Influencer Marketing Today
Influencer marketing has changed over the past few years. First, it’s truly exploded in terms of how many influencers there are, and the micro-influencer scene has grown like crazy. Second, as the competition amongst influencer has grown due to the sheer volume of numbers of influencers and number of people who want to become social influencers, the industry has gone from pretty reliable, to potentially fraudulent. What do I mean by this? Influencers are not only purchasing followers and using bots to grow their following in a non-organic way but are also purchasing everything from likes to views. That’s why more than ever it’s critical to fully vet every influencer and know what to look for to find the best influencers for your brand.
There are a few glaringly obvious things we look at when finding influencers that fit with our clients’ brands and goals. This includes the quality of the content. We ask ourselves, “do they have high-resolution photos/videos that are not overly-edited?” This also includes the size of their following, “do they have a good reach and will they make an impact?” Finally, we’ll look at engagement on posts, whether on YouTube or Instagram, to do a preliminary screen into how real we think their audience is.
There are, however, a few not-so-obvious things to look at and evaluate to ensure you are checking every checkbox you need your influencer hit. Here are five must-haves when looking for a great influencer to fit your brand and how to evaluate if they’re hitting or missing the mark.
Every influencer you interact with and include in your campaigns should have a solid reach with great engagement rate. The reach aspect depends fully on the budget you have for sponsored posts as well as the value of the item you may be offering as a gift. If you are offering something with a smaller price point, you will likely have less room for negotiation on sponsored rate, while if you have a higher ticket item you are gifting you can typically negotiate sponsored rates further. If you have a small budget or no budget at all and are focusing on gifting campaigns, you will be working with smaller micro-influencers who don’t typically charge. If you have a large sponsored budget, you will be looking for influencers who have large and growing followings.
The first way to see if an influencer you are prospecting has an authentic following is by looking at their engagement rate. If their engagement rate (average number of likes and comments divided by the following size) is lower than 2%, then they may have (probably) purchased followers.
If they pass this test, the next thing to look at is who is commenting and engaging with their content. If they are getting a solid number of likes but are not receiving comments, that is a red flag. If they are getting spammy-looking comments like a single emoji or an impersonal comment that looks generic then they are probably purchasing likes and comments or going about it in an inorganic way.
We know this because we vet influencers for our clients on a daily basis and can tell when someone has purchased followers to work with big brands on sponsored campaigns. Brands are fooled all the time when only gaging an influencer based off of their following size, which is why influencers started purchasing followers in the first place.
The Right Target Audience
Something that may not be as obvious is instead of looking at the content and brands the influencer posts about, you should be looking at what their audience cares about. After all, you’re not marketing to the influencer, you’re marketing to their audience that will be the ones making the purchases.
There are a few glaring signs that an audience isn’t a fit for your brand by strictly looking at the content the influencer is posting. For example, if you are a brand trying to reach a female demographic and are considering content from a female influencer who posts sexy content, bikini shots, and generally sexualized content, then you may be surprised to find that her audience is heavily male-dominated with a much smaller percentage of female followers. On the flip side, if you’re targeting men, you might actually have success with this type of influencer.
What I look for when finding female influencers who have predominantly female audiences is content that appeals to women, whether it’s more feminine, only includes women’s fashion, or discusses personal female topics. While there are female fitness influencers who may post bikini photos, you can also tell if the influencer is portraying herself as a “fitspiration” influencer that females would want to follow. There’s definitely a fine line between women following their “girl crush” or workout motivation versus over-sexualized content that really only appeals to men.
I also look at the content of their Instagram Stories and Highlights, because it gives more of a glimpse into their personal life and personality. If they are talking mostly about female-centric topics that a guy would have zero interest in following, it makes me more confident in their male to female ratio.
Another thing I look at is their captions. In the caption, is this person providing ANY value to their audience, or is there very little verbiage and just a tag of a brand? If there is no value, you probably don’t want to work with them. You need influencers who can persuade their audience, not just an Instagram model.
In the comments, are the people commenting strictly other bloggers, YouTubers, and influencers? If so, the influencer is probably a part of an engagement pod of other influencers that will most likely not generate a conversion for your brand. It could mean that you might have more influencers reach out to you, which isn’t a bad thing, but if your goal is to drive sales then you don’t want a majority of their audience to be other influencers who just want to get things for free. We know this because we’ve experienced this and learned from it.
Furthermore, if you’re still unsure about an influencer’s audience, you can ask influencers to send a screenshot of their reach and demographics to see if they have a 50/50 male to female audience or if it skews one way or another. Some influencers are totally fine sending this and others not so much, but we recommend asking if you’re uneasy.
When you’re simply looking at a feed of someone’s photos or videos, you don’t have a sense of timeline of when they are posting, which means you don’t know if an influencer is posting once a day, once a week, or once a month.
Click on recent posts to make sure that an influencer you are prospecting is posting on a consistent and regular basis so that if you work with them, you will get great visibility on the post. When you’re looking at YouTube, you can easily see all videos and when they were posted by clicking on “VIDEOS” on the top of the YouTuber’s profile.
Stellar Past Partnership Performance
You should absolutely be looking at brands your influencer prospects have worked with in the past. For example, if I’m looking for an influencer who is passionate about natural products to promote a skincare product that is vegan, cruelty-free or non-toxic, then I wouldn’t reach out to someone who has recently participated in a Neutrogena campaign, as I know that brand does not fit within the natural skincare space.
Conversely, if I see an influencer promote brands that are similar to my client’s brand, it means that this is something the influencer is interested in and their audience has been introduced to before, so I would be more inclined to introduce my client and highlight some of the differentiating factors when compared to other brands they work with. While no follower wants to see content of ten different watch brands from the same influencer, if the brand is not a completely direct competitor (maybe I’m working on a campaign for a natural food brand and they have posted about other organic foods) or the posts are spread out from another similar brand, then that is exactly what you want.
You should also look at how the post performed in past partnerships. Did it have an above-average engagement rate or below-average engagement rate? Were people actively engaged in the comments and asking questions or commenting on the product itself or was everyone engaging just talking about how cute the photo or video is or how pretty the influencer is? If they were actively engaged about the product itself, that’s something you should move forward with. Otherwise, you might be falling back into the influencer pod scenario.
Well-Rounded Content (Besides Just the Visuals)
The final thing we look for to find the best influencers for brands we work with is to not only look at the quality of their content from an image or video perspective but also what they’re discussing in the captions or the videos they’re sharing.
Like we mentioned before, we don’t want influencers who will simply tag a brand in a photo and add them to the caption without giving any additional context. We want storytellers to be a part of our campaigns, which means they are giving the context followers want to see to be convinced or persuaded that this brand is the best.
If they’re posting about a food, they’re not just tagging the brand, they’re saying how amazing the food tastes or how much they love this brand in particular and why. If they are posting about a beauty product, they’re maybe explaining how the color pops and has amazing pigment that lasts all day long. If they are posting about a clothing brand, they are highlighting why they love the brand, how it fits into their lifestyle, and where you can get it yourself.
Captions act as testimonials, which is what most people need and want to see before making a purchase decision.
How influencers engage with their followers by commenting back is also a component of well-rounded content. We look for influencers who are responding to their followers’ questions in comments and having conversations. This illustrates that they have relationships with their followers and their followers feel connected on a more personal level. We want influencers who communicate with their followers as friends; that means they are more credible with their audience!
Vet, Vet, and Vet Again
If you’re doing influencer outreach and paying influencers, you better be vetting them on these criteria, otherwise, you could be burning money. When you’re working on a gifting campaign you can be a little less stringent on these areas, but make sure that you are ensuring an authentic audience before allocating your marketing dollars to someone who may have purchased followers, views, or likes.
We do this every day and have a close pulse on what a real influencer’s content, following, and engagement looks like and can compare pricing from hundreds of influencers to find the influencers that aren’t just trying to gauge your wallet.