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PHOTO: Victor Hernandez

When you were young, you likely had a movie or TV star that you adored seeing on screen or in magazines. 

Well, TV and magazines have morphed into YouTube and Instagram videos. And with that evolution, young people today discover influencers online. 

Influencers aren’t always big stars from the entertainment industry — people from average backgrounds mix in with famous actors, musicians and athletes.

As a result, brand managers are looking for influencers who can complement their brands, giving rise to influencer marketing. In a quest for stronger connections with consumers that lead to long-term sales, brands are courting influencers and offering them sponsorship deals. According to eMarketer, in a March 2018 survey by Activate (a firm that helps brands connect with influencers), 62 percent of the marketers polled said they planned to increase their influencer marketing budgets in 2018.

With so much money at risk, marketers must pick influencers with care. The right influencer strengthens a brand and, given algorithmic changes in social media platforms, improves the value of analytics metrics.

Influencers Create Audience Connections

Influencers generally offer value by connecting brands with audiences they want to reach. The number of followers an influencer has generally dictates the level of impact that influencer can provide, but there is more to it than audience size alone. (This CMSWire article explains the difference between “mega-influencers, macro-influencers, micro-influencers and nano-influencers.”)

Different types of influencers offer marketers varying kinds of engagement access. A relationship with a midtier influencer who attracts a specific target demographic — Gen Z fashionistas perhaps, or maybe Hispanic home buyers — can be just as effective as a Kendall Jenner. 

Irishcel Puello, a Panamanian beauty vlogger, is a great example of how smaller scale can provide better genuine access to an audience segment. She offers tutorials, tips and beauty product reviews to nearly 1 million YouTube subscribers and 630,000 Instagram followers. That audience is considerably smaller than that of Kendall Jenner, who has over 102 million Instagram followers, but a beauty products brand that wants to connect with women of color might want to work with Puello because she consistently attracts women of color by posting pictures and videos featuring products that complement darker skin tones.

Related Article: Ignore Influencer Marketing at Your Own Risk

Influencing Analytics

A good influencer pairing can raise the quality of analytics results, because the commentary on posts is what most social media algorithms focus on. For example, Facebook gives increased visibility in its news feed to pages with higher-quality content and higher degrees of engagement.

If a brand works with an influencer who helps it make a strong connection to a desirable niche demographic, that brand’s audience metrics may be stronger and more reliable because its analytics tools would be working with data gathered from a potentially more realistic proxy of an audience, resulting in more a more accurate measurement of the brand’s share of voice and a better snapshot of the brand’s overall impression online.

Reach traditionally represents the size of the audience being attracted to a profile. But reach is primarily valuable when a brand is first establishing a presence. It is not a meaningful indication of whether the audience is paying attention to content.

To move past reach metrics, marketers should use analytics that provide contextual engagement when they are choosing influencers. That means applying a sentiment analysis on the engagement that occurs on a social media platform.

There are a number of ways to examine sentiment. Some have a limited scope, such reviewing comments around a given hashtag. A more sophisticated method is to apply a sentiment text analysis using R or Python. Sentiment text analysis involves importing a Twitter or Instagram feed, placing the tweets into individual words, and then applying a sentiment lexicon to determine what positive or negative words are mentioned around an influencer profile.

Related Article: Why Your Content Marketing Needs an Influencer Strategy

Risky Business

Of course, any brand that works with an influencer runs the risk of getting bad publicity if people react negatively to an influencer’s posts or videos.

Indeed, influencers are discovering how off-the-cuff comments or even offline actions can break the branding spell they had cast. For example, Kendall Jenner and other influencers faced backlash for social media posts that seemed to endorse 2017’s Fyre Festival, an exclusive event in the Bahamas that turned into a fiasco.

Concern about the impact influencers may have over their fans spurred the Federal Trade Commission to caution influencers and brands to be transparent about sponsorship relationships they may have, so audiences know when influencers are being paid to promote brands. The FTC has even issued endorsement guidelines that stipulate, among other things, that “if there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer that consumers would not expect and it would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed.”

Related Article: Marketers Beware: Influencer Marketing Fraud Is Real

Choose Influencers Wisely

To minimize the risk of choosing influencers who end up causing problems, brands should consider the following questions:

  • Is the influencer’s content high quality? Are mentioned sources vetted before commenting live?
  • How are audience comments treated? Are the comments being kept over time, or are they being deleted? Deleting comments can be an indication that the account is being manipulated.
  • Do the influencers interact with their followers? Interaction increases the likelihood that people will respond. That response is essential to ensuring that special announcements become top of mind for the audience.
  • Can influencers provide data to illustrate the demographics of their audiences? More social media analytics tools, from Twitter Analytics to Sprout Social, are providing sophisticated metrics that influencers should be using to determine how effectively they are reaching the desired audience.
  • How is the call to action mentioned in posts and in videos? Is it subtle and clever in its appeal, or does it seem scattershot with a “clickbait” feeling to it?

The interest in influencers will not wane anytime soon. Asking the right questions and reviewing responses to posts will help marketers match influencers to brands to ensure that influencer marketing campaigns succeed and initiate authentic relationships with customers.