In response to this weekend’s news of social media colossal, YouTube, shuttering the self-service program included in their influencer marketing platform, FameBit, we were inspired to ask, ‘is there too much tech in the influencer marketing industry?’ Influencer marketing is a tool brands have been using for much longer than most may be aware ― certainly way before any technology was ever imagined ― the earliest example dates back to the 17th century when potter and entrepreneur, Josiah Wedgwood, curated a tea set in honour of Queen Charlotte. With the Royals precedingly attached to the Wedgwood brand, the “Queen-ware” set rivalled porcelain sales throughout the 1760’s and 70’s. Skipping forward to current day, influencer marketing has grown into the $8 billion dollar industry we work in now. And, like Wedgewood, it seems that a company of any size can create their own influencer marketing campaign (only now it’s a lot easier). Nowadays, there are literally dozens of influencer marketing agencies and platforms claiming to be able to find the perfect creators to promote your brand. Some platforms are free, others “freemium” with the elite charging thousands of pounds a month for the best software available. With each one claiming to hold the secrets behind running a successful campaign, are platforms really the answer? Or, has Youtube’s recent move away from their self-service platform highlighted the often overlooked and simple truth; successful influencer marketing relies not solely on the numbers, algorithms and graphs, but once these are understood, thrives on personal, authentic and long-term relationships. 

What is an influencer marketing platform?

An influencer marketing platform is a software solution designed to assist brands with anything from finding influencers and managing campaigns to providing reports on the audience demographics and return on investment (ROI). Some function by having influencers apply to be listed on the database, allowing the platform direct access to their demographics. Others have clever algorithms that provide them with a vast searching tool showcasing hundreds and thousands of accounts. Often these tools are automated, self-service platforms offering no additional support or management to brands or creators. Plenty of these tools are completely free of charge, so perfect for brands looking to shave down their marketing budget. Additionally, it’s an easy way for smaller teams who are yet to try influencer marketing to delve into new territories. However, despite all this technology 61% of marketers still claim it is challenging to find the right influencer for their campaign. And no wonder. With some tools boasting a database of 3 million profiles, surely finding the right influencer can be like finding a needle in a hay-stack? 

Platforms vs. agencies

As a brand delving into influencer marketing for the first time, working with an agency is often the preferred choice. Agencies have experience and expertise which brands find reassuring, and, crucially, agencies have relationships with creators. This not only often means preferential rates and terms but also a humanly matched campaign. Agencies use the relationships they have formed, and knowledge they have acquired, to match the right influencers to the right campaigns. In our experience, this is the first of two key stages in ensuring success. Agencies can’t do this alone though and rely heavily on influencer marketing technologies at this stage of the process to understand the audience demographics of each profile, as well as their key performance stats. It’s when campaigns move on the second stage of campaign development that technology is arguably a help and a hindrance. The second crucial stage in ensuring campaign success is briefing the chosen influencers effectively. Platforms offer varying options for this from uploading a pre-prepared brief, to following a templated form. This offers great advantages for briefing influencers at scale, however, is less effective for briefing complex or personalised campaigns, and often allows for a larger margin for error or misinterpretation than briefing influencers directly as agencies do. Similarly, if you’re running a large scale micro-influencer campaign or managing content creation, approval, and scheduling processes via a platform is often the only viable option. This is often utilised by agencies (whether they admit it or not) however, more bespoke and creative campaigns run much more effectively with direct one-to-one communication. The final stage of a campaign; reporting, again sees agencies and technology working together. Platforms are relied upon to generate the data needed to measure success – whether this is raw data the agency inputs into its own methodologies and formulas, or a PDF download of final metrics generated from a software tool. 

How savvy is the tech?

When looking for influencers, marketers have reported the three key aspects they look at to decide who will be the best fit for their campaign: 
  • Engagement rate 
  • Target audience demographics 
  • Content quality 
Both influencer marketing platforms and agencies have access to the desired analytics for the first two points through utilising similar technology. But when it comes to the platforms, there are limitations. As we mentioned earlier, all influencer platforms work slightly differently. When influencers agree to be profiled through opt-in platforms, the data showcased will be accurate and up to date. However, since Instagram shut down it’s API access to many external applications, most platforms have lost access to all current data. Therefore, unless the creator has agreed to be profiled or operates a Business Account (which fortunately many do) the data will not be accurate. Contrary to popular opinion, due to this, there is no one platform that can search Instagram for you. And therefore agencies who operate multiple subscriptions, and engage in manual searches can often cover more ground. Due to the limited amount of data available, platforms have had to develop their own methodologies to estimate current stats. This will be based on either the data they had up until the point they lost access, the data available for Business Accounts and/or the small amount of publicly available data for personal accounts. Of course, influencer marketing agencies are by no means going tech-free to find influencers and report on their campaigns. In fact, as mentioned, marketers tend to work alongside certain technologies at key points throughout a campaign, especially when it comes to performance reports and talent searching. However, for brands wanting to take on a campaign independently, working with a platform alone will likely mean dedicating a lot of time and resources. 

In conclusion

A few years ago, there was a definite surge in the number of influencer platforms available online, when someone clearly spotted the gap in the market. And, of course, building a software solution is far more cost effective than starting your own agency. However, as the industry grows we are now seeing the real benefits of building campaigns around relationships and predict that many more platforms will make the same call as YouTube. After having worked with agencies, brands have found there is little to no comparison between the quality of influencers that agencies discover and those presented on a single influencer platform. Additionally, influencer marketing agencies support their clients with everything they need to optimise their campaigns, which is very useful for brands who may still be new to the industry or are lacking in confidence when it comes to successful campaign delivery. Agencies ensure that only the most relevant and reliable influencers for the campaign are approached, structure the campaign itself and provide detailed, bespoke reports. They work alongside their clients to ensure the most effective delivery, giving companies the chance to gain a greater knowledge of how to structure an impressive campaign. So for brands who are looking to save time and benefit from expertise, qualified agencies are here to run it from start to finish. The personal relationships they have with the talent they work with are unparalleled compared to relationships formed through technology. But they can’t do it alone; a successful influencer marketing campaign needs both technology and agency expertise. Both have their place and success can’t be achieved without either.
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