With the inexorable rise in influencer marketing comes increased scrutiny. As more brands look to influencers to connect with their audiences and as more people turn to influencing as a full-time career, there becomes a need to prove value and justify a return on investment.

The origins of influencer marketing could be perceived as a little rough around the edges. There was no rulebook, no precedent and no guidelines. Even now, some influencers eschew the terms and conditions of social media platforms, publish controversial opinions and even use shadow tactics such as purchasing fake followers.

Over time, this has evolved and influencer marketing has become one of the most effective strategies for companies to reach their target audience.

Indeed, research by MuseFind shows that 92 per cent of millennial consumers trust an influencer more than an advertisement. But, from a brand perspective, it only works if you find the right influencer to begin with. Technology has advanced enough now to offer a range of insights that can assist brands in finding influencers that will truly connect with an audience and help to avoid those who participate in non-compliant activities.

Here are a few key factors for marketers to follow when considering their next campaign or partnership, in order to deliver better results and avoid any potential influencer marketing pitfalls.

Follower numbers are not the be-all and end-all

Total follower count isn’t the only figure to look at when selecting who to work with. It’s worthwhile considering that niche audiences tend to be more engaged and supportive than mass-market groups. Working with multiple nano-influencers – fewer than 5,000 followers – may be more beneficial to a business when compared to working with one 500k+ follower macro-influencer.

One metric to examine is the engagement rate. This is the number of engagements – such as likes and comments – compared to the number of followers. It is then timesed by 100 and displayed as a percentage.

Research by HypeAuditor reveals that in the UK the average number of Instagram post likes for accounts with between 1k and 5k followers is 167, plus 7 comments. Whereas accounts with over 1 million followers average 79,023 likes and 531 comments. The latter figures are larger, but when you look at them as an engagement rate percentage, that is 6.9% for accounts with 1K-5K followers and a lower 2.9% for those with over 1 million followers.

The higher the percentage, the more engaged an audience is and thus, the greater potential for the audience to interact with any partnership posts.

Pay attention to other metrics

However, even the engagement rate isn’t foolproof, thanks to tactics such as actively requesting users to tag accounts in comments and taking part in Comment Pods. This is why we developed ways to measure what we call comment rate, audience interests and audience reachability. It’s important to also look at these alongside engagement rates to gain a deeper understanding.

Comment rate is a percentage of an influencer’s audience who commented on their last 12 posts. This shows if recent content is still engaging the audience and comparing results with similar accounts can assist in gauging what is an appropriate figure.

It’s also vital that the influencers chosen are matched to the brand’s target audience. Digging deeper, businesses can research the interests of an influencers follower base, which helps define audience coordination to an even further degree. Finding the right follower audience helps messages resonate.

The findings can then be combined with the influencer’s audience reachability. This is measuring the number of accounts that follow less than 1,500 accounts. If they are in this bracket, the propensity that they will see most of the influencer’s posts increases and therefore improves the chances of the marketing message reaching more people.

Authenticity is key

Authenticity and quality will keep an audience engaged and interested, especially when it comes to influencer relations. Similarly, if it’s discovered that an influencer is followed by many bot accounts that aren’t real potential consumers, the campaign could be a waste of money.

A holistic view of account quality is more relevant than ever. Advancements in measurement systems now allow this to happen, and it’s only set to get more precise as these methods develop.

One element to look out for when looking for influencer quality is the rate at which new followers have been amassed. Any sudden spikes or troughs could indicate an audience that has been gained (or lost) through un-natural methods. This is a useful way of viewing potential suspicious activity and just one of the elements that will help to ascertain if there are any abnormal growths or negative trends.

The authenticity of comments on an influencer’s posts is also a tell-tale sign of doubtful behaviour. Generic words such as ‘awesome’ or the posting of one single emoji multiple times could be spam-like behaviour. It could be that an influencer is part of an ‘Instagram pod’, working with other influencers to post comments in a network, artificially boosting their figures.

Advancements such as AI and machine learning, however, are increasingly able to spot such behaviour and then flag that to marketers as suspect. This can then be extrapolated out across the followers of an influencer, to check their behaviour too, and judge the overall quality of their fan base.

Making sure that interactions are from humans and avoiding low-quality accounts should be a priority when research influencers and will reduce the chances of a cooperation falling flat.

Use the available technology to your advantage

With research by Econsultancy showing that 73 per cent of marketers have trouble hiring the right influencers, it’s clear that there are some challenges. But, technology now allows advanced influencer discovery, audience insight and quality checks.

Influencer marketing may have grown in popularity in recent years, but this is still only the beginning. With increased cookie tracking regulations and an intense bidding war on ad space – provided enough research is conducted – it can deliver genuine results that resonate with potential consumers like no other method.

What defines success for an influencer marketing campaign has changed. Quality, not quantity alone, is key. There are now more ways than ever to research the perfect partner, and consequently, there has not been a better time to find the right partnership for your business.

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