When Instagram released the news that the platform was removing likes, brands and advertisers were sent into a frenzy. With so much influencer marketing based around like counts, what would happen to the previous system of identifying success in the influencer industry? We’re starting to see the shift and brands must adapt to the changes to continue to innovate with their influencers and their marketing strategies. 

The Wild West of influencer marketing

When social media platforms like Instagram were first introduced to the general public, brands and advertisers flocked towards accounts with large amounts of followers. This is what was known as the ‘Wild West’ of influencer marketing. Since the industry was still developing, its early stages focused on a superficial form of growth – based around high numbers of followers. The assumption was that a large number of followers translated into a large number of dedicated fans that actively engaged with the influencer, which would then result in a larger reach for brands and advertisers. Although this point was true at the beginning of influencer marketing, the success of larger accounts paved the way for bots and other fake metrics to seep into the market. Account users could purchase followers that would remain inactive but supply that large number on their social media pages – leading towards faulty brand partnerships and lack of engagement on influencer and brand content. As padded metrics entered the market, brands and advertisers turned towards a new type of measurement to find influencers that would provide the audience that matched their social presence. 

The second phase: likes vs. engagement

The second phase of influencer marketing focused on the number of likes, comments, shares that influencer content received. Under the assumption that active engagement would positively correlate with an engaged audience, brands and advertisers partnered with influencers that showed remarkable numbers of likes and comments on their content. This model was successful – brands were able to use engagement as their main KPI for influencer success while tracking how active their communities were from brand to influencer to consumer. However, with the news of Instagram removing likes, the influencer marketing industry needs to elevate its strategies in order to stay ahead of the game. Now, there are more ways than ever to gather data on influencers, across more platforms than ever. With the wider availability of information at the hands of brands and advertisers, influencer marketing is moving into a new age of marketing focused on data-driven results. Influencers are getting smarter, and so are the ways that brands partner with them to best serve the interests of their consumers. While measurement through engagement is a great method with proven results, there are also more analytics available for brands to see the specific breakdowns of an influencer’s success. In order for brands to innovate new ways to create meaningful partnerships, they must consider new ways to measure the success of their influencer campaigns. 

The new age of influencer marketing

Currently, influencer marketing is in a Renaissance. Many brands and advertisers are beginning to leverage direct response marketing with their influencer marketing, where their digital campaigns receive tangible, quantifiable results that the brands can then use to elevate their strategy moving forward. This demand for performance-driven results will result in more brands and advertisers using ROI and KPIs to determine the success of their influencers rather than a number on an app. First, brands must clearly define their goals for each influencer campaign and identify influencers that will help them reach those goals. From brand awareness in a new region to increased engagement on specific campaigns, every influencer campaign should have an identifiable goal with its trajectory. Once a goal is stated, brands must establish a baseline to use as a benchmark for their next influencer campaign. By having something like existing social media metrics or previous influencer experiences to compare current campaigns against, brands are able to tell more clearly what is working and what isn’t within their strategies. After establishing a baseline, brands can use performance indicators through ROI to measure an influencer’s success in a campaign. The main measurements are through engagement, awareness and direct response – with a variety of techniques within each subcategory that measure influencer campaign data. Engagement can include community growth and ambassador programs, while brand awareness can be measured through EMV. Direct responses show direct results – with metrics from immediate actions, conversions, and actual sales – through strategies like affiliate links, promo code tracking, and affiliate links or contests. Even though a like on a piece of content can show interest or community engagement, they do not necessarily translate into actual sales or conversions. This is what the future of influencer marketing measurement will incorporate – influencers driving results. 

What does this mean?

Even without Instagram likes, there are more ways to measure influencer success than ever before. From here on out, brands will only get smarter about who they partner with – resulting in a more forward-thinking generation of influencer marketing. By building meaningful relationships with influencers that are transparent and authentic with their audiences, brands will create more long-lasting partnerships with their consumers. Right now, influencer marketing is very engagement-focused. This new wave of influencer marketing will see more consumers connecting with brands for their values and goals, meaning that brands must focus more on the future of their partnerships instead of immediate gratification. As Generation Z and Millennials garner most of the purchasing power in households, their standards are encouraging brands and advertisers to think about their impact on the world. This results in partnerships that share the same values and actively work towards the same goals – creating longer-lasting, more creative content from both the brand and influencers. Although the future of influencer marketing is still a grey area, brands and advertisers are actively working towards a solution in regards to fake metrics and bots. One such solution is focusing on data that results from direct sales and other quantifiable metrics – creating an effective benchmark for brands and advertisers to use for future campaigns. Brands are going to get smarter about the way that they partner with influencers, and determining ROI through previous influencer campaigns is going to aid in their partnerships for the future. As influencer marketing moves forward into a new era, influencers and consumers are embracing transparency and authenticity – and expecting the same with their brands.
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