Influencer marketing – the myths and the tech


As brands struggle for attention, influencer marketing matters more than ever. The tools to manage influencers are plentiful – but you won’t get far until you bust through these myths.

myths-versus-factsInfluencer marketing is very important right now. Especially with the introduction of ad blockers that keep many a brand’s banner ads from ever being seen. It’s not as simple as connecting up with a few key people and expecting the best, but it’s also not a complicated as some may think.

eMarketer noted that Influencer marketing is gaining popularity, especially using visual social media like YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram. It mentions a study that found influencers are most leveraged for content promotion, product launches and content creation (in that order). It also found that most brands aren’t asking if they should do influencer marketing, but what is the strategy for influencer marketing.

The problem is many struggle with doing it effectively.

Debunking the myths of influencer marketing

Lee Odden of TopRank Marketing provided a few key points about influencer marketing in a recent webinar at the Marketo Marketing Nation’s Online Event. His aim was to correct five myths that brands believe about influencer marketing.

First, he said that popularity is not the same as influence, or reach is not the same as engagement. Just because someone has a huge following, doesn’t mean they have the ability to influence and drive an audience to engage with you. Don’t look for the Kardashians of the B2B world. Instead look for someone who knows your market and the topic you are focused on, someone people actually respect and listen to.

Next, he says that you don’t have to pay influencers. There are different types of influencers, some you will pay, others you give different types of benefits. For example, niche influencers share common values and goals, so you work together to develop content or promote a topic you both appreciate and get value from. These are not paid relationships.

It’s interesting though that eMarketer quotes a GroupHigh study that said most influencers want to be paid cash. They suggest that influencer marketing is taking over where paid media left off and if you were going to pay media, then why not pay your influencers. It’s a good point to make but leaves out the real purpose behind the intent of influencers.

The third myth Odden busts is that it takes too much time to do influencer marketing. It’s true that it’s not as simple as pinging someone on Twitter and LinkedIn, and the rest will fall in place, but there are some great tools available right now (133 according to Lighthouse3) that can help you locate, engage and monitor influencers. I suspect that the amount of work you need to do may focus more on ensuring the right type of relationship is identified, and the measurements are put in place to ensure the relationship is working for both parties.

The fourth myth is that you measure ROI in reach and social shares. But those metrics only tell you part of the story. You can measure the true effect of influencer marketing as it relates to engagement and conversions.

Finally, myth busted – influencer marketing is a siloed activity. Influencer marketing is tightly tied to your content marketing strategy. Whether you have influencers promoting the content you created, have them co-create content, or participate in content projects, influencers aren’t very helpful without content.

A growing and evolving technology market

The technology that supports influencer marketing is evolving. Here’s a look at vendors in the space listed in the Lighthouse3 report:


Image from Lighthouse3 The CMO’s Guide to Influencer Technology 2016

Lighthouse3 also discussed four trends:

  1. Standardization of core capabilities for influencer marketing technology.
  2. Continued churn in the market.
  3. A focus on performance-based programs and reporting
  4. The shift toward integrated solutions.

One of those “churns” in the market includes the recent acquisition of Little Bird by Sprinklr. Little Bird, created by Marshall Kirkpatrick, helps find the key people who influence pretty much any market.

“The best-known purpose of influencer marketing is to help businesses reach their customers through the influence of the people their customers listen to most. Customers trust peers, experts, and independent voices way more than they trust what a brand says about itself. Our customers have saved an immense amount of time and done more powerful discovery for this kind of influencer marketing than they ever could before by using Little Bird.”

This service fits perfectly into the Influencer Discovery Market. Now as part of Sprinklr,  Little Bird can help drive a larger goal for influencer marketing – that of competitive advantage.

“By analyzing the connections between people and topics, communities and conversations, the technology we’ve built helps brands discover not just influential people, but also emerging trends, topics, language, risks and opportunities. First we identify who a community is watching, then we use data to make it easier than ever to hear the most important things they’re talking about.”

“Little Bird’s acquisition by Sprinklr will enable us to be part of a story of enterprises shifting toward scalable learning for competitive advantage: learning about their customers, learning about those who influence their customers, and learning about important conversations early, thanks to analysis of data.”

My take

Influencer marketing is an important element of marketing today, but it runs the risk of falling into the same pit as native (sponsored) content. It has to be done right. It has to be clear that the influencer has a relationship with the brand and what that relationship is. People aren’t going to really care if the influencer is paid if they can trust that it’s not just the money talking. It is simply about transparency.

While I don’t think every influencer needs, or wants, to be paid, I don’t see it as an issue. If a brand is going to stop spending money on banner ads, then why can’t that money go into a pool to support influencer marketing?

I also believe tools like Little Bird can help brands understand not just the “people” influencers, but the topic “influencers.” Understanding what your audience is talking so you can support the discussion with your own relevant content is critical to content marketing. Finding that information through influencer tracking makes a lot of sense.

Image credit - Feature image - Balance with: Facts - Myths © gustavofrazao - Screen shot from Lighthouse credited above.

    Comments are closed.

    1. Great write up and thanks for including our news, words, and perspective Barb. Influencer marketing is a really broad field. B2B companies often but not always approach it differently than B2C companies, too. There are some companies that aim for a transactional advocacy model (“I pay these people to talk about my company”) and there are other companies like one of our biggest global customers who avoid direct engagement all together and just use influencer sourced content and data for research (“we don’t want to talk to any of these people, we just want to know what they are saying”). There are so many different ways to do it. Many of our customers also use the influencers we discover as data to feed their ad buys (“target these people, people like them, and their audiences”). My favorite approach is what Aileen McGraw at Microsoft does with Little Bird influencer data: she says it “helps my team speak like a living, breathing member of our customers’ communities.” I live that: it’s about relevance. Why do we as marketers read anything? In part it’s to be relevant to public conversations. Influencer discovery and research is a great path straight to some of the best things to read in order to be relevant.

      Speaking of a good read to be relevant, thanks for writing up something that went below the shiny surface of a really important trend these days.

    2. Barb says:

      Thanks for the good words Marshall. I was a fan of Little Bird post acquisition, I’m very interested to see how it supports Sprinklr’s broader enterprise focus. And you are absolutely right, there’s so much more influencer marketing can help with than identifying influencers to connect with. I love the research and content marketing aspects particularly (speaking as a content marketer of course!).

    3. says:

      Wonderful article, Barb, and a fitting response, Marshall. With these insights regarding the myths of using influencer marketing as an advertising vehicle, followed by the ways in which technology is being created (and perhaps now converging) to serve the market it new and exciting ways, I believe the third piece of this puzzle is the influencer’s story. There’s now a tremendous cultural shift occurring from the content creator’s perspective.

      This is a cultural shift in the way every single person (with access to modern technology) can earn a living by forgoing the more traditional (and quite often mundane) routes to building livelihoods. Creators can now follow true passions of theirs, and when a creator’s passion comes through in their content, the content has an enhanced ability to persuade its audience.

      This has been happening slowly for decades – we’ve seen it with older media like writing, radio, music – but it’s now happening with new media more quickly than ever. As you mentioned, Barb, the creator/brand relationship is very important to the industry at large. Shared values and transparency must drive collaboration in the future.

      Marshall, in your pinned tweet you mention your long-term priorities being “freedom & social justice in an abundant universe.” In my mind, there is no better space to be in right now than influencer marketing, and helping all content creators, of whatever social class, race, or medium, achieve this freedom!