Return on investment (ROI) is the Holy Grail of influencer marketing. A tired and lazy analogy, yes but it kind of works; a lot of people are out there looking for it and, amongst those that are getting close, a good few are too distracted by the shiny, shallow things that surround the ‘one true cup’ to actually notice it.

ROI and the issues it creates

The issues with ROI in this industry are twofold; firstly, we as an industry lack a lot of the data we need to draw concrete conclusions between cause and effect – and, secondly, the vast majority of people out there are actually looking for immediate ROI (an indication that the money they’ve spent is generating a return, within days, hours, or minutes), not just a return at anytime.Both of these issues cause problems for the industry but nowhere more so than for long-term partnerships. It’s here that the search for immediate ROI cripples the ability of a campaign to fulfill its original goal. Long-term partnerships are (in the main) all about building an authentic, credible relationship, slowly and carefully; one that sees an influencer’s followers warm to the idea of a brand over time, begin to associate it with their favourite online personalities, and eventually make a purchase.Expecting an immediate return from a long-term (or even short-term) partnership is a massive mistake. The belief that content paid for and produced today should lead to purchases seconds later undermines a great deal of what makes influencer marketing great.

So how do we resolve this?

It’s hard for a brand to avoid this, though. Everything a brand does needs attributing somewhere along the line. Marketing managers can’t just go throwing money in a big black influencer shaped hole and not expect someone more senior to ask what’s coming back (and when).But it’s something a brand has to accept. Not everything can be ‘click-to-buy’, not every sale can be directly and without question attributed to a specific marketing activation. If it were, we’d be tearing down billboards, burning magazines, doing away with ad breaks, and moving everything online. 

Influencer marketing and ROI

That said, when it comes to influencer marketing, there are a few things brands can do to understand the impact their influencer marketing campaigns are having and the return they’re generating.Firstly, they can build an understanding of the value of social metrics, to their industry, to their business, to the influencers they work with, and to their audience. It’s crucial to remember that this value is specific to those various elements and not just a broad-brush, like ‘3% visible engagement = success,’ for example. For one brand, saves are crucial; for another view or duration will be key. Sticker-taps, swipe-ups, link clicks, shares, comments, each and everyone has a different value, for each industry, for each brand, and for each campaign. Establishing what those values are, requires time, effort, and understanding. Not taking the time necessary to establish the value of social metrics is on par with failing to undertake suitable due diligence on the influencers you work with – and if we did that, we’d work in an industry where, time and time again, the same tired old frauds are handed handfuls of money for shilling products to Russian bots and Brazilian bought followers. Establishing what those values are still isn’t enough, though. It still creates an industry that still stalks after engagement metrics as the ends to everything rather than just the means – and that leads to the mega-frauds fronting big brand campaigns.

Looking at the data

Instead, it’s worth looking beyond social as there really is a world beyond that small screen. This is where social metrics end, and studies, and surveys can come in. Companies like Nielsen, Relative Insight, and others offer ways to determine the impact that is less likely to be damaged by bot-riddled like counts, spam comments, and those instances where I’ve saved content in the #authenticityzero folder.These third parties can provide studies that demonstrate the brand recall, purchasing intent, and changes in perception that the social metrics generally fail to adequately represent. If you’re going to the lengths of working on a long-term influencer partnership, there’s a real return to be had in investing in these approaches and working with a platform that integrates them in order to prove that the partnership is a well-placed and worthwhile one.
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