Does Influencer Marketing Have a Transparency Problem?

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This post is the latest in our “Visualizing Local” series. It’s our editorial focus for the month of May, including topics like artificial intelligence and marketing automation. See the rest of the series here

Photo above courtesy of BBH Singapore.

Tracking keywords and clicks-through rates is straightforward, but visual search metrics are often harder to measure. As visual search grows in popularity, and social media influencers plays a larger role in the digital marketing space, brands are finding that transparency is lacking when it comes to visual content and influencer collaborations.

Although the average share of budgets spent on influencer marketing is just 10%, that figure is growing as visual platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest see explosive growth.

The problem? Brands are often focusing on misleading vanity metrics in an attempt to justify those investments. For example, many marketers track follower counts as a primary indicator for determining brand and influencer partnerships. Growing evidence shows that follower counts do not equate to true impressions or reach data, giving brands a false sense of how their campaigns are performing.

At Popular Pays, a software company that helps marketers collaborate with social content creators, Director of Marketing Communications Aana Leech sees an industry that has grown too reliant on follower counts to benchmark and validate visual marketing investments. Bots, network algorithm changes, and a lack of transparency in the industry at large have made follower counts a misleading metric.

“The ideal would be to have full transparency into exactly where your money is going,” says Leech. “Influencer marketing is not purely earned media, there are most often dollars exchanged, but what are you paying for? Earned reach with an organic post? The content? An actual promoted post? Knowing what you are looking to achieve is ideal, and transparency comes with that.”

Influencer marketing is a young and quickly evolving industry, and Leech says some of the biggest contributors to this lack of transparency are the “smoke and mirrors” that certain firms are using to trick brands into spending their dollars irresponsibly.

“There are platforms entering the market every day claiming to provide data that they may or may not have direct access to. We are all beholden to the data given to us by the networks, and this changes frequently,” she says.

New firms entering the influencer marketing space are largely responding to demand for more visual search tools. Nearly two-thirds of millennials say they want the ability to visually search over any other new technology, and industry experts are predicting that the future of search will be about images rather than keywords.

According to Gartner, by 2021, “early adopter” brands that design their websites to support visual search will see increased digital commerce revenue by 30%. But that rush to keep up with the Joneses is cause some brands to move too quickly, and invest too heavily, in a space they don’t fully understand.

Leech believes that using follower counts as a sole valuation metric has promoted fraudulent activity in the creator community, resulting in misleading metrics and dirty data.

“Unfortunately, some providers take advantage of the lack of education and hide behind buzzwords,” Leech says.

Looking forward, and given the growing pains going on within the visual and social marketing communities right now, Leech anticipates a continued shift toward more ROI-driven tactics, with a focus on attribution.

“Brands should be open to being creative about attaching metrics to values beyond followers to gain a better understanding of true ROI. Social platforms like Instagram are rolling out product features to adhere to this concept, like in-feed shoppable tags for brands, making it even easier for brands to track and understand their social marketing metrics,” she says. “By staying up to date with the latest trends and best practices, brands can maximize their social budget and more accurately track their ROI.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.