content have become increasingly popular forms of digital expression for individuals and content marketing fodder for bloggers and marketers. This content has spurred the growth of social networks in which such content is produced and shared such as Vine, Pinterest, and Instagram. So it should be no surprise that advertisers and brands are once again seeking to capitalize on perceived “influencers” within these sites despite the fact that these social networks are still in their infancy. There’s no question that visual influencer marketing is on the rise, but is it worth the investment at this point?
“Beyond YouTube, the new visual influencer marketplace is anything but established or mature,” said Weber Shandwick’s global president of digital Chris Perry. “It’s growing and fragmenting across newer networks like Instagram, Vine and others as we speak. And access to cheap production apps and networks are fueling more content being created and shared.” Current estimates have the PR firm dedicating approximately 20% of some client’s PR budgets to engaging social media influencers in these networks.
As with the now largely discredited social scoring platform Klout, there’s a new crop of influence marketing platforms emerging that claim to identify, engage, and in some cases act as talent agents for those people who have amassed large followings in these visual networks. While some agencies like Weber Shandwick build their own relationships with popular social celebrities, many, such as Staples, Clinique, and Nordstrom are turning to third party influencer managers and software for a short cut.
What’s In An App?
According to Wall Street Journal writer Nathalie Tadena, “Social media celebrities can not only help brands generate enormous buzz but can also help advertisers and agencies who are less experienced with a certain platform craft content that will thrive on these specific web sites.”
HelloSociety, for example, is one new firm that focuses on connecting “Pinterest influencers” with brand marketers and/or their agencies. Another service growing in popularity is Niche. Founded in 2013, this company is expected to generate more than $8 million in revenue this year. One of Niche’s clients is HP, which worked with Niche-identified influencers on Vine to create six-second videos featuring a new HP notebook that could turn into a tablet.
Sponsored Post or Influencer Marketing?
Social networks are businesses and as such, require revenue to keep their investors and shareholders happy. Paid advertising is the fastest way to generate that revenue once the network has accumulated large daily engagement by members. Pinterest, for example, has developed an audience of nearly 70 million unique visitors per month, according to comScore. Pinterest allows members to “pin” an image of an item, webpage, website, etc. to one of many visual bookmarks (known as “boards”) that they’ve created within their profiles. Other members can search, like, and comment on other people’s boards and pinned images. Pinterest now allows brands to purchase “promoted pins” on the network in order to have their images displayed to more people on the popular network.
Yet, for the most part, people shun blatant advertising and broadcast messages from advertisers within their social media channels. As a result, it’s not surprising to see more brands attempting to directly engage those with large followings on these networks in hopes that they will promote the brand to their followers. It’s also not surprising to see a new crop of influencer marketing services like Niche and HelloSociety pop up to take advantage of the opportunity.
Influencer marketing is in direct competition with the paid advertising programs that social networks like Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook offer. For example, brands including Tommy Hilfiger, VH1, and Benjamin Moore have all advertised in Pinterest recently, but none of them have purchased promoted pins. These firms – and others like them – have spent from mid-five figures to seven-figure budgets with influencer marketing services like Niche, which get popular and well-followed “pinners” to subtly promote the brands’ wares.
Something New or More of the Same?
Now that social media channels have allowed individuals to amass followings that compete with some popular television programs and magazine circulations, advertisers must pay attention. However, I’m not convinced that those embarking on these paid influencer marketing schemes will meet the expectations of the C-Suite approving the budgets.
I’ve been critical of many social media influencer schemes in the past, including Klout and to a lesser degree Kred and PeerIndex. However, I’ve always seen the value in the concept of influencer marketing, when done well. Danny Brown and I outlined that value in detail when we authored Influence Marketing: How to Create, Manage, and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media Marketing for Pearson Publishing.
The reality is that while advertisers who engage influencer marketing companies and software in hopes of encouraging socially popular individuals to shill for their brands may be generating buzz, there’s still no correlation between the buzz generated and direct sales made when these brands are engaged. The metrics of mentions and likes are still soft metrics. Further, there’s little connection between the lead generation effort and how they affect customer lifetime value, something that businesses must be increasingly cognizant of in our multi-channel, multi-media, multi-touch world.
We still recommend that agencies turn to social media analytics companies such as Sysomos to first gauge which content creators are the most engaging around a certain topic, how their audiences match up to the demographics of highly convertible prospects, and then generate specific influencer marketing content and campaigns that target those in the buying cycle. Alternatively, for smaller businesses, we’ve found success in working with social relationship software firms like Nimble, which can identify and monitor the conversations of those who are most likely to buy specific products at a specific time by monitoring social conversations occurring among those targeted in the contact list.
That said, we’re definitely seeing improvement in influencer marketing programs like Niche, which help brands and influencers create content that will most likely engage their target audiences. At the end of the day, even the most engaging content won’t guarantee that it will be seen by those in the appropriate stage of the buying cycle. If you plan to engage these services, be sure you’re able to segment the audience that will be targeted to be sure they’re your “most likely buyers.” Next, ensure the campaign drives those targeted to brand-owned properties where individual profiles can be captured for better performance tracking.
Are advertisers relying on influencer marketing software too heavily?
Is the five- to seven-figure investment worth the payback?
Have your say in the comments below.
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Image Credit: Lonely Brand